Sunday, August 30, 2009

My (Only) Friend (The End)

Recent outings have provoked my thoughtful speculation on the politics of prefixing "my friend" before introducing one's companions. I have a weird sense that the weight of the cue is considerably less pervasive in LGBTQ circles, but maybe I only think that way because of my limited perspective of said circles.

Here is a situation: [Miss A introduces Mister B to Mister C] "Hey, C. This is my friend B."

Good. A counterpoint: [Mister X introduces Miss Y to Anygender Z] "Z, hey, how's it going. This is my friend Miss Y."

I have a theory about this. A theory of coded language. In the first situation, A has introduced B as "my friend" because she wants C to know that B is decidedly *not* her boyfriend, just a boy who is her friend. Translation: "Hey, C. This is my friend B, whom I'm not dating. I'm making the fact clear that I'm NOT dating B because I want you to know that you have a chance." B could indeed be introduced to any acquaintance of A as "my friend": after all, A wants everybody to know that she's available and looking. If A introduces B just as "this is B" to C, she is hoping that C suspects the most and will back off in any unwanted advances.

Now the counterpoint. X, being a heterosexual male, has probably been raised to believe that emotion + masculine = negative connotations. Translation: "Z, hey, how's it going. This is my friend Miss Y. I kind of think I want to date her, but maybe I'm just in it for the conversation, and I'm confused about whether or not she likes me, and I'm not sure how to recognize whether or not what I feel for her is anything more than genial friendship. I'm too much of an emotion-coward to define the relationship at this point, so I will continue to qualify her during introductions as 'my friend' because I wouldn't want her, myself, or anybody else to suspect that something romantically emotional, and therefore bad, might be going on."

Oh, the dynamism of language. I'm not kidding when I say that every example I've ever witnessed of this prefixing phenomenon fits my defining criteria. I defy you to produce a situation (real, not hypothetical) that disproves my theory.

The final word: for women, "my friend" means "my friend;" for men, "my friend" means "my confusion."

[Pam: "Hey, Nico, this is Jim Morrison." // Jim, later, to Nico: "Oh yeah, that's my friend Pam."]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jewel of Denial

The website was on the news tonight. The opening lines of the script went something like this:

"You're so in love. You're so happy. For now. But after it goes bad, every time you tell yourself 'It's time to move on!' there's a beautiful piece of bling staring up at you."

Two things: First, *every* time you tell yourself to move on there's jewelry involved? And second, who still says "bling"?

I can't say that I understand the financial or political implications of a broken engagement, having never been engaged. I would hope that I could eventually remember that I would be able to move on and make a rational decision about what to do with the ring. The whole process of residual jewelry, though, makes me cringe.

This should probably be prefaced with the following: heteronormative, yes. Also, I've never dated a guy who has given me jewelry. Of any kind. Let alone of the expensive variety. Unless you count the kid in elementary school who gave me a ring from his CrackerJack box, which I'm sure was the height of expenditure at the time. Honestly, I'm glad about this: I think jewelry and flowers are generally easy choices early in a relationship from a well-meaning guy who can't think of something that speaks to you because he doesn't know you well enough yet. But nobody wants to spend *that* much money so early a relationship. And also, who said He has to buy Her things?

Anyway, I've heard there are "rules" for the jewels. For example, She gets to keep the ring if He proposes on Her birthday, or on Christmas. I've never heard of exemptions for couples who do not celebrate Christmas, suggesting that perhaps only Christian Americans have these bizarre "rules," or alternately that Muslims, Jews, Hindus &c. do not marry (the latter is obviously false). I've heard that if He breaks it off, She gets to keep it no matter what. If She breaks it off, She keeps it only on the birthday/Christmas clause. And of course, the "who breaks it off" language is little more than the blame game (e.g. "I ended it because She cheated, so she'd better give me back my ring!").

But back to Out Of Your Life. Check out their web slogans: "Ex-boyfriend, Ex-jewelry." "Request a free Break-Up Box," in which you mail your symbolic emotions for money. And my favorite, "For Richer or Richer."

Yes, because every time I break up with a guy, it would have ended in years of bliss otherwise. Grow up, people. Every romantic relationship will end one of two ways: happily ever after, or not. This accounts for casual dating, hookups, engagements, marriages, second-marriages, and Liz Taylor. And "happily ever" isn't always happy: there are messes and disagreements and it's work and you learn things and you deal with it. I dare say I feel the same about money: it doesn't just plop into your lap because you mailed in your cast-off diamonds. There's honest work that should be behind it or else there's no value in it. So maybe there's a parallel between expecting quick cash and expecting fast and flawless love.

Or maybe marriage hasn't changed so much from the days in which the practice was all part of an exchange economy. My parents have ten nubile female goats and two milk cows to my name. Prove me wrong.

Something is seriously weird here. Financial compensation isn't going to stop the problem. Or maybe it will. I guess I wouldn't know because I've never received that sweet cash reward.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jason and the Jargonauts

This week and last, I and my cohorts have been involved in a rigorous and exhausting teacher training "boot camp." For now, let's leave aside my own frustrations (i.e. it is entirely impossible to learn theories of teaching without practice, and it is impossible to practice without students, and it is impossible to practice *on* students during the summer when they are all enjoying their last vacation days).

I know a lot of teachers. A lot. Including people whose job descriptions never seemed to indicate any teaching component. I understand the need for specialized language in different disciplines (e.g. it is impossible to talk about mathematics without "algebra," "calculus," "quotient," and the like). But there's a certain painful confusion amongst teachers when the conversation turns to The Language of Teaching.

Do you call it: (a) syllabus, (b) curriculum, (c) course plan, (d) course description, (e) semester plan, (f)... you get the point.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't even deal with uncertainty *within* a given discipline: for Freshman Composition, do you call it "exposition," "argumentation," "claim-making," "position-staking," "debate"? Do you hand out "assignments," "prompts," "topics," "drills," "essay questions"? Grading scale? Rubric? Scoring chart? Conference? Discussion? Office meeting?

I've seen organization, arrangement, "flow," paragraphing, construction, control; thesis, claim, position; cogency, originality, rigor, innovation, invention; support, evidence, examples, outside source, quotation; style, diction, tone, word choice, vocabulary, fluency... the lists suffer constant growth (expansion, accretion, lengthening...).

This is not to be confused with academic tendencies to create b.s. words that mean what they sound like they say (incorporealness?). That's a different beast and blog post altogether.

Why, save my soul, do institutions not normalize a language of teaching?

A provisional answer: 'We're a unique institution. Nobody does it quite like us.' Translation: 'We figured out the RIGHT WAY to do things! U-S-A! U-S-A!'