Sunday, December 31, 2006


Above the little house the cold stars shine, and from the open door comes the sound of fiddles. It's around three in the morning and the crowd has thinned down to about a hundred people, standing in the kitchen or perched on the arm of a sofa or dancing across the creaking floorboards. Some college student from Oregon is working magic with the piano, and five or six fiddlers are pouring out jigs and reels with the aid of a flute and a double bass. All week we've been dancing in spacious gyms and classrooms, but this is folkdance in its native habitat. It feels perfect.

You try to avoid major collisions, but it's so close and bumping into people so inevitable that you feel part of a single organism. We've given up on formalities like ballroom hold and asking people if they would like to dance - we just take a handy person around the waist for a waltz or a mad approximation of the Levi Jackson Rag, holding each other close out of dizziness or affection. There's not enough room for distance, anyway. I scuff through a polka with my head on Daniel's shoulder and keep banging my teeth every time we get jostled because I can't stop smiling.

In a few days we'll be scattered from this town in Kentucky. We all have other lives and know we can base nothing on this one week of the year. But as we drive or fly or walk home, tired-eyed, we will all dream of each other and of this house. Jim's smile, Will's perfect blue-green eyes, Wendy's laugh, a hand on your knee, the wild high notes of a violin, the curl of Michael's hair, a kiss after a botched jig, Alice's sweet alto singing "Goodnight Irene" - we'll remember these things and smile.

"You know - on some level, we live all year for this night," says the man I'm dancing with. He's right, whether we all know it or not. I do know it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Look at Misha leaping around with all those muscles."

One of the advantages to growing up is that when you watch The Nutcracker with your mother, you can both comment on how attractive Mikhail Baryshnikov is without either of you feeling weird that the other has noticed.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I think my favorite part of academia is those brilliant sentences you find sometimes late at night and just need to share with somebody. Last night's gem (from research on trans inclusion in women's spaces): "Penises, on their own, do not commit violence against women."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Look here, Karl

I'm really fed up with utopian theories that want to magic workers away by mechanizing all labor. I'm all about utopian societies, but this part is too ridiculous. I laughed at Valerie Solanas when she wrote that women's liberation depended on mechanizing and abolishing work. I laughed when a friend suggested the same thing (though his aim was to liberate everyone, not just women). Today in class I learned that this was Marx's solution to noncreative work from which people were alienated - simply automate it all - and it made me furious.

This is always people's objection to educating everyone well - "But someone needs to clean the bathrooms!" (Somehow this is never said by people who actually clean bathrooms for a living. It's always said by people who are glad they will never have to clean a bathroom and don't want to change that system.) Yes, someone does need to do the dirty work. To mechanize a lot of the drudgery people do - scrubbing toilets, busing tables, changing diapers, loading dishwashers - isn't very feasible. And when it is, it's not always pretty - imagine a world where all the telephone systems were fully automated and you could never get a real person who would actually answer your question.

I spent a good portion of last summer at Pendle Hill vacuuming floors and scrubbing toilets, and it wasn't pleasant work. But I didn't mind, because there was a culture that honored manual labor there. The director washed dishes next to you. At dinner the man who fixed the plumbing sat with the woman who taught religion, and both talked about their lives and thoughts. No one was degraded for the work they did, and everyone had the same access to music and art and books and discussion.

Don't erase the person who cleans the bathrooms. Honor her for the work she does, honor her as a human being, and let her talk with other people about what she does at work. Pay her well, at least as well as people who do pleasanter jobs. Let the nursing home worker and the taxi driver and the fieldhand be able to sit down at the table with the lawyer and professor and artist. Let them all have good educations - not so they will feel themselves too good to mop the floor, but so that their world extends beyond the mop. Liberal arts educations aren't job training - the point is to be well-rounded. Why shouldn't the janitor also be well-rounded? The accountant isn't a better accountant because he can read poetry. Why should a trash collector be worse at what he does because he can also read poetry on his lunch break?

If we can mechanize more labor and then distribute the resulting leisure, everyone could have more time to be human. Instead of working a second shift at the restaraunt, people could be reading to their kids or taking a walk or learning something new. That distribution of leisure (and thus of resources) is where things get really tricky, and I don't have good answers as to how to do that. But without redoing the economy we can at least redo our social interactions.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mine eyes have seen the horror of the ending of the term

I just uttered the words "But then queerness is a category of otherness rather than primacy." In conversation. On a Sunday afternoon. It's probably a good thing the semester's nearly over.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I am the real world.

Part of the point of single-sex education is that women learn to be leaders in a female community so that when we go back into the “real world” (like Bryn Mawr isn’t real) we have skills and confidence we would never have developed if we’d let men lead. There have been times when I’ve doubted whether it makes that much difference, but lately I've become convinced.

Hearing my sister describe her new life at a big state school – frats, her alcoholic boyfriend, hookups, breakups, cops with breathalyzers, her cleaning up other people's messes because they're too drunk – makes me really glad I’m not at a big state school. Not that there isn’t drama at a women’s school, but somehow it seems more civilized.

A few days ago I was reminded why using humor to attack is so popular - you're unassailable because you can claim that it was all in the spirit of fun regardless of the seeds you plant in people's minds. Any argument I could make to the author of this editorial would be met with "Chill out - it was satire!" The author would then no doubt tell his buddies over lunch that his every point about bitchy castrating women had been validated.

Last night some Haverford students came over to the house and we wound up arguing about capitalism late into the night. It was interesting, not least because it was the first time I’ve had a conversation with strange men in some time. I really enjoyed the debate, but the part that surprised me most was that I turned into Strident Feminist Woman. One of them was making statements like "It makes more sense to have a dude making decisions as long as the group can rely on his judgement" and ignoring my "Or a woman. Or her" after every "dude" and "his". Eventually he told me that using only men in his examples was just a product of "the male psyche," just like Bryn Mawr students are always using women in their examples (which is total rubbish because everyone is trained to see men as the default. I use women in examples because people don't expect it.) Kaity made them orange juice and ramen, which they didn't thank her for. Afterwards they left the dishes for her to clear up. It's probably a good thing I was asleep by then.

Strident Feminist Woman should be my superhero identity. I should have a logo. Power: nontraditional pronoun use.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Go there anyway, but...

I shudder to think that there are people who actually buy the ugly wares advertised on the Breast Cancer Site and the Animal Rescue Site. "Nostalgic Reindeer Cards"? "Gold-tone Flowerpatch Bunny Pin"? I can't believe it sells.