Cake week, Monday edition: Reefer badness!

This past weekend was spent gathering ingredients and starting a little holiday baking, so I thought a little cake blogging would be in order this week, which is finals’ week at Baa Ram U.  More cake and baking fun will follow, but today’s post offers a cautionary tale.  Friends, although the people of this great state have voted to decriminalized recreational pot use for people 21 and older, it’s still illegal to feed your classmates and your proffie pot brownies without their full consent:

Two University of Colorado at Boulder students are facing multiple felony charges after they allegedly fed marijuana-laced brownies to their unsuspecting history class — leading to the hospitalization of three people.

The professor of the course was taken to a hospital by paramedics Friday after complaining of dizziness and dropping in and out of consciousness.

.       .       .       .       .

Thomas Ricardo Cunningham, 21, and Mary Elizabeth Essa, 19, baked THC-laced brownies for their class at the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building on Friday, said Ryan Huff, CU police spokesman.

After the professor was taken to the hospital, a student’s mother notified campus police that her daughter, who had been in the professor’s class, was in the hospital after having a panic attack.

Later that day, the parents of another student in the same class took their daughter to a hospital after she told them she felt like she would black out. Continue reading

Notes on X

Here’s something amazing I learned from Dreaming in French:  The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, by Alice Kaplan (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2012).  Apparently, even Susan Sontag struggled against an inner Disney Princess!

The X Factor

With two books in print, life went on–the more and more dazzling public life, the secret inner life.  Life and work were tightly combined, yet under the pile of manuscripts, cultural outings, and intellectual connections was a constant buzz of worry, a struggle that preoccupied her throughout the winter months of 1960, in her daily existence with [her lover] Irene and her son David.  She called it “X”–the overwhelming desire to please, to appease, to see oneself through other people’s reactions, to spare other people’s feelings, to care what they think.  Women, she decided, were X; America itself, with its cult of popularity, was “a very Xy country.”  “X is the scourge,” she wrote in February 1960:  “How do I really cure myself of X?”  She made lists of X situations, X feelings, X characteristics, and finally connected her personal problem to a concept in existential philosophy:  “X is Sartre’s bad faith,” (125-26). Continue reading

That time of the year: empty brains, embodiment, Bartleby, and the mooks pushing MOOCs

This is a cross-section of my skull right now.  Last classes are tomorrow.

I am grateful to MOOCs and to the specter of online courses for something:  they have made me grateful for the “residential instruction” classes I teach and the embodied human students who enroll in them.  I’ve had a particularly great group of students in both classes this term, and I’ve had fun writing new lectures and inventing new writing assignments for them.  I think we’ve had some fascinating conversations, too, about the new books we’ve read together.

I will admit that those embodied students are sometimes problematic.  A few of them have gotten pregnant this term–both of them happily so, fortunately.  One of them has unhappily suffered from complications from a brain surgery and a botched root canal.  Others of them have been called to jury duty, to custody hearings, or to funerals for their formerly embodied family members.  One even served as a delegate to the Democratic National convention.  Continue reading

Historians: we’re great, but what the hell is wrong with you?

2,440 Associate and full Professors surveyed by the American Historical Association tell the rest of academia to get off their lawns:

The historians in the survey were generally satisfied with their careers, with 41.2 percent reporting they were somewhat satisfied, 46.5 percent reporting they were very satisfied and only 2.2 percent reporting they were very dissatisfied.

One area of frustration — with 55.7 percent expressing dissatisfaction — was “effectiveness of academic leadership” at their institutions. Comments indicated that many were frustrated by responses to recent economic challenges.

The area of greatest frustration was students, with 69.2 percent of the respondents expressing dissatisfaction with their undergraduates, and 67.3 percent reporting dissatisfaction with graduate students. In comments with the survey, historians worried about the impact of poorly prepared students on their classes. One wrote that “increasingly poorly prepared students have necessitated that I spend ever greater amounts of time on preparing courses, assessment of student work, and remediation of student work in my teaching.”

And your music?  It’s just noise!

Thoughts on Little Women

Little Women, 1933

Barbara Sicherman offers some interesting thoughts about Little Women on the occasion of Louisa May Alcott’s 180th birthday (yesterday) and its influence on generations of women around the world (h/t to reader LKK for this.)  She says that the book’s durability is due to its surprisingly modern sensibilities, perhaps most memorably in the person of Jo March, Alcott’s alter-ego:

Perhaps the most important reason for the novel’s survival is a heroine with unusual appeal. Some readers have identified with the other March sisters, but it is Jo March, the rambunctious tomboy and bookworm who is unladylike and careless of her appearance, who carries the story. The vast majority of readers, past and present, have identified with her. Jo’s presumed flaws are precisely the characteristics that speak to preadolescent and adolescent readers, themselves struggling with issues of growing up.

Alcott, who modeled Jo in her own image, created a character that continues to appeal. As J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and herself a “Jo,” observed: “It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a bad temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.”

For readers on the threshold of adulthood, the book’s embrace of female ambition has been a significant counterweight to more habitual gender prescriptions. For years there were few alternative models, although in my generation, the Nancy Drew books helped. Even today, some girls still respond to the portrait of Jo, the enthralled and enthralling writer.

It’s a good time of the year to consider Little Women, as the novel opens with Marmee and the March girls cooking Christmas breakfast.  I think I read LW when I was eleven, in the sixth grade.  I remember being so moved by the idea of Jo reading a pile of books while eating “russetts” in her “garrett” as to climb a tree with an apple in my teeth and the novel under my arm in order to re-enact Jo’s escape as best I could.  Continue reading

CFP, Early American Studies: Beyond the Binaries

“The Publick Universal Friend”

Last week I received this call from Rachel Hope Cleves at the University of Victoria for a special issue of Early American Studies she’s editing on the subject of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America:”

Deadline for Proposal: 31 January 2013
            In a 1993 article in Sciences, biologist and historian Anne Fausto-Sterling provocatively argued that human sex could not be neatly divided into two simple categories, men and women. Instead, she recommended a five-part system of categorization, including men, women, merms, ferms, and herms. At the time of publication, Fausto-Sterling’s tongue-in-cheek proposal provoked more criticism than applause, but in the past two decades scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from neuroscience to gender studies, have added evidence to her assertion that binary sex categories are not a biological rule. With a few exceptions, however, historians of early America have been slow to question the binary of man and woman. In the uproar provoked by her proposal, few recall that Fausto-Sterling began her article not with a headline grabbed from the daily papers, but with an historical example dating to 1840s Connecticut.
            Now, recent work by historians including Elizabeth Reis, Clare Sears, and Peter Boag, indicates a growing attention to the instability of sex in early America. Their studies illuminate the existence and social knowledge of individuals whose bodies, gender identities, and desires defied neat divisions. Moreover, these works provoke questions about the coherence of the binary sex categories that historians assume as foundational. What did it mean to be a woman or a man in early America, if, as Reis points out, in 1764 a thirty-two year old woman named Deborah Lewis could change sex, becoming a man named Francis Lewis, and live for another six decades as an accepted patriarch within his community? How fixed were sex identities in early America? What possibilities existed for the expression of gender identities that stood at variance with embodied sex? What social practices created opportunities for the blending and rearrangement of sex identities? How did hierarchies of race and class destabilize or re-stabilize sex binaries? Should “men” and “women” be understood as variable rather than unitary categories?
          To encourage these questions, and others like them, Early American Studies invites proposals for essay submissions on the theme of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America” for a special issue to be published in fall 2014. Continue reading