I sat down tonight to start working on a submission to a magazine, and realized with dismay just how accustomed I’ve grown to writing in academese (e.g. I keep wanting to buttress things with quotes). An argumentative stance has become second nature after ten years of university (many who know me would say it’s always been my only nature) and while I used to spend a lot of my free time writing for pleasure rather than publication it’s something I’ve drifted further and further away from the past few years. Some of the rules of good writing still apply – clear language, active voice, absolutely everything in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which you all should read – but academic writing has a distinctly different flavour. I won’t be coy: academic writing is pretentious. Even the relatively recent shift to the first-person as a way for the critic to acknowledge her own position and its blindspots doesn’t really compensate, and can often come off as aggrandizing. I’ll admit I’m floundering a bit with this piece, my pinky finger is regularly arching up to the backspace key. I’m really excited about writing this, since it’s a memoir of my years in journalism school (the epigraph is my favourite line from State and Main: “It’s not a lie, it’s a gift for fiction”), and I’ve covered sheets of lined paper (I think better writing longhand) with posterity-worthy moments as they come back to me, like covering the hullabaloo about Elisha the flamingo, I’m just struggling with how to put it all together in a way that doesn’t scream “She’s a grad student! Get her!” If I’m still wrestling with this tomorrow night I may just grab a bottle of brain juice (a.k.a. red wine) and see if that helps. It certainly made journalism school itself easier. Method writing.

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Because I enjoy the feeling of popularity implied by a constantly ringing phone, I dutifully updated my contact information with the National Student Loan Service this morning. I took advantage of being on hold to rest my fingers after the exhausting array of touch-tone menus, and couldn’t help but laugh at the music selection: George Michael’s “Faith.” Sometimes life does a remarkable job of providing its own soundtrack.

So the move went well, or as well as moves can go. Nothing broke (except perhaps our sanity at some point between trips five and six). The minivan I’d reserved wasn’t available, so imagine my glee when I ended up with a shiny charcoal grey pickup truck instead – you can take the girl out of Owen Sound but you can’t take the Owen Sound out of the girl (pictures to follow – my camera threw a fit and so the worth-a-thousand-words shot of me behind the wheel is stashed on someone else’s camera). We booted around in the truck for about an hour (singing Bon Jovi of course) before the rain started, which impeded our progress. Eventually everything got moved, and I’ve spent the past few days unpacking, settling, and keeping an eye on the dog and cat. It’s an odd feeling, being in someone else’s place. To be more precise, it’s odd to be somewhere that until now I’d associated with eating, getting drunk, and falling into a cab (just think of how much cab fare I’m going to save). And the pets seem to be co-existing so far. Tibi is much more interested in Isis than she is in him, though to be fair Isis spends most of her time sleeping. I still cling to the hope that they’ll become best friends and spend their time photogenically curled up together. I’m slowly shaking the feeling of being on vacation, and I’ve learned how to work the PVR (it’s now taping every C.S.I., What Not To Wear, and Kids in the Hall it can find – good PVR). At some point I’ll stop basking in the existence of my office and start using it to actually work. Maybe tomorrow.

I’ve been packing all day, and thanks to some doubtlessly karmic timing, it looks like I’ll be moving on the hottest weekend so far this summer. Which means I was also dripping unpleasantly all over everything I packed. With the exception of the always unwieldy floor lamps and of course the coffeemaker all my worldly possession are now bagged or boxed (the otherworldly possessions can find their own way to the east end, and if not I’m sure we’ll be leaving a Hansel and Gretelesque trail of sweat in our wake tomorrow). I’m perversely anticipating the exertion. Sure, I work out, but the results aren’t so immediately visible – it’s not like after an intense kickboxing session all the fat I burned is piled in a corner of the room instead of on my thighs. I have a dynamic helping duo – their dynamism a result of their food allergies (gluten for one, lactose for the other), so this will be the first time I move sans pizza and beer. Instead it’ll be punch and pie. And then fireworks, though they’re actually part of the international competition, not in honour of me (not like that’ll stop me from pretending). Another cold shower beckons, to rid myself of sweat and grime for at least a few hours (and to be a wee bit poetic and circular, since when I moved in here the hot water wasn’t working so all I could take were cold showers). The next post will be written from new co-ordinates, which will surely have a remarkable effect on my perspicacity, and might even include “aren’t you glad you weren’t us?” pictures from the move…

My life in boxes

July 13, 2006

So the packing continues. Moving day is only two sleeps away. Deftly side-stepping the obstacle course of boxes in my hallway makes me feel both nimble and nostalgic. Every time I move I make the same pledge to be more ruthless in weeding out the non-essentials, and I think I’ve done a better job of it this time. Gone are the tealight holders I bought at the dollar store in my second year of undergrad. Gone are the objects that after years of being squished are barely recognizable as pillows. Gone are the masses of tiny decorative boxes filled with spare buttons, safety pins, and (for some reason) ribbon spools. My rat-packiness is astounding. I keep reminding myself, each time I tape another box closed (with that satisfying stretch and slap of packing tape) that in a few days I get to unpack, reorganize, build myself a new space. Make coffee in a new kitchen, curl up amidst a different configuration of furniture, have a backyard. Whee!

Poking around S.W. Welch this weekend I came across yet another book that fits within my conveniently vague parameters for dissertation background reading, Lori Wilde’s License to Thrill. It’s the story of a sassy young private eye who doesn’t take no crap from no body, least of all no man, until one day a dashingly handsome uppercrust type strolls into her storefront office looking for his grandfather. Hijinks ensue. Most were inadvertent flesh-brushing sparks-flying, but there was a decent bout of explicit hot-tubbing. I haven’t read a straight-up romance novel in awhile (the detective stuff was all a foxy front for trapping the two characters in erotically tight situations), and remembered with surprise that those always end happily, which in this genre means marriage – ah, art imitating, well, certainly not life. None of the texts I’m dealing with for my thesis end this way. While chick dick texts certainly involve a healthy dose of sex they more closely align with what Janice Radway terms in her canonical Reading the Romance the ‘failed romance,’ a story that “fails to convince the reader that the traditional sexual arrangements are benign” (133). Part of this stems from the chick dick’s debt to the hardboiled tradition in which relationships are inevitably doomed, yet in these stories the women leave the men behind, frustrating typical romance narratives’ sense of closure – the story never ends with mutual declarations of love, or often even interest. The chick dick’s object of desire may still be the heterosexual male, but a monogamous relationship is no longer a source of pleasure, a key inversion of most texts produced for women. This intrigues me, and so I was dissatisfied with License to Thrill (though I love the title – where do I get mine?). It was, however, just the kind of book to get me through an afternoon of codeine-popping, hot water bottle-clutching cramps. Nothing staves off uterine reality like a fantasy world in which all sex is mind-blowing and all men have a rock-hard… core of true decency. And technically it’s research.

My dissertation proposal’s in full swing, and part of the process means I’ve been sifting through acres of reading (luckily for me the weather’s been so beautiful lately I’ve been able to lounge in the park soaking up both sun and theory – often more of the former). A few days ago I read an article that’s made me re-think the way I’ve been pulling the pieces together so far: Carol Stabile‘s “Resistance, Recuperation, and Reflexivity: The Limits of a Paradigm.” I stumbled across it during a more general search for stuff written on Roseanne, since both the series and its eponymous actor figure prominently in discussions of “unruly women” (e.g. Kathleen Rowe; in one of my favourite articles – yes, I have favourite articles – Patricia Mellencamp takes a similar approach to Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen. I first read that piece years ago, and since then have been determined to one day get two dogs so I can name them Gracie and Lucy. Until then, I’ve settled with naming my laptop Gracie, and maintaining the theme by dubbing my new little iPod shuffle Desi. But I digress. A lot). Anyway, so part of what Stabile argues against is this prevalent and popular textual analysis that positions a character or narrative as ‘unruly,’ progressive, transgressive, laughing in the face of social norms, etcetera. Taking Roseanne as her example, she points to how such an interpretation highlights the difference between, say, Roseanne Connor and June Cleaver, but in Roseanne’s own socio-historical context, the program doesn’t live up to such hype. What these sorts of academic arguments do, Stabile says, is reiterate and reinforce how such texts are lauded elsewhere, like in popular press reviews. The most provocative part of Stabile’s work for me was the parallel she pointed out between the industrial and academic investment in difference-in-repetition, how both sitcoms and academic critics rely upon these traces of distinction for capital (be it economic or cultural, another tenuous distinction since academics trade on their cultural capital for economic capital in the form of tenure, research grants, and so forth). Stabile is concerned with how this homology can preclude economic and political analyses that would show just how implicated both media and academia are in reproducing existing – and for women, oppressive – social conditions. As she says, “Within the field of media production, Roseanne reassures middle-class women that their everyday experiences are neither alienation nor unique, but normal, natural, and entirely surmountable. Within the imbricated fields of media and academic production, Roseanne’s ‘resistance’ deflects attention from the wider economic field in which so many of the world’s women confront dire material conditions” (416).
So what does this mean for me? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I know it means something. Feminist media criticism frequently produces these kinds of readings; the notion of resistance is an attractive one, since it lets us think about our audience/ourselves as actively working against images of women we find problematic. The rub, though, is that our default setting for these images – of women as passive, docile, happy homemakers lovingly serving the nuclear family – are no longer the norm. What we see as resistance in Roseanne Stabile says is better described as recuperation; the traditional nuclear family is not the economic force it once was and so does not need buttressing, unlike working women. Like, oh, say, the chick dick, a.k.a. my object of study. Stabile puts forth Pierre Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology as a corrective for this tendency toward resistance, as a strategy for recognizing that much of what we mean by that is indeed more accurately thought of as recuperation. Bourdieu’s schtick (one of them, at least) is the notion of ‘fields,’ spheres of social and cultural organization in which power struggles are constantly being waged. By thinking across fields, then, any object of study becomes more contextualized, seen in its relation to a myriad of other processes that influence it. This is something I’m already trying to do, by looking at the chick dick in popular fiction and television. Fiction and television each have their own economic and generic logics, and now their own ways of perpetuating postfeminist ideas and images. I’m reconsidering how I want to frame these logics – so far I’ve been thinking of the chick dick as a similarly unruly character, and I still believe that, particularly as a way to account for her absence from film (Janet Evanovich’s bestselling books have reportedly been optioned, but have yet to appear). “Unruly in comparison to what?” now becomes the question. I have some ideas. I always have some ideas. They need some fleshing-out, however, before they appear here as answers. Stay tuned…

Every so often (and more regularly than I’d like) someone – a friend, a colleague, a perfect stranger – will express surprise about what I do. Like the idea of feminist criticism is now an anachronism. That since women can now vote and hold powerful professional positions, what I’m doing is little more than an academically sanctioned and more eloquently expressed type of whining. I’ve even been told that my feminism is “cute” (distressingly, I’ve heard this twice, both times by men I’ve been dating. No need to tell me I sometimes exercise bad judgment). And then I see this and think, “No, feminist criticism is still incredibly relevant.” In an era when women are told they can be whatever they want only to find out that the limit is just a sky-coloured glass ceiling and bestsellers urge us to once more play by a set of rules or risk ending up unwed and without children (the horror!), I can’t help but get angry when cartoon ducks start taking potshots. These stereotypes aren’t helping anyone – not the women publicly and privately fighting for women’s issues, and certainly not the women who know they’re not entirely satisfied but are uncomfortable aligning themselves with such a demeaning image of what feminism is and what a feminist looks like. Grrr.