Lovely things about Charleston

I have a number of legitimate complaints about Charleston (and South Carolina), but one thing I rarely complain about is the weather.  This weekend has been a great example of why that's true.  I have many friends in other parts of the country who are experiencing winter--real winter, worse winter than usual.  And here we were on Saturday.  I brought the camera along in part to taunt friends in other parts of the country (not kind, but still sort of fun).


Another place to go read Alison's thoughts

Over at the website On the Human (a project of the National Humanities Center), Michael Bérubé has written an essay called "Humans, Disabilities, and the Humanities."  I'm a fan of Bérubé's work, so it was very cool that I was asked to comment on his essay.  It seems to me the folks running this site are making an effort to have thoughtful academic conversations happening online--i.e., they wanted me to write something more substantial than, "Pwned!" or whatever.  Those of us invited are commenting right now, and I think at the end of the coming week Michael is going to write a response.

Have a look, and let me know what you think!

Still posingAlso, in case folks from that site click over here, here's a recent picture of Maybelle in her fabulousness.  I apologize for the eye booger which I didn't remove before I took the picture.  I ought to have a link to a recent reading video, or something like that (just this morning she learned to read the word "Nina").  Perhaps I'll get one of those up soon.


Christy and Joel in Charleston

Walking tour of our neighborhoodMaybelle has just gone down for a nap, and Christy, Joel, and Jeff are on a quick tour of Charleston with Biffle. So I have a few minutes to blog about their visit to town.

As you know, Christy and Joel have appeared on this blog many, many times:  when we went to their wedding, when we took a fun winter trip to NYC to hang with them last year, when I did a research trip with Meghann years back in preparation for Girl Zines, and I'm sure there are many other examples.  They've finally come to Charleston for a visit, bringing along Joel's brother Jeff.  So far we've taken them on a walking tour of our neighborhood, and to eat at FIG and Hominy Grill.  This afternoon Biffle's hanging with Maybelle, and I'm taking Christy, Joel, and Jeff to Ft. Sumter.

Christy has often been disappointed about her lack of prominence on Baxter Sez.  Although she's been here many times, she thinks she deserves to be here more.  In some cases she's right:  she and Joel had their book group read Girl Zines, and they Skyped me in as a visiting author.  I meant to blog about that experience (totally fun!  good natured book group, especially considering that they were having to read a scholarly book!), but for some totally valid reason I forgot.  So this at least is a shout-out to the book group, and it's possible (although unlikely) that at some point I'll offer a more detailed recounting of that experience.

A monkey penis which became smaller and smaller and finally dissolved into a rainbow

(Occasionally I want to get a little more creative with the titles here.)

I've put Maybelle in front of the TV, watching the Wiggles, so that I can do some quick blogging. I have a ton of things to blog about--several friends have emailed with various requests, and I have friends in town who are lobbying to read about themselves--but I've been really busy. So for now, here's the top priority blog post (top priority in part because of the title I came up with).

Biffle is good about reminding me, where medical issues are concerned, to start with the ending. So the ending: Biffle does not have heart disease. Instead, Biffle's heart is almost unbelievably healthy. So healthy that we both sort of didn't believe the doctor who told us about the results of a very complex 3D holographic outer space heart scan they did on him. The doctor stuck to his story, though: his heart is completely healthy. No blockages of any kind, no tears, no damage, no heart disease. Period.

Biffle is someone who routinely works far harder than an individual should work. For instance, while I was hanging out with a just born Maybelle, Biffle singlehandedly built his wood studio on the back of our house. No joke. So the other day, he decided it was time to start remodeling our bathroom. He was moving quickly since he had only an hour or so until he had to go pick Maybelle up at school, so he did what he calls "aerobic construction." At one point he found himself balancing on top of a 6' high pointy wall, holding a 4' x 4', 150 lb. window, trying to get it carefully onto the ground before he fell or dropped it, and at that point he got so winded that he said he felt out of breath for several hours.

That has never happened to him before. When he shared this story with a couple of friends--one of whom is a PT--he was told "Get to the doctor!" When he followed through with this and went to his primary care person, he got increasingly shocked, worried looks from the doctor and nurse. They did tests on him and told him there was a more than fair chance he has heart disease.

So the next day, when he felt some heart palpitations and chest pain, we went to the ER. They do take you seriously when you show up with chest pain, so they did a series of tests on him, each of which showed no problems. Finally the ER doctor told Biffle they were sending him to the chest pain center for the amazing heart scan I mentioned above. He said this test would scan Biffle's heart and lungs and reveal, definitively, where he has blockages.

"You've been smoking on and off for fifteen years," the doctor said. "You have heart blockages. They'll be treatable--we just need to figure out how severe they are."

When Biffle first told me that he might have heart disease, I initially didn't take the issue seriously (and hurt his feelings by my glibness). I realized that part of why I wasn't worried at first is that I assume Biffle's body is indestructible. The heart disease concern took a little while to break through this assumption of mine. And then, lo and behold, six hours of testing at the hospital revealed that my assumption was correct. Despite fifteen years of smoking, regular bodily abuse of various kinds, too little sleep, too much music (not to mention bacon)--a high thrill, low anxiety lifestyle, as his friend Jason characterizes it--Biffle's heart is healthier than that of most people a decade younger who've taken very, very good care of themselves.

As is often the case with medical stories, it took most of the day Friday for us to learn this. It was less than a month from the time we spent nine hours in the ER to learn that I had a completely harmless ovarian cyst. I was not happy to be back in the ER, because although I wasn't the one with a medical issue--a nice change of pace--the thought that Biffle might have heart disease was a bit of a bummer. Really, a brain tumor and heart disease in the same family? That just doesn't seem fair.

But then the monkey penis dissolved into a rainbow.  So that was our Friday.


Work/life balance

Today was my first day back in the classroom after a year away. A big deal. A big, big deal.

But because Maybelle has some sort of lower respiratory infection that's required us to hook her up to a nebulizer three times a day and that's kept her out of school, I spent this morning not making exciting last-minute plans for my class, but trying to decide which of the Wiggles is sexiest.

"Definitely Greg," said the friend who loaned us the Wiggles DVD. I emailed her while Maybelle was dancing like a pirate with Captain Feathersword.  Greg is the guy on the far left in this picture, and my friend is correct--he's the sexiest.*  Rest assured that this is a picture that offers a pretty clear sense of the vibe--the sexy, sexy vibe--of the Wiggles.

While some kids' programming--Sesame Street, for instance, or the work of Dan Zanes--clearly has the whole family in mind, particularly the ironic, snarky parents, the Wiggles don't.  They have so fully rejected playing to the snarky parent audience that they're actually pretty embarrassing to watch.  The first time Biffle and I put the DVD in for Maybelle, we both felt physically uncomfortable.  These guys are all smiles.  They have their shirts tucked in.  They have not a single special effect, not a single joke aimed over the heads of their audience, and they sing a bunch of truly goofy songs with awkward dance moves and big, bright eyes.

The thing is, preschoolers love them.  Even in her respiratory-infection-mode, Maybelle stood in front of the TV, mesmerized, stomping along with the bear and trying to sing "rom-pom-pa-chomp" along with Dorothy the Dinosaur.

The academic-minded me did perk up a bit as I watched the Wiggles and assessed their non-sexy selves.  Sexiness, like everything else, is culturally constructed,** and it's interesting to see these four adult men--men who were in rock bands called things like The Cockroaches back in the day--rejecting our culture's standard, acceptable models of masculinity.  Their lack of sexiness is intentional.  They're playing to an audience aged two to five, and it would be pretty repulsive if they were sexy rockstars.  So they've somehow very thoroughly divested of sexuality--really, any sexuality, as far as I can tell.  Greg is a cutie-pie, but on screen he is pure as the driven snow.  It's impressive that these guys have been able--and willing--to do that.  They've made a billion billion dollars doing it, so I guess that's motivating.

For what it's worth, after my Maybelle time was over, I made it to school for last-minute class preparation and had a fantastic afternoon in the classroom.  More about that later, I'm sure.

*In the same email, my friend shared, "Sadly, he's no longer a Wiggle."  Check out the Wiggles' Wikipedia page for more info.
**If you want me to focus respectfully on your ideas, start off by stating that whatever it is you're discussing is, of course, culturally constructed.  Then I'm all yours. 


It Gets Better, by Rebecca Drysdale

Check out this fabulous video, part of the It Gets Better Project. Thanks to Claire for the heads up. Watch all the way to the end. (Oh, and NSFW, if you work at some place homophobic and squeamish.)


New year, old job

Biffle recently said, "You're going to be so happy going back to work that it makes me not want to give you a hard time about it."

He was right:  I am excited about returning to my job (and I'd love it if he decides not to give me a hard time about it).  It's been a year--a full year!--since I've taught a class, done regular program directing, been a  participant in campus life, and I'm ready to be back.  January 3, Maybelle went to preschool, and I went to the WGS office, and I think I'm the only person on campus who's legitimately eager for the semester to start. 

A relevant tangent:  a month or so ago a friend made passing mention of what she called my "heroic" trekking back and forth to breastfeed Maybelle during spring 2009.  I reminded her that these trips weren't heroic, some devoted effort on my part to maintain a certain connection with Maybelle.  Instead, they were a necessity, since Maybelle would only take sustenance directly from my body--no bottles, no pumped breast milk spooned into her mouth, no mashed bananas until the end of the semester.  For a full semester, in order to keep Maybelle alive, not to mention thriving, every two and a half hours I had to bike from campus back to the apartment where Maybelle was being cared for, so that I could feed her.  This meant that I would basically get to do one thing on campus--teach a class, lead a meeting--and then would have to hop on the bike and get going before the next thing happened.  It was a challenging semester.

But Biffle points out that I almost never complain about that semester at all.  While I think this may be due in part to the good feelings associated with the breastfeeding and seeing Maybelle, I suspect that it's in larger part due to the joys I associate with my job.  During fall semester 2008, I didn't teach any classes and did modified versions of my work from off campus.  I was at home with the baby.  A wonderful, meaningful thing--wouldn't trade it--but when I look back on spring 2009, what I remember is this feeling:

"I'm back at work!  At work!  Hurray!" 

It was this sort of joyful realization that I could, in fact, have a baby and a job.  Both.

It strikes me that my experience of spring 2011 may be a version of this.  I had a medical leave last spring, and I'm very grateful for it.  I'm grateful for the fall sabbatical as well, but I suspect that I may not be cut out for a large amounts of time off, even under the best of circumstances.  I may be one of those people who produces more (and is happier) when she's busy.  And I know for a fact that I'm one of those people who loves her job.

This time last year I was trying to get the ducks in a row, meaning (as I didn't specify, but most of you figured out) that I was preparing for the possibility that I might die in surgery, or emerge from the surgery temporarily--even permanently--unable to utilize language. 

What I'm doing now is getting syllabi in order, reading over my assignments, trying to envision what my students will find challenging and exciting, feeling the first glimmers of the great adrenaline rush of the classroom.  I'm scheduling time for research, thinking about what sorts of mainstream and academic writing projects I want to take on.  I'm imagining and designing a work life built around my own priorities, my desires, the things that fire up my neurons (so to speak).  This is much better.  I am ready to be back to work.



Please go below and read my article, "Maybelle vs. the Memoir."  But first, have a look at this great video Uncle Trey made of me and Maybelle playing outside a Waffle House: