Friday, 31 July 2009

Thanks, Possibly

"Thank you for being such a good staircase monitor."
"You're welcome."
"You were really permissive."
"That's not exactly what I like to hear, but glad I could help."

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Pop Culture as Knowledge

In honor of my pop culture class ending with an epic session of culture jamming today, my favorite Wonkette clipping of July:

"America could use a few calm pictures of its president and a white person and black person drinking outside, and later, when it rains, going inside to play some Mario Kart 64. Can our president land the secret shortcut jump in Wario Stadium on all three laps? The future of the public option & national racism depends on it."

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

It is D Day

Tomorrow is D Day - the day when the kids in my major debate in the Oxford Union take their final (in which they have to do impromptu speaking, extemporaneous speaking, or deliver a monologue, and for which they will forever loathe me) and when the kids in my minor get black markers and instructions to culture jam an issue of Cosmo while listening to the giant 75 track mix tape that we made to illustrate habitus (for which I will be either knighted or canonized). And then we wrap the program up on Friday, take the kids to the airport on Saturday, I get a 24 hour intensive date on Sunday, put David on his IcelandAir flight on Monday, pack like hell and close down everything on Tuesday, and fly back on Wednesday. It is like the Twelve Days of Christmas if there were only seven and Christmas ended at JFK.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

You've Got Fail

I should not be allowed to use email lists, ever. Luckily, I never send mean or inappropriate things out to whole email lists when I intend to send them directly to one person. Unluckily, I do frequently send out messages that make me sound like a total tool.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Awkward Highlight of the Week

I had my students give impromptu speeches on Saturday, and one of them got up and started clicking a pen in her left hand as she previewed the points she planned to make. I'm trying to get them to drop the nervous habits before they do their exhibition, and being polite about it is not working that well. So I just barked "drop your pen!"

Her eyes got really wide and she stammered, "...Mr. Ryan!" which is what she calls me to be ironic and funny because I am clearly not a Mr. Ryan. Except she seemed genuinely terrified. And then she glanced down at her pants, and I was like, "oh, ack, pen, not pants, drop your pen." It was pretty much traumatic for both of us, but I think everyone else in the class enjoyed that.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Oxford Idol

My random act of kindness for the day was exposing 300 teenagers to drag, because the program needed a Paula Abdul for the talent show and because I have a difficult time saying no to my friends. I didn't really look that much like Paula Abdul - for example, the only brown wig I could find with four hour's notice was a bob - so I was lucky when it turned out that only about a quarter of the audience said they watched American Idol. I did effusively praise everyone and call their acts magical, though, so that was more or less accurate. And the important thing is that I looked hot and made a few racy jokes, and I got applause from two clusters of students as I walked back with my face still painted on. I also learned how to play Texas Hold 'Em, courtesy of my students. All things considered, it was a pretty educational day. (I drew the line at borrowing a bra from a girl in my class, though.)

Monday, 20 July 2009

Palin as Orator

I'm using Sarah Palin's speech at the RNC and resignation speech in Alaska as examples of how one person can be one of the best and worst orators of contemporary times. This edit of the resignation speech by Vanity Fair is kind of priceless.

Aporkalypse Now

So remember how I got this suite while I'm teaching this month, and I have it all to myself because they didn't want to stick some poor kid in the spare bedroom of a faculty member? They just put a kid in quarantine in there, as they are running low on spare bedrooms with the spike in kids with flu-like symptoms. I'm now basically living in the pig flu equivalent of a leper colony.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Idiocy Strikes Twice

Yesterday, David and I went to a chocolate-themed birthday party where we drank wine and ate obscene amounts of chocolate in the form of pie, cheesecake, cookies, and molten fruit casing, and then on the way home we both commented that we were about to vomit but in the best way you can be about to vomit. (Happily, and not quite.)

So today, I was like, wow, better give my stomach a break, and promptly went off to a garden party where I had a lot of quiche, shrimp, crayfish, and eclairs. I deserve to ache everywhere.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


One of my students asked to leave the class after about fifteen minutes today, and I was like, "okay, do you really have to go?" and she was like, "it's... a... woman thing." And I was like, oh, fine, and it took her like two minutes and I thought to myself that woman things generally take longer than two minutes if you do them in private and I hope she did do them in private because I'd definitely get fired if she did them on the quad. I thought about giving a short speech about how the magic of female biology should not be used as an excuse to get out of class and emphasizing that I am in no way embarrassed by something that is perfectly natural and should be celebrated, but then about an hour later, they all stood up and gave me a graduation card and a cake from the Covered Market. And then the student apologized for telling a menstrual lie and explained that she was getting the cake, and they all clapped, and I got all verklempt because my class is totally awesome.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Dear Alanis

Today, we did extemporaneous speaking and I asked my students to outline how they would approach topics like "What can be done to stop the spread of swine flu?" I was planning to hand them back tomorrow, except that in the past twelve hours, one of my kids was quarantined.

If I get swine flu from grading that paper, I'll have a much easier time explaining irony to next year's class.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

To London!

So I'm supposed to take my speech and debate class into London tomorrow for a fun-filled day of experiential learning, which is ideally going to be related to speech and debate but will probably also involve lessons like what to do when you get caught in a downpour or separated on the Tube or peed on by a drifter. Last year, we made it through the entire day and then Maria got pickpocketed on the Tube on our way back to the bus. This year, I'm lowering my standards and saying that if I get the same number of kids onto the bus with me that I arrived with in the morning, I'm going to call it a success. They do not even necessarily have to be the same kids. I'm not picky.

Friday, 10 July 2009

All I Want

My first week of teaching ends tomorrow, and I'm marking the occasion by teaching my class and then dropping off the map for the next twenty-four hours to spend quality time holed up with David and not thinking about lesson planning, writing articles, packing and canceling everything for my return to the US in less than a month, or putting the last wheels in motion to get started on a DPhil. I forgot that teaching eats my life. And I've been listening to Jay Brannan's new cover of Joni Mitchell's All I Want, and I'm pretty much at the point where I'd kill whoever stood in the way of making cookies and having a sleepover.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

My Last Twelve Hours of Being the Likable Teacher

Tomorrow, we're trying impromptu speaking. About half of my class is going to hate my guts after I make them stand up in front of the class to argue for or against smoking bans, then ask the next person whether they would or would not choose to be invisible if it meant they had to stay invisible for the rest of their life, then ask the next person about trickle-down economics. My winning streak ends here.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Teachable Moments

1. Do not wipe up a coffee spill with a sock. It is impossible to wash coffee out of a sock, and that is why I look like I'm wearing some sort of cowhide on my left foot.
2. Do not let students pick the topics when you're trying to challenge the idea that some things are simply undebateable. I let them pick the things that their opponents would have to try to defend, and they fired off things like genocide and child prostitution. It seemed for a minute like we were going into Lord of the Flies territory, and then they made it as classy and inoffensive as an exercise like this could possibly be. It doesn't change my suspicion that they would emerge as the rulers if this program was put in some sort of state of nature scenario, but I was still impressed.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Those Who Can't

Urg, I forgot how much teaching high schoolers kicks my ass. I figured that teaching a speech and debate course in addition to my pop culture course wouldn't be that bad, because I debated in high school and whatever, I can decently structure an argument. I took Expos, what more do you want? And then today, I found out that three of my students are from the US, and the others are bringing the forensic traditions of Pakistan, Cyprus, China, Northern Ireland, Germany, and Taiwan to the table. So now I have to find some kind of common ground and find a bunch of snappy examples that have nothing to do with American politics, and pray that we survive to Week 2, when I'm going to make them recite monologues from Clueless and I'm back on solid ground. If the past three hours of studying up on Thucydides is any indication, I'm get the feeling that this month is going to be as educational for me as it is for them.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Last Weekend of Freedom

I woke up today with a killer sunburn and a massive headache after spending all of yesterday visiting David, who's in London for a long weekend of Marxism 2009 and Pride. We spent the morning with a speaker who covered anticapitalism ten years after Seattle, then I dragged David to David Harvey (swoon!) who I thought was brills but I think David found totally boring. We fled from there to the parade route along Oxford Street and got free juice boxes, and I realized that the two things that were totally absent from Pride in London were a) any sort of political message and b) beer companies, which basically own Pride in the US. We stuck out the whole parade, and I think the highlight was when one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence came over and asked if we were together and gave us a condom and told us to go have fun, because being targeted by globally famous sex-positive drag nuns was one of the higher items on my Bucket List and now I've checked that one off.

We then trucked to Trafalgar Square to see a special show from the cast of Avenue Q and nicked as much free stuff as humanly possibly, which is why my room for the summer now looks like a gay flea market. And then we went to Leicester Square, where Boy George did three songs somewhat enthusiastically but didn't stick around for an encore, and I was happy because he sang Karma Chameleon and that's basically the only song of his I know anyway. The only thing that could make the day better was food, so we went to GBK and I got a shockingly good puy lentil burger and a cup of hot chocolate from Apostrophe that was the consistency of pudding. And then we saw Zizek and I would have peed with excitement, except that I was saved by the fact that that hot chocolate moves through your system about as fast as molasses and will probably hit my bladder sometime in October. And then I sprinted to Paddington, because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to collect all the students for this summer program from the airport.

The highlight of the afternoon was when I realized that I had to check out Modern Art Oxford today if I was going to take my kids there on Tuesday, and thought I'd swing by to check the hours and make sure there was something neat going on. And there was. Except it is a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective.

So that's a dilemma.

On one hand, the first week of my pop culture course is structured around a fieldtrip to the museum and debate about aesthetics, so I can't really delete it from the syllabus without totally upending the narrative arc of the class. On the other hand, photos of naked men and bondage. My compromise has been to sit at my desk and map out a very careful route through the gallery and hope that they only look at the walls that I steer them across, until class ends and I tell them that I'm leaving but that there's a whole gallery of material upstairs that is inadvisable for children. Knowing the seventeen year olds I'm teaching, that should about do it.

Quotable Quotes

This is precisely why I love Lily Allen.

Friday, 3 July 2009


I procrastinated tonight by taking a bootleg Meyers-Briggs test after it came up twice in the past two days. This should surprise just about nobody. Hell, I've always thought that being controlling, judgmental, and ruthless are among my nicer features.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Why I Spend Summers Living Abroad

To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, I'm going into London to see Slavoj Zizek at the annual Marxism Festival and Boy George at Pride. I'm pretty sure the Founders would endorse this wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Politics of Hair, Remembered

I let my hair grow unfettered between December and the end of June, and after it passed the awkward mullet stage, it suddenly curled out into a kind of Farrahesque style that actually looked kind of good. (It was hot as blazes and I almost bought a matching headband and wristbands for the gym that would have changed it from Farrahesque to Tennenbaumesque, but it looked pretty sexy nonetheless.) Anyway, everyone kept being like, "you look like Farrah Fawcett" and I decided that when she died, I would probably have to cut it off.

So I did. Or, more accurately, David did. And my new hairstyle is starting to grow on me, because I was staring at it in the mirror this morning and trying to figure out what it reminded me of and I realized that it reminded me of this gang of queer women I sort of knew in college who always had these short, androgynous haircuts sticking up in different directions that I was always kind of jealous of. And now I have one, so there.

Go To Hell. Love, the New York Times

As if on cue, Room for Debate ran a piece today about what a master's degree is actually worth. The highlight of the debate comes from Richard Vedder:

"Not all degrees are equal — a master’s in anthropology or art probably has less incremental earning power than a M.B.A. or advanced engineering degree. If graduate enrollments soar as more decide to stay in school, the newly minted master’s graduates may find the job market not all that much better in a couple of years than at the present, and end up taking a relatively low paid job — and facing much larger student loan debts than otherwise."

On the one hand, this is not great news the week that you finish your master's in anthropology. On the other hand, if you're racking up advanced degrees in anthropology because you want to earn a lot of money, you probably deserve it.