Friday, August 31, 2007

Mary Catherine Bateson's Thoughts On My "Conspiracy Theory"

In my last post, I laid out a higher-ed "conspiracy theory." I'm going to reproduce (without permission, but I'm hoping it falls under "fair use") a portion of a book by Mary Catherine Bateson titled Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: Culture and Generation in Transition.

These young people have left childhood and been released from the classroom, yet they find very limited paths to the next stage of their lives... the reality is that there is no way most of them can live up to their own and their peers’ expectations to become legitimately self-supporting without further schooling or marking time in some other way, for decent jobs are often closed to them and viable and socially accepted independence lies years ahead. In American culture we still have assumptions of self-reliance after high school or college, even as times change and the graduates are unable to fulfill them. Identity is expected to be newly forged by each individual, just as each is expected to separate from the family, choose a career, and start a new household, without waiting to inherit from the previous generation.

In the United States in the booming fifties, however, early self-sufficiency was possible and early marriage was the route to independence and sexual access, even to a “starter house” in the suburbs, and this is the ideal that now haunts us: privilege and responsibility in tandem. Today, even the best public education does not lead to employment offering security for a family and the prideful satisfaction that eases the acceptance of obligation... the beginning jobs available to high school graduates are generally minimum wage or part time, and even these are often not available to young black men. High school today is like a ladder leaning up against the side of a cliff, yet when you reach the top it proves just too short for climbing up to level ground. Why try to finish a course of studies if it leads nowhere? Even military service is an option for very few. Yet we go on expecting young people to follow patterns that might have worked a generation ago and no longer do. All over the country grown children are living at home and working at jobs that lead nowhere, while their parents, bewildered by changing patterns of courtship and the job market, waver between resentment and wondering if they should blame themselves.

The inadequacy of the transition is not resolved by graduation from college... among the middle class the four undergraduate years are increasingly seen as preparation for professional training, while in many institutions students work and study part-time, half child and half adult, extending the four years to five or six, compiling a work record combined with a student lifestyle so they enter the serious job market at an age closer to thirty.

The changing shape of the life cycle and the changing job market have combined to create a gap from about age fourteen to about twenty-six that has to be rethought, used productively, and protected without simply extending childhood. We used to have a socially supported transition from childhood to adulthood called high school. It no longer works. Gradually college, or at least junior college, has replaced high school, but it too is proving inadequate. Within this ambiguity schools and colleges have a mixture of goals almost as confusing as those of families: to protect and challenge, nourish and judge; to impart factual knowledge, skills, critical thinking, cultural literacy; to build character or emotional maturity, uphold standards, prepare for citizenship; to raise self-esteem and prevent risky experimentation. At one moment students are treated as mature, at the next they are treated like children, for we are still struggling to find ways to teach that consistently evoke maturity.

Extended education has long been a way to keep young people occupied and off the labor market while separating them from their families, but it is no longer sufficient... Even after four years of college, Hillary [a young friend of the author] could find herself in a limbo not unlike that of her high school classmates. Middle-class and affluent people now know that their children cannot “work their way through college” and that most will not find stable jobs even with a BA, so realistic parents are learning to anticipate tuition for graduate school, grown-up children living at home, and continuing subsidies and health-care premiums – no end in sight. Ideas of discipline and family roles are shaken by the return of educated, sexually active offspring who just don’t quite seem to be adults. Meanwhile, educators at every level are being scapegoated for the fact that graduates are not adequately “prepared” – for a developmental step that has been drastically altered and a job market no longer ready to absorb them.

There’s more, but I can’t type out the whole book. She goes on to say, for example, that “a new way of enforcing conformity in the young has emerged,” i.e. the outstanding cost of education and the associated debts that young people undertake to live the pressured consumer lifestyle.

What do you think?

Indian Higher Ed: "Keep 'Em Here Until They've Lost Their Idealism"

I was talking with one of the faculty in the guest house (not in the theatre department) about her work at the university. More specifically, she was talking to me. She was complaining that standards in higher education have fallen; that students are less prepared; that attempts to increase access to students from all economic (and caste) backgrounds only serve to weaken the educational outcomes for all students, since allowing students to attend university "who might not have been able to get in otherwise" forced faculty to spend a greater percentage of their time on remedial instruction, thus lessening the amount of focused study and information that could be distributed to the other students in the classroom.

To turn the discussion away from caste, I said that this "ill-preparedness" probably came as much from poor primary- and secondary-school education as it did anything else.

She agreed. The primary- and secondary-school education for the majority of incoming students at the university was abominable. They didn't know how to write, read, figure, etc.

I said that a similar problem seemed to exist in the U.S., but we hadn't yet found a useful method of solving it, and No Child Left Behind certainly hasn't been the answer.

"I know how it could be solved," she said. She proposed that at least half of the money currently being used on university scholarships be funneled into primary-school education, particularly in under-performing localities.

"But I also know why they don't do that," she said. And then she explained something that I thought was very interesting.

She said that there were no jobs for young people in India, even after they earned their BA. Thus it was in the Indian government's best interest to keep students in universities for as long as possible, encouraging them to earn MAs and PhDs, even if it meant admitting and retaining (and offering scholarships to) students who were not capable of handling the work.

She said that if students truly understood that their BA degrees were worthless, they would riot. Particularly, she claimed, the Dalit students, who had been lured into the system with promises of a better life.

"And after they get these additional degrees, then do they get jobs?" I asked.

"No," she said. "There still aren't any good jobs. But there's a difference."

I instantly understood. "By the time they get their PhDs," I said, "they're almost 30 years old."

"Or older," she agreed. "And they're tired. And their families are pressuring them to marry and settle down."

"And when you're 22 with a BA," I said, "you want the best job, the one you think you've been trained to do. When you're thirty, with no assets, you know you have to take what you can get."

Fascinating. Do you think it's true, or just an elegant conspiracy theory?

Yet Another Self-Indulgent Post About My Hair

See, the reason that I am so in love with my hair right now is because for such a long time I hated it. I used to torture it, too. Carson Kressley would have gasped at the amount of hair spray and other product I used to put into it. I was trying to make it fuller, thicker, etc. and it perpetually remained flat, dull, and thin.

Once, when I got it cut, the hairdresser held up a few limp strands in her hand and said “Darling, you’ve got baby-fine hair. It looks like your hair just never grew up!”

And then I decided I couldn’t afford to get it cut every month (I had a perpetual chin-length bob for about… wow, ten years) and I was just going to let it do its thing. Whatever. I was tired of it.

As the bob grew out, I stopped using styling products to try and keep the ends turned under (another thing my hair would never do – turn under properly). With the absence of corporate-sponsored goo, my hair began to look better. It began to thicken. I stopped handing it over to Midwestern cosmetology graduates who used all kinds of crazy shears and razors on its ends. It liked me much better for it.

And so here I am, with twelve inches more hair than I had this time last year, in much better condition. Particularly because I’ve just started adding a “magical Indian Ayurvedic conditioner” that I don’t believe is sold in the U.S. and probably contains all kinds of anti-FDA ingredients but I swear is making my hair grow longer overnight. (Yes, I know that it was already growing longer overnight. Just… indulge me.)

The point of this post, however, is that I seem to be putting it up in ways that both confound and amaze my students. The coronet, for example. Today when I met some students outside of the theatre building, they stopped and asked me “how I had gotten my hair to do that.”

“It’s very easy,” I said. “Braid one side, pin it on top of the head, then braid the other side and pin it on top of the head.”

I demonstrated.

“It’s very beautiful,” one of the female students said. “It makes you look so… exotic!”

The other one, which surprised me a little more, came on a day when I wore my hair in two knots behind my ears. Not exactly Princess Leia, but not the anime-fetishist’s odango atama either. Lower, on the back of the neck. (I'd share a picture, really, but I can't find one. Maybe I'm the only person ever to do this with her hair.)

“I have never seen anyone wear her hair like that before,” one of the visiting faculty said. “How did you make it stay up?”

This I thought should have been quite obvious, but sometimes mysterious and exotic things have to be explained.

“Do you know how to make one bun here, at the back of your neck?” I asked.


“It is exactly the same,” I said, “only you make two.”

I think if all else fails I’ll set up a Hyderabadi beauty salon.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Definition of "Silly"

From Google, of course, via Princeton:

* cockamamie: ludicrous, foolish; "gave me a cockamamie reason for not going"; "wore a goofy hat"; "a silly idea"; "some wacky plan for selling more books"

* airheaded: lacking seriousness; given to frivolity; "a dizzy blonde"; "light-headed teenagers"; "silly giggles"

* pathetic: inspiring scornful pity; "how silly an ardent and unsuccessful wooer can be especially if he is getting on in years"- Dashiell Hammett

* a word used for misbehaving children; "don't be a silly"

* punch-drunk: dazed from or as if from repeated blows; "knocked silly by the impact"; "slaphappy with exhaustion"

Yeah. I think I'll give my Telugu students "cockamamie," "airheaded," and "punch-drunk." ^__^

Do we have a winner?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lost in Translation

I was with a few of my future students this afternoon when a young man rode by on a bicycle and wolf-whistled at me.

"That man is making noises at you," said one of the students.

"I know," I said. "But I don't like to pay attention to silly people."

My choice of words perplexed the students. "What is silly?" they asked.

For a moment I didn't know what to say. I still don't, really. How does one define "silly?"

I ended up telling them that it was the same thing as stupid, which served the purpose but left me feeling a little bit unsatisfied. Ridiculous might have been closer, but still isn't right. Nor is frivolous, which my students probably wouldn't have understood anyway.

So... I propose a game of Balderdash. No cheating. Leave your definitions of silly in the comments. Tomorrow I'll post a few dictionary definitions, and we'll see who was closest!

16 Bits of Brown!

In reference to my earlier post "8 Bits of Brown:"

As a bit of timepass while the students have their holiday (my class begins tomorrow), I've been playing the rockingly awesome Super Famicom game Star Ocean.

Thus far it seems to have some of the best elements of Final Fantasy 6 (huge ensemble cast, multi-layered storyline) and Chrono Trigger (time travel! time travel!). Not to mention the voiceover work.

The fighting is pretty dull, as there's not much to do but whomp the shit out of monsters (no interesting tactics, techs, linked attacks, etc.), but the storyline is fairly interesting.

And then I saw the sprites for the bad guys.

Oh, no they didn't.

Yep, those are the baddies on the right. The... um... brown ones.

And their costumes seem a bit "Pan-Asian Cuisine."

All of the heroes, of course, are pink-pixelled. Except for this one.

Her name is Fear. As in "fear the melanin!"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two Different Responses to the Hyderabad Bombings

In the city, the BJP enforced a bandh.

On the university campus, students marched quietly holding candles.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Defining "World Scale"

I suppose I want to re-explain what I meant by terming Saturday's attacks in Hyderabad "small [...] on the world scale."

It isn't because the people injured and killed weren't American.

It is, perhaps, because isolated bombings and attacks seem to happen daily in countries across the world. They are more prevalent in places like Iraq than in India, or in America; but every day, it seems, there is something.

They are all tragedies. Many of them are not reported in the American mainstream media. (They probably aren't reported in the Times of India either.)

And this, I think, was why the bombings in Hyderabad loomed larger in the eyes of the students than of the adults surrounding them.

This, however, may also have been due to the university's relative distance. The campus is miles and miles away from the city; far enough for faculty to wax academic and cite statistics and say things like "oh, one can't keep away from a city on the basis of one hateful terrorist activity."

Had we been closer to the location; had we been inside the city; had we been with in enough proximity to see or hear or come into contact with either the explosions or their aftermath, the reactions might have been different.

Which probably makes my initial reaction a bit (as I described in my last post) "cavalier." But also -- perhaps academically so -- practical.

Of course, finding out that there were actually several timed bombs planted at many locations in the city changes things somewhat. The list of dead could have been much larger. The tragedy could have stopped business in the city for a few days.

I could play mind games ("if a large-scale attack is averted, is it truly large-scale") but I am standing by my initial reaction: to stay where I am, watch the papers, and gauge the reactions around me. Even today the reactions from the other faculty are -- to be fair, and blunt -- nonplussed. But, again, we are far removed from the actual event.

I will keep you all updated if more news comes.

Students' Response to the Hyderabad Bombings

I've had a few people ask me if I was anywhere near the recent bombings in Hyderabad.

No, I wasn't. Thank goodness. I was busy eating roti with chickpeas at the university dhaba.

I was very interested to hear the responses from the students, though. My reaction was that I would wait it out for a few days to see what the fallout seemed to be, but that an isolated incident wouldn't keep me from going into the city; after all, very few things are truly safe and I have just as great a chance of being hit by a car or something as I do of being bombed.

However, the students seemed much more nervous. "Ma'am," they said (all my students call me "ma'am"), "don't go into the city. It has been bombed."

"I know," I said. I assured them that I wasn't planning to go back until a week or so had passed.

They insisted I should never go back again, and that none of them would go into the city either.

The visiting faculty (and the other adults at the guest house in which I'm staying) took a much more cavalier -- and what seemed to me sensible -- approach; yes, it was a horrible event, but it was no doubt isolated, just like last year's train bombings in Bombay. One couldn't live a life in fear of traveling to cities, etc. etc. etc.

I thought again about the reactions from my students. This shook their world much more than it did the adults; here they are, spending their first month away from their families and villages (nearly all of the students are from rural areas), learning that the closest metropolis -- which they may or may not have visited themselves -- has been attacked. Of course they would want to stay away.

Coincidentally, the theatre department has just allowed the students three days' holiday to visit their families, since these students have been working for a month now with not even a Sunday off (yes, theatre departments are alike the world over). It seems a fortuitous time, for them. A good time to go home and reconnect.

My guess, of course, is that the fear will fade from their minds soon enough... but I might be surprised. It was a tragedy, after all; a small one on the world scale but a very large one in the eyes of a first-year university student.

We will see what time brings.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Will You Be My Diversity Friend?

We interrupt the travel blogging for a brief piece of astonishment about a new application on Facebook.

Since Facebook has opened up its interface to allow users to create and promote new apps, we've gotten... a lot of weird stuff. Some good stuff. But my guess is that it will only get weirder before it gets better. ^__^

And thus, trawling through my friends' sites, I unwittingly discovered the "Heritage and Flags" application.

This is an application which allows you to break down your lineage and announce that you are, say, 50% Irish and 30% Italian and 2% Cherokee. (Yes, I know that only adds up to 82%.) This is described, in the application, as "ethnic pride."

For people who have a direct connection to those countries, more props to them; but for all my dear white friends who are 15% this and 4% that... it seems a bit self-indulgent.

Anyway. Here's the icky part. The application then announces on the user's page how many "diversity friends" the person has. Diversity friends, of course, are anyone who has identified themselves as anything besides plain ol' American. It calculates the "diversity" of the user's network and totals the results.

Each percentage of a nationality counts as more diversity points; thus, a person whose entire friend network is made up of white middle-class people from Ohio could garner a high diversity score as long as all of her friends identify themselves with four or five nationalities.

I haven't run the app myself, but I wonder if there is an option for "American." There must be; I can't see an app priding itself on "diversity" leaving any one country out; but then how does American fit into the percentages? I haven't seen any of these "diversity friends" identifying themselves as such.

Ah, but of course... being American is not "ethnic pride."


Chak De India: The Universal Language of Sports Cliches

For those following the story, I did make it to see Chak De India yesterday afternoon. I did end up hiring a car, which only cost me $15 for the day, so... not that big of a deal. I also learned that Hyderabad has a much more efficient and inexpensive light rail system which I will be using in the future. ^__^

People kept asking me "how are you going to see this film when you don't understand Hindi?"

I said I thought I would be able to follow the story well enough.

After all, we know at this point that a film like Chak De India will hit all of the following tropes:

1. The Hero/Athlete suffers a fall from grace.
2. The Hero/Athlete is given the opportunity (or forced) to take on The Team No One Wants, which is usually made up of adolescents.
3. The Team No One Wants is filled with young people who represent every stereotype of "what's wrong with young people today," as well as a handful of "topical issues." They're also generally from an assortment of social classes/ethnicities/gangs/states/etc. that hate each other.
4. The Hero/Athlete breaks down the individual problems within The Team No One Wants and makes them into, simply, The Team.
5. The Team begins to show promise.
6. The Team discovers some flaw in The Hero/Athlete which causes them to push The Hero/Athlete away, call for his resignation, boycott, mutiny, etc.
7. As soon as The Hero/Athlete is out of the picture, The Team realizes how much they had learned from The Hero/Athlete and go to beg for him to return.
8. Which he does.
9. At some point in the film there is an important game which The Team mangles and Loses Very Badly. Is all hope lost?
10. But The Hero/Athlete rallies his Team, and they become even better. Then we are treated to a few climactic games, possibly a championship, which is only won at The Very Last Minute. Hooray!

If one thinks about it, this is the basic schematic for every film from The Mighty Ducks to Sister Act to, impossibly, The Sound of Music. Sound of Music of course contains the optional Plot B: The Love Story (and a rarely used Plot C: Running From The Nazis), and as far as I could tell Chak De India stayed away from the love story, except possibly near the very end. I got that the Queen Bee character made a pass at Kabir Khan which he refused. Then they had that conversation outdoors by the field which I couldn't follow. But since there was no kissing and no embracing I'm gathering that the coach was not going to take her up on her offer.

But, because I knew how the plot was going to play out, I was able to understand the film perfectly well. Being able to recognize a few words like "Punjabi" and "shaadi" helped a bit. And, truth be told, when SRK was on-screen it didn't matter what anyone was saying or doing. ^__^

The real trick will be the next time I go. I saw a lot of tantalizing trailers before started, including the one for Saawariya. Which, although it looks a bit like a combination of Moulin Rouge and Dangerous Beauty, may turn out to be something completely different.

So I've either got to learn Hindi fast, or single-handedly patent an application in which a person holds a small PDA-like device in his/her lap during a film upon which he/she can see subtitles (without disturbing the rest of the audience). But learning how to program one of those things will probably be just as difficult as learning Hindi. Hmmm...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Chak De "Chak De!"

All right. After a good hour of typing in various search words like "Hyderabad cinema showtimes" I have finally discovered a movie theater in the city playing Chak De India.

Don't bother telling me that there must be many theaters in the area playing the movie; I'm sure there are, but I only need the one. ^__^

It's at the same Hyderabad Central where I bought the salwars. Which is good, because I've been there before. I'd like to hit the afternoon show so I get back before dark.

Which brings me back to transport. I've been told that no auto-rickshaw driver will take me all the way into the city; I'll need to change drivers at Gachi Bowli.

Or I call for a car tomorrow morning. Indulgent, natch; but at least I'll get there and back.

I'll ask the team at dinner tonight; but what do you all think?

The Bus is Having a Cup of Chai Somewhere

I just thought a story about waiting for buses wouldn't be very interesting to read.

-- Barbara Ehrenreich
Those of you familiar with the U-Hyd campus will know that it's... pretty far from anything anyone would want to go to.

Thus, I need to find myself an effective method of transport. Mostly because I really, really, really want to see Chak De India before it closes.

When I went into the city last week to purchase my salwars, we took a car. Easy enough, though probably too expensive for everyday use. The day-long trip ended up costing Rs. 700 (I only paid part, thankfully enough).

When I went into Chandra Nagar yesterday to get my shower shoes, I took an auto-rickshaw. It ended up costing Rs. 5 to go out and Rs. 100 to come back, because (first of all) I couldn't find a driver who wanted to take me back for less than Rs. 35, and (second of all) when I arrived back on campus the driver was suddenly incapable of changing a bill. This, of course, I expected.

But I want to go into the city tomorrow (before my schedule gets too full with my classes) and see Chak De India. It has become my single and only goal.

Which means I need to try and learn how to ride a bus.

But there are a few problems. Okay, several problems. The first is that the bus schedule is (how shall we say...) unpredictable. Today I had wanted to testdrive the bus system by making a short trip to a nearby bookstore. So I asked about ten people how to ride the bus, how much I should pay the driver, which buses would get me back to the university, etc., averaged the answers, and headed out to the bus stop.

The bus stop had a sign which clearly indicated that a bus heading towards my featured destination would stop at 2:30 and at 3:15. It also noted several other buses coming in the interim.

I sat at that bus stop for an hour and saw nary a bus go by.

So that's the first problem. (It's not that I hadn't seen the city buses drive through campus before; I had, so they do exist. It's just that none of them seem to adhere to the printed bus schedules.)

The second problem is that I have no idea where any of these theatres are, or which ones are closest to my destination, or what time Chak De even plays. IMDB might be helpful in this situation but it seems to only give information for U.S. theatres. I have found an online list of Hyderabad cinemas, but have no idea, really, where any of them are located in the city.

So, Team Readers (esp. people like Neha or Space Bar or Sashi who have lived in Hyd), how shall I solve this???

My other option is to sit somewhere and ask everyone who walks by, since I have already tried asking the people in the guest house, but... they don't know, since they are guests and thus unfamiliar with the city. ^__^

Or I could just suck it up and send for the car.

Editor's Note: One might ask "why doesn't she find a friend to take her?" Truth be told, she has been fairly vocal about her goal to see SRK on the GIANT FREAKING SCREEN since her arrival. ^__^ The lack of general response from the other people at the guest house, most of whom are very busy with science and physics-related projects, would imply that no one else is interested.

Finally A Successful Header!

I've been trying to photoshop a decent header featuring me actually wearing the pretty blue salwar for some time now.

Last night I had an inspiration.

(Focus Features, I'll pull it the minute you ask. But it's a lovely image, yes?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Folk Songs

The theatre students take music classes as part of their curriculum. I’ve been attending them, because as an “apostate musician” (BA in music, 17-odd years piano lessons, former piano teacher and choral accompanist), they fascinate me.

The music teacher is currently working on rhythm. Only about half of the students have any kind of sense of rhythm; some students have trouble marching to a steady beat.

In my past history as a piano teacher, I might have done something like the whole… um, hard to explain without the visuals, but there’s this technique where you clap your hands for each quarter note, and then clap your hands and clasp them together and do this circle thing for a half note (so it takes twice as long), etc.

But the Hyderabadi music teacher had a different approach. He asked the students to sing a folk song.

Immediately one student launched into this fast-paced Telugu song, with all kinds of syncopated rhythms, and the entire class joined in. They had no trouble with the rhythms when they were singing, and the song clipped by at a very steady pace.

So the teacher stopped them, and started them clapping again in quarter notes (crotchets, if we want to be particular). Then he asked them to start the song again and keep clapping. It fell apart.

The teacher continued this exercise, asking the students in turn to march to the song, to dance to the song, etc. and by the end of the two-hour session they were beginning to see how the steady beat fit with what they were singing.

The teacher said that every day they would continue this practice, using different folk songs. Everyone, including me, was requested to bring a folk song to class.

Of course I was swarmed by the students afterwards and asked to sing “a U.S. folk song.” And, despite all my music training, my mind went blank. Finally I remembered that old Dan Tucker had once been too late to get his supper, and I dug up the chorus to sing to them, although I couldn’t for the life of me remember any of the verses.

But I am still puzzled by what constitutes a U.S. folk song. The problem, I think, is that the United States is both too stratified and too amnesiac. That is, the U.S. has so many cultural influences and diverse groups that there is no one category of “folk” songs that an entire population might know; and, of course, that the U.S. rarely bothers hanging on to memories of old songs, as we are always trying to sell new ones.

Yes, there is a category of European-American “folk music” which includes songs like Old Dan Tucker and Polly Wolly Doodle, but nobody ever sings those songs. If I were sitting in a classroom full of American college students and asked to sing something that everyone would know and could join in on, I would have to go with something like “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”

And that’s just sad.

So… what will I sing for these students, when it is my turn? I thought about a spiritual, since that is an authentically American musical form, but I don’t want to bring religion into the mix. It has to be something simple, with very few lyrics, that is easy to pick up and easy to clap to.

And then I had an inspiration, from what is perhaps another sub-genre of American “folk music:” camp songs.

I’m going to teach them “The Song That Doesn’t End.”

Yes, I’m evil. ^__^

I Am My Own Dhobi

When I told the visiting theatre faculty (one day on the veranda, with a cup of chai) that I was planning to wash my own clothes while in Hyderabad, they looked at me like I was out of my mind.

“Get a dhobi,” they said.

“Would that be the woman I saw yesterday rinsing out a stack of men’s dress shirts in the lake?” I retorted. “I’m going to use Woolite and my five-gallon bucket.”

So yesterday I did a big load of clothing, mostly unmentionables and such, agitating them in the bucket and then rinsing them out at the tap. They drip-dried from the clothesline strung across my room (making my room look a bit like the chawl from Guru, minus, of course, Abhishek Bachchan), and came out smelling fresh as roses.

The three pairs of blue jeans I brought with me, however, were another matter. We’ve been having monsoons off and on, and all three pairs were muddy and stinking. I didn’t know if Woolite could handle this much dirt, so I thought I would pay a visit to the dhobi after all.

But upon arrival I found a few unexpected complications. First was that this poor woman was apparently dhobi for the entire university. She had piles and piles of clothes stacked around her, and the young girl hovering nearby told me that it would take three days before there would be room for mine. Second was that the dhobi didn’t speak English and I, of course, didn’t speak Telugu, and so I was a little unsure as to whether I could accurately communicate my name and address, and fearful that I might never get my pants back at all.

So I returned my stinking jeans to my little room and filled up the five-gallon bucket.

When I was finished, the water was so brown it was almost black. But those pants were clean.

Science types, please help me: how is it that by plunging a pair of dirty jeans into a bucket of soapy water and churning them around and around for five minutes, the dirt somehow magically separates from the jeans and sticks to the water? Just curious. ^__^

The Iraqi Student

I was sitting at lunch the other day when one of my future students (I start my class next week) came and sat down next to me.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“U.S.,” I said.

“Do you know where I am from?” he continued, smiling slightly.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re the Iraqi student.”

The theatre department gets most of its students from Hyderabad and the local area, but an Iraqi student enrolled as well this year. He speaks English and Arabic, but no Telugu or Hindi. He has a wife and children living in Iraq, and won’t see them for the entire year.

I asked him why he had come to Hyderabad to study theatre.

“There is no theatre in Iraq,” he said. “Just one or two plays occasionally in a university.”

He explained that he had written a play about a group of Iraqi soldiers, and that he wanted to have it staged, so he was seeking a place that would let him do theatre.

I asked him “is there no kind of underground theatre movement in Iraq?” remembering that in times of crisis a nation often produced some of its most interesting and provocative art and theatre.

No, he explained. It was too dangerous. Any time a person left his or her home to go anywhere there was great risk of death from bomb or bullet, so people only left when absolutely necessary. They went to work and went straight back as quickly as they could. No one wanted to risk traveling to theatre rehearsals.

That was something I had not considered. I wanted to tell him look, I think the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq, and I staged an anti-war agitprop play a month after the first invasion, and I’ve done the whole “march for peace” thing… but we all know how ineffectual and outwardly shallow the majority of U.S. war protests have been, Cindy Sheehan notwithstanding. So I refrained from sharing my white liberal guilt.

Instead, I asked him if he would like to bring his wife and family to Hyderabad.

“No,” he said. “It is lovely here but I belong in my own country. I will take this theatre course and do some research that can be published and stage my play but then I will return to Iraq.”

He paused. “We will probably all be killed. I do not know sometimes if my family and I will live for another year. But I cannot give up my country. I want to die an Iraqi.”

I wonder how many Americans would say that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Only in India...

... does a fully-functioning flashlight cost the same amount of money as a candy bar.

Rs. 30, if you were curious.

And yes, I bought them both.

Hyderabadi Internet is Eating My Cookies!!!

Paging blogosphere tech support:

I've got wireless internet now, thanks to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Library. However, something very strange is happening. Every time I start it up, I get an error message telling me Firefox is not working. (IE doesn't work either.) So I have to repair the connection -- but not just once. I have to hit "repair" two or three times until it finally clicks (I check "ping" after each repair to see when the data starts moving again).

And then when I start up Firefox, all of my cookies are gone. Bookmarks, passwords, etc. I re-linked a bunch of bookmarks last night after they disappeared the first time and then today they all disappeared again...

So, my nerdy friends, is this a serious problem? And how do I fix it?

(I've already enabled the laptop to automatically configure TCP/IP and DNS. Just so you know. I know my way around a computer just a bit... but am really only half geek so I still need a lot of help.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Blue's Wish List

Now that I’ve been in Hyderabad for a few days, here are some things I wish I had thought to pack. (In other words: Mom, send care package please. ^__^)

For anyone planning to go in the near future, keep these items in mind:

  • American coffee. You know, the kind with caffeine in it. I loves me my Madrasi coffee, but it’s so diluted with milk and sugar that there’s no punch to it. Plus it’s only served after supper.
  • A pair of slippers for my bedroom, because the floor is fairly icky. Mine has a small insect infestation. Every morning, they crawl in from the outside hallway, take the same diagonal path through the room, and exit out the door to my balcony (yes, I have a room with a private balcony ^__^). It is the only time I see them, but it’s a bit uncomfortable having wet feet from the shower and trying not to step on or disturb their trajectory.
  • Shower shoes. OMG. This is where I was stupid. When my mother asked me if I was going to pack my plastic-rubber flip-flops (you know, the ones that everyone in the U.S. wears everywhere), I said that I wouldn’t be able to wear them in India because I had read online that rubber flip-flops were only used as “toilet shoes.” Why I didn’t consider that I might want a pair of said toilet shoes is beyond me. Currently I wear regular shoes into my bathroom (the only one I ever use – will explain later), which only serves to make the floor even muddier.
  • Soap-on-a-rope. Do they still make this stuff? My bathroom consists of the following items: one Western toilet, sans seat (I perch on the edge); one sink, one tap at foot level, one tap at hand level, one showerhead, one drain at the center of the room. When I drop the soap I scramble to pick it up before it goes down the drain and hope to heaven that Chandler Bing was right about soap being “self-cleaning.” (I can't believe I just referenced Friends.)
  • Highlights from my DVD collection. This is only because my students are desperate to see American films. My DVDs are pretty eclectic, and I can’t really imagine the students being interested in watching the American Theatre Archive’s recording of Meryl Streep in the Broadway production of Uncommon Women and Others, but I should have brought at least one or two DVDs with me.
  • My rubber yoga mat. Some of the students go to a free on-campus yoga session at 6 a.m., but I’ve never been too fond of 6 a.m. I do my own yoga (yes, I know, white-girl yoga, but I’ve had four years of training now so at least I do it well). And I miss my yoga mat, especially when I am trying to descend through plank and cobra onto a cold tile floor flecked with sand, next to a parade of morning ants.

Things I didn’t really need to bring? Um… most of the clothing I packed. After a bit of consultation with the visiting theatre faculty re: what I should be wearing, I have folded up all of the salwar pants and dupattas and am now totally rocking the khameez-cum-kurta over blue jeans look. This is, apparently, fashionable and modest without being pretentious. Also everyone agrees that I look very pretty in the kurtas. ^__^

Editor’s Note: If her mother does in fact want to send a care package, Blue would like to mention that all of her DVDs as well as her yoga mat are locked into her office at her university and that her mother shouldn’t spend any time looking for them. Plus they would cost too much in shipping, being so heavy. She should also note that she could probably get her own slippers/shower shoes in the city, the next time she plans a trip. And that although it would be great to get a bunch of those individually-packaged coffee bags inside an envelope (no coffee makers, natch, so she would need something she can put in boiling water), she realizes that it’s as good a time as any to kick the caffeine addition.


This afternoon, when we were sitting on the veranda to pass the time, one of the guest faculty offered to give me “palmology.” I suppose this means that palm reading has now become an official science.

He took my hands and set them side by side, palms up.

“Oh, you will be in charge of something very important someday,” he said, in a bit of a mystic tone.

“Really?” I asked. “What? When?”

He deigned to answer, and instead smiled what seemed to be meant to be a mysterious palm-reader smile. Then he turned my hand over and his face changed.

“Is this new or old?” he asked, pointing to a small freckle just below my right pinky.

I had no idea, of course. I’m a white chick, so I freckle easily. We decided it was probably new, since it was very dark (and since I had been spending so much time lately under the Indian sun).

“This is bad news, you know,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, thinking of skin cancer.

He stared darkly at me. “It means that you will run out of money before your stay here is over.”

I pulled my hand away and laughed. "I don’t need palmology to tell me that!"

The More Things Change...

… the more they stay the same, of course.

I was surprised by how much the University of Hyderabad is similar to my own university, how its faculty are similar to our faculty, and how its students are similar to our students. I think I was expecting some kind of “cultural difference,” and yet the only difference that has manifested itself thus far is that everyone attends class barefoot.

We’ll begin with the university itself. U-Hyd is not actually in Hyderabad proper; it’s about an hour’s drive away from the city. It is surrounded on all sides by forest; to get anywhere one might want to go outside of campus (shopping, cinema, etc.) one has to sit down and plan a trip.

I’ve been a part of three different midwestern colleges/universities in my life, and all three of them share this similar geographical constraint. My current university is the closest I have come to “urban;” to reveal just how off the beaten path I have studied, consider that it took me until graduate school to live in a university town large enough to have its own shopping mall and megaplex theater. (In undergrad we had to drive 45 minutes to see the latest Harry Potter film.)

So this feeling of being cut off is both familiar and (dare I admit) a little disappointing. The campus is peaceful, charming, bucolic… and a bit stifling. The other visiting faculty and I have spent more than a few hours sitting on the veranda outside of the guest house asking each other “what does one do here?” Sit, it seems, and drink chai and talk about various artistic philosophies.

And sex, of course, because it’s theatre faculty. I was expecting to have to curb my language a bit upon arrival, but the group of people I have met have been just as crazy, flamboyant, irreverent, obscene, etc. as theatre people always are. It’s just that the swears are in Telugu now. ^__^

I’ve had the opportunity to observe several classes (my classes won’t begin until the end of the month; the students right now are in a two-week “orientation intensive” taught by a small group of guest faculty), and was very surprised to see that the exercises, etc. taught by the Hyderabad faculty were nearly identical to the ones taught at my own university. Some investigation revealed that it was perhaps because all of these guests had been Western-trained (which was, in fact, the purpose behind their hiring); all had studied in the U.S. or in Britain at some point. And thus, all around the world, young theatre students learn to play “Zip-Zap-Zop.”

But the most interesting of all was that the students themselves, when asked open-ended questions like “what is the purpose of theatre,” give the exact same answers I hear in my own theatre classes. It isn’t just that their first responses are vague, or that they reply in unformed generalities, but it’s that they use the same generalities!

This leads me to a few hypotheses:

  1. The Western theatre culture has so permeated all mentalities that it naturally causes theatre students worldwide to form the same (general) impressions.
  2. Students’ brains are more alike than we realize, and there should be studies done on this ASAP, if there haven’t been already.
  3. No one’s been effectively able to answer the question “what is the purpose of theatre,” including Aristotle, and he was a friggin’ genius. Therefore of course students will give vague and incoherent answers.
    1. Considering this, one might have to weigh the option that theatre has no purpose, or at least no purpose that can be expressed in a concrete statement. But that’s another argument for another time. ^__^

And one last unexpected similarity (another unfortunate consequence of globalism?): when I saw the first Indian student shuffle into class wearing flannel pajama bottoms I would have crapped my pants, except that I’ve been eating rather too much rice lately. ^__^

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Nail Polish Post

Just a quick note, because I know you are all so interested in my couture and makeup.

So I went to the little student canteen yesterday to see if I could find some nail polish. I knew they had soap and things (having gone to purchase it when I was sans luggage), and I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.

The man behind the counter pulled out an extremely dusty box and set down four tiny bottles of polish: Fire Engine Slut Red, Fruit-of-the-Loom Grape Man Purple, the one shade of brown that you do want to turn down, and (for the theatre techies who will get the reference) Surprise! It's Pink!

I chose Surprise! It's Pink!

I have a sneaking suspicion that this nail polish hit its expiration date long ago, but as I wasn't planning to ingest it, I went ahead and painted it on.

And then I looked at my feet and realized that my toenails were now the same color as the eighty-odd insect bites scattered nearby. (No new ones, btw -- the odomos cream is working well.)

Great. Color me attractive!

Pretty Blue (and purple) Salwars!

As I mentioned earlier, my luggage has gone missing and I am getting a bit of a run-around as to when I will get it back. It is supposed to arrive this afternoon, but it was also supposed to arrive yesterday afternoon, so... we shall see.

On the plus side, there wasn't anything of real value in it. Only a lot of battered clothing and about ten pounds of textbooks. I will miss the textbooks much more than the clothes.

On the super-plus side, KLM gave me a 50-euro clothing voucher. Which sat, burning a hole in my pocket, for two days, until I convinced another theatre faculty member to take me into the city on a shopping trip.

(For those unfamiliar with the U-Hyd campus: it is about an hour's drive from the city. Thus it makes the whole "you can buy anything you need in India" idea difficult. I can buy anything I need... if I travel into the city. And it's a bit of an all-day trip.)

So we went into Hyderabad and found ourselves at what appeared to be the Indian version of Target. I think it was called Central Something Something. At any rate it was decorated with large red lettering and a large red "target," just like its American counterpart. Unlike the American version, however, it was five stories high.

In honor of Indian Independence Day, everything was 50% off. ^__^

And so we went upstairs and found the "ethnic wear" section. I insisted on buying salwars, because I had spent the past two days on campus acutely noticing that I was the only woman not wearing them. My faculty escort was a bit amused but said it made sense.

It took me a minute to figure out that the numbers on the tags referred to chest size. Then I grabbed a few things in a 32,. 34, and 36 (it's been a while since my chest was measured) and took them towards the dressing room.

I was stopped by a saleswoman, who took the salwars out of my arms and examined them.

"You are 32 only," she said, and took away the other sizes. Then she escorted me to a dressing room and came in with me. It took me a moment to understand that she expected me to change into the salwar right there, with her watching. I suddenly wished I had worn nicer underwear. (I suddenly wished I owned nicer underwear.)

And so for the next half-hour she brought me salwar after salwar and watched as I tried them on. Size 32 fit, but rather like a glove, so if I end up putting on any weight from all of the aloo parathas, the khameezes will become a bit unworkable... but when I tried to explain, she insisted that it had to be 32 and not 34. She was also surprised at my resistance to churidar leggings (with my body, anything that is tight around the legs and loose around the rear seems a bit... unflattering), but I won on that count and she finally agreed to only bring me salwar pants.

Thus I took four salwars home with me, as well as a pair of sandals that took my faculty escort and me three shoe stores to find. Apparently I have a size of foot which does not fit into Indian shoes. I do have a great amount of sympathy for all of the young male shoe salesmen who tried to delicately place my foot into a sandal, because right now my feet are covered in insect bites (over 40 on each foot -- I counted -- and yes, I got anti-insect-cream on the second day, but it was one day too late) and they look about as disgusting as feet can possibly look. But eventually we found a pair of sandals that worked.

So I am about as pretty as they come, with three new blue salwars and one cream-and-purple salwar. All I need now is a bit of toenail polish. ^__^

Blue Gets a New Nickname

In real life, I share a "good name" with a very famous Hollywood actress. (Have fun guessing. I won't tell.)

Thus I am now addressed, universally, by her full name. Even by people who have not yet been introduced to me. ^__^

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Arrived Safely!

Just a quick note to let you know I arrived safely in Hyderabad.

Currently am sitting in my host's office, so no time for a long post... but I am here (if my luggage is not) and am having a marvelous time. ^__^


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Come Fly With Me

Come fly with me
Let's fly above the sky...
If you could use some exotic booze
There's a bar in far Mumbai...

Okay, I'm flying to Hyderabad and not Mumbai, and I'm neither a fan of exotic booze nor of flying (I hate planes hate planes hate planes hate planes), but... in just a few hours I will be well above the Atlantic.

To everyone who has followed this blog thus far and helped me answer my questions, allay my fears, discover the true meaning of "accha," etc.... thank you.

And don't go away, because the best blogging is yet to come. ^__^

Friday, August 10, 2007

The (Long) Color-Blind Casting Argument

I'm going to have to do this post as a series of anecdotes for now. Just to get the ball rolling.

1. We're rehearsing Shakespeare's Pericles. The play contains several phrases which equate the word "black" with "evil;" i.e. "black-hearted," "black as incest," etc. Whenever we reach a line which includes the word "black," the director stops the rehearsal and says "I think we should take that line out. What do you think?"

Everyone turns to look at the African-American guy in the room (he's playing Helicanus).

"I really don't have a problem with it," he says.

"I know," says the director. "But Pericles says those lines right to you and I would hate for someone in the audience to think..."

In the end all instances of the word "black" are excised from the script.

This isn't a true color-blind casting story but it is the beginning of my argument that even when directors cast "without regard to color" they very often place actors "of color" in the role of the other, both within the ensemble and within the play. This leads us to:

2. A few years ago I was involved in a performance of Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics. The play is about a group of Cuban factory workers whose lives are interrupted by the arrival of a visitor. (It's much more complicated than that, but you'll have to read it for yourself.) The factory workers were all played by Team Light Skin (there was one woman in this group who identified as Hispanic but for acting purposes read white) and the only actor with darker skin than mine was an African-American man who played the visitor.

As a director, this is an example of racism/othering that didn't even occur to me until an African-American actor pointed it out. Then I suddenly saw it everywhere. The performance of A Doll House in which the only actor "of color" was the actor playing Torvald (the character operating outside of the primary group); the performance of Oedipus where the only actor "of color" was the actor playing Oedipus.

Wait, you will say. Isn't Oedipus the lead role? Yes, but it's also the character who doesn't belong to the group. Oedipus is the other. His return to Thebes causes a plague. He is the only character who fails to understand what is going on around him... until, of course, he does, and he blinds and exiles himself (i.e. returns to his otherness).

3. I was sitting in an audience next to an older man who had no patience for politically-correct language. He asked me about an African-American actress we both knew, and asked when he might next get to see her onstage.

I explained that she was going to to be in a performance that opened in a few weeks.

"But that play's about white people," he said.

I gave a brief blurb in support of color-blind casting.

"Why do directors make black actors pretend to be white people?" he asked.

I explained that the idea was that a character didn't have to be a certain race; that a character's experiences could be lived and acted by anybody. He didn't like that argument.

"The play takes place at the turn of the century, and those characters are all white people," he said. "Why don't you find a play where this actress can play a black woman?"

This conversation illustrates two problems: first, the preponderance of theatre towards plays featuring white characters; and second, the failure of color-blind casting to acknowledge that these are white characters. Torvald in A Doll House would not have been a man "of color." We have the option to cast anyone we like in the role, and to suspend our disbelief (as it were), but there is always an underlying dissonance.

This is a huge topic and the one that took up so many tangents and off-tangents in my original draft, because to really dig into this one has to look at a variety of examples -- Jonathan Price in
Miss Saigon, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, white actors playing Cubans in Anna in the Tropics, etc. We used to suspend our disbelief when white actors played Asians or Hispanics, and now we are less comfortable doing so -- but, as the man in my example stated, we are beginning to be less comfortable passing off actors "of color" in roles intended for white actors.

But that argument is hardly simple enough, because to really dig into it one has to ask the question: how far do we go? Can only people of Norwegian descent play Ibsen? Do we need Italian actors for
Romeo and Juliet? Is it an issue of color, of nationality, of ethnicity, or of identity? Can we make the argument that Torvald could (historically) have been of Egyptian or Indian or Mexican descent because it's not a complete impossibility, even though it is an illogicality? Are we making black actors pretend to be white people?

3. The reason (I believe) that directors so often cast only a "minority" (pun intended) of non-white actors in performances, even in performances intended to be color-blind, seems correlated in some way with the way the director has experienced people "of color" in his/her own life. That is to say, if a director does not already have significant personal relationships with a diverse group of people, the director is less likely to give significant stage time to a diverse group of people.

Follow me on this one.

When one is casting, one looks for actors which have qualities one would like to see present in the character. (One also looks for talent/craft/technique/etc. but we'll leave that out of the question for now. Assume that all of my hypothetical actors are ridiculously talented.)

If a director removes color from the list of qualities, i.e. Nora Helmer doesn't have to be played by a white woman, then the director is looking instead for a series of attributes.

So. Nora Helmer should be... young, pretty, quick-moving, capable of humor, capable of depth, beguiling, flirtatious, serious, able to dance a mean tarantella...

All right. Quick quiz. What does the woman who just popped into your mind look like?

In my case, she's white. Just from the list of attributes. Even if I removed Nora's name and removed Ibsen's text and just asked myself to "think of a woman who is..."

This is because I, like many American directors, am white and grew up with white people as my closest influences. It doesn't mean I believe that white is "the default race;" it simply means that when I begin to visualize characters I pull images of shape and line and mannerism from my (white) relatives, my (white) neighbors, etc.

And so already the director is a step away from thinking color-blind. The director may plan to cast color-blind, but when presented with an array of actors is likely to go with the ones who remind the director of characteristics of people he/she already knows. And if most of the people the director knows are white, the "color-blind" casts are going to look pretty white as well.

I had to be told that I was doing this. And then, suddenly, I understood how my mind was getting in the way. Now I look at actors (and at characters) much differently.

Anyway. This was supposed to be a few short anecdotes, but... brevity is never my strong suit. I'll be interested to read the responses, if anyone followed the argument to its end! ^__^

Multiculturalism at its Finest

SepiaMutiny's been arguing over whether diversity creates or breaks down social capital (among other things; it's a long and very interesting discussion).

One of the sidebars, of course, is about diversity in relationship to assimilation; what will happen when all of us Americans-with-various-hyphens meld together?

Perhaps it will be something like this.

A rural midwestern town...
With a Chinese restaurant...
Playing J-Pop...
In which the singers are bubblegum-popping a duet aria...
By a French composer...
About a British guy...
Who loves an Indian woman.

Rock on, melting pot.

What's the Opposite of Anthropomorphizing?

Theoretically, as a liberal/critical thinker, I should be anti-commercialism and definitely anti-commercials.

But there's something so endearing about the little old ladies rubbing up against the giant cat. It makes me smile.

And since it doesn't at all make me want to drink Perrier, it's okay. ^__^

Thursday, August 9, 2007

To the Team Looking for the "Color-Blind Casting" Post

I mentioned on SepiaMutiny today that I was in the middle of writing a post about color-blind casting (the same one I promised to write on this blog, last week).

I've been writing on this one for a while, and I'm having difficulty reining it in to blog-post length. I'm also having difficulty trying to put all of my arguments in order, because this is a huge topic. It is, essentially, an analogy (in microcosm) of the way race (as represented by color) is handled in America by way of how it is handled in the theatre.

Right now the damn thing's already three pages long. It needs some work. Truth be told, it's a rough draft of a conference paper trying to force itself into a blog post.

But I promise that I will leave something behind on this topic before I fly to Hyderabad. Because I can guarantee that after I fly to Hyderabad, I will probably be fairly occupied... ^__^

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Obligatory Post About My Cat

I'm spending my final pre-India days at my parents' house, soaking up the free food and air conditioning.

I am, of course, leaving several boxes of things behind with them (books, winter clothes, etc.).

I'm also leaving behind my cat, Miri.

I adopted Miri from an animal shelter three years ago. When I took her to the vet for the first time, the vet said "I am so glad that you chose to adopt an adult cat; everyone always picks the kittens and the adults hardly ever find homes." I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was less of a moral decision than a practical one; I was working full-time and commuting and didn't have the time or patience to train up a kitten. ^__^

I am going to miss my kitty. Terribly. And worst of all is that I know she's going to freak out while I am away. Like many adult shelter cats, she has a great fear of abandonment, and although she's very familiar with my parents' house (and with my parents), it won't at all be her home. People who have stayed with her when I've taken weekends away say she sits by the door and meows like crazy.

Anyway. Here's the picture, since everyone loves kitty pictures.

And now I suppose I've done the obligatory blog post about my cat. ^__^

Inga Muscio's Book

So a while back I did a post about my hair, in which I included a picture of my desk.

And on said desk, there was a book. (E-I-E-I-O.)

An anonymous commenter suggested that I blur out the title of the book, as the title is a word sometimes used as a vulgarity against the female anatomy.

Instead, I pulled the post until I had time to write more thoroughly about Inga Muscio's book, and why it occupies such a prominent spot on my desk, and why I don't want to blur it.

The book is titled Cunt. My sister gave it to me about four years ago. Since then, I have loaned it to a number of women, and, luckily, always got it returned. When I lived with Ms. Ginny and our two other (female) roommates, it sat on our coffee table, and people who came to the house would pick it up and look into it.

Cunt is a book about women's health, much like Our Bodies, Ourselves but considerably smaller and snarkier. It focuses on what some might call "natural" methods of promoting health/preventing disease (not to mention pregnancy and STDs); it was in this book where I first read about sea sponges, the Keeper, and cloth pads.

It also includes sections on sexuality and gender and feminism, and on the long and convoluted history of the word that makes up its title. (It's fairly common knowledge that the word cunt derives from the word country, and was once a term of great respect; but Muscio takes us a bit further than that, through 250 years of linguistical fun. )

If you're interested in learning more, here's where to click. I'd offer to loan you my copy, but it would probably be less expensive for you to purchase your own (because I would totally make you pay for shipping ^__^), and even less expensive to read it at the library or at a bookstore.

At any rate, I wanted to explain the book, and so I did. It's a great book, and I'm glad to show it off. ^__^

ZOMG I can swallow pills now!!!1!1!!!!!!

Am so happy. The internet is the most awesome place in the world. I can learn Devanagari in one hour, and learn how to swallow a pill in two minutes.

Long story short, I found another blogger's story of pill-swallowing-inability (hat tip: Ennis), and about halfway down the comments there is a suggestion to try pressing the tongue completely up towards the top of the mouth, which kind of forces everything down at once.

The way you are supposed to swallow is that you close your jaw (back teeth touching) and (MOST IMPORTANT) push your tongue up against the top of your mouth. This makes it impossible to breath in air through your mouth, as it creates a vacuum seal and then the suction force easily pulls the food down in to your stomach.
Anyway. For whatever it's worth, it worked for me. After how many other methods of trying.

Woo-hoo! Now I won't get malaria!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Question About Doxy

I'm hoping for a magic answer here. ^__^

This is the deal. I can't swallow a pill. I've tried; inside out, upside down, through straws, through water bottles, hidden in yogurt, etc.

I rarely get any kind of prescription drug (see "lack of quality health insurance" or, perhaps, "modified healthy diet"), so it hasn't been an issue before this.

But with the doxy, it might be.

Previously, when I've had to take a pill, I've just chomped the thing down. Chewed it up and ignored the taste. But I can't do that with the doxy because it's supposed to dissolve into the bloodstream over time, rather than be munched all at once.

So I am looking for two kinds of advice.

First, is there a magic solution to my pill-swallowing inability?

Second, if there isn't a magic solution, would it be clinically feasible for me to cut the doxy tablets into smaller tablets and chew up a chunk every three hours instead of an entire pill every twelve? (I'd create my own "time release" this way, natch.)

Thanks, team. Y'all rock, as always. ^__^

All This Time, I Thought Lorenz Hart Was Being Facetious

This one's quick, since I'm packing and cleaning out my apartment.

SF was cold. And damp. I wasn't at all expecting that. ^__^

But it made me think of this song, and we can all sing it together as I pack.

Friday, August 3, 2007

If I'm Going to San Francisco...

Now that I've posted about my hair, I'm going to go put some flowers in it.

Spending the weekend in SF with S. ^__^

Don't let anything exciting happen in the blogosphere while I'm away.

Down to Where It Stops By Itself, Oh Yeah Baby!

While I was looking for photos and images to work into new headers, I had a sudden, almost shocking realization.

This is a picture of me from April 2006. Keep in mind that I work in a theatre department, and we have to do things like this. We have to.

And this is a picture of me from April 2007. An entire year of not cutting my hair, "just to see what would happen" (read: save money).

And here it is August, and it's a good three inches longer than it is in that picture.

I realize that this is perhaps entertaining no one but me (although that shot of me "interpretive dancing" should be pretty darn entertaining), but I find it fascinating.

(Keep in mind that I work in a theatre department, where we are encouraged to be self-absorbed.)

I wonder how long my hair will be next year?

(Editor's Note: If you want, you can play "I Spy" with all the things on Blue's desk. She's hoping you don't spy the spiderwebs -- she never noticed they were there until just now! Clever eyes will note the dandiya sticks, the Harry Potter video games, and the piece of junk laptop.)

New Header Woes

I've been trying, this evening, to make a new header for this blog.

Don't get me wrong -- I love the KHNH header -- but I thought it might be nice to have a picture of me in the salwar. Because, y'know, the blog is titled Pretty Blue Salwar.

So I did a photoshoot and I messed around in a generic freeware version of Photoshop for a while.

But... I didn't get anything I liked.

The closest I got was an image of me in the salwar against a large hand-drawn map of India that I stole from Wikipedia (hey, open source, right?).

It was certainly "aesthetically pleasing," but it was so Indophile-fetishy that I couldn't stand to put it on the blog. It was touristy, was what it was. ^__^

I'd rather play the Bollywood fangirl any day. So -- for now -- the KHNH header stays.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Genetics, or Social Class? Or Both?

To post this one, I'm going to have to admit that I read Dear Prudence. ^__^

In one of her questions this week, a reader asks about an adoption issue. You can go to Slate and read Prudence's answer for yourself, but halfway through she drops this gem:

Interestingly, mogul Steve Jobs was put up for adoption by his young, unmarried parents, who went on to marry, give birth to novelist Mona Simpson, and divorce.

I want to know more. Who are these parents? How did they navigate the odds of life to produce two... um... "bestselling" children? (Mona Simpson, if the name is unfamiliar, wrote Anywhere but Here, which later became the film with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman.)

Reading Mona Simpson's bio on Wikipedia gives a few clues. Go look, if you're interested, and see if your deductions are the same as mine.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

On the Limitations of American Accents

(Editor's Note: She's posted this one, then pulled it, then posted it, then pulled it again. She's not sure. She never is, on issues like these, because she knows she can't ever truly understand anything from "the other point of view."

But she's posting it again, anyway, because she thinks her point about American accents not being considered accents is valid, and she'll trust her readers and commenters to straighten her out on the rest of it.)

Hmmm. I read this editorial in the NYT today and thought it was about time I weighed in on the... um... "name thing."

The editorial tells the story of a Hispanic author's experiences with his own name, Manuel Munoz, and his observations that there are two ways of pronouncing it -- the Mexican way and the English way. He notes that he and many of his Hispanic friends and relatives allow their names to be pronounced in the English way for "convenience" and to allow them to "blend in:"

Ours, then, were names that stood as barriers to a complete embrace of an American identity, simply because their pronunciations required a slip into Spanish, the otherness that assimilation was supposed to erase.
I won't argue his experience. Munoz goes on to write about how having an easily-pronounced name increases "access" (in the lit theory sense as well as the literal one) in America. It's overwhelmingly present; there is still discrimination against people whose names sound too "foreign."

(As I've noted before, people today are extra-aware that names are everything.)

But there is another side to this story.

It has to do with Munoz' failure to identify the native-born American accent as an accent, with all the quirks and limitations thereof.

He writes as if it were merely a matter of choice that American speakers (read: white) pronounce his name "Man-WELL" without the elisions that a Spanish speaker would use.

This troubles me, because it speaks to a generality: that the "American accent" is, in this country and increasingly worldwide, viewed as a "default." Think of the dialect coaches in India, working to give call center employees default/blank/all-purpose-American accents.

If this "American accent" (never mind the varieties of speech patterns among Americans) is viewed as default, a few other assumptions begin to tag alongside.

The first is the assumption that people with American accents have the ability to say any phoneme they like, or to slip into any other accent unhindered. (After all, the American accent isn't an accent; it's the opposite of an accent: a blank slate.)

The second is that people with American accents have the ability to hear the difference between the way they pronounce a particular name and the way it is pronounced by the original speaker. (Trust me: when we refer to "Dr. Gooooopta," we really think we're getting it right.)

The third, of course, is that all non-American accents are viewed as variant, deviant, of less value, etc.

I'm not sure what the solutions will be to any of these problems. It will be interesting to see how accents change in the next hundred years; whether the "American" accent is allowed to dominate, or whether it becomes tucked alongside a multiplicity of accents and is no longer a "default." Globalism could take us either way.

But -- at the current moment -- to Mr. Muniz and to everyone who's had a name butchered: Some of us, including me, can't always say the words we'd like to say. Forgive us our flat vowels.

Yes, there were people in the theatre SINGING ALONG to "Spider Pig."

So I saw the Simpsons movie.

It was fine. There were a lot of funny things, and a lot of lame things, and a few stupid things.

And they didn't take half as much advantage of their cinematic format as they could.

Like most Simpsons episodes, the first five minutes were the best.

And as for Apu, well... see for yourself, but I think the other kind of Indians are going to be the ones most insulted by this movie.

Shakespeare's Version Didn't Have Enough Dance Numbers

Tonight I saw an outdoor performance of Love's Labours Lost.

This play, of course, is much better known worldwide as "the inspiration for the hit Bollywood film Mohabbatein."

The actors were great, of course, but they had none of Amitabh's intensity or Shahrukh's... um... okay, SRK is really, really bad in this film.

*remembering Shahrukh's performance*






No thundercrack. SRK gazes over his glasses at the camera. Then he tosses his preppy sweater over his shoulder. Cue dance number.

Just in case you've forgotten how bad it was, here's a clip.

Bollywood Fugly
, care to comment? ^__^