Turning 29 is kind of funny. It's that age that people older than 29 pretend to be turning when they don't want to embrace their actual age. It's so common, I kind of feel like I'm lying when I say "I'm turning 29 today." It's like: people who say they're turning 29 just aren't telling the truth. Because most of them aren't!! Anyway, I'm looking forward to turning 30 next year, because 29 is just awkward. It has this built in ageist angst to it that I just don't like. And I think I've always been spiritually in my 30s, anyway. Even when I was a kid, and especially when I was in high school. Not that I was all that mature or anything, it's just more how I've always seen the world. Or so I presume.... (Having never been in my 30s, myself.)
Many wonderful people have been wishing me a "Happy" birthday, and I've been doing my best to oblige! This morning I woke up at the usual 7:30am, but I awoke slowly, with the sunlight rather than with the alarm clock. Geordi (my cat) jumped onto the bed and lay on my chest, pawing at my face for a few minutes, which is something I find very annoying when I'm trying to sleep, but which I found very endearing this morning as I lay there enjoying the quiet of the morning.
I decided to come into campus today and actually do a little work. I don't teach on Wednesdays, so I could've taken the whole day "off" if I'd wanted to. But one of my favorite things to do is to spend time with people, and since Jefferson had to go to work today, I wasn't about to sit around at home when there were plenty of cool people to hang out with at work. So I came into the office and did some work, which was of course peppered by wonderful phone calls and Twitter/Facebook catching-up with people. I went to a tasty lunch with my friend and colleague, Caroline, and then to coffee with another friend and colleague (and fellow Lew-hyphenator!), Casey. Just a little while ago, yet another friend and colleague (and by "colleague" for all of these I mean fellow PhD student who studies language/linguistics), Stacy ("Stacina"), brought by some handmade cupcakes! I also got to chat on Skype with my dad, who's currently over in Guangzhou, China, for work. So yeah, I did do some work today (which I'm quite proud of myself for doing), but all-in-all this day has been more celebratory than anything else. And I am totally okay with that.
It's been so long since I've posted here. I guess now's as good a time as any to tell those of you who don't know me in "real" life that I got recently got a job! It's a 2-year Mellonpost-doc at Oxford, joint in English & Linguistics, with both research & teaching duties, starting this October. So yeah, I'm moving to the UK! And I'm gonna graduate this summer. No more Ling"GradStudent"! It's been quite a journey; thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride.
Easter Sunday seems like as good a time as any to blog about something I've been thinking about for some time now: how Christian literacy is an unspoken component of American cultural literacy, especially when you're in a conversation with a bunch of atheists.
My mother raised me Buddhist, though in Northern Arizona, there's no Buddhist temple (even if there was, I doubt I'd have turned out any more religious than I am right now). Religion, as a vehicle for spirituality, has never been a big part of my life. I can count on one hand (maybe two hands) the number of times I've been to a Christian church service of any kind. This is in contrast to most of the kids around me growing up, who were all different kinds of Christian, and who spent their Sundays (and Wednesdays) obtaining a vocabulary and knowledge base that I didn't even know I was missing.
The moments in my life when I did realize this void of knowledge were all deeply embarrassing moments that remain ingrained in my memory. Each one caught me completely off-guard, as the people around me sought to bring me into a world that to them, was normal, and to me, was utterly foreign.
When I was 5 years old we moved from Oregon to Arizona and I was temporarily placed in a private Christian preschool. (I'm not sure why this was; I should ask my parents!) On my first day there I followed the other kids into the lunchroom, where bowls of food were waiting for us at our chairs. I started eating. Everyone else gasped and stared at me. Some other 5 year old kid hissed at me in a scolding tone that we all had to say grace first. I didn't know what grace was. I also vividly recall an evening several years later, when my friend's sister asked me to say grace before dinner, and my friend and her mother also pleasantly encouraged me to do so. I knew by then what grace was, and I was happy to follow along with everyone and say "Amen," but I had no idea how to lead grace. I just kept declining until they gave up on me, and I sat there, totally embarrassed.
Along the path of life there's been other moments etched in my mind, such as mispronouncing a Biblical name and eliciting laughter, or not getting a joke because it relied on knowledge of some famous Bible story I'd never happened to learn. I own several Bibles, and I've read a fair amount of it, and I have had some wonderful conversations with my Christian friends over the years. Furthermore, it's also undeniably a fact that a person can't grow up as a fully acculturated American without some basic understanding of basic Christian beliefs and Bible stories. The metaphors, allusions, aphorisms, and practices are everywhere. American cultural literacy is Christian cultural literacy.
So why blog about this? Because I wonder to what extent the expectation of total Christian literacy makes sense. If I, as an advanced graduate student at Stanford University (who I guess is supposed to know a lot of stuff), slip up on some fact about Christianity, is it appropriate for the room to laugh at my gaff? Should I continue to swallow my pride and learn more about this religion which isn't my belief, but is my ambient culture? (Because isn't it one task of a social scientist to at least understand their own ambient culture?) Or is there any justification for the annoyance I'm tempted to feel, the little voice that says, "Hey, I was raised to follow a different religion, so why am I expected to know more about another religion than my own?"
A few months ago I was in a work meeting with several other academics, and I accidentally referred to a community by the wrong Christian denomination. (I don't even want to repeat it here, because the difference between the two denominations is quite large, and the fact that I made this mistake was deeply embarrassing -- which I guess is the point of this blog post.) The other people in the room laughed uproariously at my mistake, and all of a sudden I was 5 years old again. Except the difference these days seems to be that Christians are never the ones laughing at me anymore, rather, it's often the most atheistic of academics.
I'm embarrassed to admit this... I just redesigned the look of my blog (based on my new profile picture, thanks to photographer Katie Drager) for the primary reason that I wanted to engage with my blog in some way but I couldn't think of anything that I really wanted to blog about! So here I am, blogging about not wanting to blog, as so many of us are doing these days. And I'm doing so just so that you'll get this in your RSS feed and come look at my new purpley colors (which you've seen already anyway if you're may Facebook friend), and leave some kind of comment, so that I'll know "my Xanga community" is still there, with me. Yep. Pretty sad.
I could tell you what's new in my life. I could tell you how I'm teaching, and it's going well, but there are bad days. Or how I'm writing my dissertation, which is going less well, though there have been some very good days recently. Or how it's raining a lot, and the job market's stressful, and the economy's just awful, but we all know that already. What do cynics say about blogging? Uninteresting people talking about uninteresting things? I mean, omg, look at the book I'm reading right now. Seriously... and it's a fantastic book, too.
So... see you all again when I have something more interesting to say!
P.S. On the other hand, there's always Twitter, which I can't seem to shut up on. Follow me @dialect.
As a member of the Acoustical Society of America, I receive their quarterly newsletter, cutely/appropriately entitled Echoes. It's fun, since instead of just being about speech (which I'm used to reading about), there's information on all sort of research in acoustics: bioacoustics, underwater acoustics, musical acoustics, all sorts of neat stuff (you may remember my trip to one ASA meeting, during which one of the plenary speakers was a professional yodeler)!
Anyway, Echoes appeared in my mailbox today with this little story in their "In the News" segment. Maybe you'll find it interesting, too:
Smoke alarms could save more lives if the noise they made were a little less shrill, according to a story in the 18 October issue of New Scientist. Researchers played nine different alarm sounds to adults in the early part of their sleep. They found that people awakened fastest when exposed to a square-wave signal with a fundamental frequency of 520 Hz plus some other low tones. Most fire-related deaths at home, whether the houses have smoke alarms or not, happen in the first 3 hours of slumber, when people are sleeping most deeply.
It kind of reminds me of another news story I heard a few months ago that was about police cars switching from sirens to a low, rumbling droning sound that's supposed to be felt, rather than heard (in case your radio is on too loud). Since I live in earthquake country, that particular idea strikes me as a bad one. But the smoke alarm findings are kind of cool. Or hot.
Word on the street is that Oscar Mayer thinks that their new flatbread sandwiches are "blogworthy." And a LOT of bloggers are blogging about it. Like here, and on Buzzfeed, etc.... I got 2,000 hits from Googling "blogworthy oscar mayer." One of the descriptions asks why the ad ran in Newsweek magazine specifically, but I'll have you know that I first encountered the ad in the latest edition of InStyle magazine, so I don't think that there's any specific demographic targeting going on.
Of course the issue is not the foodstuff being sold, but the word "blogworthy" itself, and how all of the selling of this product is being done through that one word. An unambiguous, unapologetic tribute in huge font to Web 2.0 culture. The juxtaposition with something as unassuming as a flatbread sandwich plays nicely into the reputation blogs have already -- that they talk about boring, pointless daily trivia that no one cares about. And yet even though blogs are often the site of boring content or, perhaps even more often, angry outbursts of complaint, the "worthy" in "blogworthy" does the work of bestowing a positive evaluation onto the object being evaluated. So while you might say that the guy who cut you off in traffic was such a jerk about it that he's also "blogworthy," Oscar Meyer execs are clearly not concerned with such an association. And I agree with them.
How long until we see "Tweetworthy"? 1,020 hits on Google... but I'm looking for the ad campaign. Or maybe it'll never come, because if your product is only worth 140 characters, maybe it ain't all that fantastic.