The View From All Silos

This post is the third in a series of reflections on my recent experience at the annual AAC&U conferences in DC.


I can think of no metaphor so frequently used to describe the internal workings of universities than the silo. I didn’t keep a tally of the number of times the metaphor was floated at the AAC&U meetings, but I can recall three presentations whose slides included images of silos, so there’s a hard number.1 I suppose that, though I’d heard the silo metaphor many times before, I had reason to consider it anew in light of the setting. There, it became visual, embodied, real.

From the silo reference, me/you/we are to understand that institutions of higher ed, in their many-splendored, multiprogrammatic, “interdisciplinary,” intra-departmental incarnations, are atomistic. And in this silo’d atomism, campus divisions and departments do a poor job of such basic organizational functioning as pooling resources, coordinating efforts, and communicating with one another.

The silo’d campus has an additional meaning. It refers also to the divisions that exist between different campus constituencies–namely, between faculty and administration.2 Having spent the last year at an intersection of campus roles that has included a position in a teaching and learning center (which could be understood as quasi-administration), while also teaching classes, I thought I had a sense of this, a view from two camps. But suits, hairstyles, budgets and rigid postures aside, I wouldn’t have drawn a hard line between faculty and administrators. Different? Yes. How? Vague-aries pertaining to generation and investment in bureaucracy.

So it hit me hard on day 2 or 3 of the conference when, sitting on the floor of a packed-out meeting room, one of the presenters made the usual jaunt through the silo metaphor.  Every seat in the room was filled, forcing latecomers onto the floor and up against the walls. Indian-style in business slacks, I wiggled awkwardly to catch a view of the associated farm scene being projected onto the screen, peeking between heads and bodies, occasionally knocking into the loafer to my left.

I mean in the most neutral way possible that the silo reference was not the remarkable thing. It was the contrast.

At that point in the week, most of the luncheons, sessions, and receptions I’d attended had as their primary audience administrators. Sessions were facilitated by current and former presidents, provosts, and higher-ups and addressed to the same. Luncheons with white linened-tables fed a monochromatic sea of administrators twiddling away on smart phones with fixedly dour expressions and some amount of aloofness. Speakers and panelists addressed questions like, “Should higher ed have a shared degree profile?” and “Is the quality of a degree defined by norm-reference or criterion-reference?”3 or “How does a liberal arts education build civic capital?”

In short, these were people apart and above asking the kinds of questions that make sense from the top. I saw them as birds flying over their campuses (and systems of campuses), familiar with the multiple and varied routes from Student Life to The Business School to the American Studies Program to The Honors College. They talked about the meaning of the sum total of the life their universities and the total of those lives and The University. And they did this centrally–in featured program slots and spacious rooms and mostly with each other.

From the floor of Independence BC, the view was quite different. The small room, tucked down a hallway, was at capacity. Faculty in scarves and purples and tweed and chest length beards crowded around doorways, stood against walls, crouched and stretched out on the floor for a session featuring a handful of presentations a la the TED talk. The audience engaged with the speakers, responding audibly with grunts of affirmation and laughter. They nodded, took notes, and otherwise simply focused on the presentations. Session theme: “Reclaiming a democratic vision for college learning–one student, one classroom, one institution at a time…”

< AACU Session View from the Floor >

The contrasts were glaring– tone: reserved/engaged; color: lack/luster, number: attended/overflowing; topic: system-centered/process-centered; view: top-down/bottom-up, and on.

Instructors and administrators seemed not only to be inhabiting silos with separate cultures (language included there) but also different ways of seeing and being in them. I left the session light from laughter and heartened by the existence of interesting people doing interesting things focused on learning, but also pessimistic. For lack of a concrete way to put it, I focused on the symbolism of having a lively session like this–participants, content, and all–marginalized to tiny sideroom.  Was it not obvious to organizers that a session like this would generate widespread interest from faculty? If not, isn’t that itself indicative of a disconnect?

With this mindset, I dutifully proceeded to the Presidents’ Luncheon that I was scheduled to attend immediately following the session from the floor. It was, in many ways, a reversion to the afore-implied drowsy atmosphere of sessions for administrators. But different.

The featured speaker, Sister Rosemarie Nassif, was there on behalf of the Department of Education, discussing President Obama’s address to the U of Michigan from that very morning. In it, he’d hit the predictables on the state of the economy and the loss of manufacturing jobs, the need for greater access to higher education, the burden of student loans, etc.  Nassif’s remarks included lots of lists–first point, second, and third–and a handout comparing US educational attainment with other countries. And somewhere in that mix she said this:

‘We become part of new cultures and forget the cultures we came out of that we’re trying to help.’

When she’d concluded her remarks, a series of presidents and provosts stood up with questions and statements of concern on the outline of President Obama’s plan to increase federal student aid. They struggled to understand how overtures related to increasing enrollment and decreasing debt would work out practically. The Administration understood, didn’t they, that whenever the government increased student aid, the states decreased it, resulting in a net gain of zero for the schools and students?

Nassif did what should could–and what could she do, standing there as a representative of a plan that had only been alluded to in a speech that morning?–to field their concerns. A former university president herself, she tried <it seemed to me> to remember the culture she’d come out of from the view a few rungs up the ladder.

And in this altogether humanizing way, from their linened-tables, bespectacled and between, the university administrators did the same: expressed genuine concern for the cultures (and the students inhabiting them) that they’d come out of.

I felt an unexpected sympathy. How difficult it is to have agency in a situation like this. How massive the system of interconnections of courses and curricula and accreditation and financial aid. How much energy it all takes.

In fact, our silos are connected, and if we fail to see how, perhaps it’s a matter of scale. At any given university, the silos represent different constituencies–staff, faculty, administration–or different departments or divisions or programs, and on. And each of those institutions is a silo unto itself or others like it once you zoom out–community colleges vs. liberal arts vs. R1 universities, public vs. private, commuter vs. residential.  But stepping back all the way to the level of social institutions (i.e. economy, polity, education), the silos are all connected to each other as part of a economic-educational complex.

Nassif’s line about becoming part of a new culture and forgetting your origins is akin to becoming an instructor or an expert and forgetting what it’s like to come to something for the first time, to be a novice, to be unfamiliar with the terminology, the landscape and topography. Forming solutions to the oft-identified ills of higher ed (the ones that we seem to discuss on loop like the student-learner problem, credentialing vs. equipping, access, retention, the arbitrariness of grades and on) requires a systemic view and approach. It also requires those who have developed such a view to remember what it was like to be on the ground, in the trees, rather than flying over the university (or the systems of universities) and seeing it as an interconnected whole. And so it also requires translation of that view across all levels of the strata–how do these structures fit together and what are they for? The challenge is in conveying that aerial view in a message about the interconnections that does more than endorse the status quo. Rather, the explanation of how our silos are connected must also ask, how do these interconnections hinder (or facilitate) the goal of education–how do these connections develop learners?


  1. In fact, the metaphor is so tired that each person delivering it was evidently bored by its seemingly necessary but practically overwrought use.
  2. Not the only two silos, but just to be basic about it
  3. Norm-reference is comparing yourself to everyone else–like the GRE or the SAT or Other Standardized Test: what’s your percentile? Who are you smarter than? Criterion-referenced tests have a set of standards, like a check-list. Quality there is determined by meeting standards, e.g. the test to get your driver’s license.

Lost in Translation

This post is the second in a series of reflections on my recent experience at the annual AAC&U conferences in DC.


In the lead up to the AAC&U meetings, I was asked to sit on a panel at the Bringing Theory to Practice Conference. BTtoP is a project of the AAC&U1 and held its 2nd National Bridging Conference in the days immediately prior to the AAC&U meetings. This was the guiding question of that panel:

How can we build bridges that help us to navigate the changes (both predictable and unpredictable) to higher education currently and in the future?

Initial thoughts on being asked to address this?

A. What a monster.

B. “Bridges to nowhere” from the Palin campaign in ’08.

C. Who am I?

D. What is the meaning/purpose of a college education?

Of those, D seemed the only productive path forward, so I spent a fair amount of time thinking about it and why it would be relevant. The short answer is that it’s hard to say what higher ed should become if we don’t really know what it currently is.

We don’t?

No, actually, I don’t think we (as a collective culture) do.


<< A brief rewind is necessary here to a time before the panel took place. Speaking with the other panelists prior to BTtoP, the facilitator suggested translating the question into something like this:

What is about the way that we currently function that is getting in the way of being institutions that we fully want to be?2

It’s a good question, but it also begs another: What do “we” want to be? It seems to me that there are two different we’s here, each with its own understanding of the meaning and function of a college degree–the institutions and the general public.

A. What do institutions want to be?

In theory, mission statements–what colleges and universities they say they are–or vision statements–where they say they’re headed–indicate what institutions want to be. I went over a few from the schools participating in BTtoP and, as I expect is generalizable, found language about developing flourishing individuals with some sense of civic awareness and responsibility. In other words, colleges and universities want to be places that help students realize their potential contribute to a democratic society.

B. What does the mass public want institutions to be?

Places people go so that they can get jobs. Perhaps these are not what the public wants college to be, but that’s certainly the general understanding of what college is.

With the rising cost of college education and broader cultural concerns related to unemployment, we’re having a national conversation about the meaning and function of a college education– a conversation that seems to focus on the bachelor’s degree as the “ticket to the middle class,” if not more specifically a prerequisite to social mobility in general. (It was timely that this particular panel took place the morning after the state of the union, which essentially highlighted this understanding of a college education.)

In other words, from our universities and colleges we hear promoted the ideals of liberal education as a necessary foundation for the creation and maintenance of a democratic citizenry–that it’s necessary, as the saying goes, to understand our history so as not to repeat it.3 But we hear from other agents of socialization–parents/family, media, secondary schools–that college is where you go if you want to get a job or otherwise get ahead.4

This brings the following question into relief: What is the relationship between liberal education and job training? Or, differently, what is the relationship between our civic and economic philosophies?

Just like learning a new word and suddenly hearing it everywhere, I keep coming across others grappling with this question or its relatives. The opening plenary at AAC&U was an example. There, Ken O’Donnell of the Cal State system gave a talk about the match between educational outcomes as civic engagement and job skills. He was pointing to the skills that employers say they’re looking for and those that students are learning under the banner of Civics. In short, he said, the skills students are learning–what educators think of as “educational outcomes”–look an awful lot like the skills and qualities employers are looking for.

In one example, O’Donnell described the following set of qualities listed by  former Google exec Avichal Gargas desirable, if not essential, for his employees: technical ability, work ethic, determination, honesty and sincerity, teaching ability, charisma, and hustle ability. [Paraphrasing] ‘Of course,’ O’Donnell said, ‘these look like learning outcomes, but he didn’t put it in these terms. I had to translate.’

And that, I think, is the key– the lost in translation.

A fair case can be made (like O’Donnell’s) for the fact that, in providing students with a liberal education, universities and colleges are also providing them with relevant skills for future careers and public life. But where is this made explicit to the students acquiring these skills?

This is one connection that is generally lost: the relationship between the acquisition of civic skills through the liberal arts and professional career skills. But even if we help students to understand that what they are doing in their often isolated and atomistic institutions <too strong?> can help them get jobs, that still misses the target of the aforementioned national conversation: what is the relationship between our civic and economic philosophies? Because connecting civic skills with job skills in the way I’ve described relegates the former to the service of the latter, perhaps suggesting that the primary value of being a flourishing, civically-minded individual is that it will increase your social mobility.

I’m not making the “college isn’t for everyone argument,” which often risks the scary classist implication that the everyone is everyone else or everyone else’s kids but yours, particular the economically/socially disenfranchised.5 What I am saying is that we have a series of disconnections.

1. The higher ed understanding of the spirit of a liberal arts education is to create a flourishing citizenry. The popular understanding of a college education (note also the difference in phrasing) is to make more money.

2. College students learn and develop a set of skills and qualities which actually match what employers seem to want, but they aren’t talking about those skills in the same language.

3. Even if we were all speaking the same language, we’re still at a loss for a richer cultural conversation about the value of civic skills and democratic ideals and how those can be harnessed to solve social problems.

Item 3 is the most concerning. But perhaps those conversations are going on. Perhaps they’re bubbling up and on the periphery of the zeigeist. Perhaps, I’m just not a part of them. Or haven’t been yet.


  1. The group’s mission can basically be summarized as an effort to engage students (because they’ve become unengaged) by addressing systemic issues with higher ed that get in the way of that.
  2. Actually, he put it this way, but I’m making an effort to cut to the chase: What is it about the way we (as colleges and universities) do business that gets in the way of doing business the way we want to do business?
  3. At one of the AAC&U luncheons, a university president stood up and talked about it in this way as according to Mark Twain, which I rather liked: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.”
  4. As I type the latter, it strikes me how interestingly opposed these two set of ideals can be.  College as Mechanism of Getting Ahead is essentially College as Contributor to Rat Race Competition. Competition. As opposed to College as Promoter of Democracy.  As in Compromise.
  5. And learning is certainly for everyone.

Necessary and Insufficient

Having just returned from the annual AAC&U conferences in DC, I’m full to the mental brim with reflections on the state of higher ed in the 2012 US. In an effort to parse those into digestible portions, I’ll be writing about the ACC&U experience in a series of installations (posts whose chronology is no indication of their salience–at least not from the perspective of today). This is the first of said posts.

>>”The situation of the declasse intellectual was no longer exceptional. It had become something permanent and unpleasant to confront.”

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


So Kundera writes this in Unbearable Lightness.1 In context, he’s describing what had happened (dismissal) to Czech intellectuals and professionals during the Communist rule in their country (late 60s through the 80s).  One of his main characters, for example, has gone from renowned surgeon to window washer in that political climate. I was rereading this on the plane back from DC2 when I came to the above sentence and zoned on the feeling of its relevance in the current economic climate and sat meditating on the irony of the trip I was concluding.

First, an interpretive caveat and, then, some context.


I thought immediately of the academic job market–the one glutted3 and ominous4 for newly-minted PhDs. Think late 20s, early 30s young adults with fresh (or pregnantly expectant) credentials and no less than 30 applications a piece out to universities looking to hire.

I thought next of terminal undergraduates5 and their grim employment prospects (Unemployment rates by college major and experience are helpfully summarized here.) and their sense of, ‘I have/will have this degree but no skills. What can I actually do?’6

I’m pointing to two populations whose members are (grad students) yet to have tenure-track positions or (undergrads), in some cases, much employment experience. So I’m going to go ahead and interpret “declasse” to mean something like the declassing of a credential set <degree as necessary-and-insufficient, if you will>  rather than unseated.


The situation of the degree’d individual not being able to find employment traditionally in line with his or her credentials is no longer exceptional. It has become something permanent and unpleasant to confront.

You could pick this apart in a lot of ways–like, (1) pin me with the fact that only about a third of those currently seeking four year degrees look like anything related to the movie Animal House or, (2) What is “employment traditionally in line with credentials” and has that “traditionally” ever been the case anyway? And so, fine. Semantics. What I mean is that the value of a degree has changed and that’s not changing.

Some context:

The above interpretation is not simply my intellectualized application of some random line in a novel to my life experience <though, also, it is>. It was actually, more or less, the leitmotif of the AAC&U Meetings: we’ve been telling our young people that a college degree is the ticket to social mobility/a job, but we can no longer deny the problems with that claim.7  <Maybe in a later post, I’ll call it the national conversation we’re currently having about the meaning of an undergraduate education. Maybe I’ll call it that tomorrow.>

Some more context:

More specifically, though, it was the motif re: the meaning and value of credentials  at the undergraduate level. The AAC&U Meetings are not a conference on graduate education or anything related specifically to my own discipline8AAC&U is concerned with undergraduate education in the liberal arts.

Graduate student that I remain, I attended as a Cross Scholar <forgive this seeming self-promo9 >, which is an award the organization gives to a group of graduate students that they believe represent the future leadership of higher ed. There are eight of us. <You should see the CVs of these people.> And of the eight, I’m the only one whose presence on the job market is questionable.  That is to say, I was among seven  highly-qualified academic job-seekers who are genuinely concerned with higher ed and student civic engagement therein.

And now the conclusionary irony:

So I’m at this conference put on by an organization concerned with the quality of higher education, largely attended by the current leadership of higher education, that is granting distinctions to a group of young(-er) people it pegs as the future leaders of higher education. But those “future leaders” are, as yet, without jobs.

Let me be clear:10 this award is not about writing papers and giving conference presentations and “excelling” at graduate studenthood in the research capacity. It’s about teaching and developing students–caring about that and investing in it and showing potential as a person who will continue to do so in substantive ways. And the job-seeking, qualified recipients of this award are having a time of it out there in the market.

It hasn’t been uniformly dead for the seven–some have/had campus visits, others fewer bites. But there’s something strange and hopeless or at least concerning about this, right? That a person who could win an award like this would struggle to find employment at a university–i.e. an institution concerned with teaching and learning? As you might imagine, the group of us was presented and co-mingled with various university bigwigs at various receptions and lunches throughout the conference, variously. Our introductions were, in fact, routinely delivered along with jokes about our need for gainful employ. Paraphrased: ‘Meet our best and brightest, our future leaders. Ha ha. Now get these people jobs. Ha ha.’

I’d say humor is universal a tactic for dealing with something that has become permanent and unpleasant to confront.

So what does this mean, exactly? Here are some possible implications:

Possibility 1. Investment/experience/excellence in teaching and learning is not a valuable set of qualifications on the academic job market.

Possibility 2. The profile of the so-called future leadership is at such variance (or simply enough variance) with the patterns, trajectories, and preferences of the current leadership, that they’re (we’re?) being ignored. That sounds a bit extreme in this font. What about the expression “not taken seriously”?

Possibility 3.  There really are no jobs.

None of these is promising because each implication has a set of sub-implications. Like: if there really are no jobs for qualified (in the quality sense) educators, is that an issue of supply or demand? Are there just too many English professors or is there just too little money to pay all the needed ones? And if there is an oversupply, why and what do we do with all this “excess” intellectual capital?

This is a set of questions focused on graduate education, but applicable at all levels. We’re working (increasingly) within a system that makes credential accumulation necessary but renders it insufficient. No ultimatums here <she said to herself after beginning to type, “Unless we do xyz, doom!”>, but I suspect a realignment is in order. A liberal arts education (and whatever professional/graduate work follows) shouldn’t be morphed into job training, but neither should the practical application of aptitudes developed and honed in the course of that education be a thing apart.

It’s good to talk about Plato. Now let’s talk about why talking about Plato is valuable. And why each of those levels of talking is valuable outside the classroom and the term paper. Otherwise, we’re just fertilizing the dormant disenchantment of the declasse intellectuals to-be.

  1. –a book I’ve only recently read and am quickly learning is maybe pretentious to reference. Apologies for that, but I evidently love–yes, love–the book more than I feel concern for the implication of the reference. Have you read it? It’s incredible.
  2. Yes, I’ve pretentiously read it twice now.
  3. from the backlog of those who couldn’t get jobs last hunting season
  4. partially/mostly because of the glut
  5. Take that all the ways you want to.
  6. Versions of this have been said to me on multiple occasions.
  7. like the cost of college, the non-inevitable translation of college degree into employment, the question of whether employers and degree-granting institutions agree on what the degree means…etc.
  8. Here’s one response I got when I told an Associate Prof I would be attending: “AACU. Isn’t that just a bunch of university presidents and provosts? Just like administrator types?” Telling.
  9. although, it is my blog.
  10. as I’ve a tendency for the opacity of deconstruction, with the foreknowledge that most anything I say can be recontextualized and rebuffed


I sat in the sink while the faucet drip, dripped into me

and my insides, they spilled over

flowing then onto the counter,

making a tasteless mess

in their exposure,


all silent save the sound of running

circling the playground of the faded summer outside

the sandy sweet odor of sweaty kids

an olfactory postcard

from a time when

the nervous energy of the centrifuge

meant not madness

but immersion

Middle Class Problems

The bitter, dirty tap water
Mineralized, carcinogenic, tasting of soil
Fertilizing my dirty mouth
Fueling exasperation
Like, Are you fucking kidding me
At the time, the traffic, the tension
You can’t say that, mom,
It’s disgusting
Everything is
Is plastic
Is psychosomatic cancer at every sip, every bite
I prefer it without the crusts, so
No, you cut them off,
Or ultimatums
You’re not even invited to my birthday party,
I won’t even let you setup my party, mom,
But those are fake tears, Lil,
Which are prohibited as water of unknown origin
And I’m counting to three,
No really
Don’t let me get there,
And, Oh My
Dear God, Am I raising a brat, a boss, a –
Plus one is four
No, just a child
Just a self in miniature
And let’s not fight, mom, it makes me sad
Me, too
It makes me cry
Me, too
Well that and
Forgotten cell phones and retraced commutes
On an empty tank
As in zero-bars empty,
Unfueled by exasperated water
I’m punctual to nothing: impunctual
Apunctual with compunction
And so the admin hates me,
But also she sleeps at night
Without sleep aids of color red and state liquid
Or solid and ovular white
Or blue, they’re blue
For insom
Because seasonal allergies
Or dogs barking
Or thoughts unquellable
Where sleep is dreams unreprieving
In combinations of desire and deviance
And upwellings
About stealing the good parts from the office chex mix
And seething anger over stealing my pizza
They take it, sliced, and dolling, I’m screaming
Or seeing versions of you and your brother–
You have brothers?–
Identifiable only in the eyes
Since your hair is a cherub’s, your mouth mute
That’s how fictitious you were
How little I knew
And asking why and feeling sinking and anger
And sinking and fleeing effusive, stirring, entangled
And waking isn’t
The smell of the coffee,
The malfunction of forgetting the basket,
The black-brown sludge leaking onto under into
All the plastic everything
For her
And–what?–the clicking
The pump
The phone, the inbox
The party theme is Princess
As in pink
Rescue Me
And how yellow are my teeth,
And how many carbs are in that,
And we’re all fat and my kid’s drinking Red 40
And–what?–you spank, let her cry, coddle her too much, let her eat that, watch that, play with those
What, with barbies?
What’s wrong with barbies
Toy guns
Barbies used as toy guns
You’re raising a lawless child, a democrat, an anarchist, an artist
And did she just say that?
God isn’t real?
Or God is Santa and boys have penises
So now, the parental aside
“I wanted to let you know that your daughter…”
Uses correct anatomical vocabulary
Can distinguish between the sexes
Is precociously philosophical about supernatural figures bearing gifts
And, Oh, Hi.
It’s been ages or
I’ve been swamped and life is–
–enduring retrospective pains of social awkwardness
“You look great”
The failure to say, “You, too”
“Great to see you”
“She’s adorable”
Yours too,
Question mark
Children are cute in the declarative.
Or equivalently innocent
Some version of that is a viable cordiality
For the silent space
That is my turn
The click, clicking
That is my pumps and the height they afford
The scratches I see from here
The cosmetic breaches from exposure
To the sun, the dust, the dirt
No water
Burnt and scarred and worn paint
Set and stretched and scratched around eyes wide and forming
Unoriginal observations that point to diffuse disenchantment
And are unbrilliant, and so
I am
Engaged in the paradox of craving the busyness of the business I deplore
The full time, filled life
Sponging up time for diffuse disenchantment
I am
Unoriginal, unbrilliant, unbeautiful
Salivating and spitting, salty, sweaty, and unsweet
There’s dirt in my lettuce,
There’s dinging in my inbox,
There’s water in my water,
I swim.

ACL2: Notes to Selves

Wikipedia as Prologue

4:18pm. Bud Light Stage, Broken Social Scene and the Wait-For, Brown Paper Bag

I have to write this now; I won’t want to tomorrow. I’ve got only the paper bag from the bottom of the backpack I’ve been security-blanketing all weekend. But rock, paper, scissors: amnesia beats “clarity.” So, now. Think: message in a bottle. Dear Ashley(,). Dear Anybody(,).

It’s Sunday, Day 3 of Austin City Limits. I woke up hollow and too early from a system acclimated to caffeine intake at 7am, dyspeptic from the intake of ACL miscellany. By today, festival attendance has morphed into a prison sentence; the day, a time card in need of punching for the purpose of checking the appropriate boxes: “has had X experience,” “has seen Y band.” So now I’m putting in the time demanded by the wristband purchase I made months ago in some more hopeful, less hapless state of mind. But I’m worn internally. Music festivals are a brand of endurance sport, consecutive days of which are multi-dimensionally draining. Ironic that so much consumption results in vacuity.

I’m walking amid the damp smell of stale beer and sweat, weed and cigarettes, almost wandering. Alone now, having just decoupled from the friend who’d come to visit for all this. He’s somewhere in the city now headed for a plane. The human-as-lens I’d filtered these 3 days through. Gone. Absent. Alone in a crowd of people. Blank. Swarms of youth dressed conventionally unconventionally, choices of apparel that would set people apart in other settings but make them blend in here. The ‘90s are in full effect. Mostly not in the Nirvana way, though.1

This is not new. Now a sophomore effort, last year alone in the crowd because lost and swept up in the novelty of open hedonism. I suppose there’s plenty of comparability between this year and the last–dead cellphones and kind locals rescuing you from them, disoriented navigation, bands mismatched to the venue, bands whose goodness is eclipsed by the venue, sunburns indicating backpacks and sunglasses, spectators complaining too much about being stepped on as if they were forced to stand at the front, conversations competing with musical performances, pilsners, bruises, pipes, people, people, people –but the experiences are so discrepant. The would-be similarities do not digest into the same emotions.

What has changed so much in a year–is it happening, the aging out? I feel it,

“I get older…”

have felt it–

“…they stay the same age.”

–every time my Dazed and Confused refrain falls flat. It would be demonstrably more awkward if I didn’t pass for a freshman. The most liberal age guesstimate I’ve had in the weekend’s worth of introductions–unavoidable regularities of being sardined next to fellow fans–was 22. Ok. It’d probably be easier that way, to be honest, for me, you, everyone we know: to play the role of the 22 year old in these settings, where age is the master status. No need to reconcile appearances and extracurricular preferences with parenthood and professionalism. It’d be a thin fiction, a partial one. A matter of selective emphasis.2

4:49pm. Intra-set, Advancing, Brown Paper Bag

Alone in familiar fashion. It’s easier to move through the holes in the crowd a solas. The age-graded crowd. Oniony. Years peeling off standers-by in the progress toward the stage. I’ve made a stopping point at a patch of grass that’s much nearer the front. At this proximity, I’m surprised to see a guy with a 16 oz aluminum and a modest head nod to my left. Once you can see the shoelaces of the frontman, everyone around is wearing diapers. I feel compelled to bond with him over the exceptionalism, but he’s not receptive. He thinks I’m making fun, “You’re the only other person over the age of the majority I’ve seen for about a mile.” Maybe he just can’t hear me over the band. Redemptively, they’ve taken to covering a Modest Mouse song,3 a timely distraction from the failed connection…

…I like songs about drifters – books about the same.

They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.

Walked on off to another spot.

I still haven’t gotten anywhere that I want.

Did I want love? Did I need to know?

Why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?…

Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, ba-ah-ah, bah, bah, bah, bah.


5:33 Inter-set, Voice Memo, 50 sec.

I have to do this now. I won’t want to tomorrow. I’m walking now. I have a friend that says we have to get over this idea of crises like they’re only midlife or quarter life. He says, When will we realize that we’re in a constant state of crisis with little breaks, like bridges, in between. But strike that from the record: elucidation of perpetual existential crisis. This monologue was more appealing before it was audible. The sound of my voice is too high-pitched and tinny and out loud I’m just having the same conversation. The same conversation I always have. But with myself. My seams are coming undone.


5:38 Craft Beer Tent, The Line

“How is Bud Light a craft beer?”


“Maybe it’s a typo. I think they meant Crap.”

From the vantage point of Mid-life.


6:20 Bud Light Stage, Fleet Foxes and the Wait-For, Brown Paper Bag

“They’ll be wearing beanies. Just watch. It’s like their thing, like ya know?”

“Every time you use ‘like’ in a sentence it takes a year off your life.”

“Hahaha, wha-?”

“I mean, how ol–nothing.”

“Ok, cool. So where are you like from?”

“You can call me Florida.”

The kid next to me from Maryland has kindly warned that my bag will melt if it rains. Maryland’s working with a muted version of that foppy Robert Smith hair. Or maybe Prince circa Purple Rain. I picked him up like velcro in the frontward migration vis-a-vis the showgoing advice, ‘Don’t complain when people push past you to get closer. Just latch on, and go with them. You might as well be part of their group.’ The wisdom of experience. The same conversation. I haven’t been off-script for 72 hours.

“You were saying something about Jersey Sho–” Formally, he’s here to see the band. But technically he’s caught up in the failed-cellphone-reception lament/attempt to find his friend. Every 30 seconds, a head turn back toward the mass to play Where’s Waldo. Give up, son.

From the stage, “How’s everybody doin’ out there tonight, Austin?! Wooo, yeah!”

Shaggy hair. Trucker hat. Neon accessories. Event staff of some sort.

“Mic testing, I guess.”

“Haha, yeah cool. Yeah, I love Austin. You can like still hear my accent, though? That’s surprising. I’ve been here for like two years now. School.”

“A whole–I mean–just two years, huh?”


“…so, if you could give a round of applause for her, she’s been working the water station all weekend. Woooo! Let’s bring her out here…”

“What’s happening? Are we applauding water again? It’s kinda funny, actually–half the bands I’ve seen have been attempting comedy about staying hydrated and drinking–”4


“…will you marry me?”


“–and how much they love Austin and–”




“Wait. What just happened? Did he just propose?”

You’re kidding me.

It’s 100 degrees and the flanneled FFoxes have fulfilled Maryland’s promise. I’m running out of bag. Or I’m raining. Or melting.5

7 something. A Tree Near the Bathrooms, The Ground, The Maybe-Wait for Arcade Fire, Notes App

A reasonable question is why I’m still here. T’s crossed, i’s dotted. You can go home, but I can’t leave. Maybe a list would help.

Number 1. I have to write this now. The sun’s down, so you can acknowledge certain realities. Oh my Jesus, I’m having the same conversation…

2. I’m convinced the effervescence is somewhere, like holding out for the goodbye with the appropriate amount of closure when you’re parting ways. The end that makes the experience worth it, the thing you hold up, the story you re-tell because you felt it. That sense of mob-like belonging from a shared experience with an undulating crowd. Like my 3-hour friends from The Strokes here last year–Joleen maybe? Jocelyn. We made joint bathroom trips like girlfriends. And that kid, her friend who tried to seem like he wasn’t in love with her.6

Yesterday it was almost maybe Skrillex.7 An undulating crowd of white upper-middle class youth, right hands bouncing in the air, up and down to the dub step. Couples magically forming in the rhythm. Under siege by the end, surrounded on all sides, encircled by six couples at final count, teenagers who’ve learned that it’s socially acceptable under conditions like these to dry hump in public and to do so en masse <so, “dry orgy”>. Go in with your own sweat, come out with everyone else’s. That goes in the pro column, actually. A badge of honor. But I couldn’t get swept up enough to lose count of the pairings, stop the commentary on coupling. The same social commentary. The same conversation.

3. Leaving would be an active decision. Maybe just one song, or wait until they’re playing a song I don’t know. Wait.8

4. This guy next to me just started talking to me, which is some sort of interactively legitimized distraction.

“…Yeah, this is my first year here. I just got off work actually. Waiting on my friend, but I don’t think he’s gonna show…cell phone’s dead…”

See, he’s just alonely, too. This is social altruism.

“…and I guess, ya know, Austin’s great, but I just really miss Vegas…”

He’s wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt.

“…like my family there and I just…”

Oh my Jesus, Oh my Jesus.9

“…and you see, Obama is doing all this stuff that nobody knows about. Like he’s arming a militia, giving guns to these 13 year olds…I’ve been reading…”

“Oh my Jesus, Oh my Jesus. I can’t get that song out of my head. You know that Zepp so–wait, Obama is giving guns to whom?”

“Look it up on YouTube. There’s videos. Just do like Obama, militia, guns, thirteen.”

“That’s ludicrous. There’s no way that’s true.”

“No I’m serious. Look, I’m not political or anything; I’m actually an anarchist.”


Uh huh uh huh uh huh uh huh. Uh huh uh huh uh huh. Da da da.10

“…been reading and doing a lot of research…see, I believe in The New World Order, which is like…”

“Uh huh.” Uh huh.

da da da


da da da

“…and actually I’m in the airforce, or i will be starting in a couple months. I just enlisted. but Obama can’t control me. I’ll make my own decisions when I’m in there.”

“Are you sure you have a clear idea of the feasibility of that? Like you’re just gonna disregard orders from a commanding officer if you disagree over where to fly your plane?”

“…well, yeah. By the way, I’m Rich.”

“Oh that doesn’t concern me.”

“My name?”

“Your money.”

Extended hand for shaking.

“You go to school here, er what year are you?”


Cue the band.

“–hey they’re on. We should stand up.” Uh huh uh huh uh huh. “I’m–I’m just gonna move in here to get a better view.”

Shake, shake, escape.


Internal Escape, Time Unknown

5. The rule: Don’t complain when people push past you to get closer. Just latch on, and go with them. You might as well be part of their group.

And I had to follow this pair, pushing past, trying to reunite with their group. Maybe they could bring me to mine. Which is Reason 6, maybe– I know people here for the headlining act. And my phone says they’re near the sound stage. But miraculously this group has found its whole, and I lack the willpower to keep pushing toward the unknown. I’m melting. But they’re nice enough, inclusive, and actually into the band in a way that indicates longstanding appreciation. So, default to list item 3, ref: whenever there’s a song I don’t know. Surely, that will release me.

But I know them. The songs. And now I can see. Better anyway. I’ve just been chivalrously shifted forward in front of the group member who’s literally <literally literally, not literally figuratively> 7 feet tall. Shifted by the one that’s socially lubricating the group.

From the stage voice of Win Butler, “Ok this our last one. Austin, you’re our favorite town in the states.”

“Check it out, they’ve never played this live. Nah, check the set lists,”

So replies the social lubricator to my express doubt.

Last song. Home stretch.11

“Thanks you guys for the view and the party. Nice to meet you.”

Shake, shake.

“Yeah, of course. I’m Matt.”





Shake, shake.

“Hey, are you from around here? Do you think you could help us get back downtown?”

“Sure thing.”

“Sweet, thanks. And you’re…?”

“I’m A–”


“Hi. I’m Alex.”12

Strange Summer, Pt. 1


There’s a piece of writing advice out there that <I think> is well known.  Something like: Get out of your way. I say this to myself whenever the pronoun at the beginning of this sentence starts cropping up too much in my writing. All the I/me/my’s, <example> in my opinion, personalize thoughts and experiences in a way that relegate them to the idiosyncratic rather than the relatable.  Maybe this is why there aren’t more renowned or celebrated female writers–women are more likely to use tentative speech, which includes semantic inserts that, perhaps, paint their personal pictures of the world for the reader rather than the way the world “is,” I mean, I think, in my opinion, it seems that way, at least, if that makes sense.

Apparently, I’m very much a woman writing right now–one not taking right writing advice because the entire preceding paragraph was a qualifier for a very large insertion of self right up front, which is to follow. But <qualifier>, it’s just <qualifier> for context. Anyway:

I could call the summer strange in the harbinger-of-change way, since change upsets normalcy, which can be strange.  It has been that. But for most of the other people involved in the SS, those have been life-cycle changes.  A lot of marriage and moving.  Mostly moving.  And when change takes place at the time of life it’s supposed to, it’s re-normalized <exception: puberty, which is thanklessly awkward for all>.  The oddity of the summer has been a change asynchronous to my stage of life, i.e. legitimate strangeness.  In attempted succinctness, I did a reverse-lookup for the condition but the internet returned only baby name sites.  I guess there is no one-word equivalent to parent-as-orphan, which is to say: I spent the summer as a childless young adult. After four.5 straight years of parenting: Strange. (1)

The period June 2nd to August 16th, which begins and ends at an airport, is the Strange Summer. These are the events of that summer as told by an asynchronously single, childless, young adult female.


It’s Thursday of the above-noted date in June. I’ve put in a partial work day–that word “work” which, when mentioned passingly in response to casual inquiries about the day, life, and weather always evokes a confounded brow.  ”Explain to me what you do again?  I mean, like, in an actual day.  What do you do in a day?”  But nevermind that.  I’m fielding these questions at a rehearsal dinner in an ensemble plucked from Tuesday’s laundry <summer perspiration levels have not yet interdicted such recycling>
while knocking back liquid relief as remedy to the most recent in an endless series of manufactured emergencies and exigencies, all of which merit the designation, “middle class problems.

I’ve arrived at the place-needing-remedy by car and by anger.  Anger forged in that car <spurious relationship> from traveling in fits of exasperated silence with Former Spouse and Child to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, from whence the summer seems to have begun. In less than 24 hours, Former will return sans child in time, theoretically, for the wedding.  This is part of The Plan, which probably ought to be called The Immoderate Orchestration to Secure Timely Childcare and Validate Everyone’s Sense of Entitlement to a Schedule of Events Consistent with Their Own Preferences and Obligations. Or maybe just, The Product of Suboptimal Planning. The IOSTC&VESoEtaSECw/TOP&O is as difficult to describe compellingly as it is to acronymize. But, diagrammatically, it is as follows:


Maybe a more entertaining entree is 10 nights prior which would put us in Daughter’s bedroom where I catch her white-dressed and red-handed playing wedding. <Or maybe I have generalized parent guilt about farming out her care, guilt for which referencing her is remedial. But maybe actually, I just miss my kid and find her inclusion in stories anodyne.  And/or maybe also I, like most parents, have the disease that deludes you into thinking that the antics of your child are of general comic appeal (e.g. public verbal improprieties) or are otherwise objectively adorable (e.g. anytime your kid falls asleep anywhere, esp. if from exhaustion such that the resulting collapse leaves the kid in a position that looks like her head’s about to fall off, thus necessitating a picture). If you are not sympathetic to this disorder, you can save yourself a minute of indifference by glossing over the following exchange.> In fact, forget it.  Neither of us–you or me–care by this point.  Let’s consider it an outtake you can see if you choose to stick around until the end of the film. (2)

Suddenly, I’m sitting in a modified Lazy-Boy with my feet soaking in a jet tub, the side of which a woman of Korean origin is tapping to get my attention.  This is a proverbial finger-snapping, anybody home, pay attention kind of maneuver that effectively reorients me to the present moment, which I’ve inadvertently left to process my childless state and the events of last evening’s rehearsal dinner.

To be honest, the psychic departure isn’t all that inadvertent. It’s more of a coping mechanism for felt awkwardness. The Lazy-Boy of note is my throne in a manicure/pedicure salon run entirely by women for whom English is not a native tongue.  Though they do maintain a repertoire of key phrases related to their services–delivery of, payment for–and their clients’ marital status/prospects.

This is part of the prenuptial beautification process required of women involved in wedding theatrics. Today we will eat salad and fruit, drink only those liquids that do not stain our teeth, have the nails of our digits filed and polished, the skin around them softened and massaged, our hair piled onto to our heads in fashions requiring a surfeit of bobby pins, our makeup applied for stage lighting, and so forth.  By contrast, the groom and his merry men are golfing and otherwise killing time.  Later, in a veritable closet behind the chapel, they’ll sit drinking Shiner and playing poker, the echoes of their clanking chips and boisterous laughter occasionally drifting up to the spacious loft at the chapel afforded to us for wardrobing by virtue of our gender.

Here at Signature Nails, I’ve chosen the Hot-Stone Spa Pedicure because the description said that I must, but also for its promise to maximize my skin’s softness potential. I’m also keen to understand how the experience of someone rubbing my skin with hot rocks will “ease away [my] tension and melt away [my] stress,” though this will turn out to be a mistake. My arms are filled with an Ozarka 2-liter, an oversized coffee, keys, a wallet, a cellular, and some papers, making for clumsy navigation as I hurl myself and my carry-ons into the throne of relaxation.  The woman directing my movements pulls from the right armrest a 3″ x 3″ ish plywood polygon for the precarious situation of my wares that’s something like those stow-able writing surfaces that accompany seats in stadium-style college classrooms. Ever-protective of my coffee, I manage not to upset only it over the duration of this pamperfest–everything else falls or is knocked over a number of times that I do not keep count of because I am both be-mitted (paraffin hand wax) and embarrassed to have the nail tech continually restore my clutter to the makeshift table.

I’m not sure how the interaction is supposed to proceed in this situation.  The nail tech doesn’t speak English, so we kind of smile at each other now and then for no clear reason, by which I think I mean to communicate something like, “I’m sorry.” I can’t make out whether I’m complicit in her inferred indentured servitude and position in the American stratification system, and also I still have a headache because I can’t drink my water or my coffee under the circumstances (3), so I try not to think about the ethics at play here.  The search for distraction results in the use of my elbow to navigate the touchscreen on my phone in order to revisit the insights from the rehearsal dinner recorded care of my opposable thumbs on the notes app.  It’s actually a series of inquiries directed to our waiter, Carlos.  I have this habit of scripting what I’m going to say sometimes to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of having to be spontaneously witty or otherwise precise in my off-the-cuff verbalizations.

Dear Carlos, Should I be afraid to order seafood in Central Texas? I’m kinda into the description on this picatta, but I have some reservations related to its freshness in light of our landlocked locale. Like, how far did this filet travel? It had to be frozen, right?

Carlos, The groom says this is a Pacific fish. Do you have anything local?

Nevermind, Carlos, I can see you’re tied up. Tell tale sweat on the brow. And I am low-maintenance. Looooww maintence. I’ll go with the tortellini. Be cool, Carlos.

Carlos, Hey man. Could you put that low-maintenance dressing on the side? Thanks!

Dear Carlos, Did you guys know that the lighting in the bathroom is different from the lighting in the dining area?

Hi Carlos!  What’s up with the water to wine ratio and whose favor is this in exactly?

Carlos, do you experience feelings of nominal dissonance over working in an Italian restaurant?  Have you considered assuming an Italian nom de guerre like Carlo?

Carlo, why is the man behind the bar pouring box-wine into wine bottles?  I see him, Carlos, and I am not deceived.

Carlo, Can I call you Charlie? Charles. Chuck.

Chas, the gang and I were talking and we think it’s not your fault about the food coming out at different times or anything. And, like, who needs to eat salad before the entree? I mean, the Romans, they ate it after the main course.  Better for digestion. And this place is Italian! Look, I snagged you a drink ticket as a peace offering.

Hey Carlo, hey it’s cool if you’re not gonna use that ticket and all but if not, can I hav it back? They movde the bag with the red tickets and everyone else is out or withholding.

Oh, Charles.

[Tap, tap, tap] And I’m smiling again, although I sense a physical delay between the neurological command that instructs my face to move and the actual upturn of my mouth’s corners. I’m sorry. At this mechanical prompting, I’m sucked back into the internal debate about whether, how, and to what extent I’m dehumanizing the nail tech by my commercial endorsement of this interaction. I try to reason that objectification of people doing this work is necessary if you’re going to enjoy or even just allow a stranger to do what is otherwise an intimate set of things to your body (4). By now, I’m feeling too guilty about it all to tell her that the hot stones she’s using on my calves are too hot until they’re actually burning my skin, at which point my reflexes supersede my ability to suffer through the hot stone massage penitentially, and I nearly kick her in the face. Something about this draws my attention to the fact that she (and all the other workers in view) is wearing a surgical mask and gloves, which makes me feel mutually dehumanized, thereby slightly offsetting my guilt.

In a 30-second whirlwind of green nail-polishing followed by a final series of taps, the nail tech sends me to the drying table–an apparatus with table -top and -under dryers where the freshly polished place their hands and feet to expedite the drying–and disinfects my former space.

Here at the table, I’m reunited with a group of bridesmaids, wives, and girlfriends also undergoing the requisite prenuptial prim. And soon the Bridesmaids’ Chief of Staff joins us, too. She’s wearing an expression meant to pass for a smile but isn’t.  It’s the product, she shares with the group, of the sole verbal exchange of her manicure–a swapping of interrogatives with the manicurist, who points to her vacant ring finger, “What happened?” “Huh?” “Where’s your husband?” “I, uh–huh?” She is, after all, 25 now. The surrounding women take this as a cue to chime in with their stories of similar relationship status probes at disparate nail salons, which sufficiently rounds off the 1950s time warp feel.

Given this brief stint at the table with the use of my hands reinstated, I’m feeling sufficiently dried and caffeinated.  In the medieval manner of Catholic indulgences, I make a final attempt at atonement by overtipping for the services rendered and head to my oven of a car. Team Wedding has decided to break for an interlude of revitalization in the form of locating the hotel and finally-taking-a-shower.  Or that’s my prime directive. It seems redundant and rude to wash anything below my knees in light of the morning’s honey-sugar-sand exfoliation, but the top half of me is stale from a showerless period of length undisclosed.  So I communicate a telepathic apology to my legs and their aesthetician and bathe for the greater good.

Somehow this takes 3 hours.  But in reaching the dressing suite at the chapel, consumption of non-staining liquids already-in-progress, this seems unnoticed. The absence of any passive aggressive communique about my inability to read a watch suggests I’ve been unproblematically de-prioritized in the styling and preparatory queue. Which is unproblematically fine except that it leaves me momentarily aimless in beauty school purgatory–air-dried hair and unpainted face, I’m consciously avoiding the wall to wall mirrors, which basically means I’m staring at my feet. I’m all too relieved when K, the roving hair-stylist, is “ready for me.”

Anyway, there turns out to be ample time for hairstyling and the application of product with which K is volumizing my hair to Texas-sized proportions.  I can’t see it yet because she has me turned away from the mirror while she teases it with Big Sexy Hair (these are the technical terms). I can’t see it, but it feels big. I’m angling for eye contact with someone else in the room for outside reaction to what’s happening on my head.  We’re nearing the completion of the “up ‘do” <a seemingly impossible feat for hair that is 2″ in length all around> with its characteristic chair spin, viola! finale where the ‘do recipient is finally shown her reflection, and so I’m hoping for a look that will clue me into what to expect. What I really need is preparation for the on-the-spot response to K’s inevitable, “What’d’ya think?” But the spin is in motion and– there it is, my Big Sexy Texy Hair. I manage an ambiguous remark meant to signal thanks but left open to interpretation in terms of satisfaction with the actual outcome.

A lengthy period of final aesthetic preparation ensues.  It’s filled with all of the expected sentimental moments that are unmoving to strangers of the bride, and that for that reason I’ll avoid adulterating by chronicling. Eventually, someone herds the bridal party out of a back door and into a bathroom outside the chapel entrance where we stand in wait for our processional cue, and where also we collectively attempt to ply the ringbearer with promises of sweets and praise if he’ll just please do his job and get the ring to the groom quietly and with a smile or without a grimace and pretty please don’t be a prat. Before I know it, I’m mid-aisle focusing very hard on a seamless 6″-heel trek and the maintenance of posture <the simultaneous patting of head and rubbing of tummy>. This is known as gliding.

The ceremony is, as they say, lovely. The flower girl spreads her fertility symbols in the prescribed few-and-far-between manner. The bride descends the stairs from the dressing suite without falling and processes gracefully down the aisle. The cousin performs an acoustic guitar number such that no one has to lie when they compliment him on it afterward. The sister-as-reader is laudable in her elocution. The officiant, at the recommendation of bridal party members well-versed in traditional southern culture <”you know more than half these people are from East Texas, right?”>, has removed the racy existentialist bits* from his remarks.

<* Former opener: ”Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether or not to kill ourselves…”>

The ring bearer eventually shuts up.*

<*Sigh. A known hazard–he’s vocally antagonistic toward his role in the ceremony before and during. But a series of death stares from the bridal party seems to super-hero-style silence the villainous attempt at appropriating the audience’s attention. Like how Ursala takes Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid, except if Ursala was the heroine.>

And by the end there are no audible gasps when the couple is pronounced as official bearing the same names they entered into this fray with.

We pass an hour doing post-nuptial photos in various scenic spots and artsy poses. This includes a series on a grassy slope between the chapel and reception hall, where the photographer staggers the bridesmaids variously as background to the bride. It’s obvious that he–the photographer–has limited experience in high heels on yielding surfaces. The bridesmaids can manage only about 5 seconds before the veritable quicksand under their shoes renders them Leaning Towers of Pisa and disrupts the symmetry of the photo’s composition. We’re soon dismissed to the reception for noncompliance.

Personally, colored-liquid ban lifted, I’m ready to recept. The crowd is still in the early and polite phase: guests are seated and sipping White Zin, discussing the lovely ceremony, being highly appropriate and amicable.  Those of us assigned to Table 2 follow suit and maintain decorum defaulting to various conversational exchanges about the lovely reception and its guests. Among them is an unknown figure who looks remarkably like James Lipton with his slicked-back receding brown hair and who is inexplicably busy darting around the room. His oddity is exceptional to the setting and consequently magnetic: he’s clad in all-black like a stagehand in a theatre, but his ensemble is offset by “formal” flourishes that include black platforms and a trenchcoat-like jacket. For context, it’s helpful to remember that it’s the year 2011. It’s not until I get within spitting distance that I realize he’s also wearing a mic’d headset and carrying a handheld video-device. This must be Peter, Peter the Motivator.

Peter the Motivator (official name) is the emcee for the reception. I didn’t see his credentials personally, but I was told that he has an impressive curriculum vitae in Group Event Motivation.  And as the night goes on, he really does show his feathers with such dance favorites as “Love Shack” and “The Macarena,” which cause guests to rush the dance floor to engage in much White Dancing and Sassy Face-Making (5). Admittedly, though, I’m a little peeved with Pete.  I submitted a lengthy song list at the request of the bride, and there are noticeable omissions from the current playlist, e.g. “Like a Virgin” and “White Wedding.” It’s apparent that Mr. Motivation does not appreciate the nuance of my humor. Nevertheless, Peter works the crowd from lovely to conga-lining around the building and so gets a pass.

It’s possible that I am likewise failing to appreciate some of his motivational finesse if it’s being flossed during the periodic absences from the reception required by my bridal duties. Like right now, I’m standing in the parking lot, and Peter could be pulling off the grand finale right now. What’s happened is that there’s been a miscommunication regarding decoration of the couple’s vehicle, and as a result all relevant parties believed that other relevant parties were charged with procuring the materials to do so. In a light bulb of a moment earlier in the evening where I fancied myself clever and friendly with the bartenders, I asked them to save us some empty cans, thereby filling the need for Objects to Tie to the Newlyweds’ Car.

Now we’ve got a trashbag, minimum, of cans with beer dregs but are still mulling over the starkest oversight–the shoe polish.  A liaison from the reception has been sent to give us the two-minute warning. With the pressure on, it has become apparent that the only recourse is to exploit the bridesmaids’ makeup supply for writing implements.  Lipsticks and liners in hand, the groomsmen have taken to hurriedly sketching phallic symbols on the windows replete with illegible references to sex, female anatomy, and prophylactics.  Meanwhile, I’m frantically ripping apart various lengths of ribbon with which the bridesmaids are securing the cans to the car. <Unlike the hot-stone massage, this doesn’t seem to hurt at the time.  Like the hot-stone massage, it will leave lesions on my skin whose source is not immediately clear when I wake up the next morning.>

When the bride and groom’s departure can no longer be delayed, we settle for the number of cans and penises on the car and scurry back to the reception hall to collect our bubbles for blowing at the couple during their exit. Perhaps it’s all the bubbles in the air and the cheering and this excellent post-reception lighting, but things are getting a little hazy out here.  Peter, is that you in the background? I think Peter’s directing this farewell with a portable speaker system attached to his belt like a middle-aged man would do a cell phone. I don’t know how exuberant to be with this send off since, aren’t we planning to hot tub, all of us, with the bride and groom back at Hotel Honeymoon? Ah, to hell with it; there’s feel-goodery in surplus: Good-bye! Adieu! Good luck! Congratulations! We watch them drive off into the dark Texas country, and for a moment, a wistful feeling settles on those of us who remain in the bubble shower.  A minute later, having taken off in the wrong direction, we hear the rattle of the trailing cans as the couple passes by again now headed west. With that, the wistful spell is broken and all present determine to reconvene at Room 218.

The order of the remaining series of events I piece together in the morning after fog from a combination of memory and hearsay and may not be important anyway.  I can tell you that a woman named something like Wendy or Dorothy of 40 some odd years and an inability to read social cues joins the wedding party after meeting one of its members in the hotel bar. I can tell you that numerous fire codes pertaining to occupancy and various other hotel ordinances are violated throughout the night in Room 218.  Various competitions prompting displays of masculinity and howls from spectators.  Various bottles upended, spotting the carpet and staining the ne’er-to-be-worn-again dresses of bridesmaids.

I can tell you that I spend an extended period of time in the men’s restroom of the hotel lobby with Former, who I follow in there with the aim of extinguishing an argument of unknown origin/substance–a bathroom argument guest-starring such wedding personalities as Father of the Bride and Friend of Father of the Bride. I can tell you that this continues into the bathroom of Room 218 amid a sea of oblivious after-partiers <preference for discussion in bathrooms: unknown>. I can also tell you that this argument goes unresolved because of its inherently unresolvable nature, but that a truce is formed the next morning for the greater good known as dealing with the bacchanalian state of the hotel room <hint: amass bribe for housekeeping pinned with note of contrition under bottle on dresser>, getting my wedding date to the airport, and drowning our emoto-physio-hangovers in bacon cheese fries.

The closing ceremony to this affair is a double-feature which includes the summer hit Bridesmaids. Watching it serves the dual function of processing something relevant and doing nothing at all.  The next 2 weeks I spend wallowing in exhaustion– sleeping and waking at odd hours in the way that I imagine addicts do when going through withdrawals and recovery and so forth. It’s almost like I’ve been sleep-deprived for 4.5 years. Two weeks of this and then the temporary return of my child, but not my parenting.  Two weeks and then a month of mom. My mom.




(1) Which, whenever I tell anybody about my summer-as-anomaly, I always feel compelled to include the fact that I saw 10 movies.  In the theatre.  It might even have been 12.  This is a lot, right? I’m not completely certain that this is a lot, since the last movie I saw in the theatre was Titanic <Yes, I cried. Don’t ask about this. I didn’t mean to; I just felt like I was supposed to. It’s a different story from the category “Real Life Dramatizations Based on Postmodern Prototypes.”> But when I say it out loud, I have the impression of bragging to myself.  So I think it’s a lot.

(2) [Sometime in late May before bedtime]

Daughter: Umm, mom, you might want to shut this door because I’m going to have a baby and I’m gong to marry…

<One wonders about her choice of syntactical order here.>

…and you don’t want to see us kissing.

[With attempted neutrality so as not to undercut her play, but so as also not to endorse the idea that marriage is a fairy-tale that this 4-year-old female out to be emphasizing. Or the idea that she should be kissing.]

ap: Can I brush your hair?

D: No ’cause I’m s’posed to leave it curly for when I marry.

She’s evidently not immune to the wedding hysteria sweeping our small community of friends in recent months. It would be difficult to remain aloof with a mother in the wedding party, the betrothed couple living next door, and all the other immediate neighbors involved somehow or other.

[Playing along.]

ap: Who are you marrying?

D: Bellarana.

“Bellarana.”  A deviation from the recently favored “Curlatta.” Don’t worry, the ambiguity of Bellarana’s gender will be resolved shortly.

D: I even have a kid to put the petals on the ground.

This, a jab at her adult handlers for arranging to sequester her with Grammy in another state for a period that includes the wedding.  Two weddings worth of experience as flower girl, and she’s feeling entitled to the position. Only Children. Pft.

[To her imagined bridal party.]

D: Bridesmaids, shut the door so you don’t see his penis.*

[Coy look askance at me.]

And we’re done.

* She knows the correct anatomical words for a variety of body parts by gender.  Her teachers seemed concerned about this until they realized her parents weren’t.  Nevertheless, it’s unclear how or why she’s aware that this particular organ has anything to do with wedding ceremonies.

(3) Actually, I can drink my coffee.  Imagine a lobster using both claws to pick-up the cup.

(4)  For reference, think about the dialogues over foot-rubbing in Pulp Fiction.

(5) and whereupon this White-Sassy-Dance-Faced enthusiast got a little carried away in a flurry of boogie, woogie, woogie/ Dale-a-tu-cuerpo-alegria-Macarena/ slide to left, slide to the right, criss-cross! everybody clap your hands/ to the hip hop the hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop, a rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat…and cupid shuffled, electric slid right onto the foot of a guest, and whereupon said guest hobbled off the dance floor on the shoulders of friends and smiling through pain, laughing at the rain explained that no, it’s cool, she was just about to leave anyway, and no, it’s fine, really, and yes, she can drive, no, she’ll just use the other foot, and no, really it’s fine, it’s hardly even bleeding, but thanks I’m ok.  I’m told it was nearly healed 2 weeks later. Good as new.



Dear Student(s),

Dear Students,

I recently received your evaluations from our Marriage & Family course last semester.  No, not the ratings — the numeric variety, I get back almost immediately, but they’re rather meaningless if the goal is to determine how I ought to improve the course and/or my teaching of it in the future. Lots of numbers and graphs <don’t mistake me for a quantiphobe>, which basically indicate whether I have acted in accordance with my job description: e.g.,  ”Instructor was concerned that students learn the material of the course = 5.7.” (1)  You remember.  Really, the takeaway from this festival of standardization (2), is that most of you learned a “great deal,” but there was an outlier that drug my averages down (3).  But, hey, can’t please ‘em all. And to ‘em all I couldn’t please, sorry it didn’t work out between us.

Anywho, by “recently received your evaluations” I mean that I finally got to see the written comments.  If you want to know the truth, this part is always a mixed bag for me emotionally.  Here’s the standard protocol: (a) Quickly read through all comments, mentally highlighting positive buzzwords like “fun,” “interesting,” and “witty” (4). (b) Revel briefly in cursory evidence of course’s success. (c) Repeat. (d) Replace evaluations in evaluation packet and take walk. (e) Gradually realize that students also provided “constructive criticisms.” (e) Fumble through evaluations, mentally highlighting evident personal shortcomings. (f) Replace evaluations. (g) Pout over imperfections in office. So there are highs and lows.

What’s funny about this process is all the predicability about it. I already knew that some of you loved me (5), and assumed that others just tolerated me (6). Part of it’s just a personality thing (7).  I’m also aware of my instructional weaknesses–some of you wanted more structure and weren’t keen on my methods of organization–though in my defense, I think that some of these issues are better framed in terms of lack of conformity to norms of course conduct, i.e. not having tests and using a course blog instead of Blackboard. In any case, I mean it when I say that I’ll take these comments under advisement and endeavor to be more organized/structured for future classes.  Really. I hate to out myself <actually it’s a personal hobby>, but I’m actually kind of a scattered person–part of it’s a personality thing (8)–and at evaluation time, I both know and fear how others will respond to this.

It’s funny how even though you know to what to expect from something, the experience/process is nevertheless emotionally potent.  I mean, think of how much we deconstructed the experience of romance–courtship, dating, mating.  Knowing what to expect and why doesn’t mean it hurts any less when last night’s hook-up doesn’t attempt to contact you (if you wanted that to happen).  Bad example? Well, highs and lows.

I didn’t mean to dwell so much on that part–”Comments on Ashley’s Strengths and Weakness in the Classroom,” emotional response to, predicability of.  Actually, I was getting around to what I didn’t expect to read about in your evals: “the elephant in the room.”  Now, I’m well aware of my elephant.  Exhibit A: The general content of this blog.  But I’m never really sure how to address it in the classroom.  Is it appropriate to discuss? Do people want to know?  Moreover, would it, in your opinion, have discounted what I had to say about marriage and family if I’d have told you explicitly and right off the bat?  In case you’re lost, the elephant is my life. Quote:

I wish she would have told us more about her family and…her daughter. I felt like it was ignoring the elephant in the room since is doesn’t look like she’s married (no ring) considering the subject of the course = MARRIAGE & FAMILY!

Class, if it’s still a mystery: yes, I have a child, and I am divorced.  Frankly, I’m glad someone brought it up, since I’ve let the indecision about how to do so keep from doing so. But seriously, when and how was I supposed to talk about this?  Not a rhetorical question (9).  I don’t mind talking about it <see, again, the contents of this blog>, but you know how first impressions can be…Anyway, thanks for inquiring.  I’ll think about when and how to broach this in the future.

Well, I guess that’s about all I’ve got in the way of evaluative reaction. The goal is to get better at this with each iteration, so perhaps it’s worth knowing that I pay attention to your comments. Next semester, by popular demand, I’ll expand the M&F repertoire to include more on sex and sexuality and other such hot button topics that make me blush or squirm when discussing in a classroom.  As I’ve said before, you’re welcome to sit in anytime (10).  Ultimately, though, I miss you guys.  Yours was a fabulous (11) class–my favorite teaching of Marriage & Family to date. Thanks for all the feedback on my effectiveness (12) and the like.




(1) Dear Outsider, For context, it’s a 6-pt Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree.  Not sure what I seemed ambivalent about them learning.  No context there. Yours truly.

(2) Dear Academic Bureaucrat, That’s my euphemism for your utilizing a series of evaluative questions which are so broad as to be “comparable” across disciplines but un-useful to instructors actually interested in improving their teaching. Signed, Instructor.

(3) Dear Student-Who-Clearly-Did-Not-Like-Me, I see from the graphs of responses from the student evals that I failed to stimulate your thinking, wasted your class time, and did not explain course requirements to your liking.  Pardon, but you did in fact attend class, right? Ok, just checking.  Sure, sure, I respect your agency– as a college student, you are perfectly within your rights to prioritize other preferences and commitments and not attend my class.  Truce.

(4) Dear Student-Who-Called-Me-Witty, Thanks for waxing my car on that one <wink!>.

(5) Dear Student-Who-Loves-Me, I’ve included your comments in my repository of happy thoughts that I refer to when being an instructor means dealing with unhappy things like bureaucratic hurdles and apathetic students. Right back atcha!

(6) Dear Student-Who-Suspected-An-Occasional-Bias-In-The-Lectures, Ok, ok.  You caught me.  I actually have opinions about the information that I otherwise attempt to present to you in some impossibly neutral fashion.  I did my best to play devil’s advocate on both sides, though.  I swear.  Which, come to think of it–what side did you feel like the bias was on?  Ok, well, get back to me.  I’ll try to keep dancing in the middle for now.  Thanks!

(7) Dear Students, Can you believe I’m offering up a pop psych explanation for why some people don’t mix when I used to hit your knuckles <figuratively, folks> for doing this <defaulting to psychological/individualistic explanations> in class? LOL. OMG. Nah, actually I do think that there are a variety of background factors at play, here–social ones that mean that people are coming from different worldviews that have nothing to do with psychological factors like personality.  Ya know, like differences in religious background or class status or family of origin?  Things that likewise inform how you understand the world.  It’s probably true that growing up in a single-parent home with a working mom has provided solid anecdotal evidence for me that women can be effective professionals and moms simultaneously, for example.  And if you come from a nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom, you might be inclined to disagree.  But I’m also an only child and ENFP, so technically I’m not compatible with other only children/first borns or ISTJs.  Somewhere in there is a reason why we as people sometimes clash.

(8) Dear Students, I know! I’m doing it again!  I rate high on the N in OCEAN <or CANOE, if you’re Canadian.  Or it’s the other way around?  But Happy Canada Day!>.  ”N” is for “neuroticism,” which is a trait in the Big Five that I interpret as related to organization and scatteredness, although that may be a lack of “C” for “Conscientiousness.” What, you want a sociological explanation again?  Ok, ok.  My mom, who raised/socialized me, is also relatively scattered and accordingly somewhat disorganized.  And she is my most significant behavioral model, or at least was growing up. We work in piles not files.  Capiche.

(9) Dear Student-Who-Asked-About-The-Obvious, Are you available in the fall? I was thinking I could plant you toward the front of the class on the first day when we do introductions.  Then, you could ask your question.  It would be sometime after I show that picture of me and my daughter and talk about her.  You could be like, “What about her dad?” or something that doesn’t sound jerkish.  By the way, what would you have thought if I would’ve talked about it anyway?  Why does it matter? I mean, I have my reasons why it does, but I wonder what yours are.  Ok, so see you in August.  Thanks.

(10) Dear Students, KIT.

(11) Dear Student-Who-Called-Me-Fabulous, Are you for real or was that elbowing more for using the word “fabulous” a little too often? Either way, cool.  No, you stay awesome!

(12) Dear I-Think-Her-Effectiveness-Is-Perfect-The-Way-It-Is, Ok, this self-promotion is getting downright out of hand.  But I just had to tell you, you’re in the repository, too. Effectively affected.

Externalities of Travel

Having to be on time

Having to be on time to airports

To flights at airports

Waiting for flights at airports as a consequence of being on time


Disrobing at

Being barefoot because of

Abandoning toothpaste and other 3+ oz. liquid affordances

Bad breath

Close talkers with

Airport bathrooms

Applying makeup in airport bathrooms

Already beautiful women applying makeup in airport bathrooms*

Indirect flights out of regional airports

Regional flights

Regional carriers

Willingly trapping yourself in a regional tube of toothpaste to be airborne

Paying to have this done

The story from the passenger in 10C about her emergency landing flight

The story from the passenger in 10C about your family’s litigious impotence against a regional carrier “if this plane falls to the earth”

Takeoff One

Turbulence One

Contemplating your imminent demise during

Distracting yourself from contemplating your imminent demise by writing about your imminent demise

The person across the aisle pretending not to read what you’re writing about your imminent demise

Writing about his imminent demise

Hopscotch Landing One

Airport restaurants

People working at airport restaurants

Workers at airport restaurants who ask your traveling companion if she’s a model

Your traveling companion responding with the pronoun “we” – as in, “no, we’re just….” –to make you feel included as a model

Music at airport restaurants

Music that is country at airport restaurants

“I’m a little drunk and I need you now…”

The actual lyrics

People watching

People watching you

Creepy people

Attractive people watching you watch them

Remembering forgetting to shave your legs because of

Regional Flight Two

Takeoff Two

Turbulence Two

The artifice of security from the brevity of

Airplane smells

Airplanes smelling like lavatories

Stale coffee


Someone’s gas

Clothing infused with airplane smells

The clothing on your body

The clothing you will later wear during a spate of “professional networking”

The myth that you can work while traveling

Without someone interrupting

Without interrupting yourself with thoughts of your imminent demise

Without throwing up

Small talk


Small talk from flight attendants after descending

Flight attendants soliciting applause

For the couple on board getting married on Saturday

For the couple on board attending a wedding on Saturday

Passengers applauding the couple attending a wedding on Saturday

Other airport bathrooms

Automatic toilets in

Automatic flushing of while in use

Baggage claim

Bags not needing claim because you carried them

Hotel shuttles

Waiting for


Knowing you will do this in reverse in 3 days


* which is cheating because makeup was made by God to level the playing field for women not already beautiful