Friday, October 17, 2014

Lock in and let go

I'm not a Celebrity Cult kind of person, but I was really struck by this interview when I caught it on NPR this morning.

"Lock in and let go" seems to be good advice for lots of things, not just acting and riding cutting horses.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Little Online Dating Advice

This is not advice about finding Twoo Wuv online.  I have no experience with that.

I do, however, have some suggestions about how to go on Nice First Dates.  About four years ago, I tried online dating for the first time, and it was kind of a disaster.  Not a disaster for my comedy routine, should I ever have one, but I went on a lot of bad dates.  If we were friends then, you probably remember some of the stories: the suicidal robin, the tattoo artist and ferret breeder, etc.

This time, however, it's been different.  I've gone on four first dates in six weeks with four different guys, and every single one of them has been pleasant.  I am four for four!  And while four is not a statistically significant result, but here's what I've done differently this time, and what I suggest. 

Be honest.  Or, in other words, own it.  I am not apologizing about the PhD or hiding the fact that I have one.  Nor am I hiding the fact that I'm short, curvy, and have a crooked nose and glasses.  Get that up on your profile right away so you can weed out the guys who aren't into that sort of thing.

Be selective.  In my first attempt, I decided to accept every date and write back to every (non-offensive) message, just to keep my options open.  This was a bad move.  It was a waste of energy and I spent a lot of time being frustrated that I spent time corresponding with jerks.  So don't correspond with jerks.  And don't get involved in elaborate correspondence with some computer scientist in Finland.  Talk to people you could actually meet.  Speaking of which...

Meet early. All the written chemistry in the world does not necessarily mean chemistry in person.  So don't let the messaging go on for ever.  A cup of coffee after three or four messages is totally fine.

Set low expectations.  Remember that it's just coffee.  Or dinner.  Or a walk through the farmer's market.  Or whatever it is.  It is not a referendum on your attractiveness or lovable-ness.  It is not a marriage proposal. So you go, then, not expecting to meet The One (tm), but rather expecting to have a pleasant hour or so. 

Give him a chance.  If the guy seems polite and reasonably attractive, then go.  If it isn't pleasant, you never have to go again.  But it's worthwhile, particularly for academics, to practice basic social skills.  So give it a shot. 

Be kind. Not working out?  Say so clearly, kindly, and quickly.  "Thanks so much for a lovely evening.  You seem like a great guy, but I don't think we're a match."  Done.

Be safe.  I did this the first time, but it's worth emphasizing.  Meet in a public place.  Tell your best friend who you're meeting, where you're meeting, and what time you'll call her to let her know how it went. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thursday reading

There's a new report out from Pew Research on singleness, marriage, education, and economics in America, if you're in interested in that kind of thing.

A few particularly relevant findings for this blog and its (two) readers:

  • "Today’s young adults are slow to tie the knot, and a rising share may end up not getting married at all." 
  • "For young adults who want to get married, financial security is a significant hurdle."
  • "Among never-married young adults with post-graduate degrees, women outnumber men by a large margin." [No surprise there, sez I.]

Do read it all.

On ISIS, education, and women

Dear all,

Here's your reading for today.


A girl with a book

Monday, September 22, 2014

What would I do differently?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately for some reason.  What would I do differently in my life if I knew I were never going to get married? And you know, having thought about it for a while, here's what I've got:

1. I would stop looking.  I would de-activate the online profile thing, I would stop glancing at the left hand of every cute man who's roughly my age that I meet.  I would simply stop caring.  This big lurking question would be answered, and I would have to think about other things, but not about that any more. 

2. I would cut my hair.  I have had short(ish) hair most of my life, and about four years ago, I decided to grow it out.   It's been long(ish) ever since.  Several years ago, though, a male friend of mine made the kind of remark in passing that has stuck with me.  As a throwaway comment, he quipped, "if you'd always had long hair, you would have been married years ago!"  It was profoundly hurtful, implying not only that my primary value as a woman is in the way men (particularly him) think of my appearance, but also that the solution to something that has been hard--being single for almost all of my adult life--could easily have been mine had I only followed this one totally obvious piece of advice.  I'm not consciously keeping my hair long because I think he was right, but I wonder how much those words are rattling around in the back of my head.

I don't think I'm ready to stop looking--although I should probably stop doing the ring scan--but I may get a dramatic haircut anyway. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Small victories in street harassment

One of my favorite things about my new life is that I can walk to my office. 

Today was the first day in six weeks that I have walked all the way there and all the way back home without a single instance of a man: whistling at me, screaming at me, honking a car horn at me, making a rude gesture at me, yelling at me, or grabbing his crotch in front of me.

Today, I just walked there and walked home. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Moving on

I had a tough time in graduate school.  Many (most?) people do, so I am certainly not unique in that.  It was, however, nearly always grueling and very often traumatic.  I felt like I was the worst version of myself: the most neurotic, anxious, tightly-wound, unhappy, irritable person I could be.  But now, miraculously, I find myself in a vibrant small city, with kind colleagues and interesting students, with a paycheck and dental insurance.  I feel the surfeit of anxiety and anger and cynicism and defensiveness beginning to wash away.  And that---stay with me through the apparent non sequitur here---is in large part why I was so excited about The Dates. They seemed somehow emblematic of this new life, of new possibilities and opportunities, of potential.

Making a glass of wine emblematic of a major life change assigns it enormous weight, so I'm trying simply to note this feeling and do the next thing: grade the papers, find a place to jog, begin to meet people at my new church, reply to emails, go on another date... all without freaking out too much.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Update: Actual Dates

So the first one was fine: nice conversation, nice guy.  It was friendly and collegial.  Sitting on a dock on a river watching the sunset while engaging in a little pleasant chatter with a beer in hand is a nice way to spend the evening. 

The second one was...


The second one was the way I imagine first dates should go.

This is even though I was late [&@£$ one-way streets and poorly marked parking garages in new cities!!] and overdressed [Miss Manners would say it's better to be overdressed than underdressed, and my friend A. would firmly insist that there's no such thing as overdressed].  There was a glass of good wine and a stroll around the historic downtown of the city and a few art galleries.  He was a good conversationalist, kind, funny, interesting, and well-mannered.  I found him delightful.  It was a lovely evening.   

So now I am trying to remember that you can't know much about a person in half-a-dozen emails and one evening.  I am trying to remember that a lovely evening is simultaneously both no small thing and a very small thing indeed.  I am trying not to check my phone compulsively to see if he has called.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Not Not-A-Dates

Stop the presses.  I went on A Real Date last night (pint on a deck overlooking the river) and am going on another one tonight (swanky cocktail bar downtown).  If you're counting, that's two real dates in thirty-six hours, approximately the same number that I went on in four years in my previous town.

I continue to feel as though I am leading somebody else's life, not my own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's for dinner

David Lebovitz's roasted tomatoes.  Because my eyes are bigger than my stomach where the farmer's market is concerned, I have had a surfeit of cherry tomatoes over the past few weeks.  I have cooked them as Lebovitz recommends and eaten them: with a spoon directly from the pan, tossed with linguine with a teeny bit of pecornio romano grated across the top, and thrown on top of a pile of mixed greens with a few kalamata olives.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Settling in

So the antique mirror is above the fireplace.  A huge bouquet of flowers, courtesy of Best Friend O. is overflowing from a vase on the dining room table.  My grandmother's silver tea set is on the cabinet, and my great-grandmother's tea cups are inside.  The bookshelf is up, anchored to the wall, and filled with all the fiction (alphabetized by author), poetry (ditto), and miscellaneous art books, atlases of foreign countries, and crumbling antique foreign-language grammar books.  None of the plants, dug up in haste from my perennial herb garden and dumped unceremoniously into an assortment of pots, have yet died on the balcony.  The keys are in the little bowl I made as a small child on a table by the door, the good sheets are on the bed, and the cat is lounging on the desk, draping his paws over the edge.

In short, we are settling in. 

And part of that settling in means looking around and imagining a new life in a new place.

So there's the overwhelming task, overwhelming even to an extrovert like myself, of saying yes to every. single. invitation, even when it means you end up at a departmental party, looking lost, trying desperately to find some nice cheerful soul who will introduce you around so you can talk to somebody.

There's the trip to the grocery store that takes twice as long as it should, because you have to walk the entire length of the store three times before you find the bread. 

There's the church-hopping.  Best part of church hopping?  Getting to sing one of my favorite hymns four weeks in a row at four different churches.  Worst part?  Sheepishly raising hand during the "Are-there-any-newcomers-here?-please-raise-your-hand" announcement at one church, and the being completely ignored by those around me.  Awesome.

I don't feel lonely yet.  I'm recovering from a stressful summer and I am, frankly, still tired, so I've been sleeping in my spare time.  But can imagine that some time soon I may be lonely, in part because everyone is married here.  Now, I'm sure that's not true.  It can't possibly be true.  But in almost a month in new town at new job, I can't think of one person I've met who's single.  Not the co-workers, not my boss, not the new postdoc, not the IT folks, not the people I've talked to at the churches, not my TA.  Not one. 

But at the same time, I'm more relaxed in my single state than I've been in a while.  Firing up that old online dating profile to see if anything new floats to the surface in a new town several years since the last attempt has reminded me that what I've got on my own is no bad thing.  For instance, I was matched with a man who had a self-disclosed preference for a girl with "nice eyebrows."  I have no idea what that even means, and must confess that I giggled.  I mean, who on earth thinks that, much less writes it down for other people to read?  And the bigger issue still is that I promptly thought "are my eyebrows nice?" and actually thought about this later that night when I was brushing my teeth.  I looked in the mirror and evaluated my eyebrows because some stranger on the internet said he like nice eyebrows.  That's clearly a stop on the train line to CrazyTown.  So I just need to remember that being single, even if it is the extreme minority, is frankly more appealing than assessing eyebrows.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

For the first day of the semester

A useful reminder: students want professors who challenge them and care about them.

A call to arms: teachers need to shape the discussion about education reform.

A soundtrack: something to hum on your way to class.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Wisdom about love is not limited to those blessed with partners."

Sara Eckel does it again.  Read it all.

An update

Since my last post, I have finished my dissertation, moved to a new city, and started a new job.  E had already finished her PhD, but she also moved to a new city and started a new job.

So the béguinage has been full of boxes, the stress of trying to find the grocery store, eager anticipation of the actual arrival of that first paycheck, and a little bit of looking around thinking, "what have I done?"

Posting will resume at a slightly more reasonable rate soon, I hope. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Things you should read this week

(In order of priority)

The Washington Post on the backlog in processing evidence of sexual assault.

Then, on a lighter note:

The Dissolve on female characters in movies.

First Things on Not-A-Dates.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Quotidian happenings

These things happened today:
  • I got called Mrs. Lastname twice by strangers.
  • I ran into an ex-boyfriend.  [Most of the men I know -- including ex-boyfriends -- are really wonderful guys and I am very fond of them.  But there are exceptions every once in a while, and this one is an exception.  Ugh.]
  • I stopped at a local sandwich place for lunch and was asked, "are you two paying together?" I said no -- I had no idea who the guy in line behind me was -- and the cashier said, very loudly, "You're here ALL ALONE?!?" Because no woman could ever walk into a chain sandwich restaurant and say yes, she's dining in.  
  • I was in a 45-minute meeting with one other woman and a man.  The man -- who was not originally supposed to be attending the meeting -- interrupted me and the other woman again and again and again.  I got three uninterrupted comments in.  She got two.  The meeting was supposed to be between the two of us, and we got a total of five sentences.
Not one of these things on its own is a big deal, but the weight of all of it together (especially the meeting!) took a lot out of me today. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

John Steinbeck on love

From a 1958 letter to his oldest son.  

"There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Concerning #yesallwomen

I've been trying to stay apart from the #yesallwomen phenomenon sparked by egregious acts of violence at UC Santa Barbara not long ago.  This is primarily a survival strategy on my part -- I can't afford to loose that kind of anger right now.

But I do want to respond briefly by (1) posting a link which provides a glimpse of what the movement is all about, and (2) stating what I take to be the underlying point.

(1) This link publishes together 17 tweets affiliated with the movement that succinctly provide common responses to the myriad issues being discussed.  All of them are representative of the broader movement; many of them express attitudes I readily relate to.

(2) I want to respond briefly to the #notallmen counter-movement with a statement that many others have already made, but nevertheless which I believe is the major lesson to be gleaned from this:

Those of us who are speaking out against sexual harassment are not claiming that all men engage in such activities. Yet the fact remains that all of the women we know have been sexually harassed by men (hence "yes, all women").   Can you appreciate the logic here? The issue is not a call to misandry, but rather a call for men to recognize that sexual harassment is a "fact of life" for women -- even in the U.S. -- and that this is an unacceptable, intolerable state of affairs. 

In the country where I currently live, I am harassed (to varying degrees) nearly every day.  This is part of the reason why I haven't been more vocal about #yesallwomen -- it's hard enough to fight my own individual battle.  Just walking to the bus or to buy groceries or to choir practice or taking a taxi is an anxiety-inducing, stressful occasion that saps my strength noticeably.  I am constantly on-edge and often seething with anger just below the surface. It isn't this intense in the U.S. (thank God), as far as just walking on the street goes.  But it is still intolerably bad in other venues.

Awareness is the first step --and that means you, men.  Because all women are/have been/continue to be sexually harassed whether or not you are aware of it, and whether or not you are the cause of it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We Can't Have It All... But Neither Can Men

I've been re-watching The West Wing lately. And yes -- for those of you keeping track, this marks the second time I've watched the series in less than 8 months -- a level of nerdiness on my part that is only eclipsed by the fact that I read the Tolkien cannon with even higher average frequency...

But I digress.  Last night I watched an episode in which the First Family's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, has decided to help her politically clueless husband run for Congress. Her father (President Bartlet) isn't a fan of the arrangement:

[Your husband's] a great guy and a fantastic father. You're the politician. Why the hell don't you run?


Because Annie [Liz's teenaged daughter] pierced her face. And this one [holding up her son's baseball mitt] can't catch, or bathe.


You can handle it.


You can't. Forgive me, Ms. Steinem and Ms. Friedan, you cannot do it


Your mother did.


No, Daddy. She didn't.

Bartlet goes on to apologize (in so many words) for the moments he sacrificed fatherhood on behalf of a political career, but later in the episode the First Lady -- Dr Bartlet -- also apologizes for the sacrifice her children made on behalf of her career.

And that's what got me thinking.  Elizabeth Bartlet is wrong to invoke famous feminists in the scene quoted above, because she's only taking one side of the perspective -- that of the woman/mother -- whereas the parents, President and Dr Bartlet, correctly recognize that when both parents have a career, neither parent can "have it all". Nor should they expect to.

If "having it all" for a woman means being able to pursue her career just as she would were she not a mother, than this old feminist mantra is an obvious (and, I might add, rather silly) falsehood:  having kids requires sacrifice.  But the same is true for men, and this is something we've not often talked about in connection to the question of "having it all". Should men with children be urged or expected to pursue a career as if they didn't have children? Should women?

If what is meant by "having it all" is that women can and should be enabled to successfully manage a career and a family at the same time, then I couldn't agree more -- but with qualification: it must be recognized that the success of both career and family on the part of the woman is contingent on the man's also pitching in and sacrificing in his career in order to have a family.  In other words: a woman cannot have it all if she's the only one making sacrifices.

The ultimate goal for society should not be, contra third-wave feminists, to get to a place where women can approach their careers "as if on a par with men", because this view relies on an overturned, outmoded, misplaced Mad-Men-esque gender bias that allows -- nay, encourages or even expects -- all men, including those with children, to go on behaving like bachelors.  That is, to align their time, energies, focus and career priorities in a way that supersedes or neglects all other considerations. Instead, we should aim for a society that encourages both women and men to think very differently about their careers and how they will direct their own finite resources once children are part of their story.  Hint: it ought to look different than if they were single.

This is a point the church has understood for several millennia now.  It's why until very recently (relative to its venerable age, that is) the church has always had celibates in prominent leadership roles -- people without children, without spouses.  Because the church has always recognized that the project of puzzling the deep questions of God and leading God's people in right ways is a job that requires total sacrifice to the gig.  When one has a wife or a husband or children, one cannot serve the church in the same way, and that's because he or she has a family requiring nurture as well.

The same is true of other callings, and for me that means as an academic.  I will use this time of my life when I am single to give all I can to the sort of research, teaching, and building of personal and professional relationships as only a single person can. Because I know that if one day I should enter a relationship, then having children will become a possibility and that will mean sacrifice in lots of directions... as well as great reward, of course.

Just as I was finalizing this entry, I was forwarded by a dear friend (thanks B!) a really excellent HuffPost article about Having It All, written by a woman/mother/author I know and greatly admire. I resonated with her deeply on her main point: it's important to ponder how we're defining the "all" in "having it all".  Give it a whirl (click here to read) and get back to me, will ya? Otherwise I'll go on re-watching The West Wing ad infinitum instead of pondering the deep questions of life...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Job Interview Tips

As someone who recently entered and then (thanks be to the good, sweet, merciful Lord) exited the job market, I thought I might share some nuggets of wisdom with y'all about the whole experience.

Nice thought, right?  Yeah, I'm a nice girl.
But then I had second thought. And that thought went something like this: "Damn! Who am I kidding? I have two book projects, four talks, and a few papers to finish before I start my first tenure-track job in three months, Oh GOD WHAT AM I DOING?!?!?!!?!"  [panicked breathing, muscle convulsions, whimpering...]

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I decided not to share job market wisdom with you.  Isn't that a nice story with some sort of lurking moral? But I don't want to leave you high and dry either, dear The Readers.  So instead I've decided to post this helpful video on job interview tactics.  And by "helpful" I mean "hilarious", and by "tactics" I mean "as interpreted through the eyes of two small children."

You're welcome.

Now back to those two book projects.... [more whimpering]

Friday, May 2, 2014


In a day or so, I'm off to my third funeral in six weeks.  So there's that.

There's also no job and an unfinished dissertation.  I've had a tough semester with students, the worst winter on record in about a century, and damage to my car that means when I drive down the road, I sound like I want to be part of a biker gang... in my '99 Camry. 

These are pretty dark days, friends.

And so I find myself, more than usual, adjusting expectations and simply trying to cope.  And this is what coping looks like these days:
  1. Weekly phone calls with dear friends on opposite coasts.  Even if we only talk for 10 minutes, these calls are lifelines.
  2. Attempting to eat reasonable food.  This takes so much effort during seasons like this;  going through the grocery store, finding something healthy/fast/affordable to prepare/cook/eat feels like an overwhelming task.  But so help me, I am trying to avoid eating Hagen-Dasz out of the carton... or when I do, to at least be sure I've had kale for dinner first.   
  3. Lacing up the running shoes and heading out the door.  I'm not much of a runner.  I'm very, very slow.  But most days, I give myself permission to be glad that I simply made it out the door.  The thwap, thwap, thwap of my shoes on the pavement is reassuring somehow, and I find that my mind is always clearer after I run.
  4. Praying.  "Lord, have mercy," is about all I've got these days.  But turning my thoughts there seems to help.
  5. Periodic appointments with a very good therapist.  She's smart, she's funny, she says things like, "it is amazing that you are going through all this stress and not developing psychological disorders," which make me feel better.  I am working to keep myself together, and it's so helpful to have suggestions for how to do that and encouragement that it seems to be effective.
Other thoughts or suggestions for favorite coping strategies? 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Today, I aspire to a job in an environment in which a comment on my attire is not the standard way to open a conversation.

The first conversation I had this morning went like this: 

Me: "Good morning, [Professor X]."

Prof X, disapproving: "Hello, Lauren.  You look very school-marm-ish today."

Me, cheerfully: "Oh!  In a good way, I hope!"

Prof X, doubtfully: "Well I don't know... I'm really not sure about those shoes."

For Pete's sake. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Open Letter to Our Unwritten Open Letters

Dear Unwritten Open Letters,

The other day I stumbled upon a hilarious time-suck of a website: Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.  It is but one creative outlet for the many excellent authors associated with McSweeney's Publishing of San Francisco.

Among the varied and delicious aspects of Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency is a column entitled Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond. Here are a few titles from the column, sufficient in and of themselves for eliciting the sort of chuckle-fit that can drive an officemate to madness.

An Open Letter to My Ex-Fiancé About My Recent Arm Amputation

An Open Letter to the Man On Who Emailed Me to Fix a Grammar Mistake On My Profile Page

An Open Letter to My Toddler Regarding His Use of My iPhone

An Open Letter to the City and County Inspector Who Fined Me $500 Even Though the Weeds in My Front Lawn Were Well Under the 6” Regulation Height

An Open Letter to the Gentleman Blow-Drying His Balls in the Gym Locker Room

An Open Letter to the Glorious New Couple That Rose Like a Phoenix from the Infernal Failure That Was My Last Relationship

An Open Letter to Undated Yard Sale Signs and the Yard Sale Purveyors Who Make Them

An Open Letter To The Inanimate Objects In My Apartment That Just Sat There While I Was Heartbroken

An Open Letter to the Gym Shorts That Are Not in My Gym Bag

And so forth.

Scanning this column left me convicted, dear Unwritten Open Letters, of the fact that you were still, at present, unwritten. You see, when L and I first came up with the idea of creating you several months (years?) ago, we had been eating very good food and drinking very good caffeinated coffees wiling away good times in good company in a good city. And we had every good intention of carrying out these plans to draw you up.  But then the caffeine wore off, we waved adieu to each other and the city and the delicious coffee... and the business of life once again requisitioned our time and creative energies.  That, and we couldn't agree on the appropriate font.

Among the list of your envisioned kin were:
An Open Letter to Married Friends
An Open Letter to Friends With Kids
An Open Letter to Church Leaders on How To Incorporate Non-married Persons

A proper list, to be sure, and topics that deserve attention.  But fear not! Despite our negligence in bringing you to fruition, other people have gone ahead and done it for us -- put in the hard work of writing on these topics, and doing so brilliantly.

For example, several months ago My Lovely Sister-in-Law made me add to my intentionally spartan Bookmark Bar a link to an interview conducted by her pastor, the now-Bishop Stewart Ruch. It's all about how to preach Celibacy. I just now read it (sorry for the delay, Sis-in-Law!) and it is outstanding.  All that's left for me to do now is provide the link. Here is the link.

In summation, dear Unwritten Open Letters, you are for the present to remain as such. But who knows what the future will bring?

Yours in spirit, if not letter (see what I did there?)
E & probably also L

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Possible Theories As To My Interminable Singleness

Theory #1:  I Just Haven't Met the Right Guy Yet

While having the merit of being most likely the correct theory, it is nevertheless wanting in terms of entertainment value.  Thus I propose alternate theories, all of which contain hypotheses already thoroughly and successfully subjected to empirical verification...

Theory #2: My Uncontrollable, Frequent Bouts with Klutziness are Not As Charming As I Think

In moments of greater confidence in my physical appearance (typically corresponding with moments spent in the presence of good girlfriends, and typically in conjunction with an abundance of finely distilled whiskies) I used to joke that there was a Hotness Conservation Law (yes, I frequently make jokes involving conservation laws; cf. Theory #3):  the hotter a person is, the klutzier he or she has to be. In other words, being the cause of numerous, nominally awkward social situations is necessary in order to, you know, make it up to the rest of the universe for having been, through no real design of his or her own, the receiver of a physical appearance our culture deems "hot".

I no longer hold to this conservation law, based on years of research:  I manage to exhibit profound unawareness of the spatial properties of proximate objects on a daily basis (walking into walls, stubbing toes on steps, tripping on sidewalks, clotheslining self on tree branches) yet this large number of klutz incidences cannot be balanced in terms of hotness or I'd be getting a lot more dates.

Granted there are logical gaps in the above reasoning, to wit-- assuming that the better looking I am, the more often I'll get asked on dates.  But whether or not we want it, this is a pretty darn safe assumption, is it not?  Guys just don't approach strange women for date-getting-purposes unless they find them attractive.  Since I'm an "extended tourist" in my current city, a majority of my daily interactions with men are with men I hardly know and who hardly know me. I haven't been asked on a date since October, so you do the math.

But that's boring, and the point of introducing this theory was really to tell a self-deprecating anecdote confirming this theory. One of many possible such, I am afraid.

Yesterday I was on my way to giving a 2-hour lecture at The University At Which I Am A Visiting Research Fellow on ... well, I won't say, but see Theory #3 again.  I had some last minute prep to do, but it was a gorgeous sunny day and so decided to tackle said work whilst eating outside at a brand-spanking new, very hip café not far from the campus. Before taking a seat in sunshine, I went inside to ask if they had English menus. The owners (a lovely, sweet woman and her son -- very handsome, tall, about my age or a bit older, from this part of the world and therefore exuding that lovely and mysterious foreign je ne sais quoi -- you know what I mean, ladies) explained that they were still working on a translation of their menu into English.  The son then talked me through their entire list of offerings, made excellent suggestions and helped me place my order all the while being adorable and flirtatious (even with his mother smiling at us from the corner -- gotta love that confidence).  I asked if carrot juice was on the menu, and he said no but he'd make a fresh glass for me anyway.

During the meal the mother came outside and chatted with me a little.  Wise businesswoman. She told me a bit about how her son had lived in America for a while, and when she asked what I was working on and I told her, she smiled and said: "Wow! A woman like you, so young? That's really amazing!" (To which I responded, in my head: "I know! Tell your son!")

When I'd finished devouring the extremely fine meal, I packed up my nerdy academic-ie things and headed back inside the little café to settle the bill. As I stood there shamelessly flirting with both the mother and son (let's be honest, you gotta win over Mom), that warm bloom of confidence began to build up inside me -- the kind of confidence that unfailingly leads to my doing something awkward, and probably involving limb flailing.  Sure enough, as I handed over the money I knocked over the son's full glass bottle of Coca Cola, which then splashed its contents onto the mother's mint-green cardigan and trickled down into the cracks between the brand-new counter and the brand-new shelves and soaked into the brand-new decorative upholstery pastry board before crashing to the floor.

I froze, mortified. The mother said repeatedly, "Don't worry! Don't be embarrassed!" while I proceeded to do both those things.  I didn't even collect my change -- dashed out of the café and across the street, and then had to stand there in full view of the café and its patrons and - most crucially - in the line of sight of both mother and son - while I waited a full 13 minutes for the No. 7 bus to whisk me off to the university.  I tried burying my face in the book I was reading, but I'm pretty sure they could still see me from across the street.

Oh, and guess what?  Tall, handsome, dark foreign entrepreneur with excellent maternal relationship did not, in fact, ask me out on a date.

It was such good food, too. That part I really lament.  When is an acceptable time for me to revisit the café? Because even if I ain't getting a date, I sure as speckled robins' eggs ain't gonna forsake good food on account of my klutziness.

Theory #3: My Uncontrollable, Frequent Self-Exposure as ÜberNerd is Not As Winsome As I Think

More on this later.  Oh, so much more...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The note I never wanted to write

I have a tendency, I fear, to blog only when I'm riled up about something, or upset about something.  This probably gives the impression that things are worse than they are, when in fact so much of life simply consists of putting one foot in front of the other and simply doing one's work, with perhaps a little irritation that requires blogging thrown in on the side.  But every once in a while, the floor drops out.

I mentioned R a few months ago.  Pancreatic cancer is doing what pancreatic cancer does, and today my colleagues and I found out that she's been admitted to hospice.  We were asked to write her notes.

I don't want to.

I don't want to say goodbye to a young woman, a bright woman, a marvelous teacher, a tenacious and fierce scholar, a wise and gracious mentor.

I don't want to write a note.  Simply saying "thank you" seems totally inadequate, and I can't figure how I could possibly say goodbye.  

But not writing a note is a thousand times worse than writing a note.  And of course, I see the irrelevancy of saying that I don't want to do it; what I want to do or don't want to do has exactly no bearing on reality.  None.

Nine years ago, I lost another mentor, another kind, ferociously intelligent, savvy woman.  The world is immeasurably poorer for her loss, and I think of her often.  She died in the springtime.  I have a vivid memory of walking to the train on my morning commute when she was ill, passing through a grim development of Communist-inspired apartment blocks, thinking in time with every clack of my heels on the sidewalk, "I don't want to.  I don't want to."  There was an enormous old cherry tree in the middle of the buildings, and its blooms were the most audaciously beautiful thing I had ever seen, this bright splash of life and beauty in the middle of the grimness.  I was struck by the sheer nerve of the thing to bloom, to have so much gratuitous beauty, when someone I loved was suffering and dying.  But yet there it was, waving branches and spilling blossoms like the living thing it was.  When I think of her now, I think of the tree.  I didn't want to do any of it--the grief, the loss, the pain, the beauty, the polite conversations at a funeral--but not doing it would have been a worse choice.

And so much of life seems to be doing what we don't want to do.

I'm going to write a note.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

International Women's Day

Thoughts on International Women's Day from Friend Of This Blog C:

May we one day not only hold half the sky, but half the wealth, the board room jobs, the parliamentary seats... and hold only half the violence statistics.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hunh? (Faculty Edition)

I have had these conversations about my appearance this week:

Faculty Person 1: "That's a nice dress.  In fact, that color actually looks GOOD on you!"

Me (in tasteful --- albeit very green --- dress): "Thank you."

I am pretty sure that this person was trying to compliment me, but the shock and awe in the tone of voice undermined that intention a bit.

Faculty Person 2: "Even in the twenty-first century, a young female theologian should look non-threatening... and be wearing rather less lipstick than your good self!"

Me (in black turtleneck and grey slacks, with a swipe of a color called "pure red" on the lips): "Well, fortunately I'm not a theologian!"

And I am pretty sure that this person has, as my father would say, all the social skills of a charging water buffalo.  But really?  Really, folks, is this the best we can do?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What a small town

I'm sitting in the common area of our library, waiting for a student, and up walks a librarian I know a little bit from my teaching.  He's a nice guy: in the two conversations we've had, he's been friendly and helpful. 

So I say hello, he sits down, we're chatting about my class, and then he says, "I was looking up your class, and I saw your photo on the department website, and I realized why you looked familiar.  You were one of my matches on [online dating site] about three years ago!"

I restrain myself from going into hysterics, but only barely.  "Wow!" I gasp.  "What a small town!" 

And then I ask him if we corresponded through said dating site.  "Well, I wrote you," he says, "but I don't think you ever wrote me back." 


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Responding to Street Harassment

I was in a railway station in a major urban center tonight.  I was thinking about the lecture I'd just heard and walking quickly so I'd have time to dart into one of the shops and buy a bottle of water before getting on the train.  A guy comes up to me.  He falls into step beside me and gets very close to my face.  I take about five more steps, long enough to hear some commentary about what I'm wearing, and interupt him by saying coolly, "do I know you?" His answer does not bear repeating -- although it was a decided no -- and I did something I have never done before.  I raised my voice and said loudly, "Leave me alone!"

This did not work, so I yelled:


Now, I am a singer with a reasonable lung capacity and no fear of volume.  I was in a crowded and particularly acoustically-lively railway station.  

It worked the second time. 

In the past, I've responded to street harassment with a jolt of shock and surprise and then have continued on my way, trying to cool my burning cheeks and ignore whatever had just happened.  Today was not the day for that.  I've felt badly bullied this week, and he picked the wrong girl on the wrong day, and I was not about to take any nonsense from anybody.  The whole thing was an odd mix of completely terrifying and a little satisfying.  But I did learn a few good lessons.

1. It's ok to make a fuss.  Women are so strongly socialized not to do this.  Be polite, take it as a compliment, blah blah blah bullshit.  Make a fuss.  Draw attention to inappropriate behavior.  Alert strangers that you may need help. 

2. But be smart about where you do it.  In the nanosecond before I yelled, I had this flash of adrenaline-driven clarity.  I knew exactly what I was going to say, I knew exactly where I was going to walk as soon as I said it so I could see if he was following me, I saw that there were a lot of people (including several women) standing around who would notice.  Public well-lit place with lots of people? Go for it.  Dark isolated place?  Just keep walking. (This, by the way, is why you should not wear shoes you cannot walk in unaided.) 

3. Be clear and unequivocal in what you say.  No conversation, no deflection, no chitchat, no explaining.  It is not your responsibility to teach him manners or to protect his feelings.  No name-calling or profanity either.  "Leave me alone" worked well for me, and I will try to remember it in the future. 

Any other favorite responses?  Do share.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

One thing to tell your single friend

Not sure I'm totally persuaded, but it's interesting, at least: 

"If you have a friend who is single and is motivated not to be, there is one thing to tell them that is actually helpful and it is this: 'I am going to work hard to try and find someone for you.' Dolling out insight is easy, taking action is hard." 

Read it all.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Date or Not-A-Date

I went on a very nice Not-A-Date recently.  That is, I spent a chunk of time one-on-one with a straight, attractive, single man whose company I enjoy doing reasonably Date-Like things.(1)

As a side note, how, you may ask, do I know it was Not-A-Date?

Because he did not ask me.

These days, I really do think it is that simple.  I didn't always.  I have spent lots of time trying to interpret and re-interpret behavior.  I am also a committed egalitarian, and I do not believe that All Men are one way and All Women are another.  But increasingly, I am becoming enamoured of letting the guy make the move, and here's why: if they really like you, they will ask you out.  The pulling petals off of daisies disappear, the angels sing, and everything is clear.  There may be plenty of room for ambiguity in human relationships, but I do not think it is here.  Want to know if he likes you?  Here's what you do: ask yourself, "Self, has he asked you out on a date?"  If the answer is "yes," then he does.  If it is "no," then he does not.(2)

Anyway, we know this nice day was Not-A-Date because he did not ask me to go on a date.  And that's fine with me.  I was not expecting a date.  He is my friend, and I like spending time with him, and we were doing things I wanted to do anyway.

But some time later, I find myself a little bothered by the whole thing.  First, it did look awfully like a date, and while I'm not going to spend a lot of time worried about the thoughts of random passers-by, I am going to note that when I mentioned it in passing to a couple of good friends, each of them asked, "Wait, was that a date?"  "No," I said, "he didn't ask me." "Well, it sounds like a date," both retorted.  So appearances were, at least to my female friends, a little suspicious.

Second, I've been down this path before.  Most of the women of my acquaintance have been.  In fact, between the two of us here at the Béguinage, this story arc has happened with a good half-dozen men.  Here's how the story usually goes:  guy and girl are friends.  They enjoy each others' company.  They spend some time together.  They go on some Not-A-Dates.  They have lots of fun.  Then the guy meets another girl and the friendship dissolves overnight, leaving the girl to wonder what happened.

There are variations on this narrative.  Sometimes the girl falls in love with the guy in that process of spending time together and going on Not-A-Dates, and then is heartbroken when the guy tells her -- or doesn't tell her!! -- that he's seeing somebody.  Most times, she doesn't fall in love with him, but she still tortures herself by wondering what the new girlfriend has that she doesn't.  Sometimes, the guy intentionally asks the girl on Actual Dates for some time before confessing that he isn't really ready to date anybody, as though dating were some sort of arctic adventure that required outfitting a year in advance instead of what they had, in fact, been doing.  And it is this messiness that I want to avoid.  I don't want to be a placeholder, the cardboard cutout girlfriend until somebody cuter, somebody who's really girlfriend potential, comes along.  And I don't like losing my friends when they fall for somebody.

So I don't know what, if anything, to do.  I can refuse to go on Not-A-Dates, but that's not a great solution, because I like my friends. Deciding not to spend time with them on principle because they're men is obnoxious.  I can keep doing what I'm doing, and try to be at peace with the inevitable replacement.  Or I can abandon friends, dating, and social interaction altogether and just write my dissertation...

Thoughts?  Advice?  Suggestions?

Yes, I am footnoting my blog posts.  Too long in academia, friends.  Too, too long.

(1.)  Not kissing.  Kissing is usually a pretty good indication that you're on An Actual Date instead of Not-A-Date.  

(2.)  This is where I give the obligatory reminder that a date, even An Actual Date, is neither a declaration of undying love nor a marriage proposal.  It is only a date.  This has been a public service announcement. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Worth keeping in mind

"Don't marry anyone who's not thrilled when you're simply being yourself."

--the inimitable Carolyn Hax

Friday, January 10, 2014

On insomnia

One of the major consequences of graduate school has been an inability to sleep through the night.  I shouldn't blame it all on academia, I suppose; my parents are first-class insomniacs, so it's probably just as much inherited as not. 

When I lie awake in the middle of the night, this is what I think about.  It's like Wheel of Fortune; you spin the wheel, and any one of these things might come up:

1. My dissertation.  So much to do, so little time, and the more I work on it the less I understand.

2. The job market.   Ayeeeeeeeeee!  It was a good year in my field; there were about ten jobs.  I know about ten people who were on the market this year for those ten jobs.  So you can imagine how that goes.

3. The crush of the moment, if there is one.  There isn't now, and hasn't been for a while (1. and 2. above are pretty all-consuming), although there is always Richard Armitage...

4. Or, less melodiously and more worryingly, ex-boyfriends.   I wonder if my romantic life had flowered, bolted, and run to seed at age 27 and if it's all been an exercise in futility since then.  Sometimes that prospect fills me with despair, and sometimes I simply feel relieved. I wonder how I spent so long -- and really, any amount of time is too long -- with men who saw me as a commodity, and I wonder if I took the man who saw me as a person for granted.

5. Sweet Zak.  I miss him every single day, and it is hard work to remind myself that I did not cause the suffering that preceded his death. 

6. My church.  Should I stay or should I go?

7. My friends: the old and dear friend who is trying to fight her way through the thorns of an abusive relationship; the friend who is living with a debilitating disease with extraordinary grace; and the friends who are holding their precious six month-old baby as her life slips away.  When the wheel stops here, I get up and pace the house.

8.  What I should blog about.  Sometimes I simply lie in bed composing beautiful blog posts... that I never actually write, which is partly why you, our dear reader(s), have been neglected for so long... although see also points 1 and 2 above.  Anyway, I figured that this time I might as well actually get up and write it all down. 

So there you go.  If you're ever awake at 2am and want somebody to talk to, give me a call.  I'll be up.