Thursday, May 17, 2007

Medieval Woman's European Vacation

Sorry for the radio silence since I returned from K'zoo - and all I can promise is that it will continue until the end of the month, because tomorrow evening - in a flurry of flip flops, beta blockers (ya'll know how I hate to fly), and probably a beer or two, the Dutchman and I will board an Air France flight on the first leg of our trek to Tuscany!

We stay in the Tuscany house for a week eating, drinking, and sightseeing with 8 friends from the Netherlands and then El D (note the switch to Italian already!) and I will head to Paris for a romantic 4 days all to ourselves. This will involve croissants, cafe au lait, large quantities of wine, canoodling, and me refusing to go up in the Eiffel Tower.

I will report on everything fully after we get back on May 31 - including lots of pictures! But, until then, what can I bring everyone from Tuscany?? (I'm sorry to say that these will be virtual presents - i.e., I'll see the thing - say, a maserati - and declare, "That one's for so and so!" I don't start getting paid until the end of August!)

So, think of your favorite Italian (or Parisian) things and let me know! My mother, who loves the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, has asked that I bring her back one of these:

This gorgeous critter is Raoul Bova, Italian actor and all-around foxy eye-candy.

So, until we return, "Ciao!", "A bientot!", and "Pray for no turbulence!"

Monday, May 14, 2007

K'zoo Follies - A Pseudo-Drama in 4 Acts

I'm wearing my game face...

Realization #1: I need to get some hot-weather conference-y clothes. Right now. The first two days of the conference were unbelieveably hot and humid (at least for me - where I live is still kinda cool). I was wearing the wrong clothes! Especially for the book exhibit.

Realization #2: Never stay at the Lees Inn again. Smoke saturated room. Bad. Make Radisson reservations as early as you need to, but don't go there again! They had to "re-set" the hot water every morning - we had to call down to the front desk and make them turn it on so we could take showers at the (apparently) ridiculously early hour of 7:30 am.

The hotel notwithstanding, K'zoo was delightful this year with the occasional awkward moment and bit of excitement.

Wednesday: Drove to K'zoo early to meet up with friends who were going to have to leave early Friday morning. Had an awesome dinner with them and went back to the rat-trap - I mean "hotel" - to watch Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Thursday: Went to pick up J at the airport - ate Steak and Shake for lunch (much of any time spent in the US revolves around me eating food I can't usually get). Went to afternoon sessions and hit the book exhibit. Bought several books and a manuscript leaf (it's one of my vices). Ate and drank large quantities of alcohol at Red Robin - caught up with J and laughed lots and lots. Stayed up late in our room talking about my syllabi next semester - who says medievalists can't have slumber parties!

Friday: Things get cooking! Have a lovely breakfast blogger meet-up with Dr. Virago, Tiruncula, New Kid, Scott Nokes, Michael Drout (who I hadn't seen in a couple of years - lovely to see him again!), Another Damned Medievalist, Karl Steel, etc. It was really great to meet everyone - as New Kid mentioned, most people looked exactly how I'd imagined.

Went to the 10am session and met up with one of the speakers whose work I *adore* and secretly covet. I'd met her once when she gave a talk at Dutchman U and had gone out to dinner with her and found her to be lovely and excited about how our work connected. She asked if I could send her some of my work (we're contributing to the same collection).

Right after the session, I get a panicked call from J saying that her eye is messed up and she thinks she has a brain tumor. :) I go to pick her up at the building she was in and one of her pupils was *hugely* dilated even in the bright sun! So, we blow off the afternoon session and start driving around downtown Kalamazoo looking for an ophthamologist's office. We finally found one who gave us the emergency on-call doc's number and only had to wait for a half hour to be seen (btw, if anyone needs a rec for a great eye doctor in the greater Kalamazoo area, let me know). I think we were the most exciting thing to breeze into that office in about 5 years. The whole place was a-buzz with words like "medievalist", "emergency" and "in from out of town"...

So, J sat nervously in the high chair while the doc checked her eyes and I calmed her by reading our horoscopes aloud from Allure magazine. Finally, it was concluded that the dilated pupil wasn't a brain tumor or an aneurism or a stroke, but the result of J washing one of her smudged contact lenses in Visine that had an antihistamine in it. Her eye reacted to the antihistamine and dilated - it was back to normal in a few hours.

We went back to the Rat-trap and met up with our third roommate for the night, J2, who'd just gotten in from the airport. Went to lunch and made it back up to the conference for the 3:30 session. Bought more books and drank some unimpressive wine at the wine hour. Saw advisor and a few people I knew...

That night we went to dinner and to see Spiderman 3 in digital!

Saturday: Awoke early for our 10am panel - I chaired the session that J and I had co-organized, J2 presented a great paper and I met two other very nice people who were on the panel. Our panel wasn't highly attended (there are SO MANY concurrent panels!), but we had a great discussion that lasted the whole time.

Finally, after having been there since Wednesday afternoon, I opted to skip out on the afternoon sessions and head home - I missed the dance but hope that everyone had a great time!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pre-K'zoo Checklist

A List of Things to Do Before K'zoo**

1. Paint toenails sassy blue - check!

2. Figure out driving route - check!

3. Pack clothing and pertinent papers...

4. Set up dinner with dear friends tomorrow night - check!

5. Write intro blurbs for presenters on your panel - almost check.

6. Figure out where the hell you're staying - check!

7. Practice "credit card wrist-flick" technique to avoid possible muscle pain after buying tons of books at the book exhibit. (Tangential comment: doesn't the book exhibit at K'zoo seem a bit like a feeding frenzy? The 25-40% conference discount acts like chum in the water. After diving in, I eventually find myself crouched dazedly against the wall, one shoe missing, and wondering why I elbowed that little old man in the lip to purchase a book on 12th-century Cistercian monasteries...)

8. Fill up car with gas - check!

See you guys at the blogger meet-up and hopefully around the conference as well!

**Internal rhyme and iambic pentameter in this title was totally deliberate!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

.....but why??

[PSA: The following represents an only slightly edited email exchange between me and one of my students.]

Cheeky Student: "Prof. Medieval Woman, I just received the mark you gave me for our course and I'm absolutely shocked. It was substantially lower than I had expected. Can you explain this?"

Prof. MW: "Yes, Student, I can explain this. You failed the final exam and made a C- on your final paper."

CS: "But I don't understand. What were the points you gave me for each section of the final?"

PMW: "I don't know - the exams are now happily ensconced in the English Dept. office. You are welcome to stop by and pick up your exam any weekday before 4pm."

CS: "But I'm in [city across the country] already. Can you go check?"

PMW: "No."

CS: "I can't believe how unfair and uncooperative you're being. I studied SO hard for your final and wrote my best essay and you still gave me a really low grade."

PMW: "I'm sorry that you're discouraged by the grade you earned in my class - and, Student, please note my rhetoric in this sentence: I do not *give* grades; students *earn* grades. I'm afraid that the work represented in your final exam and final paper did not merit a higher mark."

CS: "I want you to re-grade my final paper - I can email you a copy. I think this is only fair."

PMW: "It is my policy to grade papers only once in my courses - they are usually not any better a second time. Indeed, it would be very unfair to your classmates if I were to give you another bite at the apple. If you were able to bring in the paper that I graded, we could set up an appointment to discuss my comments if any of them are unclear. But, barring that, I will not re-evaluate your grade."

CS: "This is so unfair. What good does it do you to ruin my dreams of graduating with honors? Why are you trying to ruin my life?"

PMW: "I'm glad that you set such a high value on this class. However, our discussion about this issue is over. You may continue this discussion with the Chair of the department if you like."

CS: "You'll be seeing me again next year - I'm going to keep taking this course as many times as I need to to get a passing grade."

PMW: "Alas, you will be unable to take another course from me. I have taken a position elsewhere. As far as I know, the department has no plans to offer this course again. I wish you the best of luck in your future studies, and I hope you get eaten by a walrus."**

CS: "This is SO unfair."

**Part of this particular response might be a bit exaggerated.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Friday Recipe Blogging - Hula Edition!

I just found out that, while we're in Tuscany in a couple of weeks, we'll be taking Tuscan cooking classes from the lovely Italian lady who owns the house we're renting and the vineyard it's near (and the olive grove on the other side). So, I will no doubt come back with many lovely recipes, worthy of dining "al fresco" and "in molto bene vino"...

But until then...

I'm offering a recipe that my Aunt Deb gave me years ago, saying "it's a little involved, but you might need a good company dish one day, honey." It's actually pretty damn good - I imagine that the recipe was born in, like, the mid to late 60s when there was lots of tiki-torching, lanai-sitting, drinks-with-funny-umbrella-sipping, cook-outs going on. At least that's what my Aunt Deb would like me to believe - she's living happily in a retirement community in Boca Raton.

Chicken Waikiki Beach

- 2 whole chicken leg quarters
- 2 whole chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/3 cup salad oil or shortening
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper

- 1 can (1 lb. 4 oz. sliced pineapple)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tbsps. corn starch
- 3/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 1 large green pepper (cut into 1/4 inch thick circles)

1. Wash chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Coat chicken with flour
2. Heat oil in a large skillet; add chicken a few pieces at a time and brown on all sides. Remove as browned to shallow roasting pan, arranging pieces skin side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Make sauce: Drain pineapple, pouring syrup or juice into a 2 cup measure. Add water to make it 1 1/4 cups.
5. In medium sauce pan combine sugar, cornstarch, pineapple sauce or juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, bouillon cube. Bring to boiling stirring constantly. Boil 2 minutes and pour over chicken.
6. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add pineapple slices and green pepper; bake 30 minutes longer, or until chicken is tender.
7. Serve with fluffy white rice.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

"Under Siege" Friendships

The Dutchman and I watched "The Last King of Scotland" last night. It was a very powerful, highly disturbing movie - the acting was excellent and I was fascinated by the way Forest Whitaker portrayed Idi Amin. As we were watching Amin's progression from a charismatic leader to a paranoid, sadistic maniac (perhaps he was always so), I got progressively more and more uncomfortable - not only because of the heightened violence in the movie, but Amin's paranoia and mental imbalance was making me restless. For those of you who've seen the movie, this might have struck you as well - this sense that you never knew what Amin would be like from one scene to the next - would he be affectionate and friendly? Would he scream and accuse and torture? There seemed to be a general downward spiral, but what struck me most was the constant flip-flopping from what appeared to be one extreme to the other.

Later that night, The D and I were still discussing the movie and I kept coming back to that issue - he finally said, "No wonder you're so bothered - it reminds you of JD!" I knew he was right - I was thinking about a friend I had during grad school - a relationship that went progressively more and more sour (perhaps it always was so) and that finally ended abruptly. Now, of course, this friend was not a murderous dictator (although given an army there's no telling what JD might do), but the psychological warfare over the course of about 4 years was accute. When the friendship finally ended I swore that I'd *never* get involved with someone like that again. Lately, someone we interact with has begun to take on similar attributes and I've reacted - probably overreacted - to it very strongly. But that's another story.

Without going into too much detail or whipping what is by now a two year old dead horse, JD was a close friend of mine in grad school. But I don't think she ever forgave me when I met the Dutchman. There was this weird sense of betrayal inherent to JD's reaction - one of my other friends suggested that the attachment might have gone deeper than friendship and that's where the betrayal came from. I still don't know about that - but I do know that there was, for the next 3 1/2 years, more and more punishment doled out.

The aspect of the friendship that I think took the largest toll was something similar to Idi Amin's personality - you never knew where you stood with JD. Did I do something or say something wrong the last time we spoke or hung out? Will today be a good day or a bad day? I gradually found myself indulging every whim she had simply because I couldn't take the fallout. It was like backing quietly away from the crazy person, nodding your head with a big happy grin on your face, and keeping sharp objects out of reach.

Then there's the next obvious question - why did I remain friends with this person for so long? Hell, why did I date my creepy ex-boyfriend for 3 years (my mom's still asking that question)? I think abusive friendships can sometimes be as hard to get out of as romantic attachments. JD and I were in the same department; we had most of the same friends; she would make me pay. JD had passive-aggression down to a fine science and, like an elephant, she *never* forgot. One example springs to mind. It was JD's 30th birthday and she was still being a complete ass to me - she wanted her closest "friends" (me and another person) to throw her a big party, but she wouldn't tell us what she wanted, who she wanted, or where she wanted it to be. Why? Because she was the birthday girl - it was our job (or actually, my job because I was out of favor) to use our super E.S.P. Spidey-sense to figure out what she wanted for her party. So, I did all the work - invited guests, got the cake, even stuffed a fucking pinata (hey, I loved them when I was a kid - I thought it would be tons of brightly colored fun!). The other friend did nothing but provide the venue. What happened on that magical night? She barely said a civil word to me the entire time - she very publically gave me the cold shoulder and (I found out later on) made snarky comments about me to some people that night. Not a "thank you" - not even a "fuck you!" - just silence. Not long after this, JD left the program and moved far away with her fiance.

What I was shocked about was the fact that I was asked to be in her wedding party - we'd sort of achieved detante before she departed and I thought things would just naturally fizzle out. I had tried once long before to engage with her about some of our issues, but she accused me of being "aggressive" with her and said that I was "making her feel attacked." Okay, so we don't try to make things better - we just move apart. Fine by me.

So, why did I agree to be a bridesmaid? I honestly don't know what I was sniffing when I said yes - I think I felt some kind of weird cosmic karma. Also, I'm from the south and if someone asks you to be in a wedding, you say yes. At least that's what my grandma would say. So, The D and I bought cross-country tickets for spring break weekend ($$$!) and I had the most hideous dress in the world MADE FOR ME because she couldn't just choose one off the rack. Keep in mind that the seamstress, like JD, was 4000 miles away. (For the record, I told my maid of honor at my wedding that she could wear anything in the world she wanted to - and she looked great in black!)

What happened next was nothing short of divine intervention. We were looking forward to a weekend of shotty treatment at this wedding. We'd already given them a sweet wedding gift with NO thank you note and only a half hearted "Um, thanks" over the phone one time when she called to tell me that I had to order my dress "RIGHT NOW!" JD was also making a stink about letting The Dutchman sit at the table with us at the reception because he wasn't in the wedding party. I had to beg and plead with him to come to the wedding - he finally said he would only because he didn't want me to have to go alone.

So, we show up at the airport at about 9:45 that morning (ugly dress and pissy Dutchman in tow) for our 11am flight. Our names weren't in the quickcheck database so we had to stand in line. When we get up to the counter, the lady looks at me like I'm crazy and says, "your flight left at 8:30 this morning!" Wtf? I was stunned - I looked at the itinerary again because I'd made damn sure that we got to the airport on time that day. Turns out I'd gotten the time we were flying HOME from the wedding rather than TO the wedding stuck in my mind (*paging Dr. Freud!*). When we hadn't made the first leg of our flight, they canceled our entire itinerary. Because it was spring break, there was NO WAY we were going to be getting to the state where the wedding was being held the next day! I stood there stunned and looking at the fucking bridesmaid's dress - the Dutchman was laughing his ass off.

Now, I'm sure there's a special circle of hell (or maybe Purgatory) reserved for bridesmaids who miss weddings, but I'm not all that worried because it was worth it. I called JD and told her I wasn't coming. She was furious I could tell, but she spoke with her typical calm acidity and said, "this is really...unlike you, MW." That was the last time we've ever been in contact and it's been over two years. I never called and neither did she. I'd already sent her a Save the Date for our own wedding later that year, but I never sent a proper invitation. It was over, finally.

So, the Idi Amin and JD connection in my psyche notwithstanding, "The Last King of Scotland" is a great movie. I'm glad that I no longer have the siege mentality I had when JD and I were "friends" - I swore I'd never have another friends like that and I'm hyper aware of it now.

What ever happened to the bridesmaid's dress? I donated it to the local Goodwill that had a special program for highschool girls who can't afford prom dresses. I found out several months later that a girl had come into the store and fallen in love with the dress (it was a green satin number) - I'm sure she wore the bad mojo off it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ready, set....write!

Having finally recovered from my strange 24 hours of sleepiness, I'm now (at 3:09 PM) ready to begin my research again for the new article. As I mentioned before, this project represents new work for me (although I'm thinking that it will allow me to ask some of the same questions I've been interested in for a long time). It's also a "discrete" project in the sense that it's for a collection and I have no real thoughts on pursuing it farther than it being an article in a colleague's collection and a dandy publication. This is the first time I've written something that wasn't related even tangentially to my dissertation topic (broadly construed) in years - and it's made me think a bit more about my writing and researching process.

In this case, I did a bit of reading around (only very little) in the criticism and main texts before beginning the project in earnest. I wrote an abstract for the collection and it wasn't even a half-ass place holder abstract (like, I'm writing on X text and I think there might be something about Y topic there...). So, I'm starting with an argument already in the back of my mind and this makes me feel...better. As I've begun reading the criticism more actively in the last couple of days, I've found that I'm responding to it as I take notes, rather than just taking notes - I'm positioning myself in the criticism already, which also makes me feel better.

But this is the intellectual process - what about the physical process of doing research and getting the draft cranked out? I know that Tiruncula blogged on this a while ago, as have many of you - I'm always interested to hear about other people's processes: do you work solely on the computer? Do you prefer longhand? Yellow legal pads or notecards? Do you edit as you go or just get it down first and work from there?

I myself am a big longhand person - I write notes in a blank, unlined, spiral notebook and then I condense and recopy them on clean printer paper. Then I write a skeletal outline on a couple of sheets of paper and then expand on that - often 15 to 20 pages. I write solely in black ink (the same Opti Flow pens from Staples), unless I'm writing a footnote, which goes in red ink (Pilot extra fine point roller ball pens). I write down practically the entire thing on paper (pretty much edited as I go) and then enter in into a word document. Oh, and on the top of the very first sheet of the outline, I write "What Are You Going To Write About?".

Reading back over this, the whole process sounds exhausting and *way* more OCD than I am in real life (where I'm pretty much obsessive-compulsive only about Coke Zero). But it's the only way my mind can get around the argument and make it coherent. Today, I'll finish a couple of chapters in the current book I'm reading and transfer my marginal scribblings into black ink notes in my notebook. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, I'll be able to finish my outline and start writing. The Tuscany trip will interrupt the process (which I don't mind at all), but I'll be able to dedicate almost all of June to it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I started researching my new article yesterday - getting a bit excited about it - building up the momentum and now today I seriously can't stop sleeping! I slept in until about 10:45, went and got bloodwork done, for which I had to fast the previous 12 hours (I'd had this scheduled for a while), and now I'm getting ready to crawl back into bed and take a nap.


It's not like they took an insane amount of blood or anything and I've eaten a muffin and some tuna salad since then.

Well, no one ever accused me of not listening to my body when it twitters, so I'm heading back to the Land of Nod...perhaps I'll return to my research tonight.