Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Brief, Backward Glance

Want a proper End of Year List? Go elsewhere, darlings. A humble dog blog cannot be expected to wrap its paws around a year as epic in scale as 2011 turned out to be. Our focus this year has been largely personal and our productivity has been significantly lower than in years past. (This is just our 89th post of the year, making 2011 our lightest year of blogging since RW's barbaric yawp was first heard in 2006. We would apologize for slacking, but, hey, you get this stuff for free, so, you know, deal with it. We love you, but we gotta pay the bills somehow.)

Anyhoo, here, in no particular order, is an unabashedly partial and idiosyncratic list of some of what mattered to us this year. We invite you to share your highlights and lowlights in comments as a way of preparing for the transition into 2012. Retrospection is good for the soul, especially as we move into the unpredictability and intensity of a Year of the Dragon.

Number of the Year:

 -- That's the number of pounds Moose lost on the Lifestyle Adjustment Program she began in January. Which just goes to show you that sometimes New Year's resolutions work. Also: You can teach old dogs new tricks. Oh: And self-improvement arises not from self-loathing but from compassion. Just saying. Finally: It's possible to eat well and lose weight. Go here and here  for recipes and inspiration.

Happiest Day of the Year: March 6 -- That's the day Ms. Ruby arrived in Roxie's World to assume the role of Embodied Dog. It was a cold, dark, rainy day that became sunny and bright the moment the good people of American Fox Terrier Rescue brought the sweetest critter on dog's earth across the threshold.

Photo of the Year: Pepper-Spraying Cop -- The image that launched one of the best memes ever and, more importantly, briefly focused attention not only on funding crisis in higher education but on the overly zealous policing of nonviolent student protest on campuses throughout the country. One of our major hopes for 2012 is that "Occupy Education" becomes a sustained and viable challenge to the way of doing business in higher ed.

Best Art We Saw: The Steins Collect, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thrilling.

Best TV We Saw: The Good Wife, but that may only be because we missed Homeland. We started watching it on the penultimate day of 2011 and are impressed. Good lord, Claire Danes can act!

Most Hyper-Inflated Ticket Price We Didn't Mind Paying: For The Book of Mormon on Broadway in September. Oh, sweet-voiced boys in short-sleeved shirts, you truly had us at "Hello!"

Most Culinary Fun We Had in the DC Area This Year: The several times we dined at José Andrés' delightful pop-up restaurant, America Eats. We blogged about this rollicking good tour through the culinary history of the United States after Moose first visited it in July. It has held up well through several repeat visits. Go. Now. Before it disappears!

Losses That Stung/Struck Us: Death, as usual, had a banner year in 2011. Of the biggies, the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs in October particularly struck us, but we were more personally touched by the deaths of Texas music impresario Joe Gracey, poet Ruth Stone, and retired teacher Ida Pinkney, our next-door neighbor for 17 years who literally died laughing on the day before Thanksgiving. Ida was talking on the phone with a dear friend and suffered a massive heart attack. The Moms were terribly sad to lose someone who taught them so much of what it meant to be a good neighbor -- the exchange of pleasantries across the driveways, the check-in phone calls during snowstorms and other local dramas -- but they also kind of love the idea that a woman with Ida's gift for friendship and immense joie de vivre left the world laughing. Some endings, though sad, are fitting. Dogspeed, Ida.

Best Posts We Managed to Get Up in This Not Especially Bloggy Year: We'll choose two, one in the category of Meditations on Social Media and the other in the category of Inter-Species Romance. For the first, we'll award our post-MLA post, "The Great Untweeted," which set records in Roxie's World for volume of traffic and number of comments. We're proud of that one and thinks its reflections on what does and does not get tweeted at academic conferences hold up pretty well. For the second category, we are willing to pat ourselves on the back for "The Day I Became a Dog," the September post in which readers heard Ms. Ruby's voice for the first time. We agonized over that one for ages and were pleased that readers seemed to enjoy it so much when we finally pressed publish.

Thanks to all of you for hanging out with us for another wacky year in the blogosphere. We promise to try to be a little more prolific in 2012, as the presidential campaign heats up and the Republican ship of fools sails on. In the meantime, we wish you all a safe and happy new year. Peace out, my pretties, and may none of your dear acquaintances ever be forgot.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ruby's First Christmas

'Tis the season for making a fool out of oneself by publicly sharing low-rent videos made by techno-challenged iMovie illiterates. Pardon the indulgence, kids, but there are at least two good reasons to give Moose's latest film a click: It features the jazzy piano song that simply is Christmas for several generations of Peanuts-raised Americans, and it stars a really cute dog appearing in her first non-major motion picture. Yes, Santa found Ms. Ruby all the way out in chilly Michigan and brought her some presents. Plus, her cousin Scooter proved to be remarkably generous in sharing his presents and his astonishingly large stash of toys. Like spoiled children everywhere, Ms. Ruby now believes that every day should be Christmas. 

She has a point, of course. Gather 'round the laptop for this heartwarming holiday non-classic, while we pack up and get ready to head back to Roxie's World tomorrow. See you soon, my pretties. Whatever you are celebrating this season, we hope you are feeling nurtured in body and spirit and that some sweet soul is genially sharing his or her toys with you. Peace out.

video

Friday, December 23, 2011

Respite and Rescue

The Moms and sweet Ruby-doo are about to hit the road for a brief holiday visit to the Land of the Moosians (Motor City division). Grades are done. The car is tuned up. Not one single gift has been purchased, but, hey, Republicans caved on the payroll tax cut extension, so at least we'll have more moolah to shop with after Christmas. We hope that you, too, are gearing up for some quality time with loved ones.

Here's the image that festooned the front page of WaPo this morning, by way of reminding readers that, with yesterday's winter solstice, light is finding its way back to the national capital region. (That news will disappoint the Dark Ages caucus of the GOP, but they are accustomed to disappointment.)


(Photo Credit: Bill O'Leary, Washington PostWaPo caption: "The Capitol and its Christmas tree gleam amid first light Thursday as the sun rises after the longest night of the year; the winter solstice was marked at 12:30 a.m. This HDR [high dynamic range] composite image was created by software that combines several images of the same scene to enhance clarity and color saturation.")

Meanwhile, here's a little image Moose snapped at dinner the other night that captures the spirit of the season in Roxie's World:


Finally, if you need a heartwarming animal story to lift your holiday spirits, Ms. Ruby urges you to click over to this tale of 100 dogs who arrived at the Washington Animal Rescue League just in time for Christmas. They were rescued from an Arkansas puppy mill. There's a whole set of ridiculously adorable photos of the survivors up on flickr, but unless your heart is made of stone you'd better be prepared to adopt a dog before you subject yourselves to images like, uh, this:



Happy holidays, darlings. May you find refuge in love this season. Be warm, be kind, be rescued.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Upward-Facing Moose

Time for an exciting round of Complete the Caption! The above photo depicts Moose:

a) working on her tennis serve, which, she insists, does not actually require a ball or racket;
b) looking good but seriously underdressed for holiday caroling in the neighborhood;
c) smiling with gratitude because the pile of ungraded papers is not quite as high as her outstretched arm.

The answer of course is d) posing for a photographer at her local yoga studio to illustrate a little piece she wrote for the Willow Street Yoga Center Newsletter. (Yeah, it ain't Critical Inquiry or glq, but she wouldn't get a merit raise if she published in those fancy venues this year anyway, so what the heck?) We've pasted in a slightly revised version of the essay below. You can access the original by clicking on this link and then opening the PDF for the winter 2012 newsletter.

This one goes out to all the readers and friends who have followed the adventures in embodiment of Moose 2.0 over the past year. Your support and interest have meant a lot, and your stories have inspired and delighted all of us in Roxie's World. The post is dedicated to Suzie Hurley, first teacher, with love and gratitude for all that her vision has brought into being.

* * *
Lessons from the Mat
by Moose

I recently lost fifty pounds, and yoga helped me do it. Indeed, if I were inclined to be entrepreneurial, I would probably be making infomercials for something I might call the Yoga Diet, or perhaps even the Willow Street Diet: LOSE WEIGHT AND INCREASE FLEXIBILITY, WHILE STANDING ON ONE LEG!

I know: Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not especially entrepreneurial. Besides, Google tells me someone has beaten me to the punch on the Yoga Diet. Bear with me, though, as I try to explain my infomercial impulse.

Yoga may not be a major fat-burning activity, but I am serious when I say it contributed significantly to my efforts to re-contour my middle-aged body. I returned to Willow Street in the winter of 2009 after several years away. I had taken classes for a couple of years early in the 2000s, mostly Level Is with Suzie Hurley, but I decided to take a break in 2003 during a ridiculously stressful period in my life. (Two words are all I need to explain a crazy time and a dubious decision: home renovation.)

By the time I got back from my “break,” I was seriously out of shape and significantly overweight, because I had given up not only yoga but also a commitment I had maintained for most of my adult life to regular, vigorous cardiovascular activity. On the brink of my fiftieth birthday, I was feeling out of sorts and starting to worry about the long-term consequences of having gotten so out of shape. In other words, I was starting to feel old, and I didn’t like the feeling.

Returning to Willow Street was a small but important step on my long road back to health and fitness. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I see now that getting back to the mat was a way of gently yet powerfully re-connecting with a world and a self I was afraid I had left behind. Ultimately, that re-connection helped me find the will to lose weight by giving me a way to think about weight and body issues that feels affirming and enabling rather than punitive and disabling, which, I think, is how much of our culture’s talk about bodies, especially female ones, tends to be.

Back on the mat – first in Joe Miller’s Level I classes and lately in the I/II class he and Natalie Miller co-teach on Friday evenings – I learned three lessons that were enormously helpful in what I would eventually (and only half-jokingly) term my Lifestyle Adjustment Program. The first was to approach yoga in a spirit of play. This is an aspect of Joe’s teaching that deeply resonated with me, perhaps because it’s something I strive to do in my own classrooms. I am an English professor at the University of Maryland. The intellectual discipline of reading literature in a serious way can be intimidating, so I have always tried to cultivate a light, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom in the hope that students will learn more by worrying less and not noticing how hard they are working. Similarly, Joe’s insistent playfulness helps to demystify the discipline he teaches – which can also be intimidating -- and allows students to enter into it in their own way and at their own level. “Thanks for playing,” he often says at the end of class. Those words never fail to bring a smile to my face, but they’ve also encouraged me to feel comfortable trying to learn new and challenging skills. Fall out of a pose? No big deal! We’re just playing! Try it again!

That spirit of play guided me toward a second and equally valuable lesson, which was to love and honor the body I have, to appreciate what it can do now, and to stop berating myself for what it can’t (yet) do. My prolonged sedentary period had left me feeling alienated from a body I didn’t like or recognize. Yoga helped me let go of self-loathing and treat myself with a compassion that had eluded me for many years. Love and compassion, not disgust, were what finally got me, in January of 2011, to go to a meeting, step on a scale, and say, “OK, I am ready to do something different.”

Finally and perhaps most importantly, yoga gave me practice in mindfulness, which proved to be invaluable as I worked to cultivate and sustain new and better habits in relation to food and activity. I realized that my weight gain had a lot to do with the fact that I had just stopped paying attention to how much I was eating and how little I was moving. Food tastes better and is more satisfying when you pay attention to every bite, no matter how simply or sensibly it’s prepared. Mindfulness has meant that I experience my new way of eating as the opposite of the deprivations we associate with dieting. I have been cooking up a storm since I started losing weight, and I’ve enjoyed every moment in the kitchen and at the table – as has my well-fed partner, by the way!

Playfulness, compassion, and mindfulness: These are three lessons I learned on the mat that have helped me transform my body and my attitude fairly dramatically in the past year. You may not see me in an infomercial, but you will definitely see me in the studio, working hard but happily and with deep gratitude to continue this extraordinary process of learning. Thanks to everyone at Willow Street for playing with me and teaching me so well.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Rat Empathy

This story caught my typist's eye this morning. A new study shows evidence of empathy existing "in a robust way" among rats. Here's how the experiment works: Two rats are hanging out in the rat lab. One is free and the other is in an "unpleasantly restrictive cage" that the other rat can learn to open if he wants to release his compatriot. The study indicated that, not only would the free rat liberate the caged rat, he would also save a treat from a horde of chocolate chips to share with the captive. Wait, dude: Liberty and chocolate? What planet are these critters from and how do we get there?

Wa Po summarizes the implications of the study:
The researchers came to the unavoidable conclusion that what they were seeing was empathy — and apparently selfless behavior driven by that mental state. 
“There is nothing in it for them except for whatever feeling they get from helping another individual,” said Peggy Mason, the neurobiologist who conducted the experiment along with graduate student Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal and fellow researcher Jean Decety. 
“There is a common misconception that sharing and helping is a cultural occurrence. But this is not a cultural event. It is part of our biological inheritance,” she added.
Also: Rats are not Republicans. Revise your political name-calling accordingly. Henceforth, rats are the good guys. As in: Oh, that Hillary Clinton is such a rat, running around telling everybody that gay rights are human rights! Get that girl some chocolate!

What a world, what a world. Have a lovely, rat-filled weekend, my pretties. Here's hoping your cage door opens soon.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dear Hillary Clinton,

We love you so. No, really, we adore you and totally groove on the way you have become like the Global Queer-Affirming Good Girl. Srsly, the burly women and pretty boys of the world unite in saying that you are homolicious!

Nonetheless, with all due respect, we wish you would re-think the hair. I am sorry, Mme Secretary, but we cannot love a ponytail.

Yours sincerely,

Roxie


(Photo Credit: Anja Niedringhaus, Associated Press [via]. New York Times caption: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, after her speech on human rights issues at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. [Video of the speech is here.])
It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity. -- US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Remarks in Recognition of International Human Rights Day," Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, 12/6/11.
You go, girl. With you till the last dog dies. Or 2016, whichever comes first.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Remembering Ruth Stone

Ruth Stone, who died November 19 at the age of 96, was a friend of ours. By friend we don't mean we spoke on the phone every day or spent summers at her charmingly decrepit Vermont farm house. Indeed, we hadn't spoken in several years before the National Book Award-winning poet passed away. The friendship we claim is rooted in the depth of our affections, not the amount of time we spent with a fine poet and a feisty woman who toiled in obscurity for decades. We loved Ruth, and she loved all the denizens of Roxie's World.

To Ruth, everything on earth was intensely alive -- full of meaning and worthy of recognition. Thus, in "Vegetables II," she says of an eggplant she contemplates eating, "We put our heads together. / You are so smooth and cool and purple, / I say. Which of us will it be?" In the early days of their friendship, when the Moms were cat lesbians, Ruth would inscribe copies of her books to them and their cats, Spike and Lily, illustrated with adorable little cat cartoons down by her signature. When I came on the scene in the mid-90s, Ruth laughed uproariously at the wild antics of my exuberant puppyhood, but, as the photo anchored to this paragraph shows, she could also calm me down enough to curl up and enjoy some poetry. (Ruth is reading a volume by another of our beloved poet-friends, Alicia Ostriker, in this picture.)

Goose first met Ruth at an epic lady poet-palooza held in May of 1986 to commemorate the centennial of Emily Dickinson's death. Upon that occasion, Ruth spoke movingly of Dickinson's astonishing originality and of the conditions in which her poetry was produced. Much of what she said of Dickinson might have been said of Ruth, too:
When I read her poems, these original, hard as steel poems, and I feel the intensity in every word, words used in new ways, bent to her will, then I think she was self-sufficient, an artist whose mind was never asleep, whose concentration recreated, made fresh all that she saw and felt, as though she saw through the ordinary barriers, not as a visionary, but as a laser beam. But when I think of how little recognition she received in her lifetime, and how devastated she must have felt, though her fierce pride concealed it, then I am angry and sad. Yes, a great artist knows and can work in almost total isolation, but it is a terrible thing to have to do. The original mind seems eccentric, even crazy sometimes. In her cryptic inventions, she broke the tiresome mold of American poetry. We still stand among those shards and splinters.
The original mind seems eccentric, even crazy sometimes. Oh, maybe just a little. Moose's favorite Ruth story involves an afternoon in the late-80s when Goose was at school and she and Ruth were hanging out with the cats in the apartment they lived in back then. Moose was supposed to be working on her still unfinished dissertation. Ruth was supposed to be resting to get ready for an evening reading on campus. At some point, Moose tuned in to the sound of Ruth's voice. Out in the living room, she was muttering something about death. "Oh, dammit. Oh, death," or words to that effect. When Moose ventured out to see what was happening, Ruth was sitting on the couch staring at her hands. "Ruth?" Moose shyly inquired, for she barely knew her elderly houseguest. "Everything okay?" Ruth turned to her, with her large brown eyes open wide, and declared, "Death is after me. Ever since that car accident. I knew it. Dammit." "Uh, okay, Ruth. What makes you think that?"

At that point, America's most obscure great poet held out her hands so Moose could see them. They were bleeding. Not from any visible wound, mind you -- Just bleeding. Two thoughts immediately popped into Moose's dissertation-enfeebled mind. The first was something like, Cool, stigmata -- We can turn this joint into a religious shrine and retire our grad school debts by charging the pilgrims to get a look at Ruth's hands! The second was no less selfish but a little more paranoid: Oh, great. I'll be a footnote in the next edition of the Norton Anthology of Lit by Women: Stone bled to death while Moose agonized over her paradigm-shifting analysis of Sarah Orne Jewett's "An Autumn Holiday."

Then Moose got a grip. She asked Ruth a few questions and quickly ascertained that the poet, lacking health insurance, had likely been overdosing on aspirin to treat neck pain from a recent car accident. She had also been subsisting mostly on candy bars during the long bus trip from Vermont to Maryland. Moose figured the bleeding had to be a side effect of the aspirin and the diet. She fixed Ruth a sandwich and they spent the rest of the afternoon playing with the cats. That night's reading was a spectacular success. Strange postscript to the story: The Moms had a ratty old cloth couch back in those days. Ruth's hands left a couple of blood stains on the couch that never faded. Swear to dog, kids, those stains looked as fresh and bright on the day that couch was finally hauled out to the curb as they did on a sunny afternoon when America's most obscure great poet scared the bejesus out of a befuddled grad student.

Here are Ruth and Moose on a bench outside the Folger Shakespeare Library during that same visit. They had gone there with Goose to see an amazing exhibit of Marianne Moore materials from the Rosenbach Museum and Library's Moore archive:


And here are Ruth and Goose on the same bench:


Oh, dammit. Oh, death. Oh, dammit, indeed. Damn you, death, for taking those we love from our midsts. Damn you for leaving us with nothing but echoes, shadows, fading images of nearly forgotten selves.

But thank you, Ruth, for the gift of your friendship and the consolation of your far from ordinary words. Thank you and dogspeed.