Everything changes, part I

So many European medievalists and early modernists have Latin tattoos that I’m now declaring that this is A Thing. (I know: I’m probably the last to notice!) First, we have the example of the late, great (in bloggy terms) Squadratomagico, whose tattoo is on the back of her neck & which I have met in person (scholar, neck, tattoo, and all.) Then when I got to the Huntington, I noticed that a medievalist here has a mid-thirteenth century quotation from a manuscript tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.

Finally, we have Flavia, who has celebrated her fortieth birthday and her retirement from the job market alike by getting a Latin tattoo, also on the inside of her left forearm. Her tat says “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” or “Everything changes, nothing perishes,” which is a thought so lovely that it makes me cry. Of course it’s from Ovid’s Metamorphoses–what else?  (Why the inside of the left forearm?  I get the inside part, as it’s more protected from the sun and other injuries, but is the choice of right versus left merely a personal one or dependent on right- or left-handedness?)

I asked my tattooed Huntington colleague if he thought so many of his medievalist colleages had tattoos because medieval scholars in particular are accustomed to ink on skin through their work on vellum documents and manuscripts.  (Vellum is a fine parchment made from lamb or kid skins, and is among the oldest paper-like technology we have for recording and preserving information.)  He agreed that this might be an interesting connection, and also said that it’s pretty popular for people to get textual tattoos these days anyway.  He also connected his tattoo to a major life change–in his experience, winning tenure, whereas for Flavia it was her fortieth birthday. Continue reading

We Got the Beat: the systematic denigration and devaluation of women artists because they’re women

Via David Salmonson (Western Dave) on Twitter, I found this from Shannon Hale, a Young Adult fiction writer, on a recent experience on a school visit to talk about her books:

This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn’t until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.

Later a teacher told me, “The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”

“Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?”

“Yes,” she said.

I tried not to explode in front of the children.

Continue reading

Timothy Egan is the only guy who gets it

Timothy Egan is the kind of guy you’d think I could agree with:  He thinks history is important! He thinks we should write history to engage and fascinate our readers!  He thinks assaults on high school Advanced Placement history classes are foolish, as he states in his recent essay on the misguided attempts in Oklahoma to control the A.P. American history curriculum!

I agree with him on all of the above, but then he goes and writes something just as dumb and as dishonest as any opportunistic Okie legislator would write:

With the latest initiatives, the party of science denial is now getting into history denial. On the academic front, they have a point, indirectly. Much of the A.P history framework is boring, bland, and sounds like it was written by committee, which it was. There’s little narrative, drama, heroics or personality — in other words, the real-life stuff that makes for thrilling history.

Here’s a sample “learning objective” from the current national course and exam description from the College Board: “Analyze the role of economic, political, social and ethnic factors on the formation of regional identities in what would become the United States from the colonial period through the 19th century.” And you wonder why the humanities are in trouble.

That’s right:  “a sample ‘learning objective'” apparently must be just as thrilling and as full of “narrative, drama, heroics [and] personality” as Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, otherwise it’s just further proof that historians and educators are just as bad as the Oklahoma legislators who want history to be all happy talk about the Founding Fathers.

Egan pretends not to know that there’s a difference in the ways that educators communicate with each other, and the ways in which they communicate with their students, readers of history, or the general public about their work.  He writes as though an internal process document or a sample exam question exactly describes what is taught in A.P. high school classrooms.  He writes to suggest that classroom educators aren’t smart enough to know how to talk to their own students about history, and implies that they’re smart enough to communicate in professional shorthand with one another about the boring (but necessary) stuff. Continue reading

What makes for a good MFA student makes for a good grad student too.

Via an amie on Twitter, we read of Ryan Boudinot’s “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now that I No Longer Teach in One.”  More accurately, this would be called “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Students Now that I No Longer Teach Them,” and implicitly he offers excellent advice to anyone contemplating an advanced degree of just about any kind.  To wit:

If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

I went to a low-residency MFA program and, years later, taught at a low-residency MFA program. “Low-residency” basically means I met with my students two weeks out of the year and spent the rest of the semester critiquing their work by mail. My experience tells me this: Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student. On a related note: Students who ask if they’re “real writers,” simply by asking that question, prove that they are not.

(Portions bolded in blue are highlighted by Historiann.)  Right on!  Either you have time to devote to professional training and development, or you don’t.  If you don’t, then wait until you have the time to prioritize your education.  (And please, for the love of God don’t take out loans for an education you can’t prioritize!)  Sadly, universities (like mine!) are encouraging the fantasy that college or graduate school are things you can do in your jammies at home on your own time while also raising a family and holding down a full-time day job, and presumably getting the laundry done, keeping everyone fed and kitted out, and staying physically fit.  (Good luck with that!)

However, a degree  like that, however honestly and earnestly pursued, is not the equal of a degree pursued as your number one priority.  Life is long, and graduate school is short, so make the time you spend there really count.

Here’s another bon mot that seems specific to MFA students, but is in fact useful for grad students and scholars everywhere: Continue reading

Oliver Sacks is dying an optimist

A  great public intellectual writes about his robust good spirits in the face of a terminal diagnosis:

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

.       .       .       .       .

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Continue reading

There are no founding mothers, just embarassing aunties and cleaner-uppers: the care work we demand of women and no one else

ensler

Eve Ensler

This story, of Mount Holyoke College cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it was deemed exclusive of transwomen’s experiences, is a perfect example of the care work we expect of women, their institutions, and feminism, and of no one else.  We never demand that men’s or male-dominated political movements or institutions serve absolutely every other social justice issue first, second, or third, before they can work on their announced and preferred issue or issues.  This is only a demand we make of women and their institutions and political movements, because we expect this kind of care work from women and not from men.

On a related note:  the message here is just shut up.  Stop talking.  Stop acting like your experience is relevant to anyone else.  Shut up, already!!!  Stop talking about vaginas!  As though any one monologue–get it?–could presume to represent everyone’s experience.  The title of the play is very intentionally The Vagina Monologues, with the “s” indicating that there is more than one experience recounted here.  But somehow, we see the word Vagina, and we stop thinking and start screaming “SHUT UP!!!” Continue reading