Sunday, December 31, 2006


As you realize by now, I am sure, your Dr. Radical has left the building: not just the building, but also the state, the continent and – I believe -- the hemisphere. I am approximately half way between North America and Australia, on one of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kaua’i. It took twenty-two hours to get here from New England – but then, if you compare that to how long it took those whaling ships to get here from New Bedford in the early nineteenth century, that isn’t very long.

There are lots of reasons not to come to Hawaii as a tourist, chief among them colonization, genocide, land theft, and the warping effect that tourism has on an economy and on an indigenous people. The illegal occupation by the United States dates from the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy by Sanford Dole and his associates, most of them the children of missionaries who arrived in the 1830's and then made it big in the sugar and fruit industries. The illegal regime was recognized by the American government in February, 1893, after a short political blip in which Grover Cleveland almost returned the country to its rightful owners, and the reorganization of the islands into a US territory was completed in 1900. The Hawaiian people have never conceded their sovereignty, having been recognized as a nation by the international community for several decades before the overthrow, nor have they assigned any treaty rights to the United States government since the writing of the 1887 “Bayonet Constitution” signed by King David Kalakaua while Sanford Dole was holding a gun to his head. This treaty was then repudiated after David's death by his more right-on sister, Liliuokalani, who was then deposed and held under house arrest for many years thereafter for having stood on principle rather than on the practical, and probably unworkable, business of staying in power to see what evils she could hold off (see photo above.)

The story of US colonization in Hawaii is a long and ugly one, which intersects with the extension of U.S. power beyond the continent in 1898, the last phases of the displacement of indigenous peoples in the continental 48 states, and the rise of new forms of scientific racism that emerged during the period known as Redemption, during which southerners and northerners came to tacit agreement about the supposed superiority of white people, and were more or less able to end the Civil War and the bad feelings that remained from it by agreeing to oppress both African Americans and other peoples of color in the hemisphere in the interests of “civilization” and “progress.”

Only small amounts of land have been returned to native Hawaiians over the years under the arcane and racialized provisions of something called the Hawaiian Homes Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 1921 to stem the disastrous depopulation of native Hawaiian communities. Thus, throughout the islands, there are small amounts of land set aside as Homesteads for people who can certify that they are at least 50% native Hawaiian. Many more people than this claim a Hawaiian identity, since Hawaiian cultural history recognizes genealogical descent rather than modern notions of blood quantum. Thus, a legally enforceable claim to “Hawaiianness” continues to rest, erroneously, on the question of whether one's ancestors had, and acted on, a concept of racial purity that would have been foreign to them (Hawaiians welcomed exogamy, in fact), and which many sane people now understand to be utterly constructed.

The Akaka Bill, which is currently floating around the Senate and is sponsored by Daniel Akaka, proposes to right this wrong by making Native Hawaiians self-governing in the same way that Native Americans are, thus, among other things, ratifying “Hawaiianness” in blood quantum terms as other federally recognized tribes currently must do. (By the way, this is a very big issue among Native American activists more generally, some of whom refuse to enroll and claim tribal status because it involves accepting the notion that you are only a real Native person if United States law says you are.) Hawaiian Homesteads on all the islands would thus become the legal equivalent of Reservations on the continent, although one important difference would be that at least Hawaiians would be in their historic homeland, whereas many indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada are in places to which they were forcibly removed, or forced to flee.

There are many things wrong with the Akaka bill, but chief among them, as I understand it is that this bill would ratify Hawaiian dispossession, making US occupation legal and the ownership of the bulk of the land in the archipelago a moot point. Currently, it is contestable because of the international recognition that predated the overthrow of the monarchy, the illegality of territorial status and statehood, and the legal possibilities for reviving all these matters since President William Jefferson Clinton’s apology to the Hawaiian people several years ago for US collaboration in the illegal Dole coup.

But then, why is Dr. Radical in Kauai? I am working on this problem. There are several important things to say, one of which is that your Dr. Radical needs a little peace and quiet to get her writing (and her head) organized before going back to work at Zenith, and a little sunshine, sleep and fresh fruit don’t hurt. But more serious is a fact worth knowing – I am not ideologically pure as the driven snow, and mostly do not do symbolic politics because inevitably they are false to some degree. Another is that I somehow don’t think we deal with the effects of American colonialism by not looking at it – it’s a little like thinking you are coping well with your alcoholic brother by not visiting him or answering when he calls completely sloshed in the middle of the night.

The most important answer is that I am an historian, and history is a messy business. Whether any of us like it or not, we are snarled in our connections to the past, which does not mean running around whining about our guilt over things we never did (although our ancestors may have.) It seems to me that if native Hawaiians whose great grandparents were dispossessed by Sanford Dole and his cronies in Washington can grapple with history in the intricate ways that they are doing, those of us whose great-grandparents ate the sugar (or came here from Italy and Poland in hopes that they would) could pitch in and grapple with them, even if it causes us a little discomfort.

So my grappling will consist of a few posts from the former domain of Prince Kuhio, a relative of the last Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, who fought the process of colonization until her death. Oh yeah, and N. and I are writing a big check to the American Friends Service Committee, which does powerful and thoughtful work on behalf of Native Hawaiians.

Books to read: Noenoe Silva, “Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism” (Duke, 2004); and a forthcoming volume to keep your eye out for in 2007, also from Duke, by Kehaulani Kauanui, which has taught me, or caused me to learn for myself, practically everything I know about Hawaiian sovereignty and its history. And if you want to think about the politics of tourism, try Jamaica Kincaid, “A Small Place” (1988).

And have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006


News Flash: I am in receipt of a forwarded email from John Edwards saying he is getting ready to launch his presidential campaign, which will be centered on ending the war and helping the neediest among us (hell, that might even mean graduate students, since the government has been robbing education about as fast as it has been robbing the poor.) Word on the street among active Democrats here in Shoreline is that he is announcing next week in Chapel Hill. Anyway, if you want to identify yourself to the campaign as a potential supporter, write him at

And have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.


Dr. Radical

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Taking Stock Prior To My Return To The History Department

Everyone in the academy of a certain age remembers that great line from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” where the young mathematics professor asks George what department he is in, and Martha lurches over and sneers, “Ge-o-o-orge is in the….HISSS-try department.” Well, much as my spiritual home is in American Studies, so am I, and soon I must return to my duties in the Zenith University Department of History, site of the Unfortunate Events. It had to happen someday, no? So the past week has in part been occupied by putting my mental house in order in preparation for my Comeback Tour.

But here’s the good news: I probably haven’t explained that we don’t live in Zenith anymore – we did until about three years ago, when I began to worry that I would start to rot from the inside out if we didn’t move (N was still based in Big City, and I was feeling more like an exile than the moderately well-known and successful scholar that I am.) We bought a house in Shoreline, home to four or five other institutions of Higher Education, one of which is the prestigious Oligarch University. Moving was a far bigger struggle than it should have been or that I can possibly say; it included a house renovation from Hell, putting things in storage, massive loans taken out, and so on. But it is done, I love living here, N is starting to feel at home outside Big City, and this holiday season we are beginning to know that we are truly settled for the first time in years. Maybe ever. And one way we know that is that we are having quite the social season this December.

Last night we had a small dinner party with a nephew, his wife and their three children, who came from the north en route to their destination, which was to spend Christmas in Big City. Then we also had DJ, Extravaganza’s middle brother, who was invited by special request of one of his cousins, but is the sort of person who should be on the top of the guest list anyway because he – like his brothers -- fits seamlessly into any group. DJ is an incredibly good-natured, sparky boy of eleven who is liked by nearly everyone he comes in contact with and could have a conversation with a complete stranger who only spoke Bosnian if they were suddenly thrown together. The most insightful thing I can say about that is that he is incredibly nice, but that doesn’t explain his almost universal popularity and excellent social aplomb. He’s kind of got the Bill Clinton appeal without the Bill Clinton ego. And frankly, they could really use him in the British Royal family, except that we all have higher ambitions for him than performing one of those useless prince jobs.

Anyway, as the children thundered around the house with Sailor (and then occasionally fell ominously silent, although mostly I think they were playing Scrabble, devising elaborate standardized tests and searching my study for clues about my mysterious life) the grownups sat downstairs and talked about Work. Two of us had physicians for fathers, and we both agreed that the major lesson we had learned from these semi-absent men was that working hard could be fun. All the adults sitting at the table agreed that our own lives had pretty much replicated that model, and that because we all really had work we loved, it wasn't a burden. The next part of that conversation was: how do you communicate that to children, in a world where so many people seem to do work that they hate -- or work that is so alienating they are not wrong to hate it? How do you teach kids that no matter what it is -- Chaucer or plumbing -- work isn’t something you just do so that you can finance small amounts of fun – go on vacation or retire early – but rather that it is part of a life that is more generally satisfying, where work, leisure and relationships all complement each other? Or that you might choose not to be as prosperous so that you can be a writer, scholar, or artist? Or a gardener?

This seems important to remember now, when the blogosphere has recently been jammed with the burdens of teaching. Reading other people’s often hilarious reports on grading, students from hell, and grad programs that may be more of a burden than a blessing, as well as getting re-involved with Zenith prior to my triumphant return to the History Department, has reminded me a bit too much of the Dark Side. There is a Light Side as well: the fun of this. Making a life with books. Days in the classroom that really do seem to make a difference. Really finishing a piece of writing rather than just grinding away at it. And the fact that more people read my blog every week now than have probably ever read one or two of the articles I have published.

And the children clearly ruffled through all the fabulous history books I left around the study in neat piles in hopes that they would snoop. The books are now in heaps, which is how I know. And someone was clearly fishing around in the book manuscript I “forgot” to put away. Hah.

So Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night: the next time you hear from me, I will be broadcasting from a house on a beach in South Sea Archipelago. N and I have invented what we call “the writing vacation” (see my Paul Fussell post) – both to get away from the distractions of home that do inevitably interfere with finishing things and to celebrate the other fabulous thing about our chosen work in scholarship and teaching: the month long winter break!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dean, Dean -- Who's Got The Dean?

One of the biggest laughs I ever heard in a Zenith faculty meeting was several years ago, when a member of our administration was explaining a number of strategies the institution was exploring for raising extra cash. The final one was a patent on discoveries made under the auspices of the institution. A colleague from one of the humanities departments said she didn't understand (thinking, "Hmmm- I wonder if my examination of the Lack in contemporary French poetry is worth more than I know?"), and the administrator said, "Well, for example, the discovery of a new gene." Drat.

At which point the semi-comatose Dr. Grumpo awoke, came to full consciousness and shouted from the back, "WHAT? CAN'T HEAR YOU!" The administrator repeated himself. And Dr. Grumpo shouted, "AH! I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU'D DISCOVERED A NEW DEAN!" Needless to say, everyone howled and added to the fun while the administrator fidgeted and waited out our capacity to act like your average eighth grade. We haven't heard of *that* plan again.

But here is what is not so funny. As followers of this blog may recall, the Zenith faculty is organizing for better pay and benefits, and finally doing a good job of it. We may even start an AAUP chapter which, as denizens of other schools know, can -- despite the Supremes' precedent setting decision in re. Yeshiva -- serve as a bargaining unit when a school or university agrees to treat it as such. Despite constant reassurance from Zenith's top brass that we really are paid fairly because we are paid what they can afford and not what the market might establish as fair, a newly organized faculty continues to push forward in its efforts. We had a big meeting the other day at which the university continued to insist, despite the fact that they have come up a little in next year's offer, that they simply haven't got the money to pay us decently, nor have they got the money to give administrative staff a raise that will even cover inflation next year. And they say this even when presented with figures that suggest the longer all of us have to work at Zenith to ensure that we aren't living off dog food in our nineties, the more it will cost the university in the long term. In fact, according to members of our math and economics department, it will cost them about half a million dollars per tenured faculty member not to pay us more now so that we can retire decently when we are 67.

Sometimes they also say that if they pay us more the only place they can get the money is from the financial aid budget, and if they want us to admit stupid, rich students we should just give them the word.

And here's the kicker: they seem to create well paid administrative positions a mile a minute. This fall they hired two new deans in Student Services, brand new positions, probably at 80-100K each. Now, everyone knew they were hiring one new dean, a much talked-about position to try to stop the students from pulling racist and homophobic pranks on each other, and talk to them sternly when they do. But it appears, as I see from a recent announcement, that they have broken this position into two positions-- one for co-curricular programming and workshopping, and one for what they are calling "academic support."

Hence, I would argue -- they do have money. They are just spending it elsewhere.

Can I say that this pisses me off a little? Heck, it's my blog -- I will! And it isn't just these deans -- we have added vast amounts of staff in our development office, in academic affairs, in admissions (because Zenith has so succeeded in making itself sought after *and* exclusive that we are barraged with applications every year), our continuing education department and in our finance section. If I were to guess, I would say that our administration has doubled in my 15-plus years at Zenith, while the faculty has not only not expanded but our salaries have slowly crept to the bottom of our comparison group.

Meanwhile, all these bureaucrats have raised our quotient of busy work unbelievably. Almost non-stop, we file reports, requests for research money, justifications for spending the research money they gave us, course justification forms, and we write endless "recommendations" for our expanded study abroad programs and the internships prestigious universities make available through alumni. An untenured colleague, who has courageously joined our movement, observed, "Of course they give us more to do for them -- they have to justify their own jobs. And it used to be you had to stuff envelopes to require the faculty to do an administrative task. Now you just hit a button and send them an email. There's no pain for them in that." On top of all this extra bureaucratic hoo-ha that comes our way, a great many faculty I know are also teaching extra courses because the cost of living ordinary middle-class lives is not keeping pace with salaries.

In a big meeting the other day which, I am proud to say, about 95% of our faculty attended, the current VP of Finance (yes, everyone has a corporate title now) berated us by asking how we could dream of asking for a bigger raise when the university had to pay such unexpectedly high energy bills last winter. What nobody said was -- so did the faculty! With the result that several people I know had to teach a summer course because they used their property tax money to pay the oil company instead. That is how little money people can save because they are not paid enough, and because the prudent among us are committing as much as we can afford to pensions that the university hasn't committed enough resources to.

Can you tell that Dr. Radical is getting revved up for a return to the trenches?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hillary vs. Obama: Why?

I was at the gym this morning, cycling away in place and reading a story in the New Yorker about the Bratz doll, which is currently cutting into the Barbie market like no doll has done before because little girls are increasingly identifying with multi-racial sex pots who shop, rather than strangely proportioned but highly educated women with perky tits and perma-loft heels. I was musing about the Christmas I spent driving around my state of residence looking for Barbie's Mini-Van because four year-old Extravaganza wanted it (and because no one else would buy it for him), when I saw the topic of a related CNN discussion on the television above me: "Hillary Vs. Obama." And it made me think of a few other things that have been on my mind.

1. Why do we use *her* first name and *his* last name? How has she just become "Hillary"? It is true that unless you are George W. Bush "Barack" rhymes with "Iraq" but so what?

2. More importantly, why is this the race that is so talked about, when there are a number of serious Democratic candidates out there who actually represent what the voters asked for in the last election? Granted, having a woman president would break the barrier, but this woman president would not necessarily be a mark of progress (more on this below). The first black president would also break a barrier, but this one -- although clearly smart as a whip and as quick a learner as either Bill or Hill -- has even less experience in government than George W. Bush did when he came to be president. And that if your guiding assumption is that with all the problems we have now, what matters most is to elect someone black or female -- well Sister, let me tell you that there are highly experienced, thoughtful, effective candidates who are women, black or -- my god, black women! -- who are never going to get the call because for some reason all we seem to care about is star power.

Race and gender do not policy make, my friends, which is lucky for us, since my conspiracy theory is that "the woman" and "the black" are being put up against each other so that one knocks the other out, and whoever is left will still lose against whoever the white male candidate is because -- ta da! -- s/he is a woman or black. My best hope for '08 right now is that more progressive candidates (Vilsack, Edwards) than either Hillary or Barack are hanging out offstage waiting for each campaign, or one of them, to implode.

3. My current least favorite question is, "Why don't women like Hillary?" And I'll tell you why: first of all, I do like Hillary. In many ways, I think she is a class act. I just don't want her to be President because she is too conservative. Is it too much to ask that this distinction be made? She cleaves to the most regressive feature of the Democratic Party, which is being willing to alienate progressive voters like me by promoting these idiotic values agendas that the right put into play and the Democrats have now latched onto to try to pry conservative voters away from the Republicans. Hillary Clinton has made a point of positioning herself as a person who can make deals with conservatives (the Lieberman strategy) but not with progressives: like, for example, putting every possible obstacle in the way of gay and lesbian people to have access to the rights that accompany marriage, or not coming out and saying that No Child Left Behind is a disaster as a concept, not as legislation poorly implemented by Republicans. Through Bill, Hillary is also linked to some of the worst Democratic initiatives we have seen since Woodrow Wilson segregated all federal facilities: the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare reform, the reconfiguration of health care around HMO's, the restriction of abortion rights, expansion of capital punishment and the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy. Unless and until she can explain how she is going to reverse these things, I do not want Hillary to be president.

4. Unlike Hillary, Barack has done nothing. Nothing. Not sponsored a bill, not co-sponsored a bill, not put his name on any initiative whatsoever. All he does is write books and run for office. This doesn't mean he is a bad person -- it means he is a blank slate who doesn't want to be pinned down (in this department, I find much of his hemming and hawing about racial identity disturbing too.) Remember the last time we elected a blank slate? I remember citing experience as an issue when Bush was elected, and people would say, "How bad can he be? He's a blank slate!" And I kept saying, "Yeah, but don't you worry that someone who signed off on an execution every week or so and says he never lost sleep over it has no capacity to care about other human beings? Don't you think such a person might be dangerous?"

And why would we elect someone president who, when asked by a reporter why his way of speaking shifted depended on whether he was speaking to a white or a black audience, could not come up with a better answer than that he adapts to whatever environment he was in? If it is true, it is disturbing on a number of levels. But what is more disturbing is that the answer should have been something like: "That's a really racist question and it doesn't belong in politics."

This Radical is backing a white, straight man right now: John Edwards. Why? Because he can use the words "poor" and "people" in the same sentence, which neither Hillary or Barack seem to be able to do as they weave and wander through the polls and focus groups that politics has become. I have raved about a number of topics in this post, many of them queer and feminist, and in neither case are these issues on the top of "John's" list. But despite what you read in the newspapers, the biggest problems facing LGBTQ people today are economic justice issues: escalating debt; the wage-income gap; access to housing, education and health care; the right to organize in unions.

And -- BTW -- what would it be like to have the voters decide who the candidate is in the primary, rather than CNN or the DLC? This is an important question, with historic implications. Back in 1964, the radically conservative Republican Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book called "A Choice, Not an Echo," in which she articulated a conspiracy theory that East Coast "kingmakers" were manipulating the nominating process to produce liberal national candidates who did not represent the wishes of the party base. OK, so she didn't get Goldwater elected. But this book -- distributed out of her garage -- and the insight it contained is seen by many to have inspired the birth of the modern conservative movement. Unless we are going to just put up with this "Hillary vs. Obama" nonsense for the next two years, progressives need to make a similar move. Because say what you like about my gal Phyllis, the little book worked, didn't it? We should send everyone in Iraq a copy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tenure Party

Two nights ago we had a Tenure Party.

Tenure parties can be a lot like weddings, actually – all the younger folk were yucking it up and celebrating; a few undergrads were there, thrilled to be drinking with the faculty; and the older folk made witty toasts, smiled benignly, and huddled in the corners reminiscing about tenure parties past, noting that suddenly they had become the Senior People in the Room -- and when did that happen? This party was a double whammy of reminiscing for me, since it was held in the house of a colleague who was for many years really famous for the parties she held – sometimes one or two a month – and it was at her house that I met most of my friends in my first few years at Zenith. She hasn’t lost her touch, and we fell back into old habits easily. I served as sub-host, which I often did in the past because N was living in Big City so I was temporarily uncoupled, and my friend is single so she doesn't have a partner to help so that she can enjoy her own parties. Every once in a while I policed dirty dishes, refilled empty bowls of olives, and circulated to make sure people didn’t get stuck with someone they didn’t want to talk to all evening. This also allowed me to get out of conversations: "Oh yes -- hold that thought, will you? We seem to need more crostini!" And as she always had in the past, the hostess muttered sotto voce as I entered, “The good stuff is in the freezer,” meaning a really fine bottle of ice-cold vodka was stashed away from the madding crowd for our exclusive use.

One of the best-remembered parties was for a colleague in the history department: another untenured person threw it with me. We had everyone bring a bottle of champagne – the theory being that this provides enough champagne for everyone, and there is No Mixing (Remember the Albee lines from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf": Martha -- “Never mix, never worry!” George -- “Rubbing alcohol for you, Martha?”) At any rate, the party was just starting to wind down around 11 when our newly promoted colleague’s fabulous new boyfriend showed up from Big City with – a case of Moet White Star! Needless to say, the party acquired new life, and everyone untenured was skulking around campus the next day mainlining H20 and aspirin, looking as though they had been run over by trucks.

December used to be the season of tenure parties, and it no longer is for several reasons that my friend and I speculated about as we sipped vodka on the porch and she "snuck" a cigarette. Tenure cases seem to take longer than they used to – our T&P committee has morphed into this weird Spanish Inquisition, which means that you now send in a perfectly good case that ought to zip through and they start getting stuck on all kinds of things that are tangential and unimportant. Better you should send in a plagiarized manuscript and hope it will fool everyone than to have one or two students write in their teaching evaluations, "I sometimes felt my opinions were not important enough to the professor." Nowadays no case is complete until the committee is done requisitioning documents, asking endless questions that have to be answered in writing in 48 hours or less, asking for new letters, and so on. So this means that very often when you have a great case what used to be a sort of gathering celebration of the younger colleague that culminated in a party is now a grinding struggle fraught with anxiety and unpleasant, unnecessary conflict, and you are just mighty glad that sie wasn't burned at the stake instead.

This is Zenith’s version of No Child Left Behind: that if you pummel the bejesus out of a candidate, and sie stills look good at the end of it, then you have assured yourself of excellence.

What this also means is that, as far as I can tell, the untenured faculty have distanced themselves from an admittedly vile process as much as possible, to the point of also detaching emotionally from colleagues who are up for tenure. As my friend pointed out, these parties used to be hosted by the candidate's friends, and the senior people came by invitation – a kind of Mardi Gras-like moment in which the bottom rails got on top and everyone had an evening of being “out of rank” because of course only the senior people who were liked and trusted were invited. Now the parties are held by the senior folk (the parents!) when they are held at all, and I was shocked to see that a lot of untenured colleagues we expected to see there didn't come. The only explanation we could imagine is that they are up for tenure too and going to someone else’s tenure party was incompatible with however they are managing their own anxiety about their own process. And that they didn't want to see senior people, much less eat and drink with them. And none even called their friend to say “I would like to come, but I just can’t bear it – can I take you out to lunch?”

But things change, don’t they? When they put me in charge of the world, perhaps we can return to a saner time when we don’t terrorize untenured people so completely and unnecessarily, and tenure seems like an accomplishment again rather than the end of a marathon that you have barely survived. Those who came to the party all had a wonderful time, and everyone got sloshed as in the old days – your Dr. Radical almost never drinks anymore, and was quite under the weather yesterday. And no, I will not be posting pictures of our newly tenured colleague in the tiara and scepter.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Morning Blogging Down

Excuse me, but did anyone else see in the Newspaper of Record today an article about books that have been written and published (on paper, mind you) from cobbled together blog entries? And that people are calling them "blooks"? Why not call them books? I ask you.


Virtually the whole day stretches out before me as a possible theater for changes, great and small. Will my attempts to return to The Book remain a series of forced, semi-artificial acts (transcribing notes, translating files, fiddling with punctuation and topic sentences), punctuated by the kinds of events that make a Radical feel like she has really accomplished something (for example, going to the supermarket)? Or will I cross the line into Real Writing, productive hours that result in Pages that can be Printed Out? Pages that are ready for my audience (“Mr. De Mille, I am ready for my close up!”)

Only time will tell. On top of re-tackling the opus, I have to prepare to return to teaching like the rest of you, something I have not done in close to two years. The closest I can come to imagining this, as a reality, is in the form of a variety of anxiety dreams that are particular to academics. No, not the underwear one. The ones in which:

1. I have to take an exam, usually in math or science, with the knowledge that I have not attended the class all term and will probably fail.
2. I am getting ready to graduate, but realize to my horror that I have not signed up for enough credits in my final term and will have to explain to my parents why I am not marching with my class. My parents, God love it!
3. I have come to the point of graduation and realized that I have failed to complete sufficient credits in – you guessed it! – math and science to meet the distributional requirements.
4. I am desperately trying to go to a class I have been cutting, but cannot find it: nevertheless, I wander a maze of complex halls, unable to find the right classroom, but sure that it is right around the corner. Eventually I realize I am hopelessly lost and the class is almost over anyway, and I wander out of the building with sinking heart.

By the way, this last dream – which, like all the others is one in which I am dealing with Fear of Failure for reasons that probably have directly to do with The Belated Book and my reasons for putting it aside for so long -- is a reflection of real life experiences. Not only did I cut a fair number of classes as an undergraduate, but the buildings at nearby Oligarch University, my alma pater, are gothic and labyrinthine, having been built by ambitious captains of industry to resemble the old European universities. Compared to the neat, rectangular brick squares of Zenith University (built by tidy little ministers on a budget) they are a horror show of interlinked passageways, towers, and peculiar numbering. One monstrosity I took many classes in had two halves, since an older building had had a second glued on to it at a later time, and the floors on each half were numbered differently. Therefore, thanks to the generosity of Donor #2 and the ineptitude of Architect #2, you could pass horizontally through a door and suddenly find yourself facing a new set of room numbers altogether. But some buildings were just designed peculiarly from the get-go. The other day, I went to look up an Oligarch American Studies colleague for lunch, got into an elevator to get to the second floor, and suddenly found myself in a dormitory.

You’ll notice that I have no anxiety dreams about showing up in class with no lecture, or trying to teach but having no words come out of my mouth when I speak. This confirms my belief that it is not teaching I am concerned about.

Nevertheless preparations for the classroom must be made: syllabi drawn up, books ordered, reserve librarians to wrestle to the ground and berate into violating copyright law. Yesterday was the pleasant task of buying back to school clothes: two pairs of Levis 501’s, pre-faded and preshrunk; four black tee shirts from Banana Republic; and a pair of waterproof cowboy boots – brown Durango ropers, to be precise, for wading to work in the driving rain and snow. If you can think of anything else I need, just leave it in a comment.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What Would Paul Fussell Do?

First: thanks to all of you who left comments on my last post. You are nice people, and I appreciate it. And as I look at your blogs, I must say I am very happy not to be grading as you are right now. The idea of having a task that has a real beginning -- more importantly, a real end -- is so seductive. But I guess I'll have to experience it vicariously for now as I re-tackle this project that, as several of you pointed out, will put a final stake in the heart of the Unfortunate Events.

So yesterday, with nothing left to clean and No Laundry Left Behind, the larder packed with groceries for a long winter, my hair cut, and the bills paid, I started in on the Final Revisions. I think there are going to be several weeks of good days and bad days before I get into a rhythm, but yesterday I did a few things to get the old engine running.

I discovered that having switched computers over the summer -- nay, switched systems, to a Mac, I need to translate a great many research files on the old computer into Word so that I can use them without re-typing everything. So I sucked it up and began translating three of the most important folders of archival notes and put them on my new computer. And no, I can't use the old computer, because it is so slow it drives me nuts. And every once in a while I think it is going to crash completely and require a surgical intervention.

I then lit into a stack of books that I have read since the last revision and transcribed those notes where they still seemed pertinent, larding them into the end of chapter files so that when I can once again bear to read my own writing they will be there to help me. This is, by the way, a modification of a trick I learned from a Paul Fussell essay many years ago -- if for some reason you can't write, for example because you have no time or no peace of mind, or you are getting divorced, you can probably still read. In my case, reading is actually therapeutic, so I am likely to do more of it under conditions which pretty much preclude writing.

But Fussell's real point about reading is not that it is therapy, rather, his point is: improve the day. Make use of time in whatever way you can, and for God's Sake keep moving forward. Fussell has written a great many books, and as I recall it from that essay, for much of his career he read during the school year and then went to the Cape in the summer, ignored his family for a chunk of each day (if he was like my father, probably all of it) and wrote for three months, gradually using all the notes taken during the year. This doesn't really explain how he wrote so very many books, but there you go.

In the meantime, the Evil Book Gods are trying to stop me, and in each case I have said to myself, What would Paul Fussell do? Since I resolved that I would re-launch this project which is 90% done, the following obstacles have appeared in my path, and I have attempted to resolve each, using an imaginary conversation with Paul Fussell as a way of finding a way to step nimbly around them:

1. Some details of a personnel case were directed to me because of my expertise in the field. I fended off this request for assistance successfully with an email that said "Can't ANYONE else who is NOT on sabbatical handle this?" Someone could, of course. And did. I am sure that is what Paul Fussell would have done under similar circumstances.

2. A much younger historian has called me in tears to try to schedule lunch, where there will probably be more tears because *this* career at *this* institution is about to end (this is one of those institutions where one's career always ends, so that one can go on to a Higher State of Being Elsewhere. My task? To persuade in a finite amount of time that it is time to Move On (sometimes it is wise to do as I say children, and not as I do.) I have accepted this challenge, even though I am not sure Paul Fussell would have done so, because I have to take time off and go to school next week anyway to see if the IT folks can translate the rest of my research files for me. BTW, you wouldn't find Paul Fussell sitting at home cutting and pasting between WordPerfect and Word screens. Two problems solved!

3. I received a peculiar document in the mail that calls itself the "Zenith University Strategic Objectives Matrix," in which there are four boxes labeled faculty, students, finance and administration -- as Paul Fussell would tell you, this is bad news already because only three of these boxes (or two maybe) represent people, and one represents money as if it was a person. This is also the kind of document calculated to launch a string of phone calls and emails designed to derail writing: an administration that really cared about scholarship would issue no documents or reports at all. Anyway, there are two objectives in the faculty box which boil down to "hire good faculty and pay them whatever" and "faculty should teach well;" and five in the administrators' box which support the already popular idea "hire more administrators and give them more control over everyone." None of the boxes address the fact that our faculty is close to the bottom of its comparison group for faculty salaries, and that a third of the faculty teach about two-thirds of the students. Or that the students are all on Ritalin this time of year whether they have ADD or not. But never mind! I know -- and Paul Fussell would know -- that this is just a ploy on the part of the Evil Book Gods to persuade me I should go to the faculty meeting next week instead of staying home to write. No way baby! I am so on to you guys. I threw it away. As Paul Fussell would have done.

4. It has snowed, so Sailor the dog comes into my study repeatedly pretending she has to pee, but when we go out what she really wants is to drag her snout along the sidewalk, whuffing up new snow and sneezing it out again, and to snag the odd frozen roll left out to help the various urban vermin get through the winter. Here I am stumped. I do not know what Paul Fussell would do, except perhaps set the dog to doing something more useful like checking footnotes or looking over the entire manuscript for the proper use of "who" and "whom."

Ok. So Paul Fussell would not be writing this blog. But I had to write something this morning, and I'll get a fresh start after lunch.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Going Back to the Book

So here are the critical facts about the Unfortunate Events that led both to my acquisition of altered consciousness about academic life and the idea that I might write a blog.

1. Fact: the Events happened over the course of three years while I was coming up for full professor at Zenith, a promotion which was opposed by people in my department who claimed that since tenure my work had suddenly become shoddy and my "pace" was off because I had not yet published a second book.

2. Fact: until my promotion process, almost no one in the Zenith History Department had ever had a second published book as part of their case for promotion to full professor; rather (as the department hand book says) one is supposed to have written a few articles and present a big chunk of book manuscript.

3. Fact: there are aged and not so aged full professors in my department who have published little and/or not for a long time, but that is another blog for another day.

4. Fact: the first time I tried to come up, because my counselor did not bring my materials to the meeting, several full P's declared they did not believe that there was a second book mss. (which there was, a fully revised one), and ruled that I could not be promoted that fall. She asked if she could return to her office to get it, and they said no, called the question and voted in the negative.

5. Fact: the second time I came up, my counselor took the book (a second revision now) and articles, published and in draft, to the meeting, and these same people voted to give me "advice" that I not come up until the book was actually published.

6. Fact: I declined their advice and came up anyway, winning a majority vote because actually the referees liked my book a lot. The bad news was that a minority of the full P's declared that it was their right to disregard the letters, as well as advice from colleagues in my field, and use their own judgement. None of these P's were in my field.

7. Fact: they fought the case through many stages of the process, causing many delays and many reviews and appeals to be convened. This made the next year very unpleasant, in part because it was clear that the entire thing was personal, and in part because, when fighting injustice in universities one must constantly be producing documents, which is time consuming and useless work.

8. Fact: In the end I was promoted by administrative fiat, and received an extremely large raise from Zenith which helped assuage pain and suffering incurred as well as a long sabbatical.

You may ask, Why do this over a promotion to full professor? Everyone who does not work at Zenith asks me this. The answer is that these are very small people, with very small minds, and they were punishing me for flouting their will on a variety of matters on which, as they perceive it, my behavior was Very Radical. Like paying attention to the university's adherence to EEOC in hiring matters, and teaching classes in queer studies in my post-tenure incarnation.

OK, but here is why I finally decided to stop being a tease about the Unfortunate Events: because vicious and unfair criticism of my book became the mode for attacking me, I have been unable to look at it much in about eighteen months. Blame the victim, eh? A manuscript that I researched and wrote for five years has just sat there in the corner for my entire leave. I have written several articles, finished a couple more in the pipeline, done a wad of research on a new book project, gone into motion to get a contract on a neat little textbook on the ERA. But I haven't even been able to look at my book.

I know this isn't what Marx meant by alienated labor, but that's what it has felt like. This morning, after sticking the last article I had had in the pipeline in the mail, I realized I could either write a new article or finish the damn book. I chose the book.

So tomorrow I am going to start final revisions-- two months from sabbatical ending, I am going to begin the final revisions so I can get it to the publisher by May.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm Rubber, You're Glue: Tenure, Privilege and Reputations

Combat Philosopher has a provocative post up this week about crazy colleagues: he apparently has one, who is currently torturing one of his friends. You can get to CP's blog from mine easily, and I recommend that everyone read this for three reasons. First, he raises the question: why is it that a woman, no matter what her reputation for lunatic behavior, can make charges against a man of a sexual nature, and have them stick instantly? Second, it is a good reminder never to have sex with a colleague without thinking about it for a very long time and getting advice from at least two friends (I'm just saying, CP). And third, I think it raises the more general question: we all have at least one, probably more, colleague who is erratic to say the least, maybe crazy, maybe senile, maybe an alcoholic. And no one ever does a thing about it, even to the extent of saying to that colleague, post-egregious behavior: "That was wrong."

This is not just on my mind because of Combat Philosopher's pal, who is in a tight spot and I wish the fellow well in his ongoing struggle to get rid of a woman who is clearly remaining attached to him by the simple strategy of calling various police agencies to complain that *he* won't leave her alone. She is, I am sure, doing this in the desperate hope that he will begin to contact her to try to work it out, and from that, their relationship will somehow flower - or she will be able to stem her grief about the loss of a relationship that is probably standing in for *some other relationship in her life.*

The point, however, is that CP's pal is in a struggle to save his reputation, and it is a terrible position to be in, particularly when someone else holds all the cards. This reminds me of a tough situation that arose this week at a friend's institution, which a number of people there are scrambling madly to cover up. Thank the Goddess for email attachments! Apparently there was a nasty letter from one person who voted on the case accusing the candidate of being unsuited to the job because s/he is a bigot. And when asked by a colleague why, the author responded that there was no damage intended.

Oh. OK. I get it now.

Character assassination in the university is not a new thing, it's just that it is usually done where it belongs, in the bathroom or in a department meeting. It is almost unheard of that anyone writes such a thing down and makes such an evil, stick-to-you-like-gum charge part of an official report. My friend does not think it will do any damage -- apparently the department, one and all, was appalled across political and ideological lines, rallied around, etc. And I'm sure they are eating baskets of Tums over at the various administration buildings, praying that the case just zips through and that all is forgotten. But here is the thing: at the risk of the candidate finding out this horrible hurtful thing, I don't think my friend's department should forget about it or hide it. And I think there is something very wrong about the tenure system that practically everyone I have discussed this with has said, Yes, it was dreadful, but nothing can be done in such a situation.

It is also worth saying that it is my friend's view that this is one in a long string of horrible things this crazy man has done, and when called on it, he claims that he is only being attacked for his conservatism by liberals who want to marginalize him. Ergo, he also believes that it is his task to go after "liberals" (your Dr. Radical is actually referred to publicly by a colleague as "the department radical," acompanied by similar claims that this is merely descriptive.) My feeling is that we all have tolerated such bad behavior because it could be managed, and because it happens in private. And because everyone acknowledges that such people are crazy, we lose perspective on the damage done.

What say the rest of you to this grisly tale? And how do we reconfigure the idea of tenure to link its privileges to a set of ethical responsibilities?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different

This week, the world turned funny on me, which it does every once in a while, mostly when I am finishing up a piece of writing and not exercising complete control over the universe. After I finished a set of revisions and turned in the article, I discovered, in this order, that:

- A parking ticket that I paid several weeks ago never made it to the parking ticket center, so now I owe them $100 rather than $50. And the problem is -- there's no way to prove I ever sent it. On the other hand, since the check is still floating around out there, if they ever get it, they will cash it, which will mean that the ticket will cost me $150 total.
- I sent Mastercard a check for $400, and they have credited me $4000.00, meaning that I now have a credit with Capital One of 3,857.87. What's in your wallet?
- I discovered that my neighborhood zone parking passes had expired. How? I got a ticket for parking in front of my house. But the ticket was not for parking without a pass, it was for overstaying a two-hour limit. But there is no two hour limit on my street.
- I had to run off to a meeting at the Program, so N went down to renew the parking passes, lest we get more tickets. She discovered that she could not complete this task because of the overdue unpaid parking ticket. She went and stood in line to pay the $100, and found out that they do not take cash or a check, so she put it on my Visa card (they also don't take American Express. Priceless.) Then she went back to get the parking passes to discover that they do not take cash or Visa, but only a check. Even though this is the same department. Then she asked what was up with the parking ticket we got today, and the policeman behind the desk listened to the story and said, "I'll take care of that," and threw it in the trash. My view is that it is in a computer somewhere, and this will come back to haunt me.
- I got a notice that my subscription to the New York Times had been unpaid for several months and they were about to cancel it because their computer tossed my Visa card out of the system. I asked how this could happen, and they said it happens all the time.

Now, here is the strangest thing of all. N went to the dry cleaner, the one we use because she favors it (I like the one next to the highway entrance ramp), and it turns out the young fellow who has worked there the entire time we have been going there has been doing all kinds of weird stuff, primarily not giving people all their clothes back, only some of them. N came home with a variety of clothes that we didn't know we were missing, but which were still in the computer and going round and round on the rack for months: there were three wool dress jackets that I thought I had given to the Goodwill by mistake, but which are very nice and I am pleased to have back. Of course I never missed them, as I have been on sabbatical for eighteen months, and mostly I wear athletic clothes or jeans. Or pajamas.

But you might ask, How could such a thing happen? The truth is, I never remember from one visit to the next what I have left at the cleaners and I just take whatever they give me. I think everyone else must too. New Kid on the Hallway asked today what the definition of bourgeois is? This is the definition of bourgeois -- you have so many clothes you lose track and take whatever the dry cleaner gives you, and buy new ones if you run out.

But there is even more to the story. As it turns out, the clerk disappeared on the same day that a woman came in, completely hysterical, saying that she had brought in a jacket with a $10,000.00 brooch on it. He was gone, the jacket was gone, the brooch was gone. So then the manager had to come work the desk, because the other clerk who had been called in to replace him also became completely hysterical because she was being accused of Grand Theft. The manager discovered all the hoarded clothes, and now every person who comes in has to wait while she searches the computer for all the old clothes they never took home and had forgotten they owned.

And you wonder -- has that quiet, unassuming clerk just gone on to another dry cleaning store, in another state, to perpetrate his dastardly deeds under another name entirely?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Public Relations: The Diva-Doormat Debate

I want to pick up on a post by the excellent Flavia on Ferule and Fescue, which if you have not yet been moved to do so, you should check out. Flavia is funny as all get out, but also has a skewer-like capacity for cutting to the heart of things. This week she has posted an important question: when you feel that you have been taken advantage of, do you act or not? Do you complain, on the theory that squeaky wheels get greased (the Diva position), or do you keep your mouth shut in the hopes that your seniors will keep their promises to you and perceive you as a team player, thus risking becoming the Doormat, a.k.a., the person in the department who picks up after everyone else, a.k.a., "the girl" or "the wife"? And what are the attendant risks to not accepting the jobs others in the department wish you to take?

There were several great responses to Flavia's post that suggest this struggle is an almost universal concern for untenured people, although I would like to add that it is a choice that remains, and is often hard to make, long after tenure is achieved. A couple comments pointed out that Diva and Doormat are the extremes, and that there are a number of positions to take in between. And then there is the question Flavia also poses: "I hate divas! Why would I want to be one?" Good point, pal. I weighed in on this yesterday, but thought about it a little more overnight. So here goes.

The great unspoken here is: what will people’s informal perceptions of me have to do with my eventual evaluation for tenure? If I am seen as “difficult,” will that cause people to represent my scholarship and teaching as flawed, no matter how hard I have worked and no matter how “good” I really am? If I am seen as subservient, on the other hand, will people perceive me as someone who will perform any kind of drudgery, causing more drudgery to be sent my way and ultimately at tenure time, causing me to be perceived as a drudge, and thus not a potential jewel in the crown of the department like the Divas, whose scholarly abilities soar above the petty, diurnal concerns that drudges are taking care of anyway?

Because the answer to these questions is “yes –uh, no, well maybe you're right – hmmm,” and because I would be lying if I said I haven't seen this scene play out in tenure meetings, I would like to offer some narrative context rather than answers to these questions.

First of all, the Unfortunate Events, which I have yet to describe, were exactly caused by several full professors’ perceptions of me as a) a troublemaker and b) a drudge (word of advice: if offered a teaching award, refuse it. It is the kiss of death.) Until the Events, however, and certainly up to and through my tenure review, I lived a charmed life. Subsequently, I actually did several things of which I am still quite proud that earned me the sobriquet “troublemaker.” Your Dr. Radical is far more of a screaming pain in the behind than has yet become evident in these posts, and because of her many successful forays against evil in the History department, she was briefly given a Very Hard Time. So I would never say that perceptions do not matter. But I would also argue that structural questions – racism, sexism, homophobia, perceived class status – matter a great deal more, and often in ways that cannot be predicted in advance.

But back to Diva-Doormat. These two things I know for sure:

1. Divas do prosper. They do so for two reasons. One is that they are able to identify the conditions under which they do their best work, as well as what will compensate them adequately for how good they are, and are then able to pull themselves together to say what they want. The key phrase here is: "I need..." As Deborah Gray-White, historianness extraordinaire and longtime chair at Rutgers once said to me at a restaurant in the nation's capital, "People who don’t ask, don’t get." So true, Miss Thing. The second reason is that when you feel treated fairly, you put yourself in the best position to be happy, which then creates the conditions to do your best work. When you honestly believe you are doing your best work, you then begin to act like the confident soul that everyone mistakes for a tenured person.

2. Doormats work harder and have more low status work. Doormats often feel like they make the life of Divas possible, developing a Cinderella complex that can be truly debilitating when the pumpkin never turns into a carriage after all. Doormats endure teaching and advising too many students, managing vast surveys, and accomodating bad schedules. Their complaints about workload are often dismissed because “your field is so popular” or "you are such a wonderful teacher!" Because they have more students, they have more office hours, papers to grade, letters of recommendation to write -- aaiiiieeee! Sometimes other doormats reassure them that “this is the way life is” and “only bad people” cap their classes or set boundaries around their work. This puts the “doormat” in a position to be constantly anxious about how s/he is viewed by both doormats and divas, resentful of others who seem to be doing better professionally, and sometimes becoming virtually unable to write, so exhausted is s/he and so conflicted about the possibility for happiness in this job. The answer often seems to simply apply for another job – or to make a life away from your department that offers the positive feedback you crave and deserve. But think for a moment: what would it take to improve your situation where you are? Applying for jobs can be time-consuming, hinder the completion of major projects, disrupt domestic life, and broadcast your unhappiness to the department in an indirect way that isn't possible to address because the "doormat" pretends publicly that everything is FINE. And making a second life elsewhere – in a program, or doing an endless round of conferences – actually increases the burden on your writing time, not to mention your life away from work.

And have I said that doormats are usually, um -- women and gay men? People among whose best qualities are often that they care deeply about relationships?

So what ARE the alternatives? They may be obvious by now as you compare the above, but let’s summarize anyway. First of all, figure out what you need to do your work, and know that some semesters may tip the balance towards your writing, and some may require more attention to the requirements of others. Second, ask for what you want and know you may not always get it, or you may not always get all of it. For example, Flavia suggested that in return for having the small class she wanted to teach cancelled, she should re-negotiate her spring to have two large classes be two sections of the same course so that she has one prep. This is an excellent response. I would also push it to say that she needs some guarantee from the chair that she will get a grad course in the fall, and work with the chair to figure out a course that will fill up enough to be kept on the schedule – this might even mean taking that course away from a senior colleague (gasp). Take the risk that the colleague might graciously concede it, and have the chair negotiate it.

Your Dr. Radical has not only been an untenured person and a woman, she is still a woman and occasionally is mistaken for a gay man, and she has raised several untenured folk from pups. I seek to cultivate a colleague whose financial, scheduling and scholarly needs are taken care of to the best of my ability. What I ask in return is a colleague who tries to develop an awareness of the needs of others, and when I am in charge – as American Studies chair, or field advisor in United States history – those needs would primarily be mine, since "my needs" either reflect those of the students or orders being dictated from above that I have not yet found a way to undermine. I try to cultivate a confidence in my untenured colleagues that I will not ask for something unless it is important, and that I will always do my best to distribute work equally. I try to protect them from the unreasonable demands of others, and to never ask them for anything I would not do myself. I try to anticipate what will make my group tick best as a unit, but I also depend on my untenured colleagues to speak as openly as they can about what they need.

And by the way, the reason I think this works is because during the Unfortunate Events, no group of colleagues was kinder to me than the untenured folk.

You may say, look Radical, good for you and your little gang of thieves. But what about me? OK – I guess I am trying to communicate several things. One is that we all need to ask and we all need to give. Another is, you may have senior colleagues who will be more responsive, and less judgmental, than you think. And the third is an observation, gleaned in part from the Unfortunate Events: in the end, you may have to be the person you are regardless of what the potential consequences are. This is called “living with integrity.” But what you also need to be is aware, and you need to think, not react: don’t replicate what are ubiquitous and bad management practices either by submitting or by “getting yours” and letting others fend for themselves. You will be a tenured person yourself someday, and in charge of people like you. Start preparing now by figuring out how you want to live and getting as close as you can to it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Education of a Radical: Memorial For Madame

My Zenith email account has been buzzing all day because Madame, one of the veteran teachers from my secondary school died of lung cancer last night. She was in her eighties, so she had a good run, which included a stint in the French Resistance during World War II. She was, of course, a French teacher, and I went to a school my parents paid good money for, which meant we began languages in the second grade. Developmentally this is supposed to be a good thing, but I don't think that's why we did it -- I think it had something to do with refinement (you can see how well that turned out for Dr. Radical.) We took only French through seventh grade, adding a second language in seventh grade (Latin or German). Spanish was not offered, as this was a school originally founded for Young Ladies in the nineteenth century, and by the third quarter of the twentieth century the school had not yet figured out that Spanish was the language of the future. Oh well. I picked it up later, which you can do if you had ten years of French and six years of Latin.

Take that much French and your brain gets so hard-wired you can also replace a lost credit card in Geneva having not spoken at all for twenty years. It's shocking how quickly it comes back.

Anyway, multiple emails have come across the school listserve with fond memories of this teacher, and they are very vivid, causing me to think about good teaching and why it was important to the Education of a Radical to do languages in school.

The first thing that leaped to mind was that because I went to a private school in the 1960's and 1970's it was very segregated. I never met a black person my own age until I was in the seventh grade, when three young African-American women were recruited to the school as part of a program that creamed kids out of urban public and parochial schools. There was almost nothing in my life for a very long time, until I became aware of social movements as a teenager, that suggested that other people were different from me, which stuns me even now, except if you grew up white in the 'burbs in the sixties and seventies you will understand.

The only thing that provided a cultural contrast of any kind in my early years was learning French. The French teachers were all, well -- very French. And as we studied, they spent a lot of time talking about France, growing up in France, and why French children would chew us up and spit us out if given the opportunity. And part of why I know they were great teachers is this: because we were all fascinated with Nazis and World War II, several of them developed a strategy for when conversation was lagging in class that consisted of this: they would tell you anything you wanted to know about "La Guerre Mondiale Deuxieme" and "La Resistance" - but all questions would be asked and answered in French. "Comment fait-on une bombe?" "Combien des Allemagnes avez-vous tue?" OK, for the sake of the dignity of the German department not all questions got fully answered, but many Hair Raising Tales were told about brave deeds done by women only a few years older than we. And we actually learned French, as well as valuable strategies should we ever have to go underground with nothing but a candle and a baguette "pour sauver la patrie."

The thought this memory prompted was that this was my earliest encounter with oral history, or rather, the idea that History wasn't just in books (which I loved, don't get me wrong), but was walking around among us waiting to be discovered, and that the more languages you knew, the more potential there was to figure out exactly what had gone on in the past all by yourself. This was followed up by the stunning discovery, several years later as I was preparing a second year Latin translation from a volume of Caesar's Gallic Wars, that a) I was actually reading it, not plodding through it word by word; and b) Caesar actually wrote this s**t! Caesar! Hundreds of years ago! And here it was in my bedroom and -- well, Caesar might as well be letting ME know what was up in Gaul. In addition to primary Latin texts, I then discovered French novels by Hugo, Zola, Stendhal and such, that let me know there was more to French history than WWII. I learned that feelings and instinct have a place in historical study, and that culture matters -- if you don't understand the imagination of a people, you can't really understand their political history either.

Of course, after all this French and Latin I went on and became a US Historian. Go figure. When I could have been spending my sabbaticals in Paris.

But because of this French teacher and her colleagues I learned something that is now central to who I am as a historian, and that I tell my students at the beginning of every semester in every class: that history should be familiar and strange at the same time. Understanding that is critical to working out historical problems in my view, and certainly critical to the intimacy and distance that produces some of the most engaging historical writing.

My last thought is this: strangely, even in schools like mine, they pretty much stopped teaching English grammer in the mid-1960's in favor of letting us intuit how to write clearly as we allowed our creativity to flow freely. Therefore, the only reason that I can teach students how to write today is because I learned Latin and French grammer. Etrange, n'est-pas? And it wouldn't even have mattered if I hadn't become a teacher: I just would have written passably well and not been able to explain why, like most people my age.

So I guess the moral of the story is: people contribute to who you are in ways that don't get reckoned with for a very long time. And maybe one kind of good teaching allows students to discover something entirely different in themselves, or in the world, that isn't about the "subject" at hand -- that is only unlocked by it. And that good teachers have had good teachers.

Au revoir, Madame.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks: An Essay On Acknowledgments

I have been thinking a lot about acknowledgements lately because I am finishing the final draft of my second book, and it feels very different from finishing my first book in several ways. One is my gratitude to others is taking a more restrained form: I was not well supported by one and all in writing this book, and yet it was written, more or less successfully. So the obvious reason to think about acknowledgements is that soon I must compose some, figure out who to thank, who to ostentatiously *leave out, * and so on, using a less inclusive model than I did the first time.

But there is another reason I am pondering this as a professional issue that needs to be re-thought for the benefit of others: acknowledgements have metastasized in the past few years. I noticed this because my new book relies for some of its evidence on published work in the early years of the "professional era" of historical writing, books mostly published before 1930. I have been checking my quotes, and as I have done so, I have noticed a striking lack of thanks to others in these books -- striking because nowadays there is often a whole separate chapter for thanking large numbers of miscellaneous people. And I am very up to date on this because part of the reason I haven't finished my book earlier is that around this time last year I was reading for a Big History Prize, which meant I had roughly 400 books in my field published in 2005 that were sitting around my study: I had to sift through them in some systematic way, which meant reading their introductions first, introductions which often ended in, or were followed by, endless lists of acknowledgements.

In summary, I have noted three characteristics in the history of acknowledgements over the last century that I am taking into account as I contemplate writing them again. The first several generations of professional scholars never thanked anybody personally for helping them, even though they had lots of friends -- even wives! -- who read their work and critiqued it. A book might have a dedication, but that was it, and it was usually to a mentor, a parent or a spouse. Historians, at least, seemed to consider acts of friendship or colleagueship to be mostly private business. After 1945, this changed: a historian might make an acknowledgement to a reader or two, perhaps a colleague or a dissertation director and to sources of funding for research and sabbatical. But the most personal acknowledgement was either "to my wife" or "to Mrs. Harriet Bazooka, our departmental secretary" who "typed the manuscript." After the 1960's, however, acknowledgements became more elaborate but were still prim: sources of funding, colleagues, typists, research assistants -- and then by the 1980's, the acknowledgements section increasingly became a telephone book of family members, one's graduate student cohort, members of an undergraduate seminar taught in the spring of 2000 who wrote helpful bibliographical essays or who just talked a lot, every person who laid eyes on any piece of the manuscript, ever, from proposal stage to indexing, and everyone who cooked or cleaned for the author.

I am quite sure there is something more at work here than meets the eye. One theme of the academic blogosphere is how many conferences and presentations young scholars must attend or do at this point to be considered favorably for tenure. I'm sure this has something to do with what I am suggesting is an overwhelming recounting of attentions bestowed that is in inverse proportion to how much any reading audience cares about these favors. In that sense, acknowledgements are merely evidence of the state of The Profession: there are simply many more people who have contact with a piece of scholarship, who offer critique, and so on, because young scholars are expected to be out and about constantly. And those young scholars are, in turn, trying to give credit where credit is due. Fair enough. But this doesn't explain why people of my vintage are doing it too.

I wonder if there is a kind of reality TV thing going on -- that there is no realm of relationship that we automatically feel comfortable keeping private any more. I wonder whether anyone ever looks back on those endless, sometimes gushy, acknowledgements and says, "You know, I went too far." Aren't some people embarrassed from some of the declarations of love made so thoughtlessly at a time when the relief at being finished with the book was so overwhelming everyone and everything seemed dear to them? I think publishers are -- have you noticed that acknowledgements are now often found at the end of the book, as if the editor is hoping readers will miss them entirely? And I wonder what was going through the editor's mind when s/he signed off on the acknowledgements published by a famous cultural studies wallah some years back, where he listed the people who had *hindered* the completion of the book?

So here are a few categories I think should be easy to either eliminate or trim. I leave it up to you to guess which ones I actually included in the acknowledgements section of my first book.

1. Pets. Don't thank your dog, no matter how much you love her and how many times you wept into her fur. Many of us have wonderful, wonderful dogs and cats, ferrets and what have you, but you know - they just do pet things, important pet things, cute or soulful pet things, but not people things. Like read. And if this doesn't discourage you, when I was a grad student there was a rumor that a young historian, who had named her dog Gertrude Himmelfarb, was actually sued by Herself because of an acknowledgement "to my dachshund, Gertrude Himmelfarb." Herself and her attorneys allegedly made the publisher withdraw the first printing and retract the offending page. (Note that I am not printing this as fact, Dr. H.)

2. Manicurists, personal trainers, the rowing club, your yoga instructor, your shrink, your neighbors, the food co-op. Yes, these people probably kept you from having a breakdown, but you don't need to tell everyone about it. And these are ordinary human relationships, not contributions to scholarly thought.

3. Any of your in-laws or family members for doing what family is supposed to do under ordinary circumstances to show that they love and value you. Did they offer to take care of your children? Great. But news flash -- that's what grandparents are supposed to want to do, and they wouldn't have offered if they didn't, because they don't have to. Think how hard they pushed you to have the kids in the first place while "we can still enjoy them." Inscribe a personal copy of your book to them instead. And that goes for your partner too -- when two people have children, two people should care for them, sometimes in a temporarily (if you are lucky) unbalanced way. It's Not a Big Deal -- and if it is, not only does the public not need to know, but you might want to consider couples counseling because an acknowledgement in your book ain't gonna do it.

4. All of your friends, and everyone you were in graduate school with, and everyone who was untenured while you were and threw great dinner parties and provided sustaining fellowship. It is true, common oppression is an important bond, but personal bonds are not always meant to be shared. I sometimes think I am reading these endless lists because a) no one can afford to give everyone a book; and b) we are all afraid to leave someone out and hurt their feelings. So leave everyone out except the people who really read your work, and don't worry about it. Indicate that there were "too many to mention." Then have a party, invite them all and make a pretty speech.

5. All the most important senior scholars in your field who you ever spoke to or were on a panel with get where I am going with this. It's called Name Dropping. No, no, no. My least favorite are the lists of people who you have never even met, and who have never read your work, but whose *work* was incredibly important to *you. * It is utterly shameless to list these people.

6. OK, so it takes a village -- but do you have to list the same people numerous times in different categories of acknowledgements? That there are so many categories of aid rendered in modern acknowledgements is absurd -- people who read my work, people who cooked me dinner, people who hiked the Appalachian Trail with me, people who critiqued chapter 3. Eliminate the non-essential categories. On the other hand, make sure, if you are going to thank people promiscuously, that they are in the right categories. I have rarely been so miffed as I was when I received an offprint of an article I had given several critical readings to, to find that I was listed in the acknowledgements in between someone whose contribution was to give birth to the author and the boyfriend, who hadn't even done that.

7. Eliminate any references to a dinner club or jogging group that you all came up with a cute name for. No one else will know what you are talking about and it's pretentious to create an in-group in your own book. It's a little like being an undergrad at a certain Ivy League University and waiting for someone to say "Bones" and then walking out in a huff as if you were really going to spend the weekend with W on a Canadian island talking about your career in the CIA and subsequent role in world domination.

8. Your children. You love them, but they did not help you, and the things they said when they were mad at you for writing your book instead of going to Disneyland are not cute, they are hostile, and should be forgotten, not memorialized. Also other people have printed them all before. Many times. Yuck.

So on this fabulous note, Happy Thanksgiving -- safe home, and don't bother to take your grading with you. There are too many fabulous football games to be watched and hors d'oevres to be eaten to even think about grading.

Happy holidays, y'all.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Coming Home...And Choking

Returning from a research trip reminds me a lot of how I felt about slumber parties when I was a kid. I always looked forward to them, I always had fun, I never got enough sleep, around the middle I always wanted to come home and sleep in my own bed, I ate too much, and when I got home I was very relieved and a little sad that they were over. But of course, back then my parents would just tell me to Shape Up and Get My Homework Done: life is not directed by the parental units now and my domestic companions are far more welcoming. Sailor the dog was delighted to see me, and has clung to my side ever since, which is actually what Portuguese Water Dogs always do whether you have been away or not. N was more restrained, but she picked me up at Teenie and had already bought a pre-made dinner so I think she thought it was a good idea to have me back too.

But lucky for me, there is so much going on at home I am motivated to pull myself together lest I wake up one day to find I am President of the University, all because I haven't paid attention to my e- and snail mail.

One feature of being me right now is that I am soon returning to work at Zenith after having been on sabbatical/leave for over a year. Therefore, when folks are looking for someone to fill a need they think automatically of me. "Search committee? Hey -- how about Radical? She's been gone and doesn't have any committees!" LBGTQ students getting a little restless? "How about a special committee to investigate homophobia -- maybe Radical will chair it!" Therefore, all emails from the dean's office, the teaching center, and all groups and offices doing social justice organizing on campus are, for now, going automatically into my Junk file.

Ironically, my worst problems right now are connected with my life as core faculty in the American Studies program, a bunch who really were steadfast allies during the recently resolved Unfortunate Events (about which I will come clean one day when I have nothing better to write about.) I am supposed to become chair next fall, which is all good because a) there is a course relief; and b) it means I will not be available to chair the History Department, which I would rather not do until at least two or three of my enemies either retire, die or admit their crimes publicly. Fine, that was settled.

Then Dr. Victorian, my dear friend and ally, asked if I would be willing to take her administrative job as Center Director (the Center houses our program and another one), in addition to being chair of American Studies, should another viable candidate not appear in the next month or so. Advantages: another course relief, and summer salary. So I said yes -- more money, less teaching, and actually I am a good administrator when the folks I am ministering to are civil and decent (this does not describe a significant faction in the history department, who as you might be beginning to guess, were responsible for the Unfortunate Events.) I felt this was a good decision, and put me in a strong position to walk tall as I return to Zenith.

Now, along comes the current chair of American Studies to say, Might I consider being part of the team teaching the core course in the fall, with an Untenured Person To be Named Later? And while I'm at it, teach the methods colloquium in queer studies in the fall since, for reasons far too icky (and wacky, and litigious) to discuss, the person who was scheduled to do it may be gone. Not so good -- now what was coming in was Hard Work for no compensation. I do not dislike teaching with less experienced folk -- and I love team teaching, and teaching methods -- but you cannot do any of these things lightly. They require planning, responsibility, and mentoring -- none of which go well with snatching an old lecture out of a file and running into the room, which had been my plan. And for reasons known only to themselves, young teachers really freak out when the person who is supposed to be running the show seems to be leading her own life -- and theirs too -- by the seat of her pants (I would use an emoticon here to indicate an ironic moment if I used emoticons.)

Needless to say, upon receipt of these requests, I felt the balance tip: I had gone from being predator (my preferred position at Zenith) to being prey.

N thinks that saying yes to the American Studies requests is a wonderful opportunity to tell the History Department to go f**k itself, but the truth is, the only people in history who will get screwed by this is the new chair, a lovely man who never harmed me, and what remnants of the U.S. wing as will be available next year: a tenured colleague in U.S. history who will also be returning from leave and is probably fielding similar mail from the African-American Studies program; an even younger colonialist who will be preparing his tenure case; and a player to be named later who will be hired in the spring. And word has it that there will be another U.S. search in Fall 2007, which I will probably have to chair regardless of what else I am doing.

So to buy a little time to work this out, I shot back an email to the American Studies chair to say that I had become apprehensive about the many things I was being asked to do. I listed them all, and said that we had to have a conversation about the needs of the program. So far, silence. I don't know whether this is good or bad.

I had a friend in college who was a great physical comedian, and at moments like this he would gag, roll his eyes up into his head, and claw madly at his throat to demonstrate that he was choking under pressure. If only there were an emoticon for that! But calm down Radical, you might say, You are a full professor -- just say no! I have to tell you -- it isn't that easy at Zenith. Staffing problems are just intense, in part because we probably need 20 to 40 more faculty lines across the board, and in part because student demand has nothing to do with how resources are distributed. And I never let down my pals if I can help it. So I do need to say no -- but the question is to whom, and to what? Am I avoiding my inevitable election as chair of history at too high a cost?

Stay tuned. And I really will describe the Unfortunate Events one day, as soon as I can figure out a suitably comedic narrative.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Marching Through The Archives

Well, there was less for breakfast this morning because the entire Clemson swimming and diving team, men and women, are staying at the Hampton Inn. They are all incredibly tall, except for the women divers, who are incredibly short, and they all hoover up food. My theory is that that the "Lady Tiger" divers are gymnasts and figure skaters who, to someone's dismay, actually went into puberty, with the result that they look healthy and happy.

But this leads me to another issue: manners of the young. Every time I leave the Northeast, which I experience pretty much through the student populations of Zenith and Oligarch Universities, the young people are nicer, cleaner and more respectful of total strangers who happen to be adults. Perhaps it is a sign of middle age that I have come to value this, but I don't care. For example, the dining room this morning was really crowded with very big kids. And yet they managed not to take up all the room, made space for other people (two athletes actually crowded in with their friends at another table so I would have a place to sit), and cleaned up after themselves.

My research -- which is on feminists and the modern conservative movement in the Reagan eighties -- takes me to all kinds of places where I actually, for a short time, live among people whose parents I am writing about. Last year I went to a Christian college in the Midwest to work in the archives of a prominent national evangelist, and the students there were unbelievably sweet and decent people. They held doors for each other and for me, they were affectionate and polite with each other (do you know Christian boys hug a lot? They do.) They didn't run around making noise to get attention, like the kids at Zenith often do. And they were extremely courteous in their speech, and dressed neatly without large parts of their bodies hanging out (what is it about stomachs hanging out all over? And tube tops in Northeastern winters?)

When I came home from the Christian College, people asked me if I didn't feel weird there -- and you have to get it that I am the kind of lesbian you can not only pick out of a crowd, and I am not infrequently mistaken for a man, depending on what I am wearing and how short my hair is and what the gender conventions are in the location I am in. And the truth is I did feel weird, to begin with, but honestly -- I think it was me, not them, and it was a reminder that good manners go a very long way to put differences on the shelf and create superficial, comfortable relationships. Which is also, by the way, a reminder of why in many of the local cultures that make up "America" people regard folks being publicly gay as more or less bad manners, since if you didn't insist on being "in their faces" they could treat you as if you were a normal person like they really want to. This is how people like Mark Foley, and other highly placed Republican queers get along happily for years. It is a contract of sorts, although not one that sits comfortably with civil rights or the kind of full, personal disclosure that the culture is often simultaneously demanding and saying it values.

Combat Philosopher said in a comment I should go further South --- indeed I will, since part of what I am interested in is southern left feminism and right-wing feminism (no, this is not an oxymoron, people -- leave Chicago and the coasts and you'll see.) In the next few months I do a reverse of the March, and go to Clemson, then Atlanta. And yes CP, I haven't been to New Orleans since Katrina, and I miss it. Hope y'all are well down there and I'm very glad the hurricanes didn't show up this year. And here comes another truck of archive boxes.....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Little Boxes

Ok, so here it is, day 2 of the research trip, and I am going full-tilt boogie in the archives, having called up about thirty boxes of documents that I am now morally bound to finish by Friday since they were brought especially for me. Never let the archivist see you weep.

I am working in a particularly amazing collection where the subject of my inquiry -- a very famous feminist -- never threw anything away. The ephemera is amazing -- conference programs, protest announcements, mimeographed radical publications still bleeding purple ink. Also a lot of catalogues for sex toys (tee-hee.) This mania for collection and preservation on her part means that organizations that never archived their records (these are organizations in name only, you understand -- the records were probably kept in a shopping bag under the kitchen table) are revealed in astonishing detail, even though I have to piece the evidence together across the collection. It also means I am finding all kinds of stuff that no one would ever tell me about, or perhaps remember: a complete list of members in a radical collective, for example, or why so-and-so resigned from a certain organization (no, it wasn't about homophobia after all -- it was about supporting a crazy "sister" accused of a murder she really committed! Yay!) So it's all good. The archivists are very helpful and, although there is a big sign up saying that we are all being observed by surveillance cameras, I can't see them anywhere. I think they are fibbing about the surveillance. All the same, I never write with anything but a number 2 pencil, just to be safe.

But can we talk about the South? One of the things I teach is southern history, and on the first day of the term, when I ask students why they are taking the class, the white students often say dreamy things about having seen a movie, or a relative they once visited, or a vacation they took on Hilton Head. It is a modern version of moonlight and magnolias, and the African-American students, who often actually do have southern relatives, never say a word. Nor do I: after 16 years in the classroom, I've never learned a way to say "You are so full of s**t" in a way a student can really understand as constructive criticism. On the other hand, I have to admit, having not been south for some time, I had forgotten the tell-tale signs of crossing into the land of nullification and secesh, despite the fact that all the same food chains are here as are in Zenith and no one has yet discussed the War with me (or as Scarlett says it in GWTW, "the wo-ah.")

People are not ashamed of smoking. In fact, there is a sign up asking people NOT to smoke in the library, which suggests that from time to time they do. The lobby of my hotel reeks of smoke, and in the restaurant tonight people lit up at tables all around me without a thought.

They post the Homeland Security alert level every day in an obvious location. Today was orange, so I kept an eye out, but I think enemies of our freedoms probably wouldn't come to the archive anyway because they would be caught on the security camera.

People smile and say hi as they pass on the sidewalks. People who DO NOT KNOW ME.

I met a girl going into the library who had a hair-do with two bows cleverly set into it . A bouffant hair-do, and it was not an ironic statement because a) she was a real girl and not a drag queen; and b) she was wearing a very pretty dress and high heels too.

I bought a copy of E.L. Doctorow's The March, which is about Sherman's March through Georgia and the Carolinas, and suddenly realized when I was reading it in the student union over lunch that it was a dumb purchase for public reading in a place where Sherman actually pillaged folks' stuff.

At the Pan-Pan fish restaurant (a national chain) you could substitute hush puppies for french fries.

Students wear Campus Crusade for Christ tees.

I am very aware that I have a strong Mid-Atlantic accent (for "Philadelphia Eagles" say "Phildelphya Iggles" and run it all together) because I have to repeat myself a lot.

So I'm having lots of fun seeing the sights and being mildly touristy, even though I've decided I don't have time for the Tobacco Museum. O yeah -- and the Hampton Inn is the bee's knees. My guess is it was built after Sherman left, because there's lots of breakfast choices in the morning and none of the furniture has been bayonetted. But it's just a guess.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Research Trip: Day 1

Dateline -- Teenie Airport, Zenith, 4:45 A.M. I decided to fly out of Teenie Airport instead of Regional, because Teenie is quite near my house and Regional is about a forty-five minute drive. Regional is very reliable: always one of the last to close when weather hits the northeast, and Teenie, in my experience, is notoriously unreliable. The last time I booked out of Teenie, my return flight was a horrendous mess, and I ended up re-booking into Regional in the middle of the night and getting home about 4 a.m.

Today is no exception: I arrived at Teenie for a 5:30 flight, and it has been delayed until 6:45 because of crew rest. This means the crew got in very late last night (there was a lot of rain) and their union says they need a minimum amount of sleep in order to function. This is why assistant professors should also be in a union. On the other hand, one wants to ask the airline: surely there is a spare crew, maybe based at Regional, who you could bring in? But no: the airlines are going down the drain faster than the Iraq war and George W. Bush, and they wouldn’t dream of paying a spare crew to be around in case they were needed the day after an obviously rainy and windy evening. Instead, it is a planeload of passengers who will pay, by missing meetings they were supposed to attend, or having gotten up at 4:00 when they could have gotten up at 5:00. This, sports fans, is the state of capitalism after six years of Republican rule.

And of course, there is no coffee, and the overhead lights are so bright that no one but the student from nearby Oligarch University can sleep, and he’s curled up on the floor with his hoodie pulled down over his face.

I don’t even want to think about the microbial status of that floor.

On the plus side, there is time to blog. I am also looking ahead to a fun week of research, not to mention several interesting events I have scheduled in advance -- people to see, places to go. I am giving a talk on my new book, which gives my research budget enough relief for me to rent a car while I’m down there and make the whole trip more relaxed (try taking a taxi in the South, ok?) And I am having dinner with two colleagues, one of whom I have known since I was a wee thing, and the other of whom I don’t know at all, but who seems interesting and smart. She also directs the women’s studies program at the university I am visiting and has A Budget – for example, should I want to give a talk at Dixie University in the future, which would, of course, require an invitation.

Have I mentioned that I am in one of those periods where I am trying to buff my career and accumulate some invitations -- er, I mean, tangible accomplishments? I go through this periodically, and in the last several years, during which I experienced Unfortunate Events at Zenith, it was all about having the option to leave (which almost, by the way, worked – or at least, it resulted in some interest from a big research university that helped give Zenith the incentive to resolve things.) Now I’m not so sure about the leaving thing: at present, it may be about having the option to stay without being so annoyed all the time. Last week I pitched a small book on the ERA, which I am now sure I can get a contract and a decent advance for if I can pull myself together to write the proposal in the next couple weeks. I strongly urged a dear friend to invite me to her university for a talk, which I have never done before, but have decided to start doing because I have invited about a dozen friends to Zenith who have never reciprocated, and I think it is time to call in my chips. She capitulated gracefully, as she is a very good friend. My next move will be to call one of my former undergraduate advisees, now an associate professor of history, and strong arm her into “inviting” me. It's all in a day's work.

No goal or achievement is too minor for to be part of my progrma of self promotion and will to accomplishment. The director of the archive I am visiting said to me brightly over the phone that she hoped I was applying for a grant to come back, as it is clear I have about a month of work to do there, and this week will only scratch the surface. Could we talk while I was down? Love it, I replied brightly; Let’s have lunch! (Translate: Wouldn’t you like to take me to lunch?)

You know I forget this for months, even years, at a time, but about a quarter century ago, when I was an undergraduate at Oligarch, my best friend (now a full professor at a fancy private university) said to me, You know Radical, the way the world works is this: Those who get, get more. And while I don’t exactly approve of this, I have to look around me at the world of higher education and agree, so for the next months I am going to behave as though this were true and see what happens.

Evening addendum: my program is working without me even having to try! My rental car was upgraded for free to a large purple truck by the rental agent, on his own initiative! Do you think he could tell I'm a lesbian?