Okay, we'll move from all the holiday introspection into a little old fashioned feminist rant.

According to some of my friends who are the mothers of girls, there are pants available for girls that have the word "pink" written across the butt. I find these butt logo pants kind of odious in and of themselves (you couldn't walk across Vanderbilt's campus on hot days without seeing a dozen skinny young women wearing impossibly tiny "Vandy" shorts that made their butts into billboards), but these "pink" pants are worse.

Here's why:

They're masquerading as cute, innocent clothing, but the subtext--which I think is instantly recognizable to many adult men, less so to women--is a pathological eroticizing of girls' bodies. These pants are all about little girl vaginas. The husbands of my friends were very uncomfortable with their daughters wearing them, and when I told Walter about the existence of the pants, his immediate response was, "The people who make those should be arrested as sex offenders."

Walter suggested an alternative line of pants for girls that say things like, "Do you need Viagra now, Daddy?" I'd like to see some that say, "Why are you looking at my butt, sicko?"


George Bailey lassoes the moon

I'll continue with this trend of introspection.

For the past two days, I've been in Nashville visiting with friends. Yesterday morning Walter got into town and seemed to feel a little prickly about the fact that I was going to go be with my girlfriends rather than with him. Although I was able to act like a grown-up at the time, I went into an almost immediate anxiety reaction, and, as so often happens when I feel anxious, I started assessing everything through the lens of anxiety: "There are so many people here I want to see and spend time with, and everyone wants to see me, and there's not enough time!" Let me be even more honest here: I began to feel really frustrated that I couldn't make everyone happy.

I have a friend who says that when she begins feeling like there isn't enough (time, money, energy, etc), it's because she's acting out of the (inaccurate) belief that she's supposed to manage everything all by herself. That's where I was for a little while yesterday, spinning in my own head, fearing that I wasn't up to the task of satisfying everyone around me. It's some classic holiday bullshit. I knew that my thinking was distorted, but I couldn't shake myself out of it.

Then some small things happened. I had chicken salad sandwiches with one of my very best friends. I heard a mockingbird singing like a cardinal in a parking lot. And I ate dinner in a candle-lit living room full of women I love. I was fed, fed, fed.

When I crawled into bed with Walter late last night, he curled up to me without waking up. I lay there and felt so full. And today, too, I feel like I'm brimming, like Mary Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life with moonbeams coming out of her pores.


read this post second...

yeah, you can read this one right now if you wanna, but i don't suggest it. it may be only a few moments later than the one below, but this one's much more cheery. ...

cheery. cheery. say that word out loud to yourself. now say it about ten times.

loses it's meaning doesn't it? i wonder if the quality of a word can be judged on how many times one can say it without it becoming nonsense?

anyway, i just didn't want to leave off with that last post. nothing wrong with being introspective--or even sad--but i don't think that's how i really really feel. that post just seemed to have a mind of its own from the very beginning and i just let it go where it wanted to.

catharsis. now there's a word. those greeks sure knew how to talk.

in other news...(you can't imagine how many times while writing on this blog i've had to go back and find alternatives to the word "anyway." if kelly piepmeier were a smarty, she'd suggest the walter-biffle-anyway-drinking-game. although i'm not sure if it'd work--believe me, i'm pretty good at catching them. you can't imagine how many times i use it. matter of fact, i should just invent a sound to connect my tangents. yes, i know, "anyway" is a sound, but it means too much. what could that sound be? blurp? swimpt? ffffttttt?)

so anyway, you guys be sure to check out bannedfromwalmart.com, the spectacular new web site made for me by my very own brother-in-law, stinky. sorry for the commercial plug, but go do a little interventionist artwork of your own and send it in to the site. we need stories, man! (i'd provide you the link here, but it doesn't seem to be working--i wonder if it's a conspiracy?)

more plugs: for the holiday--or perhaps specifically CHRISTmas holiday--go to itunes and download jason and the scorcher's "oh, holy night." a sweet and wildly non-precocious rock and roll version of the song that you know's sincere because they sing all four verses.

death and rebirth? lord-a-mercy...

yes, it appears that it's going to be that kind of a post. alison was rather introspective in her last writing, and it appears that i'm gonna carry on in that vein for this one.

i've woken up this morning too early. about 5:40 a.m. I realized i was up because, just like a kid waiting on opening gifts christmas morning, i was anticipitory for my review. "review" is the word for the twice-a-semester check-in that art students have with their faculty. (i explain that because i'm not sure it's widely used nomenclature--i don't remember what alison called it when she met with her faculty.)

this review is a particularly big one, the next to last one i'll have with my committee before the mfa thesis exhibit. in other words, this morning, come a few hours from now, these guys could say "man, i just don't think this stuff is cutting it." of course, i could claim that'd be bad style on thier part, but they could still do it--i haven't really let them know exactly what i'm up to. i made the decision a few months ago that--damn the torpedoes--i'm gonna do what i want--if they don't like it, then they don't have to give me a degree. come to find out, that's kinda what i'm supposed to be doing. when it comes to something as subjective as art, sometimes the personal commitment to one's own vision is the thing that carries the idea through.

anyway, I was up at 5:40. I noticed the sun had just started to creep in the windows and i had the same thought i've had about seven times now--i gotta go up to the widow's walk and talk a picture of the harbor. you guys think that every now and again, don't you? Gotta go up to the window's walk and take a picture of the harbor? (the house i live in here has a widow's walk--a cupola of sorts--that overlooks the harbor. back in the day the merchant's wife could look for her husband's ship sailing in from up there). so, seven or so times now, i've woken up early enough to catch the sun coming up over that harbor, and seven or so times i've stayed in bed thinking the world doesn't really need one more picture of a sunrise, or, like this morning, it sure is warm in this bed, and it sure will be cold up there on top of that roof.

instead of the picture, i just lay awake thinking about stuff. my impending review, the end of a big semester, widow's walks, my beginning of christmas holidays, ships coming in to harbor, the winding-down of another year.

i don't think that's it's any big surprise to most readers of this blog to hear i don't drink alcohol. i don't do this--or rather i do something a lot more positive--by going to meetings with a group of people that shall remain nameless here (i'll give you one guess). anyway, every year about this time, those meetings start to get a kind of "christmas pall" cast over them. nervousness over having to encounter skewed family realtionships, projecting about requirements for role-playing a certain amount of joy, worrying over feeling too much joy, feeling guilty because some people are hurting so badly right now, while some of us are so blessed.

what with this, the sunrise, the end of the semester, the fact that my work i'll be discussing today is about the death of neighborhood people, realizing that by the time i come back to school it will be another year...hummm...and finding, that like a bad cliche, i, too, seem to get a little down around this time of year....

sometimes i get the feeling that i'm just existing between the spaces in life.

when alison wrote about being in her parent's house i recognized i could smell being there. i could count on too many lights being on, a little too much activity and clutter for me. i wished i was there, but instead i'm here, waiting to finish something else up. i could feel my own parent's house--a space as big as the whole world--and recognized a sort of pit in my stomach, a feeling of dis-satisfied butterflys. a feeling of unknown things, an awareness of how things should be, of expectations, of a happiness and a sadness i'm never sure what to do about.


Christmas time's a comin'

So here I am, sitting on a bed in my parents' house in Cookeville, in a room that never was my bedroom (it alternated between Trey and Aaron--my bedroom is now a storage room) but might as well have been, listening to familiar traffic sounds and my parents puttering downstairs. I'm back in Tennessee for a couple of weeks for the holidays. It occurs to me that this will be the longest stretch of time I've actually stayed in the ancestral Piepmeier home since I left for graduate school almost eleven years ago.

In some ways, eleven years doesn't change a lot in the Piepmeier household--the stuff just accrues. I'm sitting here looking at the box that one of my brothers' Windows 95 came in, for instance, as well as a small framed portrait of Goofy that I believe was mine when I was five or six. T-shirts from every community theater performance Aaron was ever in fill the closet. We Piepmeiers are a packratty bunch.

But loads of things have changed, of course, in the last eleven years and in the last six months. And I'm sitting here feeling like a composite of all the people I've been. At the moment it feels nice--I feel like I'm at such a good place in my life that I'm not struggling against the gravitational pull of this house. I'm settling in for the next little while.

Santa hat!

Cheers to my brother Stinky (of Synthetic Rabbit) for Baxter's festive Christmas gear!


Grown-up clothes

Okay, people, here's a question:

Now that I'm director of a WGS Program, how important is it that I wear grown-up clothes to work?

On the one hand, I want to be myself, and I am usually most comfortable in jeans, some sort of slouchy top, and Birkenstocks or Chacos, depending on the weather. On the other hand, I want to be taken seriously as an administrator and colleague, a goal that may already be complicated by the fact that I'm young and female.

What do you all think?


nothing to say here lately

well, i haven't written didley on the blog here lately. i think i've been too busy thinkin' about school and jobs and stuff. and i've also been thinking about gregory shollete, a pretty impressive artist. look at his web site at gregorysholette.com, if ya wanna.

so, instead of writing anything, still, i think i'll just post some pictures of my stuff that isn't on the web, yet. y'all be sure to click on them so that they will hopefully show up in the images on google. here goes:

this first one is a detail image of a piece from my thesis work. i haven't mentioned what that stuff is, yet. the super short version is this: i'm installing "markers" at the sites of murders here in new bedford. one for each person killed, at the site of the homicide, that's happened since i've been a member of this community. the pieces are constructed from cast-off pieces of buildings that are being restored--or more accurately, regentrified--in the downtown area. there's more to tell than that, but maybe that's enough for here.

here's another piece from the same series--what's called a "mock-up." actually, the piece on top is the real piece, but the base is just a pine mock-up of bases that i'm now casting in concrete. The word is "conscientizacao." it is a portuguese word that means (more or less) "to become aware of how you are an agent in shaping your own culture." a lot of new bedford speaks portuguese, by the way.

here's the homeless bench. it's sitting in the shop right now waiting on some repairs. i need to get on it--it's pretty cold outside.

this last one is Ear Trumpet for Listening to God, as it was shown in a museum show recently.

and then as it was used as a performance piece here in new bedford. i wheeled it around town for a little while and offered people to use it.


Students have found the blog!

It turns out that a number of my C of C Women's and Gender Studies students have been blog lurkers all semester. They outed themselves today. I asked if it makes it less fun now that I know they're reading, and here's some of what they had to say:

yes, it makes it less fun, but now we can all play the kelly piepmeier comment drinking game together.

I second the motion on the Kelly Piepmeier drinking game. Oh how I have waited for this day to come when we could be free to talk about how wonderful it is to live vicariously through Alison. Huzzah!

Charlie Shipley told us you had a blog and Margie and I read it constantly and laugh and pretend like we're in on your inside jokes. No, really, we don't have lives of our own, so we laugh at things like "sheeple" and the other silly things you and Walter Biffle say :)

Where can you see lions?
Only in Kenya.


All day with the faculty

My work life makes for much less interesting blogging than the random other things I do, like doga and late-night Harry Potter viewing, but work is what I do most of the time, so I thought I'd at least give it a nod on the blog.

Today we had an all-day retreat for faculty who want to teach--or wanted to discuss the teaching of--our Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies course. Fifteen faculty members signed up for the retreat, and twelve actually made it, which was pretty good considering that we're talking about a Saturday just before the end of the semester, and everybody is buried in grading. We met at a beautiful property about 30 miles from campus--the property was beautiful, but the actual house we were in was kind of yucky and cold. It didn't matter, though, because the faculty were great. We had good conversations, ate great potlucky food (two pans of macaroni and cheese), and accomplished some good things. For instance, we reworked the description of the course. It now reads:

The introduction to Women's and Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary course designed to explore the rich body of knowledge developed by and about women and gender. We study gendered structures and their consequences in contemporary cultures and societies. In addition, we examine feminist theories and relevant social movements.
And here's something I've learned this semester: always send a thank-you note on official letterhead to someone, cc-ing their department chair, when they do something to help your program. I just finished writing thank-you notes to all the retreat participants so that they can put them in their tenure and promotion files.



A few weeks ago, Baxter and I went to a dog yoga class. Yes, yes, I know it's ridiculous, but it was a fundraiser for the SPCA, and besides, doesn't Baxter deserve to enjoy yoga every now and then?

It ended up being mostly yoga for the people, with the dogs as props or accessories. I do have to say, though, that there were some neat yoga effects. When the class started, there were 15 dogs panting, barking, straining at their leashes to get at the other dogs (all except Baxter, who was very well behaved). The teacher had us do deep yoga breathing and OMs with our chests touching our dogs, and I swear that within a couple of minutes every dog in that room had calmed down. The energy of the room had changed. That was pretty cool.

So here's a picture of me doing downward dog with Baxter. Note that she is not doing downward dog, even though she's eminently well qualified.


Biffle dishes out excellent advice:

"No meetings about anything new before Christmas. If someone calls and wants to meet with you, you say, 'I would love to, but it'll need to be in January. I've got a lot on my plate right now, and I want to be able to give you my full attention.'"


Gridge and Mary's wedding

At long last...here are wedding pictures from Gridge and Mary's wedding, Sept. 24, 2005.

The Wedding Party and Families

The Piepmeier/Biffle/Hall Siblings

The Piepmeier back yard transformed into a candlelit reception.

(Walter took all these photos.)


bill monroe and revisionist history

Oftentimes, i sabotage my own happiness. I've put off writing the following post because i don't feel comfortable about it. The reason is that what i want to talk about concerns "the good old days" in America. Like, back in the fiction of Leave it to Beaver and Mayberry. Revisionist history (if i'm using the term correctly) has kind of taught me that there never were any "good old days." The good old days were simply back when white men ruled the earth (at least, more effectively than they do today). Everything was just hunky-dory.

what the hell is "hunky-dory?"

I've been reading a book that is a collection of magazine articles, scholarly writings, interviews and liner notes concerning blue grass music. Here is a section from that book...

"In the fourties, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were not only a bluegrass band, but also a baseball team. Shumate explained how this worked. "We'd get to town early, usually around three or four o'clock. I'd go to the pool hall or somewhere where i could find some young guys and ask them if they had a ball team there in town. Most of em did, and i'd tell em who we was and that we had a bluegrass team and we'd like to challenge em. Oh man! They'd get busy and get their gang together and meet us at the field. Sometimes they'd meet us in an hour. We did that all over the country. Sometimes we had good crowds just for a ballgame. We had a lot of fun. we played for keeps and had a prety good team. We had uniforms and everything. I played shortstop and was a pretty good hitter too. I could lay the timber to that ball. String pitched, and he was a good pitcher. I believe Lester played third base."

Jim Shumate was Bill's fiddler. He invented the famous "da-da-da-daddat" and "chit-chit-chit" kick off heard at the beginning of so many blue grass tunes.
"String" refers to Stringbean, whose real name was David Akeman. Akeman was one of the forerunners of the Scruggs style--not quite clawhammer, not quite three-finger style. Akeman would later be the victim of an infamous nashville murder. A common rumor around Nashville in the early seventies was that Stringbean kept thousands of dollars stuffed up inside his chimney. Thieves killed him and his wife.
"Lester" refers to Lester Flatt, half of Flatt and Scruggs--of Beverly Hillbillies fame, for you neophytes--and the great uncle of one of alison's childhood friends.

Anyway. What an amazing story! I'm going to assume i don't have to tell you why i think so.

Here's what's at stake for me in this tale: First of all, it made me nostalgic for a time i didn't even know. And then, second, it made me feel guilty that i was enjoying a story that takes place in an America swimming in sexism and racism. I imagine you guys can probably relate.

Now, if i set that guilt aside for a second, if we set the mayberry fiction and the larger historical framework on the backburner for just a second, does this story say anything about yet another America that has been lost? One that might have possibly been better than our current moment?

That story is packed to the gills with references to the concept of liesurely community. Boys at the pool hall. Baseball. Celebrities playing a ballgame because they wanted to. Small towns with ball teams (and uniforms!) willing and ready to accept a friendly challenge.

Jesus! What have we've given up to be where we are?

I don't know if this story, and the stories of (an as yet unrealized) racial and sexual equality, coincide. I can't tell if this is a story that speaks to what economics and technology have done to us. I can't tell if it is a tale of things gained, or things lost.
I do know that i would have liked to have played baseball with bill monroe. i'd even settle for being one of the boys at the pool hall....but what would i have to do in order to feel okay about it?


Volvo Baggins and Hyundai Potter

I just want to report that I went to the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night with a few of my students...and stayed awake for the whole thing! Quite an accomplishment, considering that we didn't get out of there until 3 a.m.


Masculinity is a toxin, part 2

Well, it's happened. I don't know why I thought it might not, but it has. In my intro to Women's and Gender Studies class Monday, we discussed violence against women. Today, they turned in papers. I've only read four so far, and two of them are women analyzing the times when they were raped.

It happened every semester at Vanderbilt. As soon as I broached the subject of violence against women, expressed my outrage, and stressed that the victim is never to blame, women started coming to my office to tell me about their experiences.

Here at C of C, I've been asking around about rape and dating violence, but I haven't gotten much information. People have said, "We don't hear much about it. It's probably happening, but it's not reported." Yeah, violent crimes against women are the most underreported, so that's not surprising. But I have to admit that I'd actually begun to believe that maybe it wasn't as prevalent here as it was at Vanderbilt.

I can't decide whether it pisses me off or breaks my heart. Both, I guess. Who are these men who think they have the right to rape my students?


A Quickie on Masculinity

Kenneth's blog today is about Johnny Cash's masculine persona, and I was so delighted--as I always am--to see any man critiquing masculinity that I was inspired to share a bit of one of my favorite feminist rants.

The topic is, Masculinity Is a Toxin.

Walter notes in his master's thesis that one of his litmus tests for white people's level of racial consciousness is to ask, "Can you see how the popularity of the King Kong story in America could be due to its allegorical connection to race?" He says the answer is usually no, meaning the answer-er is operating out of a place of unexamined white privilege.

The "masculinity is a toxin" rant functions in a similar way for me. If I even say that sentence, many people react with such defensiveness that it tells me that they haven't examined male privilege in this culture, and that, if they are men, they haven't divested of that privilege. And I should stress here that I don't mean that men are a toxin, but that the way our culture has defined masculinity is toxic, both to men and to women.

I'm happy to flesh out this theory; I can go on at length about the problems with our cultural construction of masculinity, and I probably will do so at a later date on this blog. But what I want to say for now--before I dash off to school for an afternoon of meetings--is that I am increasingly coming to see sweetness as the characteristic I most value in men. Kenneth says, "In musicians and songwriters I much favor gentleness and tunefulness over swagger," and because we are in a culture that by and large doesn't value sweetness or gentleness in men, I think celebrating these characteristics is activist and incredibly important.


well, alison has accused me of not blogging anything in a while. i've wanted to, but my energies are being expended elsewhere. well, five elsewheres, to be exact: the making/object side of my schoolwork, the writing/mental side of my schoolwork, writing a...a personal diary of sorts, my actual employment as a g.a. at school, and practicing guitar and banjo.

...okay. that's really boring. the worst part of blogs...so!

alison has sort of stolen my thunder. what i mean is that she's posted a weak-ass version, on someone else's blog nonetheless, of a biking story i was gonna put on here myself. what i suggest is that you check it out for yourself by taking a look at my friend kenneth's blog--alison's bit is in the comments. the only change i would offer , really, is that the actual quote was something that alison deleted from this site the other day: they actually said "hey! ride 'at bike, m**f**!"

while you're there take a listen to kenneth's band. (some of the best moments of my life have been spent playing music with kenneth--i miss him.)

to go on with the bike stuff:

many people over time have suggested that i might want to wear a helmet when i ride. this is smart, i know, but ill-informed. if one wants to truly protect themselves when riding in the south (generally, a non-bike-friendly locale) i would suggest a bullet-proof vest--or even better, full body armor. i've only hit my head once while riding, but have been hit by other things numerous times, e.g.: the leftovers of a fast food bag, a large ball of ice, something small and very hard that i couldn't identify (a bullet?), an almost entirely full can of beer, thousands of stinging/stupid words...

which brings me to this (it's a little negative, but allow me to moan a bit):

it has to do with the nature of those hurtful comments like i've gotten while merely riding a bike down the street. i ponder the need for people to do things like that, you know? i mean, those guys that said "hey, ride that bike"...what? is that all they could come up with? why did my presence on the road mean so much that they felt compelled to comment even when they didn't have something to say? the REAL question is this: what threat am i posing?

this brings me to my next "unsolicited comment" question. here goes: i've rarely had an acquaintance walk up to me and say something like "is someone paying you to wear that shirt?" or, "hey, why don't you leave that way of walking to people that can do it for real?" however, they have no qualms about saying this when i walk around singing. not even loud or anything. just kind of singing along...

they say it like it's a joke, but it hurts me. (i'm very sensitive about my singing anyway.) is there a parallel here with the biking? do people fear other people's expression that much? is it a "get-back-in-the-herd" thing? i'm just singing because i'm happy, you know?

to add a little more to this rambling post: some of you may know that i have a hard time starting in the middle of a series. like the alphabet. if i want to turn to the letter "G" in the dictionary, i usually have to sorta mumble "abcdef...g" to figure out where it is. this has been real detrimental to me in using the "nashville number system" of musical notation, by the way. i've just had to learn it by shapes, rather than letters. the reason i'm on to this tangent is because i've had to look up a few things in the dictionary to finish this post.

i'm not an atrocious speller, but not a gifted one either. for this post, i've had to look up "parallel," "herd" (!), and "acquaintance." to me, the alphabet has some misfit letters--like the misfit toys on the christmas special. these letters are j, q, v and w. xyz goes without saying, but since they all live together, they appear okay. they have thier own community.

now, i don't really have a hard time with j. it settles into its spot fairly well--mostly because of the relationship to its better cousin, the letter g. w is also okay. it lives down there with the other wierd ones. but Q? why is out there all by itself? shouldn't the alphabet really be:

abcdefg hijklmnop rstuv-v-V! wq xy and z?

have a good day.


More on my biking life

This morning, I pulled up to a red light behind a guy on a motorcycle. He looked in his rearview mirror and then slowly rolled backward so that he was next to me. Then he said, "You look good on that bike."


I wasn't sure how to react. On the one hand, I do look good on my bike, and he was perceptive to have noticed. On the other hand, I'm the director of a Women's and Gender Studies Program and a certified humorless feminist, and I didn't ask to have my looks scrutinized while I was on my way to work. (If he were one of my many fantasy boyfriends, I would have returned the compliment, of course, but this guy didn't look particularly good on his bike.) So I just kind of stared at him, quizzically.

What is it with me and my bike this week?

P.S. Here's a shout out to Christie McKaskle--if you're into tingly, deep spiritual musings, check out her blog.


Biking to School

Awhile back I read an article--I think it was in Oprah's magazine--about happiness. One guy in the article taught at Harvard, and he said that he'd thought that being at Harvard would be the thing that would make him happy, but that it turned out that getting to walk to and from Harvard every day was the thing that brought him the most happiness. And I feel a little bit like that when it comes to biking to school--it's one of the unexpected joys of my life here. I cruise down the street on my big bike, with my enormous basket, hair flying out behind me, and I feel like a ten-year-old kid.

That was what I was going to post to the blog today--and it's true. But on the way home from school this evening, two cars honked repeatedly at me as I pedaled along in the road, a couple of feet from the gutter, just as bikers are supposed to do. I was obeying all the laws--I was a legal vehicle in the road, but they didn't know it. They were really annoying. One person finally passed me, and as she passed, she yelled, "Get on the sidewalk!" Walter has developed a line for situations of this sort, and I was so glad to have it at the ready to yell right back:

"It's not called a sideBIKE!"

She yelled back, "Get your ass--" but then stopped, apparently silenced by the clarity and truth of what I had said.

We can talk later about the fact that I should probably be learning to be a more compassionate and mature person, but having a comeback was just so gratifying.


Now I am the master

I'm at the American Studies Association Conference this weekend in Washington, DC. It didn't occur to me until just today that the last time I attended this conference, it was also in DC--and I was a graduate student. I think it was 1997 or so. I remember how I felt--excited, because many of the big names in American literary and historical studies were there, but also kind of vaguely sick, like I knew that there were things I was supposed to be doing, but I didn't know what they were or how to do them. I felt sort of pervasively wrong.

And now, here I am feeling entirely differently. I'm presenting research that I feel good about, that's interesting and meaningful to me, I'm the director of a Women's and Gender Studies Program, I'm a real, live, published scholar, and I look awesome. I am the shit! It's pretty remarkable to me to see how much my life has changed since the last time I was here.


I bought my first rotisserie chicken tonight. I thought of cooks I know--my mom, Eliza, Deandra (if she had anything to do with chickens)--who would buy a whole chicken for $1.99 and roast it themselves, but I am far, far from doing that. Actually, for me, the rotisserie chicken was a big step up--my normal food when I'm on my own is either Healthy Choice frozen entrees or (my favorite) cold cereal.

The chicken was good. I had some pasta left over from when Walter was here last weekend, and I heated it up, tossed in some chunks of chicken, and voila--a decent dinner. I'm trying to remember that it's a feminist act to feed myself. If I can make it political, I'm more likely to do it.

And along those lines, I'm also trying to recognize that not overworking myself is a feminist act. I spoke with long-time Women's Studies directors Jean Fox O'Barr and Maggie McFadden at the symposium this week, and they both encouraged me to slow down a bit and think long-term. I'm loaded with great ideas, but I don't have to do them all now. I also don't have to do them all myself. I know damn well that if I burn myself out I'm not doing anybody any good, but it can be hard to live that knowledge.

Anybody got tips for not overworking?


alison is gonna be annoyed....

she doesn't like it when i write stuff right after her. if she were a bluegrass player she'd say "hey man, stop steppin' on my break." but she's alison so she'll say, "dammit, biffle, everytime i post something, you post something right after it!"

sorry baby.

everybody be sure to scroll down and read alison's post. it contains some juicy gossip about dick cheney. do it now, and then come back to here. i'll provide you with asterisks, so you can pick up exactly where you left off...


for those of you who looked (kenneth): yes indeed, i did post something about patrick fitzgerald. i deleted it. see. here's the deal: what's this blog about, anyway? i know i don't want it to be about the minutia (minutae?) of someone else's day. for my part, i'd rather it be my personal riffs on external events.

so instead of merely reporting that "patrick fitzgerald just made a wonderful showing on television. he is a young man to watch," i'd rather be asking did he purposely pick out that presidential outfit for his press conference? blue suit, red tie, white shirt. yeah, that's a pretty standard color scheme, but his had the tiny elements down so well--mostly the tie.
a presidential tie usually has a large ratio of red to bauble.



his baubles were exceptionally small. (insert genitalia joke here).

News from the Feminist Beltway

I was at Duke at a conference for the last two days. It was a great event--I got to present with Paula Kamen, whose new work on women's experiences of chronic pain is really interesting, and I hung out with Therese Shechter, who has made a great film called I Was a Teenage Feminist. And I also got to experience how much I enjoy public speaking--I'm finding that I don't have to be over-prepared (while I was prepared, of course, I was a closing plenary speaker, and as such, I was expected to reflect on some of the themes that had emerged during the conference, so some of what I said was put together on the spot), and it feels pretty natural and fun for me.

Anyway, the news that the title of this post promises is as follows: Dick Cheney will be retiring within the month. How about that? According to my unnamed sources from the conference, this is what lefty folks in D.C. are saying right now. Maybe the tide really has turned on the Bush fuckers. I'm reluctant to be too hopeful--we've seen them get caught before and experience no consequences--but it's a great rumor, if nothing else, and should be spread.


a question, out of the blue, to you readers out there:

if you read this sentence as it pertained to a piece of art

Part of my intent is obliquely referencing the inter-connections that exist between privilege and need--how both these things are complicite in the perpetuation of the

would you know what it was getting at?

really, the question is: do i ever make a damn bit of sense?


fun with words:

in addition to the blog sitcom there could be a broadway musical. you know what it'd be called?


alison and i had a good running joke over the weekend: what if there were a vampire whose only special power was farting? he'd be called a fartpire.

i recently wrote a very short song:

people are sheep
we should call ourselves sheeple.


three new thoughts for the day (heaviest first):

#1 I woke up this morning excited about going home this weekend. "whoo-hoo! i'm going home," i thought. In times past, this thought has produced in me a certain chemical response. One that sorta floods me with warm feelings, and makes me think that i'm smelling something i really like. This morning, however, the moment after the "whoo-hoo" was met with a kind of confusion. "Just what is this home?" i asked myself.
i know what's at home--alison and baxter and the monkeys and a yard that needs to be mowed. But where was the feeling?

see, i'm not sure if my math is right, but i think that at this point in the fall, i've been here in massachusetts longer than i've been in charleston. At least it feels that way. So i'm not even gonna look at a calender to see if it's true--what's empirical evidence worth when feelings are a much more accurate barometer of truth?

wait! what was that sound? Oh, i know. it was the collective gasp of thousands of myers-briggs-ians out there, most of whom have no idea this blog even exists. They must've felt the disturbance in the force.

(note to alison: before you get too sad about number one, i really just wrote it for the joke. i thought of it while i was cookin' some eggs. luv you.)

#2 although i have given up drinking--just for today--i've still thought of a great drinking game. and it's an excellent game for those of you who drink alone, as it only requires this blog. It's called The Kelly Piepmeier Exclamation Point Drinking Game. Here are the rules: read all the comments made by alison's mom on this blog and take a drink every time she uses an exclamation point. You'll need a treatment center within the week.

#3 great idea of the moment: why hasn't one of the television networks come up with a sitcom based around someone and their blog? a hapless opinion spouter, a la jerry seinfeld (or me, for that matter), sits and blogs. Strangers read, threats of greatness loom, the zany adventures start!


Here are some pictures from the weekend with Catherine, Deandra, and Molly.


Someday the profits I live on will be my own,
But for now I need your help to have a home.
Sure, I could go to school and get more student loans,
But where would you be if I left you all alone?

--“So Now Hey Girl,” Biffle, c. 1997

The house was a mess last weekend—filled with people and stuff, baby Molly crawling around, Catherine, Deandra, and I lounging all over the living room and kitchen making food, talking, navigating the animals, and in the midst of it, I had a realization. I’m living a really self-sufficient life right now—much more self-sufficient than I ever thought was possible. I’m in a new town, at a new job, making new friends, and I’m doing it on my own, without Walter or any of my support system being here with me (other than Baxter, of course). And while I see this level of self-sufficiency as useful for me, since I’m someone who’s been dependent on various folks for my sense of wellbeing for much of my life, what I realized over the weekend is that it isn’t a good fit for me. The life I’m living right now just isn’t a good fit.

I like a house full of people. I like a life full of people. I don’t want my main focus to be my career. I know that my career will always be incredibly important, but it isn’t enough for me. I don’t know exactly where this realization is leading me, but it seems pretty clear to me right now that my life isn’t supposed to stay this way.

Here’s a picture from this weekend—I’m in Massachusetts, with Walter. This picture is a good documentation of how we spent much of our day yesterday, and Walter was amused by how often I would stop and say, “Isn’t this nice? This is so nice!” I was just profoundly grateful to be with him, both of us doing our own thing, but doing it together.

Aside from all the practical and professional benefits of the move to Charleston, the one thing I want the most from this new phase in my life is clarity—I want this move to Charleston to give me a clear sense of what I want, what my priorities are, what matters to me, where I want my life to go from here. And I think I’m beginning to get that.


in yesterday's (i think) new york times, there was an article about the re-building of biloxi, miss. the conversation that is going on right now in a lot of those hurricane-ravaged areas revolves, as the times put it, around "'re-building' not 're-creating'."

this is a particularly ripe area of artistic investigation for a lot reasons. most of that investigation is too boring, or too involved, or too mentally masturbatory, to go into. so, mostly, i guess the shorthand version is this: is an exact copy of the mona lisa a masterpiece, too?

in biloxi, the question is: the residents know that they can't re-create what they had, but how do they want it changed?

committees are being formed. the large steel wheels of bureaucracy are grinding into motion. inside these committees and amongst the bureaucrats are people that need a place to live. need is a powerful thing, but so is permanence--as in re-building a town is a serious undertaking. all those guys know this, and they're being serious about it. i wish them luck.

the townspeople are saying "we want it back." architects and thier ilk are saying "let's do it Right." and right there in the middle of it all is a five million pound word: Design.

i'm very skeptical of this word, Design. If you've ever seen me say it, i probably was fluttering my hands around my head while looking mock-doe-eyed and standing on my toes. i would put the emphasis on a wavering second syllable, like this: da-zIIGNnnn...

Design is scary to me because within its ruminations lie the future of humans on earth.

the farmer lays out a field, a village arranges the placement of houses, cities ponder a grid of parks and streets. these are all issues of design on a small scale. but, then, what has happened is that the farmer's field, the village's borders and the city's street have all bumped up against each other--literally and figurately. Design has stepped into the fray and has announced that it's gonna sort the whole thing out.

the mona lisa used to be a much larger painting. She used to have columns and greenery on either side of her. She was only a part of a bigger picture. Somewhere along the way, before the mona lisa was an icon for the word "masterpiece," someone cut off the sides of the painting so it would fit into a particular frame. My major question, when it comes to design, isn't the "exact copy question." My question is, "would it still be a masterpiece if those columns were still there?" Like the deal is, and what i hope Design figures out, is that the secret to human interaction
lies in the rough edges.

For the townspeople, i gotta say, that if ya don't let the Designers come in and do what they want, then another form of design, perhaps even more powerful, will lead the way: the Marketplace. (And you don't even wanna hear what i do with my body when i say that word.) wal-mart will pave your city over in a heartbeat, biloxi. please don't let them do that.


here's an easy one to psychoanalyze:

first: all the homeless shelters (hobo huts) i'm making are small, cozy little affairs. next: one of my long term goals is to become a good enough sailor to spend the night at sea. it isn't really about the sailing, it's about the intimate space that small sailboats afford. then we have: i luv tents. and what's more: when i was a child, one of my favorite spaces was the downstairs closet, all filled with winter coats. and if that's not enough: except for the problem of having my arms pinned to my side, i really love to crawl into rolls of carpet.


so i had an interesing experience the other day...

Several people warned me, once upon a time, that grad school would "ruin your art." I don't think they really meant that it would be an ever-lasting effect, but that, instead, it would throw me for a loop for several years. It would make me think too much about something that sometimes requires one to just act, to depend on instincts, etc. That prediction has largely been accurate. It was probably a necessary part of growth, but i feel that school really has taken its toll.

Most everybody knows that i'm slightly disenchanted with this world we live in. i think this is an okay way to be--i mean, if i were totally satisfied then that would mean i was oblivious to some things that need help. But here lately i'm reminding myself of a character in one of hawthorne's short stories: the guy in cynic's glasses. At the outset of the story, this man explains that he wears cynic's glasses because they are going to help him find "truth." If i remember correctly, he eventually finds truth, and takes the glasses off. the rub, though, is that even though he's removed them, the many years of searching have ruined his eyes. The only thing he can see, glasses or no glasses, is truth in all its negative and painful glory.

This is like what i've experienced here at school. I came, a starry-eyed idealist, eager to explore methods of making things "by hand." I felt that machines were bad for us in a lot of ways, that the mis-appropriation of technology was to blame for a lot of the woes a lot of people feel, and that art could do something about this. Part of me still holds on to this belief, but labyrinthine investigations have led me down a philosophical path upon which one feeling has led to another feeling that has led to another feeling, and so on, until i've arrived at the conclusion that all art sucks. That all art is powerless. I can now say i know just what Leonard Koren (the westerner who can almost explain the japanese concept of wabi-sabi) means when he says that he finds "large, permanant objects too philosophically vexing to design."

I used to think differently. I used to be under the impression--had bought the party line--"that art can make a difference." Part of the problem has been the de-bunking of the mythos that surrounds being an artiste. you know: the concept of the artist-as- visionary, an individual "divinely inspired." hell, that's just some conspiracy a couple of italians cooked up 500 years ago; and an idea that most artists and the marketplace have done nothing to dispel. Another bump along the path has been an ever-increasing awareness of how western art and priviledge seem to travel hand in hand. And finally, like i said above, i had simply been a blind believer that art had real power, that it really could change things for the better. how surprising --and what a sick twist of reason--it was to find that art's much flaunted power was actually borrowed from that very myth of divine inspiration, that connection to priviledge! It has been a painful process to learn that art is really just a ninety pound weakling decked out in a muscle suit.

okay, okay. so maybe its more than that, but it didn't seem like it was working out that way for me.

anyway, all of this has produced in me a certain ennui. i was feeling kind of worthless and dis-illusioned. and then the interesting experience...remember the interesting experience?...happened.

Over this last weekend, new bedford had its first "open studios" tour, where, from 10-5 on sat. and sun., the public could go visit artist's studios and see their spaces, meet the artist, see thier works-in-progress, etc. Now, like most old industrial towns, new bedford has a wealth of abandoned mill buildings. you know the kind: large, bedragled buildings with lots of blank staring eyes for windows, looking out on the city's business sector. artists move into them because the rent is cheap. and, even though this is massachusetts, new bedford is a relatively inexpensive city to live in. space in mill buildings is even cheaper. given this, and the plethora of these old buildings, and the fact that we have a school here, we had plenty of artists to choose from. I think by the time they put out the brochure there were over sixty artists on the list. The event was a big success.

i went around on my visits on saturday. It was a smiling, sunny day. a nice little breeze was blowing. i had been in the studio myself, so i was wearing a raggedy old pair of paint-covered shorts, socks and sandals, my "total crap" t-shirt. i had on my blue glasses. i walked down to the southend to cove street studios--one of the forementioned mill buildings, old and three stories of red brick, surrounded with the detritus of a hundred years as a mill, ten years worth of discarded sculpture and "found" materials. J.t., a friend of mine with space in the building , had abandoned his post in his studio and, dodging rows of on-lookers, we went to sit on the fire escape and talk. Jeremy weiss, an amazingly good visual artist, joined us. and then sarah martin and then shara porter. we were quite a crew.

so there we are, laying all about, smoking and talking on this ancient fire escape. a little pile of beer bottles had started to form (i had my soup container full of coffee). j.t. had been up until four in the morning cleaning up his space in preparation of the day. his thick dark hair was dirty and piled really high on his head. like me, he, also, was covered in paint and sawdust. shara porter makes crazy shirts and pants with old 50's looking domestic tools silk-screened on them. That day she was wearing a wrap-around silk blouse with an enormous wood screw screened right across it. she was holding a giant pair of wildly ugly, black and green, leather boots. her hair is dyed impossibly black and she had a big flower berrett, doing absolutely nothing, stuck in it. jeremy was looking fairly normal, but he smiles constantly and has enormous teeth. sarah was in her usual getup of studio clothes--pumpkin colored work pants, autumn yellow v-neck t-shirt, red hair, funny glasses. seagulls honked and the sunlight slanted as we sat and talked and laughed and watched fishing boats and sailboats come back into the harbour.

and then i heard a woman say "oh look, honey!"

a conservatively dressed woman, in her mid-sixties, had appeared, camera in hand, on the fire escape behind us. her husband followed behind her, toting the shopping bags that held the things they'd bought that day: a wheel-thrown clay pot, one of shara's shirts, maybe a small painting. "Artists hard at work!" she joked as she took picture after picture. sarah and shara stood a couple of steps down, drinking from paper cups filled with wine. jeremy was propped against the wall. i was lying prone with my feet in j.t.'s lap, who was sitting precariously close to the edge of the rusty, crooked landing. i noticed a look of disappointment on the woman's face as i started to get up. i laid back down. she took more pictures.

before her arrival, we had just been a collection of random people, in soiled work clothes, talking of nothing special. but then, i started to see what this woman was seeing through that lens of her camera. i realized that what she was taking pictures of might have been almost as important to her as the art-things she carried in her shopping bags. to her, we were more than just a construction. we were a neccessary part of society. she needed us there: a rag-tag group, living on the fringes, doing things a little bit differently than most folks. the obvious delight she took in seeing us told me that what we were doing was important to her.

sometimes, i guess it's just a matter of perspective.


A Charleston Story

Sunday morning I decided to join two of my new favorite people, Ed and Erin Lenahan, for breakfast at Joseph's--there is truly no better way to spend a Sunday morning in Charleston. (Ed is my graduate assistant and will someday have a post devoted to him because he showed me how to refill my AC coolant in my car. He's getting his MA in English but used to be a race car driver. Really.)

The problem was, I didn't know what time they were going to go, and I didn't have either of their phone numbers. But I had the brilliant idea that I would call Joseph's and find out if they had a reservation, and then I'd have a time.

As luck would have it, there was no reservation. "The Lenahans don't make reservations," the person at Joseph's said, "because they never know what time they're going to get here." I recognized the voice of Austin--the guy who'd waited on us two weeks ago when I had my first Lenahan-Joseph's breakfast, and I told him who I was.

"I'm invited for brunch," I said, "but I don't know when."

"Well, just call them and ask."

"I don't have their phone numbers--just email."

"OH!" Austin exclaimed. "I can give you the phone number!" And he proceeded to do so. I called Erin, found out when to get to Joseph's, and had an incredible breakfast of sweet potato pancakes and paper-thin bacon. SO good.

This kind of thing does not happen in Nashville.


Check out this incredible blog about the hurricane: www.operationeden.blogspot.com.


so, tom delay has been indicted. did i spell "indicted" correctly? i've never written the word. here's the deal, though: i'm excited about both the delay news and the sec investigation of billy frist.

Looked at in an objective manner, it makes perfect sense to me that frist would unload his stock in preparation for that soon-to-be presidential bid. And here's the clencher: it makes perfect sense to me that he would sell that stock before it took a nose dive. It's a dishonest move, but if my brother were the ceo of america's largest hospital chain i would expect him to tell me to get outta there when the time was right.

WE ALL KNOW that this is exactly what happened. Frist's family said "Sell now" and he did it. the fact that he says he didn't have any inside information is total crap. c'mon, man. you know you had information! admit it. most of all us would have done the same thing.

the problem is this: it's a matter of scope. If a regular joe were to steal--and let's not even make it a moral thing like feeding the family--but say, a man stole a six pack of beer, he'd go to jail. he'd ride in the back of a police car with his hands cuffed. his fingers would be printed. he would sit in a cold jail cell and wait to get out on bail--if he can afford it. eventually he'd probably wear a little orange suit around, maybe picking up someone else's beer can off the side of the highway. afterward, he'd be lucky to get another job.

now, how much is a six pack of beer worth? mostly, beer thieves aren't the sam adams kinda crowd. they usually go for simnpler fare like falls city or something. so, what? like 6 bucks?

now. how much did Fristy make off with? let me not even blow it out of proportion and just say 50 million dollars.

something's gotta be done...

a second matter:

above i said that "i'd expect my brother to tell me to get out when the time was right." and i would. would i do anything about it? i'm not sure.

recently, when alison and i sold our house, we had an opportunity to make some extra money by doing a slightly dishonest thing. the short version is this: we got a late bid, a higher bid, after we'd told someone else that the house was theirs. no
papers had been signed. it wouldn't have been illegal--just sketchy.

alison and i fretted over this. some of you will remember phone calls asking you what we should do. in the end, we did the right thing. i feel good about that decision. i'm even sorry that we hesitated. The rub is this: something i discovered in that situation is that the morals that govern business are not the morals that govern day to day decisions. when it comes to money folks can get a little squishy. money makes different decisions than the rest of the world.

this is wrong. this is not how things should be. frist's stock was in a "blind trust." he was not to know what was going on there. there is an absolutely fabulous chance that he knew something. if he did know something, and then acted on it, then he is a cheap and weak man. i pity him.


Things That Make Me Cry

A recent post on Kenneth's blog--as well as all the crying The Gridge did at his recent wedding--got me thinking about things that make me cry. Here are some things, in no particular order:
  • The episode of The Simpsons where Homer explains why there are no pictures of Maggie in their house. I get teary just thinking about it.
  • The episode of The Simpsons where Dustin Hoffman plays an inspiring substitute teacher for Lisa.
  • When Earl walked right through that restraining order and put her in intensive care, in "Goodbye Earl."
  • The moment in Garden State when Zach Braff is standing in the rain and he tilts his head back into the rain and shakes his head, hard.
Okay, I'm realizing that these are all things from the media, from pop culture. This is something that happens in Garden State: when Largeman wants to cry at his mother’s funeral, he thinks of the saddest things he can—and they’re all media images. Actually being at his mother’s funeral isn’t the saddest thing he can think of. His life is almost entirely mediated by pop culture images. I don't think this is entirely true for me--I cried a hell of a lot when Franny died, and I cry every time I leave Cookeville, and every time Walter leaves for Massachusetts--but it's making me think.


i'm sure that blogger theorists everywhere have some deep shit to say about the connection between blogging and the state of our collective new millenium psyche. i bring that up as a protection measure for what i'm fixin' to do: fill in some information on my "profile section" of this blog.

you see, i have to admit that i've noticed the number of "profile views" that have taken place on this blog. the other day it was a proud 24. people were looking to see who i was. and now...and now its like 54. wow.

i just can't seem to talk enough about me, you know? it's weak and sad and un-original, but i'm doing it anyway. i'd love to think that i'm clint eastwood in any number of his mid-period westerns, wandering tough and alone, in need of no one's acknowledgement to be fully actualized. that's not the case, though. so...(as i take a deep breath and pinch my nose and make that face a child makes as they dive into deep, unknown waters) here goes...


hi everyone. i apologize about being awol. sorry. hope we haven't lost our audience.

i've been getting busy with school work again--only 9 months to go and i will be finitoed with being schooled, at least in the formal sense. unless, of course, i decide that i need to go back for a phd, and i'm pretty damn sure that that ain't gonna happen.

as some of you may know, my thesis work concerns building small, individual shelters for homeless people. my first one was a bench--a mild-mannered park bench by day, a tiny, warm, dry, safe house by night. current incarnations consist of another tiny house (no dual function to this one) made of recycled futon pieces, a series of waterproofed cardboard fridge shipping boxes with roofs, etc. etc.

anyway, i need y'all's assistance. you see, it appears most people that have asked me about my work have not shied away from giving me their honest opinion about just what they think of this idea. this is an exception to what one usually gets from one's artwork. for example, in the past, when i'm asked what i'm working on i've said: "why, i'm building a really big pipe. it works and everything." the usual response to something like this has been "well, isn't that nice." or occasionally "uhhh..okay." and then we go back to talking about something else like the price of gas or pizza.

lately, though, i've been getting no such nebulous comments. people definately have something to say about the homeless shelters. as a result of this, i've started recording these comments. since i don't want to bias you in any way, i'm not going to tell you what they say. what i do want to do, however, is ask YOU what YOU have to say about this project. don't fear: make suggestions, troubleshoot, write a poem. also, even if you include your name here on your post, i plan to only relay them anonymously when i put them up with the project. awright. that's it. i hope the instructions are clear.

thanks for sharing. keep comin' back.


Meaningless Self-Scrutiny and Complaining

I'm tired of trying to make friends. There are a lot of people here who I think could be friends, so I want to just go ahead and be friends, be intimate and unguarded and real. But I feel like I'm posturing, putting out feelers, trying to be funny (not my strong suit), trying to think of things to say. I keep getting flashbacks to junior high: for example, I wore a 3/4 sleeved shirt tonight, and all the folks I was with were wearing sleeveless shirts, and riding my bike home, I was thinking, "Oh, I should have worn a sleeveless shirt, too--they probably thought I was weird!"

Who is the person thinking these things? I have a Ph.D.! I am a grown-ass woman! I'm not the unpopular kid anymore, I'm not automatically less cool than all the folks around me, I'm not trying to cover lost ground.

It makes it harder that Walter's not here to debrief with. This must have been what it was like for him his first year in grad school, so it's probably good that I'm getting to experience my own version of that now.

What Walter would say in this situation is, "Why don't you assume that everything you did was just fine."


Blogging from Atlanta

I LOVE Hampton Inns. I'm lounging on a bed in a Hampton Inn near the airport in Atlanta after an afternoon business meeting for the Southeastern Women's Studies Association. I'm enjoying the complimentary wireless internet access, and tomorrow morning I'll enjoy the complimentary breakfast before heading back into hurricane-ridden Charleston.

According to Walter there's no hurricane in Charleston yet, but I've been getting well-meaning messages from colleagues in Charleston who want to know how I feel about experiencing my first hurricane, and one colleague on higher ground offered up her apartment in case Rutledge Ave floods, as it sometimes does. So I'll keep you posted.


A Little Bit of Feminism

The news media guy at the C of C (oddly enough, he and his wife are the people we bought this house from--Cookeville's got nothing on Charleston: it is a small town) asked for a quote about the Supreme Court nomination process so that he could disseminate it to the media, so here's what I said. (Those of you who are paying attention will notice a bit of a theme carrying over from my letter to the editor.)

Of course I'd like the President to nominate a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Women are 51 percent of our population and ought to be more fully represented in all political bodies, including the Supreme Court. For us to have only one female Supreme Court justice in 2005--and only one non-white justice--seems a bit anachronistic. But what's more important to me is that the President nominate someone who is committed to social justice and the rights of women, people of color, and other disenfranchised people in our society. Woman or man, white or person of color, the next justice needs to be someone who will support women's reproductive rights, Affirmative Action, voting rights, and civil and human rights for gays and lesbians.


My Unbelievably Exciting Life

My mom told me if Walter and I didn't start posting things on our blog that she'd stop reading it, so I thought I'd better write something. Walter's been gone for almost a week now, back in MA for his last year of grad school. I've had a week full of meetings, interviewing student workers, going for lunch and coffee with many different people, etc. We had our first Women's and Gender Studies faculty potluck on Thursday, and this Tuesday we have our first steering committee meeting, which I guess will be my first official meeting as director.

I've now tried yoga at three more studios--Gaea, Satsang, and Serenity Now (which, by the way, is what George Costanza's dad kept saying in that one episode of Seinfeld, so that made me laugh). I've also found a vet for Baxter, who apparently doesn't have some awful anxiety-induced skin infection, as I had feared, but just bad fleas. Oh, and I went with a colleague and her boyfriend this weekend to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and it was hysterical. So, as you can see, my life is very full.

In other news, the Charleston Post & Courier still hasn't published my brilliant letter to the editor, so while I'm waiting for them to do so, I'll post it here:

Dear Editor:

I’ve been here a month, and I love Charleston. I’m delighted to be in a city with a privately-owned newspaper (rather than one owned by Gannett), and I appreciate the variety of syndicated columnists, such as Leonard Pitts and David Brooks, in the Commentary section of the paper every day.

I’ve noticed, however, how few women columnists you include in your lineup (since it’s my job to notice these things). For instance, in the last ten days, you’ve published 31 columns by male authors, and only five by women. There’s no shortage of women columnists out there whose work would enhance the Post and Courier. For starters, you could bring Ellen Goodman, Molly Ivins, Maureen Dowd, Deborah Mathis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sheryl McCarthy, or Cindy Rodriguez into your regular slate of opinion columnists.

Since women make up around 50 percent of the population, and probably 50 percent of your readership, it would make sense to include their opinions in Commentary more than 16 percent of the time.


Alison Piepmeier
Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program
The College of Charleston


so, the other day there was a mention of the "ham-sneeze incident" by stinky. (stinky is my brother-in-law's little known real name.) kevin o'mara, an odd-acting and very long human being from cookeville, and who actually knows the story concerning the ham sneeze, saw that heading and wrote that he'd actually liked to see it printed here.

so, in honor of that request, alison has reached into some of this computer's more dusty files and has found a typed version of the story, originally written around 1995 and named Ham Bolus. It has been pasted here (in a slightly edited format) for kevin's reading enjoyment.

ham bolus

when i was a little kid opryland didn't exist. briley parkway didn't exist either. now, i don't actually remember this, but my sister, who is like 10 years older than i am, has said that the two of us and the becker kids and mike willis used to play where that busy highway now runs.

* * * *

alison and i live in east nashville. a few months after we moved here she pointed out that we didn't have to take such a long way to my parent's house--she meant traveling down ellington parkway to briley parkway, over the briley parkway bridge and then on to two rivers parkway and then mcgavock with finally a right onto windemere drive, the street of my youth.
she said we could simply take mcgavock. she had seen it on gallatin road on her way to kroger. had she followed that road to see if her theory were correct she would have eventually driven into the cumberland river. true, with a little bit of speed and a vw bug she might have gotten to the mcgavock that sits on the other side, but i doubt it. the current of the cumberland is swift and dangerous. she wouldn't have made it.

* * * *

andrew jackson was our 7th president. he married a girl that grew up next door to where i lived as a kid. her name was rachel Mcgavock. (note: do not trust my historical accuracy. wb 2005) It was said that he loved her very very much. wrote her some touching letters when he was out on the battlefield killing off black people or indians or mexicans. i'm sorry that history has become marred for me.
as a kid, we used to drive by rachel's old house and i loved to look up the driveway at the place. if i squinted my eyes up just right i could narrow my vision down so that all i could see was the entrance to the driveway and on up to the house, blocking out all the modern pavement and the shadow of the automobile as we raced by. what it looked like through my squinty eyes was this: an old stacked rock wall with an ornate gate that was open. on up into the tiny pebbled, beige-orange driveway with a line of thin grass cutting through the center sat a cool, wide, green yard with magnolia and cedar trees scattered about. near the house the driveway was split by a circle of hedges that held a fountain in its center. behind all this was the house itself, tall and thin, made of red brick and faced with square and gently fluted white wood columns.
of course, as i said above, i would take all this in with squinted eyes while going by in an automobile at 50 or so miles per hour. the actual glimpse of the house as we passed lasted only seconds, but the movement up the driveway on towards the house was the scene i played in my head when my eyes went from the squint to a full closed. there in my head i could erase the golf course that sits behind the house where they once made the bricks that made the house. i could get rid of the high school that practically sits in the mansion's side yard--the largest high school in the whole state. i could even replace the road we were on with the same gravel that made up the driveway.
i could see miss rachel maybe getting in a carriage preparing to visit the young mr. jackson where he was building a house out near tulip grove. the town around that house is now called hermitage. it took its name from the house he was building.
the thing that i thought about the most was the distance between these two houses. back when andrew jackson and rachel were alive was it a big deal to go from one of those houses to another? like was it dangerous? bandits in the woods? no indian problems, of course, old hickory had taken care of that, but would you worry that your wagon might have a flat?

* * * *

so jim ridley, the current nashville scene movie critic, and i have a connection.
i love seemingly random connections. i discovered a version of this--the parallel existence--or an approximation thereof--on tennessee tech's campus. one day, as always, i was on the patio covertly drinking beer, playing guitar and trying to seduce women. a guy behind me was talking about when he was a kid and he would wake up early and all excited on saturday mornings just raring to watch cartoons. i did this, too. he said that he would get up so early sometimes that the cartoons weren't on yet. i did this too. okay, nothing so impressive so far, but then he said that he would sit and wait impatiently for the damn farm report to go off so he could see bugs bunny. that's what did it. i was beside myself with glee. this guy and i both hated the farm report! even better than that was the fact that i had been walking around for years knowing that i got up early on saturdays, knowing that i was excited about the prospect of watching cartoons, knowing that something had kept me from doing that. i just couldn't remember what. it was the damn farm report! two old farmers in over-hauls talkin bout pigs and tomatoes. wow, what a moment. i'm thrilled just thinking about it.

* * * *

When alison was a kid she said that each time she heard the 20th century fox theme she thought that star wars was coming on. i don't experience this exact phenomenom, but i know what it means to be this way.
when i was a kid, i would come home from school and get a snack from the kitchen. then i would go into the den and no matter what the temperature outside, would curl up in front of the t.v. underneath one of the afghans my grandmother made me. i would stick my little toes through the holes in my cover and kind of mindlessly flick them on the bottom of the t.v. set.
at four o'clock or something like that, a film reel would roll across the screen. a lot of film reels would do it actually. they were each colored very brightly. like alison and her star wars thing, this to me signified that a godzilla movie was fixing to come on. more times than not godzilla didn't actually come on, but hope was always there. every once and a while, though, a film that i ended up enjoying just as much came on instead. like the attack of the killer mushroom people. that movie terrified me. i had nightmares for weeks. to this day i'm scared stiff of mushroom people.
other days a western would come on and that was the worst.

this t.v. time was called The Big Show. just like the damn farm report, i had forgotten the name of it but had retained a vivid overall memory. jim ridley kicked this back on in my head recently when he mentioned a fond memory of The Big Show and its rolling film reels.

i always got a snack to watch the big show. most of the time mama gave me cookies--3 oreos, or 5 of those chocolate nabisco rectangular cookies that are best if eaten by their stratified layers rather than vertically. sometimes mama left me unattended, or maybe we were experiencing a shortage of snack food and i had to be creative. fend for myself.
in these events i would experiment. one day i ate butter. it was pretty good but too rich for a snack because i couldn't eat enough of it. one day i found a treat that to this day i still enjoy: uncooked oats in a cup. no water, no nothing. just oats. try it sometime.
so like one day i come bopping in and head to the kitchen for the big show snack and i can't find anything. i start looking around for options. the day before i had gotten out the big bucket of crisco and carried it along with a spoon into the den and had finished most of it before mama came in and got mad at me so i knew i couldn't eat the crisco.
in the fridge i found a new package of ham--cool and salty and thinly-sliced sandwich meat kind of ham. i got a piece of it out and crammed it into my mouth. i was headed away when i decided that it was pretty good, so i reached back in and got another piece. and then another and another and of course more and more, until the package was empty. i had so much ham in my mouth that i couldn't swallow or breathe. the saliva didn't have anywhere to go but up into my sinus passage, or passages, whatever.
now, my parents house, the house i grew up in, was built the year that the old maxwell house hotel burned down. that was where teddy roosevelt said that their coffee was "good to the last drop." our house was built from the bricks and other pieces that hotel. i thought this was cool when i was a kid. so i was headed around to the den, going the long way through the entrance hall--the marble floor of which was the maxwell house's marble floor where teddy offered his critique of their coffee--with my mouth totally full of processed ham. my cheeks were bulging, my eyes were popping when suddenly...i needed to sneeze.
there was no stopping it. as my head went back and i wheezed for breath around the ham bolus i've got in my mouth i remember thinking about where was the best place for the ham to go? i knew i couldn't keep it in my mouth and the sneeze had come too fast for me to spit it out into my hand or something.
and so the sneeze came! whoomp! and kind of like the passing of a big storm i stood there with a placid feeling. i could breath again. i felt good...and then i remembered the ham. where had it gone? i started looking everywhere. it had to be a huge wad. it couldn't have disappeared, but this ham was just no where to be found. it wasn't on teddy's marble floor. it wasn't on the nice leopard print carpet that covered the steps. i was looking in the next room, dumbfounded by the missing food, when i sort of snorted a post-sneeze snort and suddenly...my mouth was full of ham again...

it had gone up my nose.

a few more quick snorts and i retrieved most of it, but for days after that, everytime i blew my nose a little bit more of it would come out into the kleenex my mama had given me.

here is a picture of my nose:

Trey and Megan Visit

This week has been pretty intense for me--first week of classes at the College--but rather than talk about that right now, I want to share the exciting news that Trey and Megan are in town for the weekend and are our first official visitors to Charleston! (My mom doesn't count as a visitor since she actually came to help us move.)

We all danced in the living room on their first night in town (we've actually been doing a fair amount of in-home dancing since they've been here), and then later Walter cut Megan's hair on the back porch. We also went to the beach and spent several hours playing in/being battered around by the ocean. Today I read in the paper that there have been dangerous undertows and rip-tides on Folly Beach, where we were, which helps explain why we kept finding ourselves being swept fifty feet away from our starting point every time we entered the ocean.


The Great Ham-Sneeze Incident,
or Someone New Moves to 575 Rutledge*

So, we got us a renter! Nick will be moving into our extra room the beginning of September. I'll see if he'll let me post his picture here--do you think that would freak him out?

He knows what he's in for, living with us--he got a pretty mild, but accurate, introduction to us two minutes after coming into our house. Walter and I have been noticing how when the two of us are together, men tend to talk to him rather than me, even if I'm the relevant party. (For example: we were at the beginning of the year picnic on campus, and a math professor approached us and started talking. I introduced myself as the new director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program, and he was excited and had heard of me. Walter said, "I'm just here with her." And the guy then proceeds to direct all his comments to Walter. Subconscious sexist socialization at work, kids.) So poor Nick starts speaking to Walter, Walter draws his attention to that fact, we give him a little mini-lecture, and then he's got to maintain his composure while being scrutinized by two on-duty feminists. And he's still decided to live with us.

*See Trey Piepmeier's comment to the previous post.


We had a pretty active Saturday, which I thought I'd blog about. I went to my first Charleston yoga class at Holy Cow--I hadn't done yoga in about five weeks, so I was drenched in sweat (which, honestly, is sort of a normative state of being in Charleston anyway). Then we took the Deez to this incredible dog park where she got to run around and swim in a big pond. Because she's been a landlocked dog her whole life, the ocean freaks her out a little, but this pond was just her speed--every time Walter stopped throwing her ball into the water for her to retrieve, she'd let out this ear-piercing bark until he threw it again. Walter and I actually did a little swimming in the pond, too.

Then last night Walter had a bluegrass gig at this restaurant called Sewee. Friday night when we were being urban and cruising around downtown on our bikes, we passed a club where a bluegrass band was playing. Walter went in and left them a note on the stage that said, "Nashville picker, wanting to play, give me a call." When we went back by later, they were taking a break, so he went in and talked to them. They asked if he was any good, he said, "Yeah!", and they invited him to come play. This sort of thing doesn't happen in Nashville. He had a great time, and since, as we all already knew, he is really good, he can get up to three gigs a week with them if he wants--so this is yet more incentive for him to spend lots of time in Charleston during his last year in grad school.


I forgot to blog about the fact that Walter and I went to Cookeville last weekend to help host the Gridge and Mary's first wedding shower! Trey, Megan, Walter, and I hosted--we took over the Hamiltons' party-friendly deck and did it up, with all the goofy shower traditions and games. We had barbecue, Trey and Walter made fruit salad and broccoli slaw, I wrote a brilliant wedding-themed madlib, and even the guests who complained about having to play admitted that it was fun. The award for the raunchiest madlib goes to Mrs. Fudge Pie, Julie, and I have to admit that I didn't know she had it in her.

If you look closely, you can see how excited Gridgey is about all the gifts.


We had our first social event at 575 Rutledge tonight--not a party, as Walter kept reminding me ("party" sounds much more elaborate and planned than what we were up to) but a gathering or, as one Charlestonian put it, a drop-in. We started inviting folks on Monday. Our invitation said:

are invited to a get-together
to celebrate the nice people (you)
we've met since we moved to Charleston.
...get a gift just for stopping by...

It was a blast! A lot of folks from the English Department came, and some Women's and Gender Studies folks who live in the neighborhood, along with--as the invitation suggests--nice people we've met. David, who worked with Walter at Bean Central back in the day, and Wendy and their son Seth. Sean, who went to grad school with me and now teaches at the Citadel. Fred, our realtor. Loads of kids who entertained themselves in our sandbox yard. Apparently the appropriate food for a drop-in is wine, beer, and cheese, and we had all of those in abundance. I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies (one of my three specialty dishes--the other two being fudge pie and granola). There were kids walking around with chocolate smeared on their faces all evening.

I was glad to have people in the house; it felt like a kind of inaguration. At one point I joked with a group on the back porch that I'm trying to bribe folks into being friends with me because the friend transition has been and will be one of my biggest hurdles in leaving Nashville. I really do feel like walking up to people and saying, "I need you to be my friend!" I recognize that building a community here will take time, but it was pretty gratifying to be able to pull together a shaggy semblance of community on such short notice. Oh, and the gifts just for stopping by: we gave away a bunch of random stuff that we like, or that gives a little insight into us--everything from boxes of Goo Goos to Listerine strips to a bottle of Astroglide.

Okay, here are some photos of the rest of the rooms of the house, for those of you who have been anxiously awaiting further documentation of the unbelievable hipness in which Walter and I are living.

In the living room, Baxter's sitting right in front of Walter's big-ass TV. The empty room is the room we're trying to rent out. Alas, Eddie Cosmic--our fortuitously named first potential renter--never called back, and since then we've had several nibbles but no bites. My office is pretty ugly still, but looking better. And the bedroom is looking great--Walter made the bed, which is called One Slow Cousin.