Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Online Protest Idea's Becoming A Scholarly Project!

Remember this post?

I was at a Holly Hughes lecture and talkback, and challenged a faculty member who said "students don't protest physically anymore" with the idea that online protesting and activism does as much, if not more, than previous physical campaigns; and that online protests allow people the safety of anonymity, so that they can retain their identities as students and workers without fear of recrimination.

I just heard from a classmate (in another department) that he and a faculty member (in that department) realized that no one had done a formal study of online activism and its results vs. physical activism and its results; and that they were going to spend the next year working on that project, starting article-length, of course, but testing the waters to see if it's worth further study.

That's so awesome. Also, I wish I were part of that project. Unfortunately I think my first goal right now has to be getting a paying job. ^__^

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More Short Fiction

From the same "book:"

Annalie sat somewhere in the middle third of the lecture hall. She was wedged inbetween the metal chair and its battered desk-like offspring, as well as inbetween her own backpack and the bags of the students on either side of her. Having managed to pull the miniature pretend desk out of the metal arm of the immobile chair, she had discovered that it operated on a slant, which kept her heavy Physics textbook in continual danger of sliding down into her stomach. She wondered where she would find the room to take notes, should notes ever become necessary.

Note-taking, however, wasn’t very important at the moment. Annalie was in the 10:00 section of PHY 101, “Physics and You.” The electronic registration program Annalie had worked with over the summer had suggested PHY 101 as an ideal way to fulfill part of her general education science requirement, and Annalie’s father had suggested that it was best to get all of the gen-ed stuff out of the way as soon as possible.

So Annalie sat, five minutes into the first class session of “Physics and You,” listening to the instructor explain the course syllabus. She wasn’t quite sure why the professor wasn’t really a professor but rather a graduate student who looked down at the overhead projector as he read his own syllabus aloud, and she wondered vaguely why he didn’t trust any of them to be able to read it on their own. Annalie had already been to a music history class earlier that morning, and the professor had started them right away on a discussion of the differences between music and other forms of organized sound; now Annalie was stuck in “Physics and You,” listening to a shaky-voiced graduate student explain the attendance policy. College was strange, and – in Annalie’s mind – inconsistent.

Annalie could feel a slight breeze coming from one of the open windows. She ached to go outside. She had spent most of her free time outside when not busy with the demands of Orientation Week, wandering all around the campus. She had gotten Danielle to go with her once or twice, but it seemed like whenever she stuck her head into anyone’s dorm room, they were either logged onto their computer or attached to their cell phone. Libby, in particular – Annalie could not even begin to describe how disappointed she was about Libby. She had never had a sister; only Chris, who teased her and who was too old to be a really good kind of friend (besides the fact that he was her brother, which made some kinds of friendship difficult), and although she had had several friends in high school (mostly other choir dorks like herself), she liked the novelty of having a very close, sister-type friend. Someone she might actually be able to talk to.

For a while Annalie had tried to count the number of words Libby had said to her, but somewhere around forty she lost count and stopped caring. Libby’s mouth seemed to be continually moving, but none of her words were particularly directed towards Annalie. They were directed towards Troy, Libby’s boyfriend, who went to the nearby state school and who was on Libby’s cell phone so often, it was as if he were pumping some kind of vital life force into her ear.

Meanwhile, in “Physics and You” – Annalie had gotten distracted in her own thoughts – a real cell phone rang. Half the students in the room bent down to fumble with their bags. It played through a hyper-speed version of Pachebel’s Canon in D twice before its owner finally retrieved it and turned it off, tossing her permed hair over her shoulder and saying, for the benefit of everyone in the room, “Oh my god, oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Annalie shifted in her seat as much as she could, then stopped her Physics book from exercising its rights to the law of gravity and pressing itself into her ribs. The graduate student, irritated at the phone interruption, went back to describing his grading scale. The breeze was becoming more and more imperceptible by the minute.


(Clearly I have not managed character delineation; while Miri and Anna have different backgrounds and personal struggles to resolve -- the whole book got outlined as part of the assignment -- they seem to have the same opinion and viewpoint on the gen ed experience. ^__^)

Short Fiction on the Undergraduate Experience

Continuing the ideas from my last post: the following is an excerpt from a project I did for an undergraduate "writing for teenagers" course. Our assignment was to write the first chapter of a book (not the book itself, mind you) which could be marketed to high-school students.

My first chapter, incidentally, was determined to be too "complex" for teenagers to understand, and was judged to contain "too many references."

I'll let the story speak for itself. (It speaks best in Firefox; it'll look all jumbled in IE.)


When Miriam had been in sixth grade, her parents had let her attend a camp for young gifted students. At the time, Miri had loved it; even the goofiness of the icebreakers and the other organized events like Pie Fight and Pajama Day. Now, however, she felt ridiculous.

She had just finished writing in her journal about Orientation Week, the oddly-chosen name for the four days before classes officially began in which first-year students were subjected to all kinds of team-building torture inbetween mini-seminars on important details such as How to Use the Library. The 120 residents of Bryson Hall had all had to run through an obstacle course, sing the Name Game Song, and then sit quietly while a university staff member explained to them how their meal plan worked.

Miri hadn’t known exactly what to expect, but she hadn’t expected this. She had, she supposed, expected something along the lines of Dead Poets’ Society, where intimidatingly charming professors engaged bright young intellectuals in stimulating discourse about life, truth, and the hidden secrets of literature.

Of course, Dead Poets’ Society was actually about a prep school.

This, however, had never appeared in any movie or book about college life that Miri could remember – the experience of being told how to do everything, from using an online card catalog (with which Miri was already rather familiar) to making new friends (Risa had already divided the third floor into clusters, and at the end of each day the clusters met for a few moments to talk about their experiences and play more goofy games). In the meanwhile, there seemed to be continual candy. The RAs were practically plying them with candy. In cluster meetings, every time a resident was able to call anyone else by her correct name, Risa threw that person a Tootsie Pop or a Mini-Snickers. Candy and ice cream and freezer pops – it was still much too warm in the un-airconditioned dormitory.

Miri was baffled, and more than disappointed. She had applied to college, but found herself back in summer camp.


(Yes, before anyone asks, she's got the same name as my cat. ^__^)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Process V. Product: Classroom Edition!

While I was directing Tempest in Hyderabad, I wrote a few posts about the idea of process vs. product. We know, for example, that "process-based" rehearsals are often more fun, but that "product-based" rehearsals often yield better results for an audience.

(For the uninitiated: "process-based" refers to a system which allows the actors in a performance to create "freely," without any fear of being right or wrong; while "product-based" refers to a system which focuses on eliminating certain choices in favor of better ones, and, while not necessarily dividing things into right/wrong, requires a director to say the dreaded word "no" to an actor -- often many, many times.)

I'm going to write about process v. product in terms of my current theatre production shortly, but right now I want to focus on the idea of process v. product in the classroom.

As a TA, I generally get a section or two of "Introduction to Theatre" every semester. It's the typical American gen-ed course, in which students are exposed to the barest fundamentals of a subject in the name of furthering liberal education.

Like many gen-ed courses in the humanities, this Intro class follows an almost entirely process-based method of teaching (and grading). Effort counts more than result, and participation is valued over content. Papers are graded on whether they answered every question in the prompt, but not on what those answers actually are.

(Incidentally, even though our students were told, repeatedly, that their grade was based on whether or not they addressed every question in the prompt, many wrote papers which did not answer -- or even hint at -- one or more of the questions. Baffling.)

Just as a process-based play is easier to direct, a process-based class is much easier to teach. Everyone feels great, lots of people get As, good times are had by all.

However, today I spent a few hours grading my students' "ten-minute play assignment." (The assignment was... um... to write a ten-minute play.) Because they fulfilled the structure of the assignment (they had characters, speaking some dialogue, with some stage directions) I sat and wrote "nice job! 100%!" on student plays which were, in fact, dismal.

I wished I had the time to sit down with my students and talk to them about what makes a successful play; how to create conflict between characters, how to create believable rising action, how to build to an appropriate climax and resolution. Even more than that, I wanted to talk to them about the very nature of storytelling. Why do we tell stories? What differentiates a story from, say, an anecdote -- or from a description of an event? (Many of these plays were just that: descriptions. Two guys sitting in a dorm room talking about girls and sports and cars for ten pages. No conflict, no momentum.)

I know that the assignment was pure process-based, intended to give students an idea of what playwrights do by having them write a play -- but if the product they turned in wasn't actually a play, then did they really learn anything by going through the process?

But we don't have time to teach them how to really write a play, because next week we're moving on to acting, then directing, then design...

I remember being infuriated at this when I took gen ed courses as an undergrad. I recognized all these easy-peasy courses as simulacrum of the real thing, and I wanted the real deal. I didn't want "Physics and You;" I wanted physics. Eventually, I gave up and decided I wanted to play Earthbound (and write a three-act opera based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses), and became grateful for any gen ed course easy enough to require no mental effort.

I know I've written about this before on this blog, but this whole thing... makes me sad. It also makes me feel like a really bad teacher.

People have been telling me, throughout my entire university career, that I need to spend less time worrying about product and more time experiencing the process. "Put that intellect aside; roll around in the unknown!" Lord knows I tried. I gave up what I knew made sense, and I rolled. But as I approach the end of my graduate career, I'm becoming more and more infuriated with anything that doesn't actually connect process to product. Let's lay it on the line, team: some products are better than others. How do we create them? How do we teach people to create them? That, at the end of all this, seems to be what's important.

What's In A Blog Name?

I've been thinking, lately, about the name of this blog.

When the blog began, it was a travelogue; the name "pretty blue salwar" came, in part, from an idea expressed in Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees:

Kamal returned with suitcases full of fashionable gifts for all of us. I received a pair of pedal pushers and a black-and-white-striped T-shirt that practically became my uniform. She also presented me with a light tartan shawl and a sterling silver charm bracelet with the Eiffel Tower dangling from it. [...] I had yet to see the rest of the world, but, already armed with a pair of pedal pushers, the charm bracelet, and the Coke, I felt that phase of my life had to be just around the corner. (Jaffrey 237, 240)
I had yet to see the rest of the world, but, armed with a blue salwar I bought on eBay...

Now the name is no longer representative of the purpose of the blog. Not, perhaps, that the blog has a purpose. I still stand by my post-trip statement that I will continue blogging because "life is a continuous travelogue" (and, of course, because I enjoy blogging and enjoy meeting new people via blogging). But, even if my blog is about life-experienced-as-journey, it isn't, anymore, about a pretty blue salwar.

The other drawback of the blog's current name is that, every once in a while, it draws people who aren't aware of its original purpose and who see these random posts by a white woman in a salwar and then tell me what a horrible person I am for exotifying Indian clothing.

It seems at this point I have three options:

1. Keep the blog's name as it is; possibly put something on the "About Me" section explaining the title.

2. Change the name of the blog, but keep the "" URL.

3. Start an entirely new blog with a new name: Blue Ink, Bluewords, BlueBlog, Blue's Clues, etc.

The problem with the last option is that I would seem to lose all of the relationships I had built since I started blogging. At the least, I would lose my Technorati ranking (which isn't that big to begin with, but...). On the other hand, people who are currently following this blog could easily switch their bookmark or RSS to its new URL/feed. I wouldn't change my handle, and would continue to post on all of your blogs as Blue.

It would be... like moving to a new house, and sending round a forwarding address.

What do you think? Should I move away from the salwar association and start a new blog under a less contentious name? Or is the salwar still pretty enough to wear, even though I'm no longer a world traveler?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Want To Be A Consumer... But Not A Destroyer

Last week my graduate class had a special guest: one of the original founders of our theatre department.

Prior to his lecture, he wanted to get to know a bit about the current class of grad students, and went around to all of us asking about our backgrounds, what kind of theatre we liked, and where we hoped to direct after graduation.

I was the last to respond, hoping that he might skip me or something. After all, there were the other grad students saying things like "I'm going to start a theatre company in rural America and provide art to people who don't otherwise get that experience," or "I'm going to go to New York and take my chances in the big leagues!"

But he didn't skip me. "You're in your final semester? Congratulations! What do you plan to do after you graduate?"

I didn't let my voice waver for a minute. "I'm going to relocate to a major city, probably the DC area, and transfer my talents to a job in a private industry. I'd love something in PR or Events Management."

"Oh," he said. "Why not theatre?"

And then I got a little chicken. The truth is, I know enough about my skills to know that, while I am a competent director on my own merits, I am in no way set up for the competitive theatre world, nor do I want to spend my time working crap jobs and doing one of the "next step" options: assistant directing "for the experience," trying to start an unpaid theatre company, etc.

But I didn't say "I'm getting out of the theatre because I'm not good enough."

I said "I feel like I've become disconnected from the world, and I need to spend some time back in the world before I direct my next piece."

Which was probably an even dumber thing to say, because his next response was a very disappointed "Theatre... makes you feel disconnected?"

And as soon as he said it, I realized my response was truer than I realized. Theatre does make me feel disconnected from the world. It shouldn't, but it does. For three reasons:

1. The theatre artist's schedule is generally "work (or take/teach classes) all day, rehearse all night." The environment quickly becomes insular and restricting.

2. 90% of the plays performed in America, at both the educational and professional levels, are revivals of "classics." Often, directors attempt to spin these plays so that they have a contemporary relevance, but... putting Henry V in modern dress so people will be reminded of the Bush administration is barely groundbreaking. All of the productions of Henry V in the past eight years don't have the impact of a single showing of Fahrenheit 9/11.

3. Due to both schedule and monetary restrictions ('cause we don't make any money), the theatre artist cannot fully participate in the world around her.

And that's what I really want, and I didn't even realize it until I said it. I want to be a participant. I don't want to live like the former child Blue, reading her parents' copies of Newsweek to memorize details about film and literature (and yes, theatre) that she was thousands of miles too far away to ever see; nor do I want to live like starving artist Blue, in Minneapolis and surrounded by culture and opportunity but too underemployed to afford any of it.

I want to be a participant. More than that, I want to be a consumer. This isn't a popular statement to make, in lieu of environmental concerns, but I don't mean that I want to be wasteful, or consume beyond my needs.

I don't want a lot of shoes, but I want to be able to replace my shoes when there are holes in the soles. (While I had the foot cast on, I spent the entire six weeks wearing a shoe with a big hole in it because that was the only one which matched the sole height of the foot-cast boot.) I don't want to buy a lot of overpackaged, overprocessed food, but I do want to have money to socialize with friends in restaurants.

I want to take a yoga class. I want to find time to volunteer for something interesting and worthwhile (which I kind of did already -- just signed up for the American Democracy Project). If I make it to DC, I'm definitely finding some way of volunteering for Team Obama.

I also want to get a little closer to current technology. I have a secret fantasy of being able to become an early adopter, but I know it will take a few income-level jumps before I get to that stage. Right now I don't even have a phone that takes photographs. ^__^

Long story short, I want to be a participant in the world, not an observer. And theatre, as enjoyable as it is, makes me feel disconnected.

Which is strange, because historically theatre people are supposed to be the types who are engaged with the world and use their talents to spur social change. Did that stop happening, outside of theatre textbooks? Or... has it all been transferred to YouTube?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blue's Body Betrays Her

Whatever I've got... don't get it.

Officially, it's bronchitis. But... damn. This thing is wiping me out.

When I'm not in class or at rehearsal, I'm sleeping. I can't take two steps w/o coughing.

And -- tragedy of all tragedies -- I can't do yoga.

This from a person who was still doing yoga with a friggin' cast on her foot, modifying positions as necessary, including a full quota of "girl push-ups" ('cause I couldn't do the regular kind with the cast), which aren't yoga but are evidently the best indicator of physical fitness out there.

It's been eleven days since I first fell ill (and fell quickly, too -- was watching a movie with my sister and felt fine at the beginning, but ended up feverish, shaking, and coughing by the end). Two days ago I thought I was well enough to try yoga again, if for no other reason than mild physical activity seemed like it might help speed up the recovery. (I also get cranky when I don't exercise.)

So I raised my arms above my head to start a sun salutation... and set off a fit of coughing.

I bent over to touch my toes and set off another fit of coughing.


Evidently movement = coughing (even stretching = coughing), which makes exercise a problem.

Which means that I am very, very cranky right now.

My body has also betrayed me recently in terms of its rapid hair growth; very nice when it's on my head, less so everywhere else. Sally Hansen promised me I would be hair-free for five to eight weeks; I was hair-free for less than two. The waxing job lasted for exactly thirteen days; stubble started turning up about the same time I caught the bronch. Now I'm all fuzzy again.

'Cause bending over to shave... starts a coughing fit.

*facepalms... then coughs.*

Monday, March 17, 2008

srsly. 2 sick 2 blog.

or 2 spl.

been sick since Tuesday evening of last week. nearly all dc plans canceled. still sick.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Audiences, References, and the Benefits of Getting A YouTube Video Six Days Later!

Wow. Nearly a week after I tried to get YouTube to embed this video onto the blog, it shows up!

Here's the related post.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's Up With Apple?

About four months ago, I had my first ever Apple Store experience. A friend took me in to the Apple Store Chicago, and at first I was all "why are we going into this computer store?" and then I found that it was filled with wonderful toys that you could touch and play with and cheerful staff who greeted us upon arrival and ran around happily explaining the features of each Mac product even before we had to ask. "Have you tried tapping the iPhone? Have you tried tapping it twice?"

Today, as I had promised to do in an earlier post, I went back to the Apple Store -- this time the DC version.

But this time it was not at all the same.

First of all, no one greeted me when I came in the door. In fact, no one noticed me. I tried to flag down an employee, but I couldn't tell who any of them were. Finally I figured out that they were the scruffy, kind of desultory-looking people wearing dark blue shirts. They were all busy either behind a register or at the Genius Bar; a few were on the floor, but they were assisting other customers.

So I found a computer and signed up for a Personal Shopper, since I assumed that was why some of the other customers had helpers. The next time slot was fifteen minutes away. The computer said that my name would be called when it was my turn, so I decided to settle in and start playing with the toys.

The second thing that troubled me was that very few of the toys were turned on. The majority of the laptops and iPhones weren't connected to the internet, and none of the iPods had sample earbuds attached. I found the single working iPhone and poked at it for a few minutes, but it wasn't all that fun.

My appointment time came and went, and no one called my name. No one called anyone's names. I started trying to catch the eye of one of the employees. No one would look at me, although a few people looked at my shoes. Finally, twenty minutes after my appointment and almost an hour after I had arrived in the Apple Store, someone asked me if I needed some help.

I mentioned that I had signed up for an appointment, and they were instantly apologetic, explaining that they were understaffed today... people had quit, some people hadn't shown up. In the end they hauled out one of the managers, who gave me a thorough tour of all of the laptops, but by then I felt pretty bad for him since I wasn't going to buy anything today anyway, and he knew it.

We did have an interesting conversation, however, about the MacBook Air. The manager was explaining to me all the virtues of the itty-bitty super-slender Macbook Air, and how the only thing you had to buy to go along with it was the $400 external hard drive.

"So I can't just... um... plug a thumb drive into this thing? Or any other external hard drive?" I asked.

"No." He looked at me like I was an idiot. "You have to buy this one."

Then I started asking "where's the speakers? where's the microphone jack? how do you burn a DVD on this thing?"

As I expected, all the parts of a laptop you might want to use were sold separately, at $100-500 a pop. The MacBook Air itself was a glorified paperweight, and an insubstantial one at that. ^__^ (Yes, I am ready for all MacBook Air-lovers to attack.)

"Do you see this as the future of laptops?" I asked my personal shopper. "In two years are they all going to be like this?"

"Probably," he said.

"You guys are brilliant," I said, winking. "Getting people to pay extra for all the stuff that used to come in a laptop for free."

Of course, there are benefits to this model, namely that if one thing breaks, you don't have to replace the entire laptop. ^__^ So it isn't completely bad. In fact, having a laptop shell (or... um... eggshell) that you can modify (and upgrade) as you want, pulling things in and out of the USB port as if it were a fast-processing Mr. Potato Head, probably will be beneficial -- and kinda cool -- in the end.

Still: at the end of the day, my time in the Apple Store was surprising and a little depressing. Does anyone know if there's something up with Apple? I mean, a year ago it was one of the best places to work retail (in terms of employee creativity, status, and pay scale) and the employees were, for the most part, happy. But the employees I saw today were overstressed and, worse, undercoiffed. They didn't look healthy, they didn't look taken care of, and they didn't look happy to be there.

Is it 'cause of the recession thing (is Apple, like everyone else, cutting back), or is there something else going on?

Notes from a DC Tour

Here are a few snapshots from my DC adventure:

* Going into an interview and hearing "You put on your resume that you type 100 wpm. Is that really the truth, or aren't you exaggerating a bit?" "I've been clocked at 100," I say with a smile. "Well," my interviewer tells me, "we'll give you a chance to prove it." After the test is over he comes back, astonished. "98 wpm and not a single mistake!"

* While I'm blitzing through the standard "prove you know Microsoft Office" tests, suddenly realizing that there are job interviews out there that don't require you to prove you can do a mail merge, and that later on this week, I'll be going on one of them. ^__^

* En route to the Apple Store, helping a group of very old, very giddy British ladies navigate the Metro -- from the turnstile to their eventual landing at Fashion Centre. No doubt they're here to take advantage of the falling dollar; one of them spends the entire Metro ride bursting out with little fits of happy "shopping, shopping, shopping!" Followed by "how many more stops?"

* Taking a breather at the Fashion Centre food court (to rest my foot) next to a group of young people involved somehow with our military (couldn't tell whether they had yet gone to Iraq, but they were clearly the troops in "Support our Troops"). They were talking about other young people in the military they knew who had committed suicide. They knew a lot of people who had committed suicide, mostly after returning from Iraq. "It's usually the really young ones who do it," one of them said. "The ones who haven't started families yet." It was a very sad conversation.

We Just Figured Out Blue's Shoes

I first noticed it this morning, when I went in for my first interview of the week.

The look starts at the top of the head: sleek, shiny hair, pearls, crisp dotted-swiss blouse, decent suit, tidy manicure... and then it stops.

The eyes wrinkle. The meaning is clear.

What are these horrible shoes doing on this poor girl's feet?

I didn't think they were that bad when I bought them. Sure, they have the telltale orthopedic sole, but they don't really look like old lady shoes, right?

Yet in a world where every other woman is wearing calf-length stiletto boots, these shoes are 100% wrong.

I kept getting the look, particularly as the day wore on and my foot started to tire out. Of course, by then the look was changing from what's with the terrible fashion choice? to poor thing, there's obviously something wrong with her.

So I've got to figure out some way of preventing people from ever noticing my shoes. This might involve a longer pant cuff, or a distractive measure like a sudden burst of conversation.

It's a shame that I can't wear a handicapped tag like the one I currently have on my car. Something that says "Inside this ugly shoe is a toe that is still, technically, broken; the bone has only formed a hard callus and will take another month or so to fully heal."

Then there should be an asterisk with the note "And she was not drunk or anything like that when she broke it!" ^__^

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Off to DC!

I'm traveling today... it's time for the DC Interview Tour.

Interestingly, I was in DC this time last year, though for different reasons.

If anyone will be in the area and wants to get in touch, well... you know how to reach me.


(BTW -- sorry I haven't responded to some of the recent comments, esp. the ones from new commenters... will do so when I've got a smidge more time. ^__^)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Want to Join the "Will It Last?" Laptop Pool?

My laptop crashed four times today.

It's a Compaq Presario M2000 series. Runs XP. The hard drive was completely replaced last year because... well, the guys said, "It's crashed so many times that your hard drive is completely worn out. Oh, and it's full of viruses."

I invested in some better anti-virus software (the university gives us all some free stuff, but clearly free wasn't doing the job), and haven't had a problem with viruses since.

However, my computer is crashing again. Repeatedly and annoyingly. Not to mention that since the beginning of the year, there's been some kinda problem with the monitor in which all of the parts of the screen that are supposed to be white show up pink, and all the parts that are supposed to be black show up green.

I've been telling myself "it only has to last for eight more weeks" (eight being the number of weeks until graduation), and have started backing up assiduously. In truth, it probably has to last for a little longer than eight weeks, since I probably won't be able to replace it until I get some money, and I won't be able to get some money until I get a job, etc. etc. etc.

But lord-a-mercy this is annoying. It took me twenty minutes this morning to print a paper for class.

If I have some time during my DC tour, I'm going to hit up an Apple Store. (And I've got to figure out if this "make a reservation for a Personal Shopping Assistant" deal is free.) Obviously I'm not going to buy anything; I've got $271.21 in my bank account and it's got to last through April. But I... want to fantasize about buying something.* Actually, I want to begin to look at my options. There must be an Apple employee ready and willing to talk about reasonably-priced laptops for the newly graduated.

'Cause it's going to be a Mac this time, people. Seriously.

* I also want to play with the iPhones. Did you know that in those Apple stores, they just let you... play with all the stuff, for as long as you want? ^__^

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Audiences, References, and the Benefits of "Over The Head" Learning

I haven't done an education post in a while, but a recent conversation brought this to mind.

To wit: we were having a discussion in our theatre class about whether or not you can present an audience with material that they might not understand right away. Specifically: if a play uses a reference that an audience might not get, do you cut the reference? If an entire scene might be too "over their heads" for university undergrads, do you cut the scene?

I've had this argument in other classes as well. Once I took a "writing for teenagers" class where the professor insisted I remove almost all cultural references from my story since "most teenagers haven't read the books you've read or listen to the music you listen to." (This was years before Family Guy and Juno and our current trend of inserting as many references into a creative work as possible.)

Her argument was that teenagers would read my work and become alienated/bored because they didn't know why a particular composer was important to the story's characters. My argument was that including unfamiliar references in a creative work -- whether literary, theatrical, or otherwise -- actually inspired learning; it forced the reader to interact with the material because it was no longer a matter of simple understanding. Whether the reader created his/her own meaning via context clues, or whether the reader hauled out the dictionary to look up the meaning, the reader was actively working with the text and actively learning from it.

(In the class, of course, I cut the references from my stories. Profs give the grades, after all. But I still believe in my argument.)

I wanted to share this clip with you because it was from my favorite childhood television program, Square One TV. I started watching this show when I was six years old and continued watching until it went off the air when I was thirteen.

(I've been trying to get the video to embed for about an hour now. YouTube doesn't wanna let me embed it. Until I can get the vid up, watch it here.)

Note the references packed into just the first few minutes of this clip:

Missing person? No, missing avis.

Hollywood Boulevard.


Roscoe "Fatty" Tissue.


And that's even before you get to the math. None of them are references a six-year-old would understand; few of them are references a thirteen-year-old would understand. But the words enter our heads, and years later if we read a reference to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle we know, without having to look it up, that he was an entertainer and comedian whose career ended in scandal.

Long story short: leave the references in. A reader/audience member shouldn't have to understand everything about a piece right away. If they're the eager type, they'll go home and Wikipedia Soupy Sales or the Texas Two-Step; if they're not interested at the moment, the references will still provide them with a cultural background which will return to their memories at surprising moments.

It's worth noting, unfortunately, that PBS no longer shows children's programming more complex than Postcards from Buster, and even the highly meta Sesame Street has devolved into the over-obvious Elmo's World. (Early episodes of Sesame Street are sold on DVD with the note that they are no longer determined educationally appropriate for children. Wow.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More Budget Fun: Wesabe!

For a long time, I budgeted on spreadsheets. I'd have to enter everything manually (sigh), sort it manually (sigh), and set up all the formulas myself (okay, I think spreadsheet formulas are really cool, so I didn't mind that too much).

Yet I continually thought "oh, if only there was a program that could take the transactions directly from my bank statement and staple-sort them itself!"

Turns out there are a kajillion of those kind of programs. After some research, I went with Wesabe. You upload your bank statement (alternatively, you can choose to give Wesabe your bank passwords and have it do automatic uploads, but I chose the manual upload option, which keeps Wesabe out of my bank account, even though I have to re-upload every week or so to maintain accurate information), and Wesabe sorts your purchases by type and provides all kinds of graphs to illustrate your spending habits.

Now, I know that Wesabe is kindly providing this free service so it can get its grubby little paws on my spending preferences. Probably very useful for Wesabe to know whether or not its users spend more at Walmart or at Meijer, etc., and to know whether they buy gas on weekdays or weekends. However, it's a free service, and somebody's going to get that information anyway, so it might as well be someone who gives me a few really cool graphs in exchange.

With Wesabe, I found out that every month, I spend on average:

$137 on groceries
$70 on gas (this has got to stop)
$130 on utilities
$93 on car insurance
$16 on restaurant food (i.e. anything I don't cook myself)
$6 on entertainment (which is actually the three movies I saw in January totaling $18... no entertainment spending since...)

Oh, and I've spent $392.10 on the DC interview tour, which includes the plane ticket, clothing, and a new pair of shoes.

I am officially tired of being poor.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Blue's Anti-Product Placement: Secret Platinum "Vanilla Chai" Deodorant

While I was shopping for my leg wax, I also made a stop in the deodorant aisle. (Note to readers: this was not an "impulse buy;" I always shop with a list -- and who impulsively buys deodorant, anyway?)

Like I've done for the past year or so, I scanned the products -- and rescanned -- hoping to find my favorite brand, Crystal Clean. It wasn't there. It's never there. The internet says they're still selling it, but I haven't seen it in a supermarket for ages.

Then I saw something quite unexpected. To wit: deodorants "for ladies" generally come in two kinds of scents: floral and beach. Floral is self-explanatory; the beach deodorants, however, never smell like sand, or salt water, or fish, or anything like that. They smell like "Caribbean Cool," which isn't a recognizable scent at all, but at least it covers up the B.O.

Anyway. I'm getting off track. In the middle of all the "Sweet Pea" and "Ocean Breeze" and the occasional "Powder Fresh," I saw a deodorant that claimed it smelled like something fabulously different.


Yes, Secret just launched its "Vanilla Chai" line, and to its credit was presenting the scent in glittery, girly colors as opposed to, say, the blatant cultural travesty of Caress' "Exotic Body Wash." (OMG it smells like sandalwood!)

But seriously. Chai? As an underarm scent? Do people really want to raise their arms and be reminded of a hot beverage?

Since my mission is to "test-drive corporate multiculturalism so you don't have to," I bought a stick of chai deodorant and went home. Here is my (highly scientific) report:

Secret Platinum "Vanilla Chai" Deodorant is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike chai.

It doesn't smell a thing like genuine desi chai; it smells nothing like Lipton faux-chai; it doesn't even smell like the monstrosity that is Starbucks chai.

It smells, if it smells like anything, like the goo that comes out of a gas-station cappuccino machine; a gritty combination of sugar and vanilla with a little coffee thrown in. (How can a deodorant smell "gritty," you might ask? Trust me.) It's the only deodorant I've ever put on that makes me feel like I need to brush my teeth.

The smell lasts all day, which is... what it's supposed to do... but I can't say I'm a huge fan. I guess I'm stuck with it until the stick runs out.

Anyone else try this stuff?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Blue's Product Placement: Sally Hansen Lavender Spa Body Wax Hair Removal Kit

Preemptive Editor's Note: Blue would like to preface this by stating quite firmly that she supports wholeheartedly the natural state of both the female and the male of our species: hirsute. However, she understands that many people -- e.g. employers -- do not share this sentiment. This is her response.

While I was in India, I stopped shaving my legs. The bucket bath was not conducive to a daily shaving, and I'm the kind of girl who will revert back to stubble within 24 hours.

I stopped shaving my legs, and my underarms, and didn't miss it for a moment. Of course, I was fortunate in that all of my pretty blue salwars hid the furriness. I loved that I could go from "just woken up" to "ready to face the world" in fifteen minutes.

When I returned to the US, I started shaving again. I hated it. Not the smooth legs vs. furry legs business, but the act of shaving itself. It was time-consuming, repetitive, and I nicked myself far too often. I found myself seeking out excuses not to shave my legs: well, I'm wearing jeans today, etc.

Then I found the best excuse of all: my broken toe. As I had to shower with one leg taped into a plastic garbage sack, shaving was clearly not an option.

So here I was, with a month's growth of hair on my legs, dreading the idea of going back to shaving. Then I had an inspiration.

Enter Sally Hansen and her Lavender Spa Body Wax Hair Removal Kit. I figured that since I had already done the hard work of growing out the leg hair, the least I could do was see if waxing really kept it off "for 5 to 8 weeks."

My first thought was to get it done by a professional, but even the college student joints wouldn't do a wax for less than $70, and Sally was only $9.99.

So last night I stripped to my skivvies, sat on a flattened 20-gallon trash bag (to catch the spills), and waxed my legs.

It took just about 90 minutes, and I distracted myself by watching episodes of CSI on Hulu. I found it a lot easier to pull out my hair by the roots if I was trying to figure out who the killer was before Grissom did. All said and done, however, it wasn't all that painful. I mean, it was a little uncomfortable, but it didn't hurt anything like some of the stuff I've been through recently.

The wax was really messy, but it got the job done. I would definitely urge anyone considering a DIY waxing to set out some plastic or something for the mess. I was also using the internet trick of dousing my legs liberally with baby powder before applying the wax (theoretically the wax will stick to the hair, but leave the skin untouched), and so my trash bag station was soon covered with drips and powder.

And there's nothing cooler than pulling off a strip and seeing exactly what hundreds of hair bulbs look like.

I know that people consider leg waxing to be one of those horrible things women do to oppress themselves, but -- barring my switch to reusable menstrual products -- this was the 100% most liberating thing I've done as a woman in a long time. I've solved a problem and now I shouldn't have to deal with it for five-to-eight weeks. That's fantastic.

I'll let you know when it all starts to grow back.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Finally, Another Cooking Post... About A Quiche!

Since I received my lovely slow-cooker, my cooking routine has become extremely streamlined.

1. Wash dal
2. Dump dal in slow-cooker
3. Add veg
4. Add water
5. Go to sleep...

But a person can only live on dal and rice for so long. Even with a variety of vegetables.

So when I heard Jon Stewart mention quiche during the Oscars, I turned to my roommate and said "I wanna make a quiche!"

I thought it would be extremely difficult, but it was super-easy. I added fresh broccoli (since it was on super-sale at the grocery store) and a can of diced tomatoes, drained. Heated up cumin, garlic, and crushed red pepper in some oil, added the broccoli and tomatoes, got 'em all spicy, and then added them to a bowl which contained eggs, milk, and shredded cheese. Stir it all up, and pour it into ready-made pie crusts... then into the oven at 350 degrees for one hour, and I had two colorful, tasty quiches!

If I had a camera, there would be pictures... but imagine orange and green and red inside a nice brown crust.

Making quiche is a lot more expensive than making dal rice (by "a lot more" I'm talking $7 instead of $3), but it was great to get a protein source from something besides a lentil. ^__^

Happy Feet

I've had the pins out of my toe for four days now.

No more cast, though I do wrap the top half of my foot in the equivalent of an Ace bandage so the healing toe is kept close and tight with its buddies.

The first two days were extremely painful, as my foot re-adjusted to its new surroundings (and lack of pins), but yesterday I woke up without pain, and it hasn't hurt since.

I can walk quickly again, and I can walk without getting tired. This is delightful, after five-odd weeks of shuffling around and measuring "should I go to the library?" by how many steps it would take to get there and how many I had already taken that day.

The weirdest part of all of this is feeling my big toe wiggle again. The break was below the knuckle joint (and in fact the bone never completely broke through -- that's why I was able to wiggle the toe even after it was broken, and why I put off going to the doctor for a week, since the old adage is "if you can wiggle it, it ain't broke"). After being completely immobilized for over a month, bending or wiggling the toe sets off all kinds of funny alarms in my nerves.

I don't do it deliberately, because the Ace bandage doesn't encourage it, but I find my toes instinctually responding like they used to; i.e. moving like a foot, instead of a block of wood, and so every once in a while the toe curls up without my thinking about it, and then it's kind of fun to feel the nerves react.

It's great to be able to take a shower without having to wrap my leg in a plastic bag. The skin on my entire foot is still really dry and scaly, despite my use of loofah and moisturizer, and for some reason there are several hard yellow calluses on the sole of the foot.

The toenails seem not to have grown at all, strangely enough. I found this out when I went to clip my toenails this evening; the unaffected foot needed clipping badly, but the other foot didn't have nails long enough to clip. That part I don't understand.

Anyway, I'm doing really well and am so glad to be back on my feet again. ^__^