Monday, August 30, 2010


Or, Back to School

It would be overly dramatic and really quite inaccurate to say that the photo below captures the way the moms feel about the first day of the new semester. Of course they don't feel that they are trapped behind bars, looking out on a sunny yet inaccessible world. No, no, no, no, NO! To say such things would run counter to the happy spirit of the beginner's mind we were promoting just last week (with a little help from our excellent blog pimp pal, Tenured Radical). So, the photo below doesn't "say" anything at all, except, like, Ooooo, pretty colors! Neat texture! Conveniently positioned muntin bars! No metaphors here, people. Move along. We've got work to do and so do you. Have a nice (first) day.

(Photo Credit: Moose, Long Beach Island, NJ, 8/28/10)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beach Glass

Classes at QTU begin on Monday. The moms are spending time with dear friends on the Jersey shore this weekend, taking walks, fiddling with syllabi, drinking wine, falling into reveries, and thinking in poems. It's the kind of thing that happens as the light shifts late in August and we begin to move to a different rhythm. Here's some eye/ear candy, darlings. We'll be back in touch soon.  Peace out.

Beach Glass


While you walk the water’s edge,
turning over concepts
I can’t envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning. The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
                                              It behaves
toward the permutations of novelty
driftwood and shipwreck, last night’s
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic—with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
or touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over. For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
                                       The houses
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it’s hopeless
to know which to salvage. Instead
I keep a lookout for beach glass
amber of Budweiser, chryoprase
of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I’m afraid) Phillips’
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
                              The process
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with the treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.

Amy Clampitt, “Beach Glass” from The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt. Copyright © 1997 by the Estate of Amy Clampitt. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt (1997) (via)

(Photo Credits: Moose, Long Beach Island, NJ, 8/26-7/10)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Come Back to the Mat Ag'in, Moose Honey

The academic blogosphere and press is exploding with back-to-school posts. We used to sharpen pencils and polish shoes to get ready for the start of a new school year. Now we sit down and bang out lengthy essays full of advice, resolutions, political prognostication, and attacks on or defenses of PowerPoint (or other presentation software) in the classroom. Augmented by hilarious yet inspirational music videos. Here’s our contribution to the genre for this year. We approach the topic indirectly, as is our habit, but hang in there with us, kids. We’ve got a killer vid in the end, I promise.

Once upon a time a few years back, Moose was driving through our neighborhood and rolled unthinkingly through a 4-way stop sign that had recently been installed. A police officer pulled her over and pointed out what she had done. A sheepish Moose said, “I’m so sorry, officer. I drive this road all the time and just didn’t notice the new sign.” He let her off without a ticket but offered a word of wisdom that has stuck with her ever since. “Ma’am,” he said, “just because the road is familiar doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention.”

Moose loves this story, because the officer's gentle reprimand has always struck her as a reminder of the importance of cultivating what Buddhists call "beginner's mind." No matter how familiar the road, the task, or the activity may be, you need to pay attention to where you are going and what you are doing. Also, though, and this is the hard part, you need to approach the journey or the task without preconception, expectation, or judgment. Even if you've been doing it for years, approach it as if it were brand new. See it with fresh eyes, open to delight and new insight. See it as a child would see it, not as a world-weary, grouchy adult. See it as you are now, not as you were five months or even five minutes ago. (Those last two points are not as contradictory as they might sound. We're kinda in the realm of paradox here.)

(Image Credit:  Picked up here.)

Beginner's mind was on Moose's mind yesterday as she found herself in a yoga studio for the first time since April's unfortunate wrist incident. Moose is a tall, wide-hipped, middle-aged woman, not one of those petite Elastigirls with biceps of steel who gaze serenely out at you from the cover of Yoga Journal. Still, she has come to love yoga in the past couple of years and was terribly disappointed that the wrist injury put her mostly out of commission yoga-wise for awhile. (She actually went to one class in her splint but felt so frustrated by what she was able to do that she decided to take the summer off to heal completely.) Yesterday's class was a good way to return to the mat, because it was a workshop on -- what a coinkidink! -- how to take care of your wrists. To add to the appeal, it was taught by Moose's teacher for the past two years, Joe.

Moose is inordinately fond of Joe. She teases him that she doesn't do yoga; she does Joga. Aside from his physical skill and his patience as a teacher, what Moose loves about Joe's classes is his insistent playfulness. Joe encourages beginner's mind in his students by refusing to take any of this yoga stuff too seriously. When the class is working on something especially challenging, he'll break the tension by quipping, "And you thought yoga was going to be all about candles and incense, didn't you?" He teaches timing by telling students to hold a pose until "you start having violent thoughts about me." He'll often end classes with a smile and a friendly, "Thanks for playing today."

Joe is obviously quite serious about this yoga stuff. He has been studying anatomy and the philosophy behind the ancient discipline he teaches for more than twenty years. His irreverence in the classroom is an effective tool for demystifying the discipline and for helping students to enter into it in their own way and at their own level. It's a technique that helps the high-achieving Washington types who flock to yoga classes around here to relax and worry less than they are inclined to do about "getting it right." The important thing is to keep playing. The body you have right now is just fine. The pose you can do right now is perfect. Keep playing. Keep learning. Keep beginning. Again. And again. And again.

The World Is Just an Extension of the Yoga Mat

Moose actually said those words once to a friend and fellow yogi. They sound pretty cheesy and obnoxious, and yet they may help to make a point. Moose does not have the nerve of Natalie Houston, who has adopted techniques she learned in yoga to the undergraduate English classroom by having students do a minute of conscious breathing together at the start of each class meeting. (Go read that post. It's fascinating. Could you imagine doing anything similar in your own classes?) Nonetheless, Joe's emphasis on play as a pedagogical strategy is similar to Moose's own approach as a teacher, which is to keep things light in the hope that students will learn more by worrying less and not noticing how hard they are working. We mention that here not to tout her skill as a teacher, but to remind her, as she prepares to return to the classroom after a year away, that teaching is fun. Srsly.

More than many other professional worlds, academia encourages and rewards the cultivation of a beginner's mind. We have to keep learning throughout our careers in order to be able to do our jobs. If we are fortunate enough to have job security and our institutions haven't eliminated sabbaticals and leaves, we have opportunities to take time off for concentrated study, research, and writing. We can change fields, develop new areas of expertise, design courses that take us into new intellectual terrain. Further, that back-to-school buzz we get every year as we meet new classes and new students reminds us that in this business we are -- always, literally -- beginning again. And yet: it can be difficult to sustain that beginner's mind, especially these days, when so much creativity on campus has been hacked to bits by the budget ax or choked to death by bureaucratic make-work schemes. (Yep, LOA, we're talkin' 'bout you again. Still hate you. Mean it!) It's easy to get discouraged and to fall into communal habits of bitching or complaint. (See, for example, that previous parenthetical remark.) Yes, there is plenty to bitch about, on campus and off, but merely bitching never changed or fixed anything. As a tee-shirt Moose still has in a drawer somewhere suggests, "Stop Bitching -- Start a Revolution."

While we are waiting on -- or working toward -- the revolution, however, all of us in Roxie's World want to help Moose maintain her beginner's mind as she returns to yoga and the classroom in the next little while. To do that, we're going to play her off with a favorite song from her show queen's childhood, presented in a wild and wonderful 21st-century way that makes it entirely new. Click on the vid, darlings, and as a new school year unfolds, keep the wisdom of the great Zen master Fräulein Maria close to your own ever-young heart: "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."

Namaste, my pretties, and thanks for playing today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey . . .

. . . But Leave the Laptop on Shore, 'K?

(Image Credit:  Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [1885], via)

The fantasy of escape from civilization is so deeply rooted in American culture that we might as well say it springs from the nation's soul.  It's a fantasy that appeals to our sense of ourselves as individuals and free agents, sturdy beings unencumbered by history, family, or society.  It's a total crock, of course, but it's a crock that has resulted in some truly fine writing and storytelling -- everything from, you know, this to, say, this.

Anyhoo, the fantasy of escape from civilization is also often a dream of escape from technology, from whatever machines are perceived to be mucking up the paradisal gardens of our collective imaginations at any given moment.  Lately, it would appear, the machine we long to escape is the one you are holding in your hands or lap as you read these words.  Have you noticed?  Suddenly everyone is running away from their computers, declaring themselves unplugged, subjecting themselves to heroic experiments in disconnection.
  • Cartoonist James Sturm brilliantly documented his 4-month "exile" from the Internet in a series of word/image posts that ran in Slate from April to August.  (He cheated once.  It involved dead bunnies and a heartbroken child.  We vote to let him off the hook for his lapse.)
  • Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel courageously declared in WaPo that she had put an away message on her e-mail for the month of August to let folks know she would be checking messages infrequently as part of an effort to live more slowly and reflectively.
  • The New York Times asked for volunteers to give up their gadgets for a period of time and report back on the experience.  Their harrowing tales of life without Farmville are documented here.
To us, though, the most fascinating account of these forays off the grid is the one prominently featured in Monday's Times -- the story of five neuroscientists interested in the effects of using digital devices on the brain spending a week together in a remote part of southern Utah away from computers and other communications tools.  They literally went "back to the raft," using themselves as guinea pigs to test whether the effects (on thinking and behavior) of our reliance on such devices might be reversed by a "retreat into nature," as Matt Richtel puts it in his story.

(Photo Credit:  Chang W. Lee, New York Times.  Art Kramer, of the University of Illinois, studies the neurological benefits of exercise.)

Not surprisingly, if you put five really smart guys with overlapping interests but different types of expertise out in the middle of nowhere for a few days, the dudes relax, chug a few brewskies, and shoot the $hit -- though in this case the $hit is like, you know, pretty high falutin'.  Instead of making fart jokes around the campfire, they're speculating about what happens to the brain when humans multitask and what are the best imaging techniques for capturing "the effects of digital overload on the brain."  They are also doing things like forgetting to put on their watches and not reading the research papers they had packed along on the trip.

Further study will have to be done, of course, but it would appear that the guys were on VACATION!  Go read the story, which is really pretty cool for the way it shows the scientists sharing ideas and using their own brief experience in nature to test and in some cases modify their previously held assumptions.

Here's the thing, kids:  Roxie's World is by no means opposed to getting away from it all.  We are totally down with the salubrious effects of close encounters with nature and the importance of making space in one's life for quiet and reflection.  The moms like nothing better than a good long walk, which is why they made such excellent dog people during my embodied years, and Moose has practiced a variety of meditative disciplines, including yoga, t'ai chi, and long-distance running, over the course of her adult life. (For new readers, here's a post that offers a kind of statement of faith from Moose on the value of walking away, temporarily, from one's ordinary life and world.)

During their recent trip to England and Wales, both moms disconnected to some degree:  Both put "out of office" messages on their e-mail, and both spent a lot less time hunched over their computers doing the kinds of things they typically do online.  Moose stayed off Twitter for two whole weeks and discovered she didn't miss it at all.  She kinda kept up with her blog-reading, but didn't post comments on any blogs but this one.  Posting here was light and trip-related, as you know.  She checked Facebook regularly, mostly to post travel photos and stay in touch with folks at home.  She took her iPhone with her, thinking she would use it as a back-up camera, and never took it out of her pack.  Goose's pack was so loaded down with Mac gadgets that Moose referred to her bag as the Apple store, but she made good yet limited use of both laptop and the new iPad.  Moose also did a test-read on the iPad during the trip home and is pleased to report that Charlotte Brontë's Villette mitigates ever so slightly the discomfort of international flight for people who insist on traveling without detaching their legs.

We digress.  What's fascinating in this rash of vacation/exile from technology stories is the persistence of the fantasy that one can and should endeavor to separate oneself from technologies that are perceived as threats to the self.  Our reliance on these tools, according to this logic, weakens our reliance on ourselves.  It is at best a distraction, at worst a dependence, which is why, over and over again, these stories are framed as addiction narratives. "I've tried various strategies to limit my time online," James Sturm laments in his first post about his decision to go without the Internet altogether. "But nothing has worked for long. More and more hours of my life evaporate in front of YouTube. Supposedly addiction isn't a moral failing, but it feels as if it is."  Hi, I'm James, and I'm an Interwebz addict.

Henry David Thoreau is here for you, James -- and for you, Katrina, and all you other techno-junkies trying to come to grips with your pathetic desire to remain a functioning member of the wired world.  Thoreau groused all the way back in 1854 that, "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.  They are but improved means to an unimproved end . . . .  We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Oh, Henry, if only there'd been Twitters on the outskirts of Concord, MA back in your day. We'd love to hear you rip into that!

Our point is not to dismiss the substance of some of the claims being made about human-computer interaction these days. There is little doubt that massive amounts of time get wasted in a range of more or less trivial pursuits online and that our techno-toys often serve to distract us from the quiet desperation of lives that feel meaningless or beyond our control. (Oil spill got you down? Click here and get a new cow for your fake farm! Don't worry! Be happy!) We are also eager to see what further neurological research will reveal about whether heavy usage of communications devices is actually rewiring our brains and, if it is, whether that rewiring is clearly detrimental to the brain's functioning or simply benign.

Rather, our point is that this kind of ambivalence toward technology has a long, thick history in the United States.  Americans have been frantically searching for spaces in the world and in themselves supposedly untouched by the techno-industrial machineries of modern life for hundreds of years. That yearning is steeped in privileges of race, class, sex, and technological access. (We give Sturm credit for at least acknowledging the irony of documenting his experiment in living offline in an online publication.) You are not a gadget is the title and the central claim of Jaron Lanier's important yet finally romantic manifesto about the threats to "individual intelligence" posed by the "pack mentality" supposedly encouraged by Web 2.0 designs. We have never been human, Moose has always wanted to reply to that claim, channeling the philosophical core of Donna Haraway's argument in When Species Meet. (Romantic or not, Lanier's book is on the syllabus for the blogging course Moose will start teaching in a couple of weeks. She looks forward to grappling with it in a class of digital natives.)

We have never been human -- In other words:  We have always been gadgets, more or less.  Unplug, darlings. Tell your inbox to go f*ck itself. Take a walk or a hike. Get down on your knees and swear with dog as your witness you'll never play Farmville again. Knock yourselves out, but don't for one second imagine that in doing so you separate yourself from techno-culture. We dream of a world above, beyond, or outside this sad, sullied place, but where is it, my pretties? Have you seen it? Come back to the raft -- but rest assured that GPS will guide you home. You may not be human, but you still have to figure out how to survive in this world. You'll be better prepared for that task if you cut the crap and acknowledge that the problem, whatever it is, is not in our gadgets but in ourselves. Mark Twain understood that. Do you? Oh, how I hope you do. Peace out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekend Eye Candy

Nothing much to say, kids.  It's the quiet season in Roxie's World, the late summer calm preceding the storm of a new semester, which begins at Queer the Turtle U two weeks from tomorrow.  The moms are slipping into that hushed, reflective mode that means they are thinking deep thoughts -- like, you know, Where is it I'm supposed to park this year? and Do I really have enough clothes to get through 15 weeks of standing up in front of people every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon?  Ah, the life of the mind.

Anyhoo, here's a pretty pic Moose snapped out in the ridiculously large backyard on Friday afternoon.  The fish have all died again, but the hardy water lily in the pond (Nymphaea "Indiana" it's called) has survived the brutal heat of this strange summer and is finally putting out some blooms.  That makes Moose happy.  She thinks there's been entirely too much dying going on of late and is pleased to see signs of life, strength, endurance.  Peace out, my pretties, and may the ides of August find you feeling strong and ready for whatever the new school year will bring.  May you be as hardy as the water lily and as lovely, too.

(Photo Credit:  Moose, 8/13/10)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Kids Are, Um, Maybe Less Odious Than We Thought?

Or, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

(Photo Credit: via)

The moms and Geoffrey arrived back on native soil late Tuesday afternoon from their two-week odyssey of work and pleasure in Wales and England. While they were away, nothing seems to have happened – or maybe a lot happened but nothing really changed.  Same diff, right?

The weather was miserably hot and dangerously unstable when they left, and they found it that way on their return. Democrats were and are desperate and clueless; Republicans were and are shameless, cynical, and scary. A California judge decided that the moms have the right to wed (again, for now, assuming the judge’s order isn’t stayed by a higher court) in that state, should they choose to do so. CNN released two polls showing that the nation is evenly divided on a) whether the Constitution already provides a right to same-sex marriage and b) whether the 14th Amendment to the Constitution should be changed to deny birthright citizenship to the children of parents who are in the country illegally. Meanwhile, the queer blogosphere is still scratching its collective head over Lisa Cholodenko’s lesbo family dramedy, The Kids Are All Right. We weighed in with a mixed to negative review of the film before the moms left town. Others were harsher, including Jack Halberstam, Tenured Radical, and Lisa Duggan. Our pal Jill Dolan has now weighed in with two thoughtful and more favorable assessments over at The Feminist Spectator. Finally, Karen Tongson and Jasbir Puar joined forces for a super-smart analysis of the film that sees it as critiquing the homonationalist model of family that is its narrative focus.

It’s a lot for a jet-lagged typist to take in, so let’s approach this weird concatenation of issues and events, as we so often do, indirectly or, if you will, sideways. Gather ‘round, children, and settle down. It’s story time.

* * *

Years ago – never mind how many – the moms and Geoffrey came up with a set of nicknames for one another that they have used ever since in private conversations and messages. Moose is “Queer Mom 1” (usually shortened to “QM1”), Goose is “Queer Mom 2” (“QM2”), and Geoffrey is “Queer Son 1” (“QS1”). We’re a little fuzzy on how Moose came to be first in this hierarchical structure, though we figure it has something to do with a rhetoric of family getting mixed up with both the language of canine pack structure and dissertation committee lines of authority. (Moose directed Geoffrey’s dissertation, never mind how many years ago.)

In any case, the names have stuck, probably because they convey a uniquely satisfying combination of campy queer fun and genuine affection. They are parodies, yes, but they are also not devoid of sincerity and even, if you will permit me to say it, emotional/relational truth. To be a “queer mom” is to be gay, perhaps, but, more importantly, it is to be in significant but not blood-based relationship with a significantly younger person. It is a relationship of affinity and choice, but it has such depth and thickness that one might find oneself looking up from time to time and thinking, “Ah, there he is – my beloved son, my beautiful boy,” and meaning it, as much as any mother anywhere has ever meant such words. We’ll let the queer son say for himself, if he wishes, what his thoughts are at such moments, but we imagine they are something along the lines of, “If she reminds me to keep to the left side of the road one more time I am going to scream!” Sons from time immemorial have had such thoughts, surely.

From time to time, when they travel together, as they were these past two weeks, the moms and Geoffrey are taken for an actual (gay? queer? two-mommied?) family. Sometimes, they present themselves as such, just to see how folks will react. Not surprisingly, people in the hospitality industry work hard to be welcoming of everyone and to seem unfazed by any of the quirks of their guests. At a car rental place in Wales, a clerk smiled and nodded sympathetically when Geoffrey made a crack about the joys of traveling with one’s moms after Goose came in to make sure he had reported a minor problem with the car when he had, of course, already done so. At a London hotel, Goose was the first down for breakfast and explained to the guy at the desk that her partner and son would be joining her momentarily. “Put his charges on his room,” she said. “He pays his own way.” A knowing nod was the reply. The next morning, when Moose was the first to reach the dining room, the host said, “And your son will be joining you as well?” “Oh, yes,” she replied. “And his charges will go on his room,” they said in unison.

So, fine, a group of white, economically privileged American queers can zip around the UK selectively pretending to be a family and not get their heads bashed in for doing so by people paid to be nice to them. What does that prove? Probably not much. Even in the bad old days, tolerance could be purchased. Still, let’s score a point or two for progress in the fact that our queer family group was received as utterly unremarkable. The point of the heartwarming story, however, is to circle back to The Kids Are All Right and the problematic place of the family in queer culture and critique.

In the course of their commentary on the film, Tongson and Puar offer this marvelously pithy provocation:  "Families suck. Even queer families suck, despite their best intentions. 'Families We Choose' can be the worst families of all, because we choose them thinking they will be better, yet they often turn out to be the same and quite violently so."  On the one hand, there is a great deal of truth in this assertion, and it's a truth queers ought not overlook as they build their lives, relationships, and intimacies.  Clearly, queer families can suck, can be riven by the same (or similar) violences, tyrannies, and inequalities as straight families, and we delude ourselves if we imagine otherwise.  The Kids Are All Right, as Tongson and Puar suggest, demonstrates that truth all too well.  On the other hand, the assertion that families, even queer ones, suck obviously doesn't capture the whole truth about families, queer or unqueer, because families can also be, as we suggested in our review of the film, capacious, generous, flexible, inventive, and resilient.  Further, even if the very word "family" has churned up a nasty burning sensation in the back of our throats since the Reagan years, a commitment to something like a family formation doesn't have to be at odds with a radical social vision or a commitment to solidarity across blood and other kinds of lines.

Here's the thing: We can and should remain clear and forceful in our analyses of the family in neoliberalism as, as Tongson and Puar put it, “a unit of national security, a formation of hierarchical unequals that naturalizes the exclusions and border patrolling of nationhood.” At the same time, we have to acknowledge that families come in all shapes and sizes, exhibit a range of qualities, and may resist in a variety of ways the roles they are supposed to play vis-à-vis the state and society. Not to go all after-school special on you or anything, but, hey, most of us grew up in families, and we turned out ornery, cool, and queer as pink ink, so it would appear that some families suck less or, um, suck differently than others. We romanticize family at our peril – but there are risks in ignoring or essentializing it as well.

Another film, which Moose happened to catch during the plane ride home, might help to make the point.  Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delightful example of a story that shows the more capacious and socially engaged model of family we have in mind.  In this animated version of Roald Dahl's children's novel of the same name, Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his wife Felicity(voiced by Meryl Streep) grapple with the slings and arrows of middle age and parenthood and the vexing problem of how to be wild in an increasingly routinized, un-wild world.  The film ends with Fox ecstatically celebrating his wife's second pregnancy and the triumph of his ragtag, multi-species band of animals over a group of farmers who have spent the movie trying to kill or starve them out of their homes.  His final speech is a testament to the wiliness and resilience of the pack, as they have found their way into a grocery store and are making do with food that looks and tastes fake.  Fox concludes:  "[M]y point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes – to our survival.”  (The "half" a wild animal to whom Fox refers is the child Felicity has just told him she is carrying.)

Jack Halberstam wrote glowingly about Fantastic Mr. Fox in May, calling Fox's final speech "one of the best and most moving addresses in the history of cinema" and hearing in it a kind of credo about wildness, queerness, adaptability, and survival.  Acknowledging that the film might be seen to recycle old tropes of "female domesticity and male wildness," Halberstam prefers instead to see it as "offer[ing] up some very different forms of masculinity, collectivity and family."

Halberstam is exactly right about the film but doesn't emphasize as much as we might the ways in which family and non-familial collectivities work in conjunction to defeat a common foe in this charming yet remarkably radical story.  The queer critique of family often seems to imply that all families everywhere are politically conservative and insular, irredeemably hostile to sex and gender variation, and determined to quash or co-opt any form of wildness, but the family at the center of Fantastic Mr. Fox is shaped by a different set of dreams and assumptions.  Fox is a deeply committed husband and father, but his "pure wild animal craziness" proves to be not antithetical but essential to his family's survival.  Further, his attachment to family is in no way at odds with his attachment to individuals, groups, and values that go beyond family.  He moves easily back and forth between familial and non-familial groups and triumphs in the end because the two have joined forces without quite blending.  The family is the family and the pack is the pack.  The groups overlap and are allied, but they are not the same.  Fox revels in the wonderfulness of the individuals in each group -- "the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life" -- but the point of his toast is to celebrate what their collective effort has made possible:  "We'll eat tonight, and we'll eat together."

The brilliance of the queer critique of the family is in showing how shrunken and dessicated our notions of this bio-social entity have become, particularly in the U.S., in the decades since shrill and cynical debates over "family values" provided political cover for a dramatic downsizing of the state and of our sense of ourselves as citizens.  Within the framework of neoliberalism, the family may indeed suck, but families, on screen and off, are complex, varied, and occasionally, as the utopian family guy Fox insists, wonderful.  We should all raise our boxes -- and our paws -- to the survival of that wild and happy possibility.  Peace out.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Photo Smackdown, Part Deux

Ways of Seeing St. Paul's

(For Part One, go here.)

Dog-Eared Book proposed a second round in the photo smackdown between Moose and Geoffrey to settle the question of who could take the most creative (i.e., offbeat) tourist shot.  Part Deux finds our gay globetrotters spending the last day of their two-week trip on the south bank of the Thames, cruising through the fabulous Tate Modern.  Interestingly, without any planning or consultation, both of our shutterbugs took kinda quirky shots of one of the most prominent features of the London skyline, St. Paul's Cathedral, on the north bank almost directly across from the Tate.

We are going to leave the analysis and the voting all up to you, kids.  Our travelers have to pack and get themselves to the airport tomorrow morning, and tomorrow morning will reach them in London long before it reaches most of you.  So, tell us what you like here, readers, and why.  Winner gets a free pint of whatever s/he wants at any bar in Heathrow's Terminal 3.

Geoffrey's Entry:  Or, What I Learned in the Voyeurism Exhibition:

(Yes, that is a weary Goose and Moose, contemplating the long walk back to the hotel to get ready for a night at the theater -- oops, dahlings, we meant theatre, of course.)

Moose's Entry:  Up and Down, Over and Under

(Yes, that is the famous Millennium Bridge that takes pedestrians back and forth across the Thames with ease.)

On your marks, get set, discuss!

See you soon on the other side of the pond, darlings.  It has been a wonderful trip, but the wisdom of Ms. Dorothy Gale still holds:  There's no place like home, and we look forward to getting there.  Peace out.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sweet Thames . . .

. . . run softly, while our American readers slowly awaken on a summer Sunday morning.

Good morning, my pretties.  We've got some photos for you of the lovely river that runs through this charming old university townThe conference is over, and the moms and Geoffrey train back to London this afternoon for two more nights of urban fun before heading home.  We'll catch up with you soon, honor bright.

Meantime, have a little eye candy and enjoy your sabbath.

Thames Foot Path, 8/5/10

Oxford Canal Path at Plough Inn, Wolvercote, 8/5/10

 Punts at Cherwell Boathouse, 8/5/10

(Photo Credits:  Moose)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

No $hit: CA Judge Says No H8!

Prop 8 is unconstitutional? No $hit!  Some things are simple:  Dogs shouldn't poop on the sidewalks.  And states should not set up classes of citizens.  End of story.  Celebrate this victory -- and prepare for the next battle, dogged citizens.  But, please, don't poop on the sidewalks.  (Oh, that link will get you to a PDF of Judge Vaughn Walker's complete decision, by the way.)

(Photo Credit:  Moose in Bloomsbury, 8/4/10)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tintern Abbey Photo Smackdown

The Challenge:  Take a picture of an overly familiar place, a place much visited, widely documented, and famous in literary history for its powers to inspire.  Find an angle or perspective that will not only avoid visual cliches but will make that overly familiar place seem unfamiliar, even to an audience of smarty-pants readers who think The Norton Anthology of English Literature is handier than a highway atlas for finding one's way around the back roads of the Welsh-English border region.  Oh, and snap that photo quickly, on account of your merry band of literary travelers has to find its way back to Cardiff to surrender a rental car and catch a train so that the good people of Wales will be safe from the threat of at least one car full of drivers careening around the countryside with someone constantly screaming, "Keep to the left!  Remember, keep to the left, ridiculous as that may seem!"

The Contestants:  Geoffrey, armed with his cute little Panasonic Lumix, and Moose, running around like the Annie Leibovitz wannabe she has always been with her Canon G9.

The Judge:  The official ex-yearbook editor of Roxie's World, Moose, who promises to be 100% objective, because, like, she's totes committed to Fairness and Truth.

Wevs, kids, here's the kind of shot that'll get you voted off this show in the first round, pretty as it is:

(Photo Credit:  Moose, 8/2/10)

Are you still awake?  Yeah, me neither.  Standard, boring tourist snap that by some miracle doesn't have two or three grouchy Germans looking for the loo strolling across the bottom of the frame.  (It's down to the left, by the way -- the loo.)  Nice, but totally insufficient for our purposes.  Next!

(Photo Credit:  Moose, 8/2/10)

Regular readers will note in this photograph the Moosian fondness for frames and for zooming in on relatively small parts of a large building or landscape as a way of capturing -- or avoiding? -- the whole.  Yep, photography for Moose is often a matter of failed synecdoches.  Oh, and if she were a better technician, you'd be able to see that there is a little white dove perched on the apex of that roof in the bottom third of the frame.  For all the photographer's limitations of skill and vision, we kinda like this shot for the repeated patterns of threes, the attention to texture, and that nice triangle of sky at the top.  In directing the viewer's attention to a particular spot, the image asks us to pause and look carefully at something we otherwise might not see.

Not bad, Moose.  Next!

(Photo Credit:  Geoffrey, 8/2/10)

Geoffrey takes a totally different strategy on this assignment, bravely seeking to capture both the epic scale of the 13th-century building and the drama of what time has taken away from this awe-inspiring space -- i.e., its roof.  Standing in the middle of what was once the edifice's great church, he looks up and captures three walls open to and reaching toward heaven, a heaven that in that particular moment looked especially appealing, with its puffy clouds and big patches of bright blue sky.  (Moments later the sky was dark, and the abbey became a different place altogether.)  Geoffrey's image is beautifully composed but also wonderfully disorienting.  It conveys immensity and loss, ambition and elegy.  The beautiful emptiness at the center of the frame perhaps recalls the secular consolations Wordsworth found in the area around the abbey, where he found "tranquil restoration" in nature.

So, who wins the Tintern Abbey coffee mug that Goose did not purchase yesterday in the gift shop?  We are giving Geoffrey the edge -- but we'll let our devoted readers weigh in before we make the final decision.  Have at it, gentle judges.  The moms and Geoffrey are in London now and off to catch a museum or three.  Hope you all are doing well and enjoying the dog days of August in your neck of the woods.  Peace out!