Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together

My typist firmly believes that the saddest moment in all of literature, the passage she cannot ever read without instantly tearing up, is the ending of A. A. Milne's The House At Pooh Corner.

Christopher Robin is about to start school. Knowing that his childhood life of play is coming to an end, he takes his beloved bear to an enchanted place in the forest and asks him to promise never to forget him and the delights of the time they have spent together. Pooh promises to remember, even if Christopher Robin lives to be a hundred and he lives to be ninety-nine. The vow made, the serious mood lifts and the two run off to nowhere in particular for a final romp. And then, the finest book in children's literature concludes with the following words:
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
My poor typist. She hates working with tears running down her cheeks.

Are you with me, darlings? Close readers that you are, have you figured out what I am trying to say?

It's time, my pretties. After six and a half years and 761 posts, it's time to bring the active phase of this happy experiment in social media to an end. To put it simply, I've been dead for nearly three years. I think it's high time I retired, don't you?

Thank you.
Thanks to every single one of you for being a part of this quirky, (un)real place, which the middle-aged broad who brought it into being has always thought of as at least a little bit enchanted -- because of you. Thank you for reading, for caring, for keeping the spirit of play alive in your own selves and in the world. That spirit will never die, because the world and all its critters need it, desperately. If you live to be a hundred, don't ever lose sight of that truth.

As of now, the blogging here will end, but the blog will go on in the sense of being here, always, for you, like some loyal companion animal of Very Little Brain whose love you need and whose insights might suggest that brains are overrated. As of now, Roxie's World is an archive of what we have thought and felt and how we have endured the past six and a half years. Come back from time to time. No one but me will know you've been here, and I will love knowing you stopped by.

Now, put down your hankies, kids, and listen up. I've got some good news, too. Are you ready?

Moose has launched a brand new blog. It's up. It's going. You are invited to head over there. As soon as you finish reading this.

A brand new blog? Yep! I thought she should call it Moose, Unleashed, but for some baffling reason she has opted to call it The Madwoman with a Laptop instead. (Could the name have something to do with the little essay she contributed to this collection? Who knows?) What's the new blog going to be and do? Well, one never quite knows with blogs, but the inaugural post makes it sound as if fans of this here blog will feel right at home with the Madwoman, who promises to offer "commentary on a similar, eclectic mix of subjects from a familiar perspective: queer, feminist, critter-affirming, with a tone that moves between and among irreverence, optimism, and righteous indignation, with occasional unapologetic lapses into sentimentality. I’ll write about higher education, middle age, new media, politics, queer stuff, books I read or teach, the stuff I watch on TV. I will rail about Excellence Without Money (which is still ™RW Enterprises LLC) and wax rhapsodic on college women’s basketball. I’ll offer glimpses of life with my new companion terrier, Ruby, and my companion human of 28+ years, the woman known on Roxie’s World as Goose. There’ll be jokes, recipes, pictures I take. Maybe even pictures I draw."

Pictures I draw? See caricature above. Which proves that there may well be some Madness in the Woman who has launched this new venture. Girl, put the stylus down and step away from the iPad before someone gets hurt!

Anyhoo, kids, speaking of the woman known in these precincts as Goose, we realize there may be some identity challenges ahead for some of this blog's readers as we negotiate the transition to The Madwoman with a Laptop. You'll be pleased to know that the Office of Persona Management will remain open should you need assistance in figuring out who to be. Mark Twain is standing by, Candy Man, and is ready to hand out advice on all matters comical and ontological. Some things never change, I swear.

But some things do change, my darlings, and that isn't necessarily bad. Our ability to adapt to change is a measure of our strength and resilience. Roxie's World has always been a celebration of resilience, hasn't it? Of picking up and carrying on, in every sense of the term.

So, carry on:
  • Subscribers: Add The Madwoman to your feed readers. Now. Moose's fragile self-esteem won't survive a crash in readership.
  • Blog pals: Put The Madwoman in your blog rolls. Immediately. Please? Looking at you, cowgirl, and you, Crazy. And I know you're on vacay, TR, but hop to, will ya?
  • Everybody: Show some love. Leave a comment here and there to let us know we're still a pack and always will be. Pretty please with kibble on top?
My typist has gone through half a box of Kleenex working on this post and still is reluctant to bring it to a close. As I said before, though, it's time. I know in my large and long still heart that it is time. Even my typist is ready, but she's too choked up to speak right now, so we'll let comic genius Carol Burnett have the last word. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say -- 

Oh, you know the rest. Peace out, my pretties. Thanks for running with us.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Power Struggles

There's a lively debate going on in post-derecho DC and the surrounding areas on how to make life in the national capital region a bit less like life in one of the less developed countries of the developing world when it comes to such basic accoutrements of civilization as, you know, lights and refrigeration. Is it time to consider burying power lines so they'll be less vulnerable to the extreme weather events that seem likely to occur with alarming frequency in the world brought about by our stubborn refusal to reckon with global warming? Can de-regulated, union-busting utilities like the justly maligned Pepco be expected -- or compelled -- to do a better job of getting customers back online when mass outages occur with little advance warning, as was the case with the sudden, violent storm that occurred on the sweltering evening of June 29? Or is it time to hunker down with our ukuleles and our generators and admit that we are, in this as in so many things, fundamentally screwed and on our own?

Ah, kids, modern life. The feisty old broads of Roxie's World know better than to be nostalgic for any mythical good old days, because the good old days were always already complex and flawed and unjust to whole bunches of people. Still, they are tempted from time to time to sigh that things are a bit less pleasant than they used to be. (My typist pauses here to check on which character it is in Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" who declares that, "Everything is getting terrible." Turns out it is not the doomed, talkative grandmother but Red Sammy, owner of the barbecue place/filling station where the family stops for lunch before the grandmother's flawed recollection sets up their fateful rendezvous with the murderous Misfit. Everything is getting terrible. It's a useful, funny, haunting line, even if one doesn't share Red Sam or the grandmother's nostalgia for a brutally ordered past. Sometimes, even one strenuously committed to seeing the glass as half full is inclined to feel that perhaps a lot of things are getting rather terrible.)

All those complicated questions of power are, however, above my pay grade. Instead of answers or recommendations, all I have to offer are a few photos that document the devastation wrought by the derecho in the physical space of Roxie's World. They also document Pepco's failure, nearly two weeks after the storm, to clear the neighborhood of potentially dangerous debris. Here, for example, is what is left of the utility pole that was brought down by a large tree in the yard right across the street from the Moms' house. The photo was taken on Monday, but the large piece of pole is still dangling out over the street in the middle of Thursday afternoon:

At night, that dangling remnant is just about the spookiest thing you've ever seen. And whenever the wind blows, Moose's heart skips a beat or two as her post-derecho stress disorder kicks in and she wonders what might happen if another big storm kicks up while that pole is still hanging around.

The next photo shows the two-pole solution Pepco contrived over on the Moms' side of the street after the top quarter of our pole snapped off in the storm. Workers installed a new, much taller pole right next to the old one, which still seems to have the wires for phone and cable running off of it. Moose calls this photo "Bi-Polar Disorder":

Finally, up in the next block, you see what's left of a massive tree that fell right across the road and landed on a car. These neighbors are trying to sell their property, which right now looks, as the sign says, "Impressive!" but not in a way likely to entice buyers:

(All photos by Moose, 7/9/12.)

Woodcutters of the world, I invite you to Roxie's World. There's a fortune to be made in chopping up firewood for winter. The Moms promise to buy a cord or three to prepare for the power outages the next snowpocalypse will undoubtedly bring.

And, Pepco, my Pepco, is it any wonder your name is a curse word, the nasty, hilarious song on everybody's lips? No, it is no wonder at all. We'll embed the song and dedicate it to our good friend PhysioProf, who will appreciate the salty Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. Srsly, Pepco, how hard can it be, to clear a f*cking tree? Your customers long to know. Peace out, and leave the lights on, baby.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

You Light Up My Life

(Photo Credit: Moose, 7/3/12, South Haven, MI)

Happy Fourth of July, darlings. The Moms and Ms. Ruby are in Michigan, fortunately, where there is electricity and air conditioning and unspoiled food and a really big, pretty lake. Which is good, because back home, five days after the epic (what the heck is a) derecho (anyway) that struck the DC area, the house still does not have power!

We'll spare you the anti-Pepco rant for now. (But if you really want one, go here.) It's a holiday, and we've got a parade to get to. Ms. Ruby and cousin Scooter will be sporting patriotic dog gear. What will you be wearing? Wherever you are, we hope you have power today. And fun. Lots and lots of fun. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sullivan's Laws

Question of the Day: How could a university president hired from the outside who's only been on the job for two years inspire such fierce loyalty that faculty, students, staff, and alumni from all over the state would interrupt their lives and summers to stage a mass insurrection against an ill-conceived and badly managed plot by a corporate board to force her to resign?

Answer for the Ages: It's right here, in a WaPo story on how hard University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, a leader with a "relationship-based, relationship-centered presidency," worked in those two years to win hearts and minds in Charlottesville. You should go read the whole story, but here's the money quote:
From the start, Sullivan outlined what she called “Sullivan’s laws”: Never surprise an administrator. Never punish the messenger. Don’t hide bad news; meet it head-on. People and time are our greatest resources; don’t waste them. When dealing with a difficult matter, don’t leave anyone out, or else be prepared for fallout.
We'll pause here briefly while you all swoon over such inspiring common sense from an academic administrator who gets that strong, effective leadership is first and foremost about listening. And honesty. Crazy! No wonder they wanted to dump her!

Also, however, I'm thinking someone should take that sentence about dealing with difficult matters and needlepoint it onto a pillow for Rector Helen Dragas, who could definitely use a lesson or two in fallout avoidance. Don't leave anyone out, especially if the person you are thinking of leaving out is, like, a rockstar/goddess among the group of people who will be most affected by the decision you are secretly engineering! Why? Because inclusivity is cheaper than paying Hill & Knowlton to clean up your mess!

AnyHoos, UVA's Board of Visitors meets at 3 this afternoon to vote on Sullivan's possible reinstatement. (WaPo games out how the voting is likely to go here.) Paws and fingers in Roxie's World are crossed that cool heads and common sense will prevail as the Board goes for its big do-over. We recommend that you follow the action on Twitter, which has been an amazing source of real-time information throughout the crisis at UVA. Even if you are not among the Twitterati, you can search on the hashtag #UVA for the latest tweets. By the way, WaPo has done a swell job on this story. You'd almost think they were still a serious newspaper, with actual reporters and everything. Srsly. Props to higher education reporters Daniel de Vise, Jenna Johnson, Anita Kumar, and Donna St. George for thorough, thoughtful coverage.

Peace out, Jeffersonians, and if there's any doubt as to where this blog stands on the matter of The People v. Helen Dragas, let us dispel it now:

Friday, June 22, 2012

In Praise of Incrementalism

At some point in grad school, Moose acquired a postcard that has been on a bulletin board in one of her offices or another ever since. It must capture a popular sentiment, because thirty-ish years later the card is still available on the interwebs. Here 'tis:

Moose has shown this image to generations of students slogging their way through the often torturously slow process of researching and writing a dissertation. It's an image that pops into her head every time she hears some pin-headed administrator shriek about the urgency of reducing time to degree, as if doctoral programs were assembly lines that could crank out PhDs as efficiently as Detroit once cranked out cars. It's an image that also seems relevant to the story that has rocked public higher education over the past couple of weeks, the ouster of Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia just two years after being unanimously elected to the post by the university's Board of Visitors. Though details of what led to Sullivan's forced resignation remain murky, Board Rector Helen Dragas and (now former) Vice Rector Mark Kington, who spearheaded the move to dump Sullivan, clearly felt the new president wasn't moving quickly enough to make changes they felt were needed, particularly with regard to online education. When Sullivan addressed the Board eight days after her resignation was announced, she offered a full-throated defense of her record and leadership style:
I have been described as an incrementalist. It is true. Sweeping action may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership, but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear. There has been substantial change on Grounds in the past two years, and this change is laying the groundwork for greater change. But it has all been carefully planned and executed in collaboration with Vice Presidents and Deans and representatives of the faculty. This is the best, most constructive, most long lasting, and beneficial way to change a university.  Until the last ten days, the change at UVA has not been disruptive change, and it has not been high-risk change. 
Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work. UVA is one of the world's greatest universities. 
Being an incrementalist does not mean that I lack vision. My vision was clearly outlined in my strategic vision statement. It encompasses the thoughts developed by me and my team as to what UVA can become in the 21st century and parts of it were incorporated into the budget narrative that you adopted last month.
Sullivan may yet end up retaining her position, which, in our humble opinion, would be about the coolest thing to happen in higher ed since the invention of the three-ring binder (in 1886).  However it resolves, this kerfuffle is well worth the amount of time, attention, and brilliant. satiricalenergy it has taken up lately. (The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent archive of coverage of Sullivan's ouster and the aftermath, just in case you've been under a rock and need to get caught up. To its credit, UVA also has an archive of official university responses and news coverage.)

The intensity of the reaction on Grounds, as they snootily quaintly say in Charlottesville, and the fury directed at the BOV's lack of transparency (not to mention decency) have been encouraging and inspiring to those of us who have been chafing for years under the yoke of the "corporate-style, top-down leadership" that has come to dominate so many campuses. Sullivan's direct assault on that model in her statement to the BOV is surprising only because most high-level campus administrators are sufficiently drunk on corporate Kool-Aid that they rarely speak unvarnished truth in public. We're accustomed to hearing such critiques from cranky bloggers and other malcontents, but university presidents these days are cheerleaders whose relentless happy talk in the face of budget cuts and declining wages for faculty and staff demonstrates that they are far more interested in protecting the brand than in telling the truth. Sullivan's defense of incremental change, achieved through deliberate, consultative, and collaborative processes, is a slap in the face to a board that operated largely in secret and seemingly on impulse in reaching one of the most consequential decisions within its power to make. It is also, however, a stirring reminder of how, ideally, universities operate. Presidents, though they are hired and fired by corporate boards, are faculty members, too. They may be perched atop their campus's administrative hierarchy, but the principles and mechanisms of shared governance mean that they are also accountable to those they lead. They can't succeed without buy-in from those further down the chain of command.

Our blog boyfriend Chris Newfield argues, in an otherwise flawless analysis of the UVA debacle, that Sullivan erred in "describing her collaborative method as incremental and conservative. This kind of rhetoric allows the Board to define her as slow and inadequate in a time of rapid change, and to justify executive authority as that which is bold and decisive." Newfield is right that we "cannot afford any longer to allow academic work and administration to fall into the innovation trap, which casts as anti-innovation anyone who appears to oppose innovation as defined largely by information technology corporations in their equally turbulent and oligarchic markets." He's also right that we should "concede nothing" to management twits and should make the case that "forms of reciprocal and relatively egalitarian collaboration generate richer, deeper knowledge and more creative and robust solutions than does the thin knowledge and compulsive changes of tack of externally-focused managers who respond to the influence that seems most powerful at a given moment."

All true, but there is still joy in Roxie's World over Sullivan's unapologetic embrace of the term incrementalist. Our own campus is filled these days with ear-piercing calls for innovation and entrepreneurship. We've had a number of conversations recently about the importance of laying claim to those terms and making sure that the work we do and the values we cherish don't get lost in the race to prove that universities are all about what is new and cool and innovative and revenue-generating. In our view, the tougher yet deeply important challenge is to insist that incrementalism and innovation are not necessarily opposing terms. We need both on campus, and we shouldn't be shy about saying so. Universities are and always have been engines of innovation. All that hoo-ha about what goes on in our laboratories, hospitals, and performance studios isn't just hoo-ha. It's an accurate description of the incredibly bold, original, world-transforming work that goes on at research universities every day. At the same time, incrementalism is a deeply ingrained aspect of academic culture, perhaps because it is a deeply ingrained habit of the academic mind. We may be innovators, but we are also scholars. We tend to be deliberate and studious, not reluctant to change but not impulsive about it either. We are accustomed to working through mechanisms of review that can take months and even years to conclude.

Yes, we are tempted at times to echo the impatient Miranda Priestly's sardonic, "By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me," because the wheels of university bureaucracies do grind slowly and can be an impediment to needed change. On balance, though, incrementalism works, both to subject ideas to rigorous examination and to include more rather than fewer voices in a collaborative process of change. Such processes may move relatively slowly, but they reduce the risk of an outcome as devastating to morale and reputation as, for example, the impetuous move engineered and approved by too few members of UVA's Board of Visitors a couple of weeks ago. Rector Helen Dragas's declaration that "the days of incremental decision-making in higher education are over, or should be" sounds hollow, self-interested, and just plain wrong-headed in light of the damage done to the institution by her callous, hasty judgment and corner-cutting maneuvering. Whatever happens to President Sullivan or Rector Dragas, Mr. Jefferson's university will be years recovering from the wholly avoidable catastrophe of the past two weeks.

In some sense, supporters of public higher education should be grateful for what has transpired in Charlottesville in recent days. It has been extraordinary to watch as faculty, students, alumni, and the campus senate rose in defense of their leader, their institution, and a "community of trust" that they see as having been violated. We can all learn from these powerful examples of passionate yet mostly respectful dissent. It has also been fascinating to watch the various players make their claims to UVA's illustrious founder as the drama has unfolded. Few institutions are as vitally connected to a founder and his legacy as UVA is. You believe it when a news story gushes that "students refer to . . . Thomas Jefferson as if the third U.S. president were a close friend." You feel a pang of envy and try to imagine who, in a similar crisis, members of your own campus community might turn to for inspiration and advice. The segregationist football coach/president for whom the stadium in the middle of campus is named? Probably not. The famous alum whose most significant recent accomplishment appears to be having served as a judge for the Miss Universe pageant? Tempting, but no. Then it hits you: If you need a defender of incrementalism, then you're lucky to be on a campus covered with turtles. Slow but steady wins the race, dudes.

Paws up to all our pals in Charlottesville, who have worked so hard and righteously to marshall support for the cause and share the local angle on the story. Your teachable moment has taught all of us who care about higher ed a lot about how to organize and communicate in the midst of totally unexpected turmoil. We stand with you and wish you well in your struggle. Peace out.

(From WaPo: 6/18/12. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan makes her way up the steps of the Rotunda to address the Board of Visitors closed meeting. Norm Shafer, Washington Post)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Portion Creep

(Photo Credit: Reuters, by way of Tenured Radical.)

Portion size has been on the nation's mind lately in the wake of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces from restaurants and movie theaters (but not from stores that sell, you know, Big Gulps).

Portion size has been on Moose's mind lately, too, as she approaches the one-year anniversary of her success on her Lifestyle Adjustment Program. (She reached her official target weight in mid-July, though she dropped another ten pounds during her first couple of months on maintenance.) I think we'll let her weigh in, as it were, on the whole issue of nutri-nannyism, since healthy, happy eating and drinking are kind of her beat these days. Take it away, Moose!
* * *
Thanks, Rox. Let's cut right to the chase. Does Mayor Bloomberg's proposal make sense as a matter of public policy? Does the state -- or, in this case, the city -- have a right to set limits on consumer choice in the interest of combatting obesity and the health risks associated with it? (NB: The Department of Lifestyle Adjustment here in Roxie's World disapproves of phrases like combatting obesity, because we don't like war metaphors or eliminationist rhetoric. We use the term here because it shows up all the time in coverage of weight and public health. See for example the lead paragraph on this story about Bloomberg's proposal). Our good buddy Tenured Radical did a post the other day that argued in favor of the proposal as an appropriate use of the government's power to regulate trade, promote health, and protect consumers from the food and beverage industries' efforts to boost profits by pushing ever larger portion sizes off on the hungry, thirsty public. Go read that post for TR's excellent links and for yet another example of just how nasty commenters over at The Chronicle of Higher Education can get when their dander is up, which it generally seems to be.

It's easy to see why Bloomberg's proposal raises hackles. It reaches right into the heart of the great American ambivalence about government, activating our knee-jerk inclination to condemn anything that appears to limit a freedom that we like to pretend is or should be absolutely unfettered. It also underscores the tendency in our market-dominated world to assume that consumer sovereignty is the only form of sovereignty there is. Law prof (and current head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory AffairsCass Sunstein argues in his book 2.0 that consumer sovereignty -- i.e., the freedom to buy and consume whatever we want -- is not nearly as important or robust as political sovereignty -- i.e., our right and responsibility to participate in democratic self-government. Our tendency to overvalue consumer sovereignty and to confuse it with political sovereignty helps to explain why knickers get wadded over any perceived threat to our inalienable right to have whatever the heck we want whenever the heck we want it.

Philosophically, I stand with Bloomberg, TR, and others who say government has the right to set the kind of limits on consumer choice that the sugary drink proposal would set. I mean, look, I'm as freedom-loving as the next gal, but I fail to see a threat to the American Way of Life in this idea. I know, if it turns out Starbucks won't be able to sell the 24-ounce (and 510-calorie) version of its Caramel Frappuccino we'll be in a different ballgame and New Yorkers will be justified in fighting back with all they've got. For now, though, I'm thinking Bloomberg's proposal represents a significantly smaller threat to liberty than, say, state-ordered transvaginal ultrasounds.

I can also personally vouch for the effectiveness of limiting portion size as a way to manage weight. A year ago, people were constantly asking me how I lost more than fifty pounds. These days, they're asking me how I've succeeded, so far, in keeping it off. Portion control is an important part of the answer to both questions. (The other part of the answer is physical activity, but that would be the subject of another post.) Day in, day out, the single most important adjustment I've made to my lifestyle in the past year and a half is represented in the picture below:

On the left is the plate we used to use for most of the (non-entertainment) meals served in Roxie's World. It's 11-1/4" in diameter. On the right is the plate we started using in January of 2011 when I started trying to lose weight. It's 9-3/4" in diameter. The switch to a smaller plate has been enormously helpful to my efforts to eat mindfully and well. The smaller plate looks full with less food, and that look of abundance is a powerful visual cue that I am getting enough to eat. I'm not starving or denying myself the pleasures of the table. When the plate is empty, I am finished eating, though I'll admit to still taking the occasional bite or two off of Goose's plate. (Her eyes are bigger than her stomach. Also: I am not perfect.) I don't go back for seconds, which I think is the logic of Bloomberg's proposal: Limit portion sizes to 16 ounces, and the vast majority of people aren't going to go back for more. They'll be satisfied with less and the risk of damage to their health from the garbage-laden calories in sugary beverages will have been lowered. (By the way, science backs me and the mayor up on the benefit of using smaller serving dishes. Check out this fascinating study on how even a group of nutrition experts were fooled about how much food they were getting when they ate out of larger bowls.)

So, I agree that government has the right to set such limits and acknowledge that fighting portion creep has been essential to my own efforts to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Why, then, do I nonetheless find myself doubting the wisdom of Mayor Bloomberg's proposal? It's partly, I suppose, that the idea seems so vulnerable to the kind of mockery that has in fact greeted it. It's just too easy to make it sound ridiculous, which aids and abets conservative efforts to depict all government regulation that doesn't involve women's wombs as nanny-like intrusions into the lives of citizens. More importantly, though, I'm also not convinced that the plan, well intended as it is, would have a significant effect on the problem it hopes to address. People who want to consume ridiculous amounts of sugary beverages will still be able to do so by ordering several of the 16-ounce servings available in restaurants and movie theaters or by stopping off at 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp. (Grocery stores are exempt from the proposed limit on serving sizes.)

The proposal seems doomed to fail if it isn't accompanied by an education campaign aimed at moving consumers toward healthier choices and then assuring they have access to healthier products. It's great to give consumers some measure of protection from the relentless, well financed, and government subsidized efforts of soda makers to "drive more ounces into more bodies more often," as a former marketing executive for Coca-Cola put it at a "National Soda Summit" held in Washington last week. It's just as important, however, to go about this work in a way that doesn't make overweight people feel judged, ostracized, or condescended to, and Michael Bloomberg doesn't always come across as someone whose cup, whatever its size, runs over with empathy. I'm not a nutritionist or a public health expert, but here's a link to some constructive ideas from a bunch of folks who are on how we might more effectively help the public to achieve a healthy weight. Go check out their ideas and then come back here and we'll chat about portion creep, public health, or whatever else might be on your mind. I've just taken a big gulp of cool, refreshing tap water, and now it's time to go take the sweetest girl on dog's earth out for an evening stroll. That sounds like a healthy, happy choice, doesn't it? See ya later, kids. Peace out.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sticker Shock

Here is the rear bumper of the official old car of Roxie's World, about 15 minutes ago:

And here is that same bumper, about 12 minutes ago:

Yes, dears, it's official. Barack Obama has captured the prize that eluded him in 2008: the coveted endorsement of America's favorite dead dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball. What? You thought we'd stay on the sidelines, waiting to see if the rumor that will not die will come true and Obama will beg Hillary Clinton to quit trying to save the world and focus on saving his reelection campaign by becoming his vice president? That ain't happening, kids, and, meantime, here in the real world, we've got an election to win.

Yes, we support the reelection of Barack Obama. No, we don't like the drone attacks, the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, the maddening tendency to compromise. Obama is the centrist we predicted he would be when we supported his main opponent in the Democratic primary battle of 2008. On balance, though, he has been a good president in a difficult time, despite the ineffectiveness of his own party in congress and the extremism and intransigence of the opposition party in congress. His economic policies, though not as progressive as we would like, have helped the country navigate the Great Recession far better than the austerity policies that have brought such pain to Europe in the last few years. His health insurance reform, modest as it is, is a necessary step toward the recognition that healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege.  His picks for the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elana Kagan, show an admirable commitment to diversity and to the Constitution as a living, breathing, socially and historically situated document. On social issues, he has proven to be genuinely progressive, though his political cautiousness has sometimes made him slow to show it. Still, his decision to come out in support of same-sex marriage in an election year was a brave one, and we commend him for it. We hope he will continue to show courage and use the bully-pulpit of the presidency to lead the country in the direction of hope rather than fear and toward the expansion of rights and opportunities for all citizens.

Also: We like his dog, his wife, his daughters, and his singing voice. We'd much rather spend the next four years hanging out with all of them rather than this robot fascist dog abuser guy. In Roxie's World, the dogs ride inside and the Moms vote Dem. You, too? Go here. Give money. Dude's gonna need it. Peace out.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Smith Mountain Breakdown

I know, I know. You're sick to death of blog silence or "posts" comprised of little more than iPhone snaps cheaply gussied up through CameraBag or Instagram, accompanied by sheepish apologies and promises to do more and better blogging soon.

But, hey, this $hit is still free, right, and what if the pictures are really, REALLY cute? Or boozy? You like that, don't you? Deal with it, peeps. We love you, but you'll just have to take what we've got to give these days. For now, that means a couple of pics that say, "Welcome, Summer 2012!" The Moms and Ms. Ruby spent Memorial Day weekend at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, enjoying the hospitality of the Carolina Moosians. The fun included boat rides and Moose's pathetic attempts to balance herself on assorted objects being dragged through water at high rates of speed. (Why do people do that, I wonder? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the lord did not intend for humans to get around that way. Exhibit A: The bruises and pulled muscles Moose always gets when she tries to ski. Exhibit B: Sea legs. Still.)

Ruby enjoyed boating as much as I did when I visited SML in the fall of 2003. (That's where Moose snapped the noble profile shot of me that still graces the top of this blog's right sidebar.) Unlike me, the new embodied dog of Roxie's World also likes to get in the water. She took a couple of spirited dips in the lake, which Goose captured on video. By the way, Ruby didn't actually wear the cobalt blue goggles featured in the photo below, but Moose couldn't resist putting them on her. It's a look, kiddo. Work it.
Goose concocted the festive beverages pictured below, which Moose named the Smith Mountain Breakdown (in honor of this glorious Earl Scruggs tune). They were the bestest cocktails ever, or, you know, the bestest cocktails since the ones Goose had whipped up the night before. It was a weekend for blender drinks. This one included fresh peaches, a banana, and unknown quantities of vodka, peach schnapps, and lime juice. Add ice and blend the fucke outte of itte, as our good friend PhysioProf might say. Deelish, the crowd declared!
(Photo Credits: Moose, Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, 5/26//12 and 5/27/12.)

Gotta run, kids. The Moms head out again early tomorrow morning for a conference and a few days of visiting with various and sundry Goosians in the Lone Star State. Who knows? Maybe we'll post a margarita pic or three over the next few days. Stay tuned, dammit, and rest assured we adore you. Mean it! Peace out.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stamp Acts

We're thinking you don't have to be an English major to spot the irony in the above photo. Moose was paying bills this morning and by sheer coinkydink ended up slapping the Sylvia Plath stamp on the gas bill. (Yes, children, Moose still pays the utility bills with paper checks, tucked into envelopes and placed outside for the postal person to pick up and stuff into a large leather bag. She's old fashioned. Don't judge.) When she realized what she'd done, she showed it to Goose and they had a good long guffaw, which they like to think Plath herself would have understood.

Not sure if there are any ironies in putting Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens on the phone bills, but, hey, we are grateful to the U.S. Postal Service for getting the faces of ten great twentieth-century American poets into general circulation. Who knows? Maybe some dutiful, bill-paying citizen will get curious enough about the beguiling face of the pretty young woman on the stamp to go read one of her poems. Something delicate and dainty like, you know, this one. It could happen!

Enjoy your weekend, lovelies. May you find unexpected blog fodder and reasons to laugh wherever you go, whatever you do. The papers will be graded soon, my typist assures me, and we'll get back to something approximating regular blogalicious programming in the very near future. Honor bright. Meantime, if you're in the DC area, you should head downtown tonight or tomorrow to spend some time with this extraordinary 360-degree projection experience by Doug Aitken at the Hirshhorn. The Moms swear it's the coolest, most un-Washington thing they've seen in more than a quarter century of living in the national capital area. Go after dark. Tomorrow is the last night.

Peace out, and don't forget to pay your bills.

(Photo Credits: Moose, 5/19/12)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Carolina Moosians Oppose Amendment 1

Who's Cary WASP, I hear you muttering from behind your computer screens, and what does she have against Amendment 1? Cary WASP (not her real nickname) is the Older Sister of the Moosians. She lives in Cary, NC (Cary -- Get it?), and she is not in the habit of making signs and carrying them around at festivals in the rain, but she did so Saturday because she is a good sister and a good citizen and she knows the simple truth that there can be no classes among citizens. Amendment 1, like all attempts to grant legal rights and protections to some relationships and withhold them from others, is discriminatory on its face. Since same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, Amendment 1 can't even be justified on the usual stupid grounds of preserving the sanctity segregation of marriage from teh gayz. It goes further, banning any type of "domestic legal union," including civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Yo, Carolina, want to protect marriage? How 'bout making sure this creep never gets a license to wed again? (Cheap shot, I know. Couldn't resist. But, still, srsly.)

The amendment seems likely to pass, despite the efforts of Cary WASP and Bill Clinton, who puts on his sweetest, thickest southern drawl in these charming robocalls that are going out in the state in advance of Tuesday's vote.

Thank you, Cary WASP, and thank you, Big Dawg, for fighting the good fight for equal justice under law. We'd be proud to march with you any day, rain or shine, win or lose. Some days, if you can't be on the winning side, you console yourself by knowing you are on the right side. March on, dream on, fight on, my pretties. And if you live in North Carolina, for dog's sake get out and vote on Tuesday! Peace out.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Feel the Burn(out)

If Jane Fonda were an academic blogger, she'd be feeling the burn(out) right now. The signs of it are everywhere -- and here, in this little blog, which has sounded a lot like this lately:

am crickets 03 hpx

The few proffie types who are blogging are blogging about how hard it is to blog right now, and comment threads are exploding with confessions and doubts and explanations and exhortations -- all signs of a veritable virtual existential crisis. Who are we? Why are we doing this? Why don't we stop? How can we keep going? Is it a seasonal affective disorder that temporarily has us in a funk? The school year is winding down, after all, and we are all overwhelmed with the madness of the academic spring. Or is something deeper going on? Are we coming to a fork in a road or -- perish the thought -- to the end of some line we've all been riding -- writing -- individually and collectively? Sorry to go all blog-apocalyptic on you, but you know something serious is going on when you see our dear (though unmet) friend Historiann casually declaring in a comment over at Undine's that she is "out of ideas."

Srsly, girlfriend? You? Matron saint of academic blog sass and savvy? Who for nearly five years has posted so regularly that we figured you were knocking back some secret blogger's equivalent of Metamucil out there in the high desert? Out of ideas? Cowgirl, that's like saying the ocean has run out of water. Or, to choose a metaphor more appropriate to your style and sensibility, that's like saying there ain't no ponies left in the corral worth saddling up and riding out. There's plenty of fine ponies left, Historiann, and we bet you'll get your giddyup back just as soon as the dust settles on the semester and  you have a chance to take a good look at the corral again.

For the record, here's part of what I had to say over at Undine's on the subject of whatever kind of crisis might be going on in the blogging community of which we are a part:
I think blogs (and bloggers) go through energy crises as well as identity crises. My blog has wrestled some with identity issues ever since I complicated our narrative set up by dying. (Hey, I say to my typist, you think it sucks for YOU? Being dead is no fun for me, ya know!) Recently, the energy crisis has been more relevant. My typist has had an insanely busy academic year. Her commitment to Lifestyle Adjustment also means that she's less willing to sit in a chair trolling the interwebs for pretty pictures or stuff to get pissed off about. If forced to choose -- and she often is these days -- she'll sometimes choose to go for a run rather than work on a post. As a result, posts at my place have gotten shorter and less frequent in recent months. 
Like Crazy, we're not thinking of shutting down, though the thought has crossed our minds. Still, our small but devoted band of readers sticks with us and we enjoy their company. We'll keep keeping on, one way or another.
We have noted before that blogs have life cycles. They come and go as bloggers' lives and interests change. We try not to get too caught up in the temptation to make Grand Proclamations about Technology, Communication, and the Future of Civilization every time some new social media toy comes along that is so much cooler, funner, faster, and easier than blogging. The question for us remains what it has always been: What is the best tool for any particular communicative/strategic goal? How can we say what needs saying and maybe throw in some eye candy and a joke or two?

Still, if we were prone to speculate, we might say that academic blogging that is not strictly speaking academic -- i.e., not directly related to developing or promoting a scholar's research -- may be under unusual pressure these days from at least two sources. One is the stress all workers in higher education feel from the labor conditions endemic to the regime of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises LLC): stagnating or declining wages, increased work loads, rising insecurity due to the erosion of tenure. A lot of academic blogging that isn't strictly speaking academic arose in response to such conditions. It has served as a valuable means of sharing knowledge and building alliances across institutions, but those who produce it must do so during their incredible shrinking "leisure" time. We began blogging because it was fun and fascinating -- and when I say "we" I mean my typist, who has tenure in a Research 1 school and has been splitting her time between teaching and directing a small (i.e., resource-starved), interdisciplinary program for the past ten years. As mobile technologies have blurred the lines between work and leisure time and administrative demands proliferate in the age of No Dean Life Behind, few academics ever feel that they are not in some sense at work. How do you blog when the tool you would use to do it also holds all those reports you ought to be writing, all those e-mails someone thinks you should be answering?

Another source of pressure on bloggers arises from the fact that even as academic standards are slowly shifting to acknowledge the realities of a post-print culture that is producing "new venues for research, communication, and the creation of networked academic communities" (yay, MLA!), blogging is still devalued as a non-serious product of the non-peer reviewed internets. Bloggers aren't "builders" and so rank low on the hierarchy of values Stephen Ramsay constructed for the field of digital humanities early in 2011. Stanley Fish is so contemptuous of blogging that he makes a public spectacle of his resistance to acknowledging he himself is doing it, even from the lofty perch of The New York Times rather than down here with the riffraff of Wordpress and -- horrors! -- Blogger:
This is a blog. There, I’ve said it. I have been resisting saying it — I have always referred to this space as a “column” — not only because “blog” is an ugly word (as are clog, smog and slog), but because blogs are provisional, ephemeral, interactive, communal, available to challenge, interruption and interpolation, and not meant to last; whereas in a professional life now going into its 50th year I have been building arguments that are intended to be decisive, comprehensive, monumental, definitive and, most important, all mine.
Oh, it sucks to be you, doesn't it, Mr. Fish? Denied monumentality, stuck in this icky, ephemeral, interactive space filled with ugly words and pajama-clad wiseacres with the audacity to disagree with you. Yeah, you're just one low-rent cat video away from realizing that you, too, are free to go yet immobile in the realm of the provisional. Deal with it, Stan.

Everybody hates blogging, it would appear. Fish hates it for lacking "authority" and "disciplinary power." Ramsay turns up his nose because blogging isn't "making anything." Really? "Build, therefore, your own world," Emerson urges in Nature. Moose says that's what she set out to do in establishing this quirky little outpost in the blogosphere. Haters gonna hate, of course, but she still thinks it's one of the coolest things she's ever built, and she doesn't much care if it fits into anybody's system of rewards.

Burned out? Maybe a little. Fading away? Never, darlings. We're here for you, in bits and pieces and in the moments we manage to steal away from all the things we are supposed to be doing. How deep is our love? It's 12:57 on a Tuesday morning, and we are about to press "Publish." For you, my pretties. Because we belong to you and me, don't we? Of course we do. Peace out.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Picture-Perfect Week

Wednesday night at QTU, Angela Davis spoke to a huge, rapt audience on a range of topics, including the killing of Trayvon Martin, Americans' resistance to seeing racism as a structural problem, and the cause of prison abolition. (You can watch the whole event here.) The Moms were in the house and on the second row, which gave Moose a chance to snap this shot of the scholar-activist listening attentively to a question from the audience:

(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/18/12, College Park, MD)

Friday, as many of you know, was the day of the big gay spring carnival Moose's happy little program hosts every year on behalf of DC Queer Studies. This year's symposium was extra special, focused on honoring the life and legacy of writer/critic Samuel R. "Chip" Delany, who turned 70 on April 1. The day was drenched in sunshine, the papers were uniformly splendid, and the guest of honor was genial, generous, and wise. Moose snapped this shot of Delany getting ready to read from his new novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders:
(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/20/12, College Park, MD)

What's the takeaway from this long, exhausting, yet deeply gratifying week? Maybe it's something as simple as the importance of finding work that feeds the soul and keeps one focused on a world larger than oneself. Both Davis and Delany have spent their lives as writers and scholars engaged with questions of race, sex, and justice, and both seem, at 70 or on the brink of it (Davis is 68), to radiate equanimity and an optimism that seems not naive but hard-won and fiercely guarded. At breakfast with a group of faculty women the morning after her lecture, Davis amiably entertained more than 90 minutes of questions on everything from prison reform to the politics of university catering. She was thoughtful, funny, generous, and sanguine about the prospect of continued, if slow, progress toward justice. She counseled patience and emphasized the importance of building movements from the ground up. She reminded listeners that the election of Barack Obama was a victory not for him but for those who voted him into office. She feels that the Occupy Wall Street movement, whatever else it did or did not accomplish, was a sign that citizens felt empowered by Obama's election to mobilize against rising inequalities of wealth and the rise of corporate power. In reply after reply, it was clear Davis refuses despair. She sees what's happening. She grasps the underlying problems with depth and nuance. And her years in the trenches tell her that it simply means we are all going to have to spend a few -- or many -- more years in the trenches. All right, then.

Look, darlings, I know it isn't always possible to find work that feeds your soul. Indeed, sometimes, to pay the rent and stay alive, you have to take jobs that make you worry you are selling or crushing your soul. You may find yourself in the devil's company, on your knees and on his payroll, but that doesn't make you a devil. Sometimes you do what you have to do -- but you do it without losing sight of what you want to do. You'll get there, my friend. Take the long view, as Davis and Delany have clearly done in the course of their own complex, amazing journeys. Keep your eyes and your heart open. You might have to do a little more than click your heels together three times, but you will get to where you want to go, even if it isn't on any map you've ever seen. Don't ask us how we know. We just do.

We'll end with what is perhaps Moose's favorite image from this picture-perfect week, because it celebrates not only longevity but clever design that tastes as good as it looks. Here is the cake she had made to honor Mr. Delany at the party after Friday's symposium. It's decorated with the image used on publicity for the event:

(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/19/12)

We offer a virtual piece of this pretty cake to one and all, as a way of saying, "Eat, laugh, never give into despair. That's the one thing we truly can't afford." Peace out.

* * *

For Will Danger, who is working.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Support the VEA

We had sworn off doing any more vagina-related posts because the traffic they bring is just too weird, but when my overworked typist stumbled across the image above (provenance unknown, alas) on Facebook, she couldn't resist. Longtime readers know that the preferred description around here for lady people is vagina-equipped (which we're pretty sure we started using during the 2008 election). Nonetheless, we appreciate the appeal to natural law in the VEA's claim that women are endowed with their lady parts as all persons are endowed with rights to, you know, life, liberty, and blah de blah de blah. We are also totes on board with the slogan, Screw us and we multiply, and the hilarious reclaiming of the creepy Masonic emblem on the back of the dollar bill as a symbol of the might of a million vajayjays. We're down with that, obviously.

So, who'll be the Mockingjay for this fiery band of vulvalogocentrists? Who are we prepared to declare as the VEA's Soldier of the Week? Who is endowed with or schooled in the perfect combination of media-savviness and sistah-hood to deserve this honor? So many sheroes, so little time to blog them.

We might have given the nod to the official go-to gal of Roxie's World, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had a brilliant week this week, achieving "late-breaking adoration" and "pop cultural ascendancy" -- in addition to the global domination she has enjoyed for the past few years -- by being cool enough to catch the wave of the Hill-arious Texts From Hillary meme launched by Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe. (That's the final image in the series there on the left, with Mme Secretary's actual texts to the site's creators. Here's the concluding "thanks for the meme-eries" message from Smith and Lambe.) How good was Clinton's week? WaPo declared her the Internet's "new queen of cool." Jezebel gushed that she had managed to "make herself seem even more badass than she already was. Well played, Hillz." Shoot, even the execrable Maureen Dowd, whose psychotic anti-Clinton ravings during the 2008 primary battle earned her this blog's undying enmity, had a nearly nice column on Clinton's "newly cool image," though she couldn't resist tossing off a couple of gratuitous digs -- e.g., saying that the pictures that launched the meme make Clinton look, "as Raymond Chandler would say, . . . 'as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.'" Ah, MoDo, you never disappoint.

Anyhoo, we take nothing away from Hillz's glorious achievement in opting instead to name actress and activist Ashley Judd the first (and perhaps only -- you know how lax we are about these things) Soldier of the Week for Vaginally Endowed Americans. Judd had a pretty awesome week, too, and not just because Becca Winstone, the character she plays on her new ABC series, Missing, added bank robbery to the impressive set of kick-a$$ skills the retired CIA agent has at her command. (Shoot, in the first episode alone, Becca garrots a guy, breaks into a jewelry store and a warehouse, gets through a couple of high-speed chases while wearing wildly inappropriate footwear, reconnects with a sultry, torch-carrying ex-lover, and does a decent job of speaking several languages. Also: She gets shot, falls into a river, and survives for episode two. Quel surprise, oui?)

Don't get us wrong. The Vaginally Equipped Americans of Roxie's World are devoted fans of Missing. It is totally formulaic and often gobsmackingly implausible, but it is utterly delightful to watch Judd's Winstone haul a$$ all over Europe in an effort to find her kidnapped son and solve the mystery of her late husband Paul's life and death. (Paul was also CIA and was killed by a car bomb ten years earlier.) The plot may not be believable, but Becca is, thanks to Judd's steely eyes and razor-sharp maternal instincts. What can we say? We think the world could use a few more vengeance-seeking soccer moms who can fight like a ninja and hack into a computer.

But that's not why Judd is our VEA Soldier of the Week. Nope, she gets the nod and perhaps a mockingjay pin of her very own for her righteous response to a flood of snarky commentary and speculation about the state of her face, which has been puffed up recently by steroids she took for a nasty sinus infection. Judd used the occasion to offer up an indignant yet nuanced reply that took on the whole machinery of patriarchy and the way that public as well as private conversations about women's bodies are used to rob them of their power and dignity by reducing their personhood "to simple physical objectification." It's a smart, fiery piece that acknowledges women's complicity in the problem. "Patriarchy is not men," Judd explains. "Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. . . .It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it." Sing it, sister!

Judd didn't just write her little diatribe and go back to the business of being famous -- and beautiful. She followed up by doing a powerful interview with NBC's Brian Williams in which she talks about the experience, contextualizes it through deft comments on the hypersexualization of girls and women, and invites others, men included, to share their own "puffy-face" or "big-butt" moments, stories of being shamed or hurt by judgments about their bodies. She's also continued to bang the drum on Twitter, with a steady stream of affirmations and links to other posts (by far less famous people) on the subject. You don't follow @AshleyJudd? Well, sucks for you, sweetheart. Melissa McEwan does, and so do we, as of this week.

Ms. Judd, paws up to you, for talking back to patriarchy rather than being shamed or silenced by it. You recognized a teachable moment and used the power of your celebrity to make the most of it. Vaginally Endowed Americans and fair-minded individuals everywhere salute you for your honesty and your astuteness. You are our VEA Solider of the Week. Peace out.

(Photo Credit: Richard Drew, via)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Remembering Adrienne Rich

As you have no doubt heard by now, another shero has left the building. The poet Adrienne Rich, whom Moose has lovingly described as the fairy godmother of lesbian feminism, died last Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, California. Tuesday, you may recall, was Moose's birthday, which adds an extra bit of poignance to the loss here in Roxie's World. Rich was only 82 years old. Only -- Yes, children, 82 sounds kinda young to the ornery 50-somethings who hang out here. Someday, you'll feel the same way. Swear to dog.

What can we say about Rich that others haven't already said in the outpouring of praise and sorrow that quickly followed news of her death? Simply that her poetry was and is, like certain pieces of music, part of the soundtrack of our lives. It is lodged deep in our heads and hearts. Lines come to us unbidden, in sleep, in crisis, in moments of intimacy. Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine. . . .I came to explore the wreck. / The words are purposes. / The words are maps. / I came to see the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail. . . .With whom do you believe your lot is cast?

The collage above features the autographed title page of Moose's well-worn copy of the book dykes of a certain age all had on their shelves in the 70s and 80s alongside their well-worn copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Moosewood Cookbook. You couldn't get dates back in those days if you couldn't quote most of the "Twenty-One Love Poems" from memory. While changing the oil of your girlfriend's car. Or holding a mirror up to your vajayjay in a circle of your closest friends. (Closest friends: That's lesbian-speak for ex with whom I am still complexly entangled or chick I am hoping to sleep with next.) Just kidding, kinda.

Moose isn't quite sure when she got Rich's autograph on the sacred text. She thinks it must have been at a reading at Womanbooks in New York (which is discussed in this totes excellent Signs article by Kristen Hogan on women's studies and feminist bookstores), when Rich was promoting her next book, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far. Yeah: Fall 1981. Moose was the scraggly grad student standing in line clutching the poet's previous book, which she had gotten as a gift from one of her closest friends. She eventually got around to purchasing A Wild Patience and writing a paper comparing it to Dream, because she took a course called Theories of Female Creativity and you could get by with that sort of thing as long as you threw in a dollop or two of French theory to make it all look legit.

Did you really expect this post to be about Rich? Here, let's try again.

We needed a fairy godmother, someone whose words had the power of incantation and a wisdom that seemed ancient. We needed that to counter all the voices in and out of our heads shouting "No!" to our every desire, our dreams, our ambitions, our longings for another kind of world. Rich was important because she gave voice to those dreams, even as she demanded that her readers attend to the world 
as it is     not as we wish it
as it is     not as we work for it
to be 
("The Spirit of Place")
For all the dreamy feminist utopianism of her lush lyricism, Rich always had a foot firmly on the ground of the world "as it is." Yes, she gave us permission to revel in the joys of erotic pleasure and outlaw love, but she also reminded us that the world was always with us and those private pleasures couldn't command all our energy and attention. In the nineteenth of the twenty-one love poems, the speaker reminds her beloved, "I told you from the first I wanted daily life, / this island of Manhattan was island enough for me." The remark is in parentheses, a graphic emblem of the tensions between separateness and connection that are the subject of the final poems in the sequence.

You hear in that "I told you from the first" something of the moral rectitude that could make Rich both annoying and bracing. She was capable of a prescriptivism that could be damaging to both politics and poetry -- and wrote about that risk in poems like "North American Time":
When my dreams showed signs
of becoming
politically correct
no unruly images
escaping beyond borders
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies' usage
then I began to wonder
What felt like righteousness, though, was also a consciousness of privilege and of the duties Rich obviously felt as a white, North American, middle-class woman to make use of the power she had to try to effect change. You could say she exaggerated the amount of control women had over their lives, as she seems to do in a line like, "Only she who says / she did not choose, is the loser in the end" (XV, "Twenty-One Love Poems") -- Or you could say she recognized that no amount of oppression ever let one off the hook. We are all to some degree responsible for our lives and accountable to our moment in history -- "the life of your tribe / the breath of your planet," as she puts it in "North American Time."

Adrienne Rich gave voice to our dreams, and she demanded that we work to make those dreams real. Rich has moved on, too soon, alas, but the work, of course, continues. We realize now it isn't just women's work, as we might have supposed in earlier, separatist moments. It's all our work, and we'd better get to it. Because somewhere, we might imagine, Rich and her friend and sister/warrior Audre Lorde are impatiently waiting for us "to perform the needed acts" ("Toward the Solstice"). Let's get started, shall we?

* * *