Friday, September 14, 2012

The Dirty Thirty

I turned 30 a couple weeks ago, and it’s made me a bit reflective. Lots of people freak out about turning 30, but I haven’t really had the jitters about it. Maybe it’s because my other half turned 30 a while ago and it took some of the sting out of the whole thing. I like to think it’s because I’m mature and adult-like and don’t worry about things like aging or mortality.

But of course I do. 15 years ago I was 15, and it seemed like hot shit to be 15. Like a major accomplishment. It also seemed like a long time still to come before I would be an independent adult, free from parental supervision, with a life and money of my own. That wasn’t even on my radar. But those second 15 years flew by. I can hardly believe it. Time is nothing to me now; time just flows by unchecked, except maybe when I’m in the dentist’s chair.

I don’t want this to be my reflections on immortality here; I’ll leave that to Mr. Wordsworth. Instead, I’ve been trying to think of all the things I’ve learned in my 20s, my own belated coming-of-age. I’ve been an adult (sort of) for the last 10 years, and I think I have accomplished and learned quite a bit. Since I like summing things up and making lists, indulge me this once…

Things I Have Accomplished in the Last 10 Years:
·         I have traveled the world (multiple countries, 3 continents, several states)
·         I have brought my total # of languages to 5
·         I have completed a BA & MA & am < 1 year away from a PHD
·         I have fallen in love & gotten married
·         I have acquired a cat
·         I have won awards, published a paper, and presented at multiple conferences
·         I have befriended my grandmother
·         I have made some of the best friends of my life
·         I have gotten in shape (more or less)
·         I have lived in New York City
·         I have written a novel (even if it’ll never be published, that’s still an accomplishment!)
·         I have lived in Europe
·         I have joined a roller derby team J

Things I Learned in the Last 10 Years
·         Staying home on Friday night is nice
·         My parents were right about a lot of things, including making my bed every day
·         It’s not the end of the world when you lose a friend
·         It’s not the end of the world if people don’t like you
·         I really don’t care what anybody else thinks
·         It’s not where you live, it’s what you make of it and who you surround yourself with that counts
·         Every job has its down sides
·         Compromise is necessary and not always painful
·         There are better wines than White Zin
·         Quality over quantity
·         Research can be fun
·         People are unreliable, close-minded, and self-serving, but that’s not the end of the world either
·         Your true friends will always be there even if you lose a lot of friends along the way
·         Being disciplined is sometimes more important than being smart
·         Being smart doesn’t make you better than other people
·         There are many ways to be happy
·         My tastes, interests and dislikes are constantly changing and capable of being changed
·         No one has life “figured out” and there’s no pressure if I don’t either
·         I may never learn how to stop saying stupid things but most people are pretty forgiving

OK, enough with the nuggets of wisdom. I’ll stop here go back to my wine. Not White Zin.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

“Talk Derby to Me”

So, I can’t take credit for that phrase, but I can officially say that I am a Derby Girl! A bona fide skate-owning, dues-paying, sweating-it-out-in-the-heat derby girl! This is very exciting, for a number of reasons:

1.      Derby girls are bad ass. The whole point of the sport (it is a sport…see #2) is to be a badass: you can knock people over, rock some badass fashion (see #3), skate really fast, and make falling look painful and cool. When I used to go to bouts, if I was in the bathroom and some derby girls came in, I would immediately feel simultaneously intimidated by and jealous of their coolness. Now I’m that girl! Or, I will be once I’m scrimmage-ready. Subpoint 1A: Once you are scrimmage-ready, you get to choose your DERBY NAME, usually something tough and witty. What is more badass than that?
Drew Barrymore's film Whip It is all about roller derby. This film is how I first found out about derby. Is there anything cuter than their outfits!? The team in the film is the "Hurl Scouts." Ellen Paige may be precious, but the movie's derby scenes are awesome.

2.      For the first time in my life, I’m an athlete! No, really. I go to 2 practices a week right now, each of which lasts 2 full hours, during which I sweat buckets, consume nearly a gallon of water, squat almost without break, sprint around the track, block other players, jump on my skates, hit and get hit by other team members. It’s hard work! I have no idea how many calories 2 hours of skating like that burns—1,000? It feels like it anyway! After practice, I usually guzzle a sports drink, and it usually feels like the best thing I ever drank. Subpoint 2B: Just in case you were wondering, there are tons of rules to a derby bout, there is a ruling body of flat track roller derby, the WFTDA, which certifies teams and players, and there are lots of ways you can foul other plays. It’s a sport—for real!....Olympic Derby 2016????
Tights from
Where else but at derby could I possible wear these?
3.      Derby means FASHION. So I’m not the girl who ditches class to go to fashion week in New York (a friend of mind had a student who gave that as an excuse once for missing class…for real), and I have some serious qualms about how fashion media portrays women. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love clothes. I DO. And derby gives you the perfect excuse to own and wear lots of crazy clothes that would be questionable at best if worn to, say, the grocery story, movie theater, or even a bar. But Derby means no-holds-barred fun fashion…. 
4.      Derby is also about accepting all women. Everyone is equal in derby—only your abilities and your commitment, not your beauty or body shape matter. Any girl can wear hot pink hotpants, if she wants to. And anyone can join and train—the only thing required is a good attitude. Derby girls are also crazy supportive. I’ve never in my life received so much praise, compliments and, in general, good juju. If you do a good job at practice, you can bet there will be a nice message for you waiting on your FB from another derby girl.
5.      Derby is a national and international network of women dedicated to working hard, playing hard, and doing good in the world. Derby girls are philanthropists in their communities, and they help one another too. Once a derby girl is certified scrimmage-ready, she can practice even on vacation just by contacting the derby league nearest her vacation spot of choice and practice with other derby girls!
6.      Addendum to #3: Derby is also an aesthetic. Team logos are often inspired by tattoo art, rockabilly fashion, pin up girl photos from the 1940s and 50s, art deco, punk & glam rock, steampunk, 1960s advertisements & 1970s Raquel Welch, who starred in a derby movie in the 70s. Derby bouts often have a “cigarette girl” selling raffle tickets in full vintage regalia. I LOVE THAT STUFF. 
Our league's logo. Strong & sexy!

So what are you waiting for!? Go find your local league and JOIN! You can be a skater, a ref, or an official. Men can join too—there are men’s derby leagues, and many men volunteer as refs and skate with derby ladies at their practices. Do I really have to convince you more!???

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Beach

I went down to our beach today. The weather was so beautiful, I couldn't resist. It was low tide, so I went down for a short walk with my camera.
The view of our beach from the top of the stairs, street-level.

The last time I was down there was on Easter. I took all our Easter guests down there to walk off our Easter ham and other goodies. It was a beautiful day then too. Today, like on that day, it was low tide.

Our beach is not a very big one and constantly subject to erosion. I have the feeling that our property owner's association fee for using the beach in the summer (quite steep--but I find it hard not to cave in and scrape up the dough when the beach in question is 100 yards from my front door) entails adding sand to the beach in time for summer beach-going.
Low tide.

Today the beach seemed very small, even at low tide. The two yards of beach leading up to the water were completely paved with stones and various other oceanic debris. Because we are on the Long Island Sound side of the island (north shore as opposed to south shore), the water is like the water in a bay: very calm and flat. There are rarely any waves. Today's were minuscule.

As a consequence, in addition to the many-colored stones, perfectly polished from rolling in the deep, sharp-edged shells, and sea-weed that peppered the shoreline, it was also easy to distinguish a variety of other Sound debris. Namely, concrete blocks, bricks, often still mortared together, as well as bizarre rusted metal tubes, pipes, and junk of ambiguous origin. One time there was a whole metal door of some sort that had washed ashore.
Asphalt square; concrete block, and some bricks at the far right.
Today's findings were a little less startling, though just as rusted and strange.
No idea what this is--a rudder that fell off a boat? A piece of boat? 

This looks almost like one of those early headpieces for underwater suits. Creepy.
Where does this stuff come from? Both disgusting and fascinating, I can help wondering not just where these things come from, but how long it takes them to become so rusted, and how they came to be tumbling over the ocean floor. Granted, the south shore of Connecticut is quite industrial, with many shipping ports. Nearby New York is no better. Things just fall off, apparently, and are dashed about by the currents until they are spit back out into our sand.
Stuck in the sand. No idea what this is.
By the time these remnants of civilization end up on our shore, they are utterly changed from their former selves, studded with rocks, coated in seaweed, broken and battered.

(Makes me think I should get my tetanus shot renewed. And that I could make a calendar with pictures of bizarre Long Island debris and sell it on Etsy.)

Of course, I hate this industrial litter. It's vile. Disgusting. Poisonous. But it's also fascinating, and maybe a little inspiring. They could be remnants of a lost underwater civilization. A litterbug Atlantis. They could be space trash that has fallen into the ocean and washed up on our shores. Maybe these elements rust so quickly because they are made of Terbinium and thus only adapted to the atmosphere of Mars.

Still, I do hope all that junk is gone by the time swimming weather arrives.
Huzzah for sunshine at 7pm!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Computer Games and a Gal Who Loves 'Em

And there might be better ways to waste your afternoon or evening, but I have been playing computer games all my living memory.  The appeal might have something to do with how solitary computer games are as, unlike consoles, they are in general played alone (MMORPGs excepted) and I have in general been more of a solitary than group activity fan.  I also make a point here by emphasizing computer games, as that is all I’ve really ever played and all I play now.  While my house had an Atari like every other middle and lower-middle class house in the U.S., that was the only console we ever had.  I don't know why, but no one in my family seemed to be interested in getting and Nintendo or SEGA, so I never played one.  The few times I was able to play the Atari I liked it, but, being the youngest kid, that was fairly infrequent.  While I was home earlier and more than my older brother and sister, I didn’t know how it worked and the only people who would show me wanted to play if we turned it on.  By the time I had figured out how to switch input from TV to the Atari, the Atari was old and uncool.  I do think I remember being fairly decent at Centipede, however.
Of course the Atari was more than a gaming console—it was also a home computer, with some of the earliest versions of word processors I remember using to type up my earliest stories.  I’m sure there were some computers in-between, but when my dad upgraded to a Tandy (4800?  not quite sure on the number—roughly 1987), I became interested in computers because he bought several games.  There are some single-screen games I can picture clearly that were a kind of combination MUD/graphic game.  You had to type in your directions like a mud, and there was little to no movement in the screen shot—just a picture with possible directions and typable actions, again like a MUD.  There was another game, however, that I wish I could remember the name of (Dragon Wars?  Dragon Fighter?), which was the next level up from this and very similar to the Might and Magic games I’ll examine below.  It had a first-person POV and you walked around as a party of role-playing type characters (thief, cleric, fighter, wizard) and solved quests and killed things.  The main difference between this and later games was the lack of detailed scenery.  There were walls for the cities and dungeons as you walked through, a map key to show where you’d been, and a few creatures to represent monsters.  Everything else was represented by some version of a statue or portrait that would say “Turn to Page 24 of your manual and read paragraph 3” for a description of what you were supposed to be looking at.

Next came the game that probably changed my life and brain forever: Sierra’s King’s Quest IV.  Having not played the previous games, I was initially uninterested in it.  As a firm, stubborn tomboy, I refused to have anything to do with “girly” things, and I read KQIV as girly because it had a female protagonist.  Eventually sick of the other games, I started playing it (I always referred to it as Rosella because of the main character), and Rosella changed the way I thought about games forever.  Not only is the storyline awesome, the puzzles complex, and the world fairly large for that era of games, it was wicked hard to complete.  My neighbor friend, K., would come over and play with me on the weekends and I’m pretty sure it took us a year to finish (I will add a caveat that most of that time was due to user error, as we often got stuck in places where it was difficult to move Rosella without killing her—we’d be stuck on some ledge or spiral staircase for weeks and weeks, screaming at the screen in frustration).  The following Xmas, I got The Conquests of Camelot, which is possibly my favorite game of the Sierra line.  I was always a big King Arthur and English history fan, so it seemed to me to be a game just for me.  A couple of months later I was also given Hero’s Quest (later renamed) for my birthday, an early—but not the earliest—role playing computer game, and between the three of them, K. and I were kept busy for a long time, finishing, if I remember correctly, all three suddenly and back-to-back in one long weekend go.  I remember I was so happy I actually cried when KQIV rolled it’s end sequence.  I also played the sequels to King’s Quest and Hero’s Quest, as well as Colonel’s Bequest (which I loved for the setting), Police Quest 4, and the Lucasfilm The Secret of Monkey Island (1990).

My next interest was first-person shooters.  When Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992, just about everyone with a computer was glued to their seat for weeks.  I believe it was my sister that brought this one home through a friend, but anyway, I was immediately hooked in it and several of the great follow-ups, Doom (1993), Doom 2 (1993), Rise of the Triad (1995), Quake (1996), and my favorite, Blood (1997).

I was still interested fantasy and role-playing, partly because of a voracious appetite for those books at the time.  The Might and Magic series stepped in to bridge the gap between fantasy role-playing and first person shooters.  I began with Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen (1994) and went on to play, over the next several years, all of the sequels, Might and Magic VI, VII, VIII and IX (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002).  These were and are the crème dela crème of fantasy games.  While Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age would eventually replace them in ingenuity and complexity, these games, especially those from the 1990s, were incredible.  Huge sprawling countryside, coupled with giant dungeons, and completely alterable role-playing characters.  

Looking at these dates is occasionally very surprising, as I picture myself much younger when I was playing many of these, especially the last.  I’ve recently downloaded and replayed MM4-MM8, and one thing I’ve noticed and have noticed by replaying many of these games is that I still know where I’m going.  I can’t really express how big these worlds are, but I can tell you one thing, if I spent 15-20 years away from a place I might have lived once, I doubt very much I could navigate my way around like I can in these games.  I actually believe that videogames might have given me at least one thing: the ability to navigate spaces.  I very rarely get lost and can easily determine quicker routes between spaces once I’ve mentally mapped something once or twice.

Another strange thing: I remember the music and sound effects from these games like I was just listening to them yesterday.  I occasionally will find myself humming something and realize that it was the score of King’s Quest IV or Conquests of Camelot or something else.  This has led me to believe that my brain must look something like this:

Happy Gaming!

Monday, February 27, 2012

80s Lesbians and a Young Girl who Loved Them

You know, I love 80s lesbians in movies.  I don’t want to cast aspersions on a decade of cinema, but the 80s were totally dyke-tastic in terms of the lovely babes that graced the screen.  Some of you weirdoes might not agree that the following were lesbians at all, and to you I would say, you’re in some serious denial.  Luckily if you’re reading this, denial probably doesn’t apply to you, so I won’t have to justify any of my choices here.  I am also not pretending to be comprehensive in my survey here.  These were simply the ones that sprang to mind first and before I got sick of typing.  So, in order of appearance in time, not preference, here are some of my favorites from the decade

1) Jodie Foster: Freaky Friday (1976) and The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

Okay, so I can already hear you complaining, “Freaky Friday is a 70s movie!”  And you would be right.  Especially if you’re one of those assholes that checks your goddamn smart phone to prove everyone wrong all the time.  Maybe you should think about stuffing that phone up your ass!  But I digress.  Anyway, Freaky Friday totally counts because they played it on TV just about every day throughout the decade, in the same way that most 70s movies were played. Why?  Because it was cheaper than paying for a newer movie.  Anyway, I would also argue that it’s often better to look at the beginning of decades as usually having holdovers anyway.  What is this, some kind of frigging Inquisition?  I’m including it whether you want me to or not, you jerk!

This movie is so amazingly dykey I can hardly begin to explain what it meant to me.  Does that mean I think it had something to do with me eventually turning into a lesbian?  Doubtful.  I just know that at the time, one look atJodie checking herself out in the mirror as she wears an awesome football jerseyand I was entranced.  I loved her sarcastic, smart alecky- repertoire and scratchy, deep voice.  I loved her sporty looks and how she played field hockey and water-skied, for the love of god, which I was dying to do (and tried and failed once).   Anyway, she was a baby-dyke’s dream, and like all the 80s movie lesbians I’ll mention here, the movie had to set her up with the dopiest, girliest boy in town.

Although this is not the case in a slightly later movie with Jodie, The Hotel New Hampshire, in which she is queer as a three-dollar bill.  In fact, she falls in love with a for-real furry, a woman who dresses as a bear.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on some serious surreality.  I recommend the John Irving novel too.

 2) Helen Slater in The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Okay, so is this not as cute a dyke as you could possibly find?  Look at those big eyes!  That hair!!  Oh, strangely, I think I have that haircut now.  Weird.  Anyway, I had such a thing for this woman I tried to make my one and only Barbie look like her, and when I fucked up cutting the hair, I tore the doll’s head off.

Note that right before the scene where she cuts her hair (starts about 5:05), Billie Jean is watching Joan of Arc, another great dyke movie in all its iterations.  Once again, she’s paired with the nerdy boy, but there seems to be some weird chemistry with both the other girls, including, of course, the girl who would be the voice of Lisa Simpson.

3) Pamela Segall in Willy/Milly (1986)
Here’s another film I must have watched at least a million times.  As this one is probably less familiar to most of you, I’ll give you a brief synopsis.  Milly wants to be a boy because boys get to do all things girls can’t, which, in this movie, means being taken seriously as a scientist.  An eclipse is coming, and a child-age Seth Green sells Milly a lovely, racist Native American thing that will allow her to become a man with one wish.  So it happens.  Her parents learn to accept it and her best friend, a girl, starts hitting on him, now Willy.  Willy has to learn how to become a man, in part by swearing, but, when he falls for his new best friend, a dude, he wishes he remained a she.  He eventually gets his wish, and out comes this person on the left: somewhere in between?  It’s unclear.  Anyway, it’s some serious gender screwing, my friends.

4) Vasquez (Jeanette Goldstein) in Aliens (1986)

Vasquez was, at the time, the perfect woman for me.  Not only was she lean and mean, she was a Marine at a time when I was obsessed with joining the military.  She kicked ass, and she made most of the men in her squad look like pansies, especially the ever-whimpering Bill Paxton.

While Sigourney was also pretty kick-ass in the movie, it took me a lot longer to appreciate her.  I don’t think I had a serious crush on Siggy, as I like to call her, until the 90s when she shaved her head.

5) Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Okay, so finally, to top off the decade, we have one of the strangest, dykiest characters of all time.  Watts—a lovely, androgynous name if I ever heard one—plays the drums and is in love with her best friend, Eric Stoltz, who, throughout the movie, looks and sounds like more of a woman than both of his supposed love interests.  

There is a seriously smoking girl-locker room scene, where Mary Stuart fondles herself as she stares at LeaThompson, supposedly while she is “checking out the competition” (starts at about 3:45).  She’s checking her out all right.  Anyway, the movie is some kind of a mess, and it’s hard to know why they included Mary Stuart at all, even at the level of plot (but thank God they did!)  Instead of a girl-boy-girl triangle, we seem to have a girl-girl-girl one...unless they wanted a lesbian movie, and I don’t think they did.  She couldn’t be less interested in Eric if she tried. Check out her super-cute chauffer uniform at the end of the movie for the added bonus of cute cross-dressing (about 4:40).


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Meme-ing of Life

So, I’m not the kind of person who tries to stay ahead of the curve, trend-wise. I usually wait for trends to wear themselves out before hopping on the band-wagon. I learned my lesson with MySpace, after all. Everyone told me I had to get one. I was so behind without one. So I got one. And guess what? A year later it was all over.

That said, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t really start looking at blogs until about a year ago, and I had no idea what a “meme” was until a couple of months ago when some friends starting meme-ing (I can only hope someone else has already verbed the term “meme” so I’m not ahead of the curve on this!).

Memes are one of those things that, done right, looks brilliant, and done poorly, seems like someone just had too much time on her hands. The simplest way to explain a meme is that it is a picture with a funny caption. The best ones embody a certain amount of situational irony. The simplest ones involve the same image in each picture and the captions all fall under the same theme. For example, some of these include Courage Wolf, Socially Awkward Penguin and Philosoraptor.

From prolonged observation of mistakes in spelling and punctuation, it would seem that most of these are made by a variety of anonymous contributors.
Wow--Scumbag Steve doesn't know how to
 spell or punctuate either. "Replies" please.
Figure it out people! It’s not that hard, really.

I think Business Cat mean he "Realized" he was a cat.
The slightly more complicated meme takes a different picture each time and attaches a funny caption to it. The simplest of these is probably the “lolcatz” meme, which takes funny pictures of cats and makes them funnier by adding silly captions, usually misspelled.

A spin-off of this kind of meme is the “Game of Lols,” which riffs on the fantasy books/series “Game of Thrones.” This takes more specialized knowledge to understand. Those of us who have plowed through 6,000 pages of George R.R. Martin’s prose can be happy to know our work has paid off.

…And then there’s the “academic” meme. Take a series of pictures on a single subject and give it a jargon-y caption, thus providing humor for a narrow yet appreciative audience. The academic meme I first came across was Feminist Ryan Gosling, which takes pictures of Ryan looking hunky and captions them with texts about feminism, using the “Hey girl” greeting that a friend of mine uses in her “Hey Girl, It’s Nic Cage” tumblr.


Yet another friend of mine has taken the academic motif meme and appended it to the main character of the show Friday Night Lights. Academic Coach Taylor is a motivational figure specially geared towards all us wannabe academics sweating it out over our dissertations. He’s not above some meta-commenting on the world of memes too (a popular topic for memes, of course).

While I enjoy a good meme, what frustrates me is that I can’t think of a single meme I could be the proud owner of! I simply have no creativity in that line of thinking. I mean, what would my meme be about? The eighteenth-century? That seems very niche. Being an English major? That’s already got to be out there, probably executed better than I could ever do. Jane Austen? Again, very niche and probably already exists.

So then I start trying to think of the craziest combinations possible. “Lesbian Jean-Luc Picard”! “Academic Carrie Bradshaw”! “Feminist Darth Vader”!

As you can probably sense, none of these is worth pursuing—for obvious reasons.

Business Cat -- duh.
The problem is that to be good, a meme has to be culturally relevant, themed, and wittily ironic. When I think of something good, I’ll let you know. For now, I’ll just post the rest of the examples I downloaded. (Just a coincidence they are all about cats....) Happy memeing! 

Hipster Kitty -- obvi!