I also got some good work done with my brain, but it is still cooking and not ready to serve yet.
In the last six months, three of my closest friends have moved away. Carol and Sara moved in July; one went north (State College, PA) and one went south, to Raleigh, NC, each about five hours away. The final blow was Katie's slo-mo move to northern California, which commenced last Friday. She's visiting family and friends along the way (she's retired, too) and as soon as I heard her plans, I said "ROAD TRIP"!! The general idea was that I 'd ride along until I needed to head home, and Katie would plan an itinerary that would intersect with an Amtrak route.
Everything depended on weather, of course -- winter road trips are like that -- so it turned out that I could only manage the first leg, from Maryland to Raleigh, North Carolina. TO SEE SARA!!! Katie and I had a great day: light traffic, gorgeous weather, and lunch at a brewpub in Richmond where we practiced our posing skills.
Arriving at Sara's ****awesome**** coworking space in late afternoon, we enjoyed a tour of the "neighborhood" (a huge warehouse), which included a brewpub and a neon glass studio.
The glass studio is inhabited by some of the most interesting human beings I have met in a long time, but I am giving a special shoutout to DJ, a recent MFA in jewelry design, who is apprenticing with Nate Sheaffer, the owner of Glas, learning glass blowing and incorporating their new skills into all sorts of art. Take a look at the jewelry! And the glass! Stop by when you are in Raleigh, visit the Loading Dock (pat the dogs, take the tour), enjoy the beer, and BE SURE to look at all the amazing neon/glass work.
Katie left the next morning after breakfast (snif), leaving Sara and me to gad about Raleigh and environs sampling beer, eating great food, and going to dog adoption events. Her parents were looking for a pooch to fill out their cat-heavy menagerie. Success was achieved with the arrival of Winston, a lively Pekinese mix. Meeting families of friends/students/colleagues is always interesting; it adds another dimension to the person you think you already know. In Sara's case, it was easy to see where she got her love of animals, sense of humor, and sweet hospitable nature.
I also got some good work done with my brain, but it is still cooking and not ready to serve yet.
I had an interesting conversation with a visiting journalist from India not long ago, in which she asked about how I had organized my research career. The short answer is that it was not exactly organized; in retrospect, it seems more orderly than it was. Here is how I see it now:
What was particularly helpful for me personally was realizing about forty years ago, as I was starting my PhD, that my goal was not to understand fashion, but to use fashion as a lens to understand gender. That freed me to use other lenses as well, while building my specialized expertise in fashion. So while my research and writing focused on clothing, I read far beyond clothing, and read less of the fashion literature that did not incorporate gender. What I have learned about toys, food, film, and other cultural products that also reveal gender has helped me understand fashion/gender better. Within the last twenty years or so, I have expanded this frame of reference to reflect my realization that gender is itself a lens through which I study culture. I wonder how my work would have been different if I started out forty years ago focusing on culture, then narrowing to gender and then to fashion. But evidently that is not how my brain works.
Made you look! And here’s the thing: quizzes are pretty irresistible. Websites looking for clicks know this, so if you are on Facebook, chances are you have seen a quiz or two (or ten) every day, and probably taken a few, too.
This week, I saw a new kind of quiz that strikes me as the wave of the future. The title was “Are you a food asshole?”, and it consisted of a list of foods you could check off if you had ever eaten them. Most were currently trendy (kale, salad in a jar, quinoa). If you got a low score, you were not a “food asshole”; a high score and you were. I was intrigued by this new variation on the popular format.
I took the quiz and shared the results with my friends (not a food asshole! Yay, me!) Within a day, nearly 100 people had also taken he quiz and/or commented about it. Tempers flared; some of the things on the list are trendy among white people, but staples among Latino or Filipino populations.
Here’s what I think. Quizzes are great click bait, but offensive quizzes are a gold mine. We’re going to see more of them. In my opinion, this is not a good thing. They are mean and divisive; the very last thing we need right now.
It is through the similarities and contrasts between the US and India that I am learning the most. We are both democracies, both former colonies, both religiously and culturally diverse. We have been a nation longer, but India is the cradle of much of what we think of as "western" civilization. Pajamas? Dungarees? Shampoo? Bungalow? Just a few of the common words of Indian origin that made their way into everyday English. in fact, we share much more a few recently adopted terms; Engllsh is part of the Indo-European linguistic family, and owes as much to Sanskrit as to Greek and Latin.
The most interesting films for me are the ones that open my eyes to my own culture and my own assumptions and beliefs -- most recently the romantic film Jab Harry Met Sejal, which is appealing to this American not only because the music is glorious and the acting superb, but also because while love may be universal, the lovers' expectations and boundaries are bound up in their identities as Indians. The more I understand Harry and Sejal, the deeper my understanding of their world and my own.
Thanks, India, for over 100 years of films to explore!
Although my last official day at work was June 30, my emotional last day was over a month earlier, when I attended my last graduation ceremony as a participant. Since then, I have been on a sort of pilgrimage, traveling to various places and gathering bits of my past, present and future to craft into my next life chapter. The word "retirement" holds no meaning at all; For the foreseeable future, I plan to read, think, and write even more than I used to. It's likely I will also be talking, listening, and discussing more than I was able to -- at least, I hope that's the case. Some of it will happen on social media, some of it over coffee, beer, or a meal, some of here. This is a catch-up post that also serves as a preview of some future entries. An appetizer, I hope.
Since late May, I have traveled to Portland, Maine, New York City, Baltimore (close, but it counts), Star Island (twice), and San Francisco by way of a shirt stop in Chicago. I have read more books in eight weeks than I had time to read in my last entire school year. I have sewn -- a little, not enough. I have watched dozens of movies (most of them Indian). I've played with my 4-year-old grandson and learned of the death of my youngest aunt, who was barely in high school when I was born. I have said goodbye to close friends moving away and hello to new people in my life. I have done much, much more than that, and promise to fill in some of the blanks later. Mostly, I have been filling myself up, refueling for the next leg of the journey.
Friends have warned me about the dangers of overcommitment in retirement. Frankly, I'm not worried; my secret superpower has been the ability to say "no" for some time now. (If anything, it's my reluctance to say "yes" that can get me in trouble.) For now, my plan is to mostly think and make things while I think -- my favorite form of meditation. I will share sometimes, but not everything. Every draft does not need a reader, and not every sketch wants a critic (even a friendly one).
This blog will continue to live up to its name -- everything else -- I have posts cooking away in my brain on my cross country train trip, the latest Shah Rukh Khan film, reading and "real books", beer culture, and other random topics. Watch this space. My more focused work on gender and clothing will be posted on Gender Mystique. (Yes, I am still working on that third book!) Local friends, feel free to pull me away for a chat; but no meetings, please!
People keep asking me how it feels to be retired. So far, it just feels like most of the last 42 summers since I embarked on my academic career -- I read, I write, I daydream about projects, some of the daydreams turn into plans. The only thing missing in the pang of anxiety that came when I'd look at the calendar and realize the fall semester was closing in. Right about now, at the end of July, I'd be shifting to serious planning around my syllabus and course website, and waking up in the middle of the night to worry about something course related. I don't miss that anxiety at all.
Mostly, I have been traveling -- a week here and there, punctuated by time at home to catch up and get ready for the next trip. The last big trip starts this afternoon -- I am taking the train from DC to San Francisco for a conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love. All-in-all, seven days of travel and two days of conference. Just the way I like it, in a sleeping car, looking about the window and listening to music or a book.
Writing has taken a back seat to reading and doing research. I have jottings and notes, but nothing to share. But do watch this space. In the meantime, enjoy some of my summer adventures.
It's an very odd coincidence. The first day of my retirement will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of the elimination of the Department of Textiles and Consumer Economics at the University of Maryland. The TXCE department was my home for my first sixteen years of my career at Maryland, first as an instructor on a one-year contract, then as a graduate student, and then as permanent faculty. My last year of the department was as acting department chair, or as I think of it, captain of the Titanic. My duties for the first half of the year were to try to convince a very fractured and contentious faculty to try to preserve some part of our programs. Having failed that, my job for the second half was to negotiate new placements for my sixteen colleagues and myself, and develop a plan for making sure all of our 500 undergraduate majors and 60 graduate students would finish their degrees. As I mentioned in one of my Story-a-Day posts, I have nursed a fantasy of turning the saga into a murder mystery.
What I did write, at the time, was a newsletter article for a professional organization setting out my thoughts on the process and the question of "surviving" departmental reorganization. I found it while cleaning out my office, and thought I would share, in case anyone out there is facing a similar situation. The advice has aged pretty well. Here it is, in PDF form.
As I explained in an earlier post, part of my retirement plan is "more writing, fewer citations". Participating in the Story A Day in May challenge was part of that plan. Despite the bad timing -- spanning the last weeks of my last semester before retiring -- I somehow managed to post something every day for thirty-one days. (To see the entire collection, click here.) What am I taking away from the experience?
What will June bring? July and beyond? More writing, and also editing. Lots of editing. (Yes, I saw all the typos.)
My Gender Mystique blog focuses on my work on clothing, sex, and gender. That's not all I do, so this blog is about everything else.