Monday, November 28, 2011

Birthday Dream

Everyone needs a construction site next door.  It’s true that the giant machines wake you up at 6:45 EVERY SINGLE DAY.  And your entire house will be covered in dirt for months.  At least two members of your family will get something in their eye that will cause major problems.  You will inadvertently become a strip show for construction men.  Your children will stage protests by throwing play mobiles at the workers who are not, in fact responsible, for the construction. You’ll have to call the police a few times when people rob the dumpster or use it to throw away large metal objects.  The children and the resident dog will cry as their favorite trees are ripped heartlessly from the ground.  But there’s nothing better than a construction site for a five-year-old birthday party.  Ok, it was slightly stressful when two kids went missing and the phrase “they are in the bobcat” was used.  

Other than that, this was by far the easiest birthday party we have ever had, including the ones where we paid outside agents to do all the work. We spent about ten bucks on juice boxes and paper plates and had no plans.  Poor deprived Eli almost never has playdates except on his birthday.  By 8 am it seemed like we might be headed towards the usual disaster because eli had already had two tantrums; the first because he knew we needed MORE BAKING SODA IN THE CAKE!.  I’ve had a thing about making elaborate b-day cakes for years now.  My friend Cynthia and I outdid ourselves with the Williams Sonoma double train cake for Rebecca and Jonathan when they turned four, and we have also specialized in cute little ice cream cone cupcakes.  Cynthia was generous enough to fly in from Alaska for this year’s festivities, but Reidecca Party Planning, Ltd. took over.  Reid and Rebecca first made a pin-the-siren-on-the-fire-engine game out of poster board and then hit the cake.  These are kids who until now put so much frosting on Hanukah cookies that they were inedible and always produced cakes that had more sprinkle than cake.  This year they carefully outlined the fire engine wheels in mini m&m’s and took off from there.  They both have better fine motor skills than I do.

It seemed like we were pushing our luck when we had some friends passing through town and invited their three kids to come to the party.  And then the first guests arrived half an hour early because the kids had been begging to go to the party all day and finally the dad said “ok that’s it. if you want to go now we walk.” So they walked the two miles.  And the kids played on the site in the mud for most of the time.  Hannah, who showed up in a pink taffeta party dress, spent a good hour in a muddy hole and came out with a miraculously clean dress.  Everyone needs a party dress to play in the dirt. At some poing the big kids started a game of relay relay which involved jumping around in retail relay bins.  I typically use these for time out.   When things looked like they might get cranky, we moved on to birthday cake, which was lovely, although Eli, who had burned his hand making pancakes in the morning, wanted nothing to do with the actual candles.  After opening presents we had a half hour left on the b-day party clock, and I suggested Rebecca read to the kids out of E’s new Dr. Seuss book. This meant that when parents picked up their kids no one was on large construction equipment. Instead, the five year olds were gathered around the second and third grade girls who were calmly and seriously reading to them.  We had three big sisters with us, each of whom needed to take a turn! And I’m pretty sure that another mom cleaned the family room and swept the floor while the big sisters read. 

For the record, we have terrible birthday party karma.  I pretty much hate them and have attended about two kid b-day parties other than my own.  Even when we moved to having parties at outside venues I felt like I needed heavy painkillers to recover. I can barely locate my own children in a crowd even when I dress them in matching bright colors, so the last thing I can do is keep track of seven extra kids who are high on sugar and party uppers.  Rebecca and Jonathan’s five-year-old birthday party was one of the worst ever.  Because of the twin factor we had to invite the entire class.  That class is pretty much on speed and has already traumatized multiple preschool and Sunday school teachers. They all came including uninvited siblings and parents who stayed.  Meanwhile the power went out and the low point was a kid (not ours) throwing rocks at another kid while his father looked on doing nothing. Although we had sent our dog away for the party, a guest arrived with an unleashed dog who, though very friendly, traumatized two of the kids at the party and a few neighbors.  Two kids climbed over the fence and the art project that I had carefully planned after serious Internet research took exactly three seconds.

I’m not sure what happened yesterday other than karmic payback for torturous parties of birthdays past.  It’s true that Eli’s class is a calmer group.  The little boys who have been on his b-day list the longest are Sid, Solomon and Charlie, who, when you add Eli to the mix, sound like a group of old men in Florida.  I’d like to say that I am super mom and that we should all go back to basics—no theme, no goody bags, no activities, no rules; just let it rip.  But that’s probably not the answer for every party…

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conference Cheat Sheet

I’m back from my two-week conference tour.  As a grad student and young assistant professor, I frequently attended the meetings of both the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology.  But they are always back-to-back and with a job, spouse, and kids, such gallivanting became difficult.  The combo of travel, friends from at least ten different phases of my life, and papers whose names I can no longer remember has me somewhat brain-dead.  But I loved going back to SEM after many years and, especially, hanging out with old friends. Suffice it to say that Friday nights giggle fest was worth the trip.  I have a few observations from my comparative ethnography, but I haven’t figured out how to say them in ways that won’t make everyone mad so for now I’ll keep most of them to myself. As a teaser, Ethnomusicologists sport much cooler, attire but they do not drink as much as musicologists. 

 I spent much of Friday and Saturday afternoon/evening with current and former students.  They suggested that I write down some of the conference tips I gave them.  I did not come with all of these myself but gleaned many from my friends and mentors.

1) Do not go to a conference exhausted.  For example, I do not recommend taking thirty kids to see Bill T Jones and chaperoning a bus trip the night before a cross continental flight to a conference.  This will take two weeks, at least, to recover from.

2) Read the program before the conference and try always to go to a few papers that seem completely irrelevant to your research and that interest you.  Do this when you are young because at a certain point you can do nothing but support students, former students, friends, former friends etc... and intellectual interest falls completely out of the equation.

3) Put a little thought into meals. Foraging for food can turn into a very eighth grade affair.  A few people make plans, someone else tries to join; suddenly seven people find themselves in a clump with an awkward five-person reservation on the offer.  If you are on the job market or a search committee you may find yourself in the awkward position of adding the employment power dynamic to the 8th grade social machinations.  Reserve a few activities for really good friends and keep them small!  Consult Yelp and locals.

4) If you have kids and they have either given you a manicure or put a tattoo on you, remove.  You may feel uncomfortable with multi colored fingernails and a spider man on your wrist.

5) Hydrate.  Think of this like a marathon.  Hotels are dry, and the air quality often resembles an airplane delayed on the runway.  Drink lots of water and apply hand cream generously. (the latter is particularly for scholars not in the early stages of their careers, as we euphemistically say in the AMS now)

6) Speaking of hydrating… If you drink, a flask is key.  Hotel bars charge a fortune for drinks and can be full of people whom you may or may not want to see.  I recommend Bourbon or Cognac.  Many Universities sponsor parties with free alcohol (and you can fill your flask if you charm the bartender) or cash bars.  The Harvard party at SEM got the prize this year for delightful peach margaritas.

7) Bring Advil.  See above for hydrating issues.  Add to that the fact that conference hotels now frequently combine environmentally correct slightly yellow lighting with crazy light displays, and a head ache will surely rear its ugly head.

8) Bring Snacks, preferably protein.  Any event with food will include starch and more starch.  The weekend is likely to gyrate unpredictably between eating giant starch-infused meals to situations with no opportunity for food for hours on end.  Always have a high quality dark chocolate bar in your bag—this can solve food and caffeine problems.

9) A very eminent and serious female musicologist who shall remain nameless explained to me about twenty years ago that when she gets a paper accepted she plans the outfit first and then writes the paper.  And every year at least two female musicologists asked me what to wear to AMS or SEM.  This is all a little more vexed for women than for men. My general words of wisdom are wear teaching clothes and wear something you feel good in.   I recommend tights with glitter on them, and have them hand delivered by a fabulous friend to sparkle up day seven of conference going in two weeks.  But if that doesn’t work for you, find something else.  Don’t get too caught up in what you are supposed to wear.   There are certainly those women who wear suits, but if you’re like me and you look like you’re wearing your mom’s hand me downs in a suit, find something else that works. I’m personally committed to color, and I appreciate it when people wear it.  If you don’t see well and every third person is wearing gray or black it can be hard to locate your friends.

10) Do not speak in elevators ever.  It is inevitable that you will insult the person you are riding with directly or at least insult someone who is just like them.

11) Introduce yourself to people if the person you know in common fails to do so.  Said person has probably forgotten their name but can not ask because they should know.  And if you’re a senior scholar wear your nametag and introduce your students to people so that they don’t feel lonely and awkward.  (after 9 pm name tags can probably come off.)

12) Bring a pen.  Writing snide notes is more subtle than texting the person sitting next to you.  If you txt you may accidentally push a button that makes noise or send the text to someone’s 12 year old daughter who has a similar name.

13) Add entertaining apps to your smart phone. The Mozart Dice game and Cat piano work especially well.

14) Stick to exercise routines.  If possible get OUTSIDE the hotel.  If you’re an adult who probably should have been on ritalin as a child, the consequences of this can be dire including, for example, accidentally kicking an extremely eminent scholar while fidgeting during a paper.  In addition to the stress release, there’s a certain kid of hooky pleasure that comes from sneaking past colleagues incognito in running clothes.  But if you’re meeting someone else don’t leave them stranded in the lobby in running shorts.  In order to avoid this scenario I ended up bringing a female student up to my room while I changed, which is probably breaking some sort of rule.

15) Do not bother bringing seven books to write that paper you’ve been needing to write all semester.  This will only hurt your back.  Another eminent female musicologist I know spent much of her conference time writing when her children were small, but she’s a special case. 

16) Figure out whether or not you like to stay in the conference hotel.  Some people always like to sleep away from the hoards.  Others value the convenience above all else.  Another nameless scholar informed a few friends that after walking all over San Francisco to avoid the hotel strike and being tired and sweaty that even if the next one took place in a bordello with a musicology prostitution ring the conference hotel was a must.

17) Make sure you are teaching something you can do in your sleep or showing lengthy Opera video examples the day after a conference.  Your brain will be completely mush from scholarly overstimulation and will need a time out.  Avoid situations where you can make a fool of yourself or where, if it’s a promotion year, your evaluations might be negatively affected by confusing Schubert and Shobart and or getting trapped in a digression about Deluzian philosophy while teaching Schoenberg.

18) Above all, make sure you do at least one thing each day that is fun for you.  This could range from solo morning coffee to wearing your favorite socks to adding mustaches to some of the advertisements on bulletin boards. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cocktails and Sketch Studies

I’m writing this from 30,000 feet on the plane home from San Francisco where I attended the national meeting of the American Musicological Society.—a musicological mini camp.   Instead of campfires we have heady evening sessions.  And instead of roasting marshmallows we roast each other over wine and cheese.  In San Francisco dining options included boutique cocktails with bricks of ice and pieces of Ginger.  This was of course all that much more delicious thanks to menus that described in great detail the provenance of every morsel consumed in a restaurant—the cow named Clifford who lived on a farm in Napa, the apple that grows only in the valley and was picked a mere thirty two hours ago etc..

The weekend once again reminded that the China summer is the gift that keeps on giving.  On the plus side even though the plane was delayed on the runway for 90 minutes because they parking break was stuck and they needed to get it a new one the trip feels easy. The more delightful continuing effect centers around the boils that occasionally sprout up on one of us.  Yes I do mean boils in the Passover ten plagues sense of the word.  Eli had one on his butt last week, which caused him some pain but did give him essentially unlimited license to talk about butts, a favorite topic of five-year-old boys.  Manuel’s unfortunately was in a slightly more vulnerable spot—the armpit.  It required surgical lancing and a narcotic painkiller that was so strong that he mistook his hospital bed for a swimming pool. Soon we will need to begin a process of decontamination and decolonization. This begins apparently with bathing the children in diluted Clorox.   In other gross echoes of the jungle have a bit of pathological dishpan hands from washing things in non-potable water.  But this can be turned into a fashion statement by replacing rings with spider man Band-Aids. The boils provide great cocktail party conversation and my friends Nathan and Cynthia whom I had not seen in FIVE years were especially delighted to hear and see all of the gory details.  I even showed them pictures of the boil on my hip/muffin top, which is not a place a twin mother shares with many people.

The other benefit to me of the summer centers on domestic calculus.  I feel that three months in a third world country in which I made bread every day and did not spend more than two hours away from my precious offspring gives me a kind of carte blanche travel freedom for at least a decade.  This is similar to my attitude towards changing yucky diapers which amounted basically too “I birthed and nursed them you do the other gross stuff.” The fantasy of cashing in on this particular family debt centered on spas with lady friends and time in urban centers around the world.  Needless to say the combo of my grandmother dying and needing to go to an extra conference this fall didn’t measure up to those sultry daydreams.  But I did have a fabulous extra day in Berkeley recovering from the American Musicological Society.  The children unfortunately seem to have completely forgotten the summer of love/attachment parenting and simply want to know why I travel so much, how I could possibly miss the sock hop, piano recital and two soccer games, and why they could not come with me.  By all accounts Rebecca rocked Spanish Dance.  Her teacher reports that he suggested she work on getting some height in her chords to produce a big sound.  She apparently got the hands way off the keyboard and “loved the drama and got a little bit of sound of the instrument too…”At this point she’s all drama and gesture and not much content.  In asking her about the recital I was careful to ask at last four times if she had fun before asking how she played. He would like her to progress faster in her weekly lessons which translates to “hey you’re a pianist why can’t your kid get a little more done here…..”

I’ll be home for two days before setting off for the Society for Ethnomusicology.  I’m planning comparative fashion ethnography of the two societies building on the fine work of three of our graduate students.  I always give my graduate students various writing assignments and ethnographic tasks around national meetings.  A few years ago a particularly dynamic threesome turned in a stunning ethno-sartorial study of the AMS.  While I’m quite certain that I possess neither their style nor their critical eye I’ll do my best to report. My hunch is a lot less suits and definitely no Republican frocks.