bigger pond

Archive for November, 2007

An Inscrutable Code of Dress

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A few days ago, Noel forwarded me an e-mail relaying key information about his upcoming company Christmas party.

The attire for the Holiday party is any of the following… Festive, After-Five, Business Casual, (No Jeans Please)

To me, this this dress code is, indeed, inscrutable. Having chosen the life and career path that leads through the extended labyrinths of academia, where professors dress in anything from turtlenecks with gypsy skirts to full-body ensembles in eggplant. Occasionally, there is a sweater vest involved. Also, mismatched earrings.

Emerging from this context, these random and randomly capitalized words — “Festive,” “After Five,” “Business Casual” — seem obtuse, exclusionary, and even foreboding. Had I not done my research on Google, I may have assumed that “Festive” would be fulfilled by wearing something like:


Turns out, “Festive” is just code for “sparkly.” A shiny blouse, some sort of extravagant bling, a sequin or two. It remains unclear if this reported definition of “Festive” means Noel should wear something like this:


“After Five” is also problematic. To simply declare a particular type of attire “After Five” presumes a hegemonic consensus on what one wears post-five o’clock. What about class? What about race? What about gender? It’s colonial, really. And, should you be wondering, at this time of year, after I finish with school, I am most likely to be wearing this after five:


And, judging from extant literature on the subject (which is how we roll in grad school), the definition of “Business Casual” is still fraught. Even Noel’s company cannot trust its employees to correctly interpret the coded phrase without the helpful parentheses: “(No jeans).” If business folks don’t know what it means then, really, how much hope can I really have?

On the other hand, given the sheer range of formality and, um, tastefulness, of attire at last year’s party, perhaps giving a suggested attire — no matter how inscrutable — is still an improvement.

Now to go buy that elf costume…


Sunday, November 25th, 2007

While growing up in Hawaii had distinct advantages, fresh and affordable Christmas trees were not numbered among those perks. When I was especially wee, my parents bought small, rather scrawny trees from the parking lot of Foodland; unfortunately, I was so young that they had to place the precious evergreen in the playpen for its own protection. By the time I was in grade school, however, my dad had decided that his allergies could no longer endure a month of expensive agony and we bought a surprisingly furry artificial tree. My parents told us that its shaggy appearance had to do with its attempt to approximate a Canadian Pine.


My mom, however, continued to harbor a deep and persistent love of the smell of evergreens. Every year, she and I would go on a special “smelling” date. After completing a grocery shopping excursion, we would detour into the temporary tents set up in the market parking lot. We would watch the men spray the foamy fake “snow” onto trees at customers’ requests, marvel at the amazing shrinkage which occurred during the tree-netting process, and, then, burrow our noses into the spicy, woodsy branches. Having secured our Christmas smelling fix, we could proceed with the rest of the holiday season.

So imagine my utter delight when, during our year of dating, I realized that Noel — who sometimes seems to be allergic to most airborne plant matter — was not allergic to Christmas trees. Sweet joy indeed. In anticipation of our third Christmas together, we brought our chosen conifer home today, lugged the Christmas boxes up from the basement, and sipped Noel’s amazing peppermint hot chocolate while we decked the tree, primarily with Noel’s extensive collection of childhood ornaments.

There is something about setting up our own little Christmas tree, tucked into the corner of our dining room, that asserts our family-ness. And there is something about being able to smell a Christmas tree every day, rather than just in the parking lot of Foodland, that is a strange but delightful perk to being an adult on the mainland.

Full Buckets

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

As April and I reluctantly drove Rachel to the airport on Saturday morning, our buckets — our metaphorical storage containers for emotion — started to leak. The part of life where you don’t get to live with or right next to your best friends is probably a result of the Fall.

Noel and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We eschewed blood relatives this time around, and instead celebrated with old roommates, laughing about old times, but also excitedly participating in the now of each person’s life. We talked about new relationships, new churches, new programs of study, new heights and depths of cooking and cleanliness. It is so precious to see how these relationships have persisted, despite distance and changing seasons. These people are woven into my heart in surprisingly tight ways.

I am humbled to have these friendships. I am thankful that Noel and I have a little home where old friends can come and relax and be known. I am content, knowing that another Thanksgiving reunion will certainly come.

PSA: The Names of Old Masters Are Not Interchangeable

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

(Blogging between rounds of grading has proved difficult. My thesis research is consuming, and as I struggle to put thoughts into sentences coherent by academic standards, I have little desire to re-translate into summary or self-critical form for my reading public. But, lucky for you, faithful, returning reader of this blog…the second exam is in hand, providing me with ample fodder for nerdy giggles.)

A public service announcement regarding this painting:

death of the virgin

I freely admit that this is not the most famous of paintings. The colors are dark, the subjects look sad, and the suggested narrative is reasonably obscure. And yet, cultured reader and member of the public, there are a few things I would like you to know.

Contrary to the answers of several of my students, this is not a fine example of the Early Renaissance period. This is not, in fact, painted by Masaccio. A work by Masaccio, Early Renaissance master as he was, looks more like the this:

Further, the painting in question is not, as reported by other students, painted by Peter Paul Rubens. Although you, fine reader, were not in attendance during the class lecture on Rubens — where his penchant for rosy, fleshy, tumbling women was repeated ad nauseum — you may be familiar with the common reference to a “Rubenesque” build. Upon careful examination of first painting, I would argue, quite strongly, that there is nary a peaches and cream confection of a woman in sight. The absence of such plump femininity would, I hope, temper any desire to attribute this work to Rubens. It was not so for my students, but perhaps, now, you will choose more wisely.

the landing of marie de medici

The painting in question is, in fact, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin, from 1606. It is not, as another student proclaimed, A Suicide, and it is most definitely not The Deposition. The painting is remarkable in several aspects, not least of which is the uncharacteristically somber and realistic treatment of Mary’s death. Instead of a shiny, floating Virgin being ushered into the heavens by putti, Caravaggio paints a pale, slightly green, and decidedly dead woman surrounded by stricken mourners. This unflinchingly naturalistic depiction of death likely contributed to the decision by Caravaggio’s intended patron, Laerzio Cherubini, to reject the painting. Ironically, Peter Paul Rubens — who painted a rather luscious Assumption of the Virgin himself — appreciated Caravaggio’s skill and innovation and convinced the Duke of Mantua to buy the work instead.

This message is sponsored by the Society of Type A Art Historians and Tired TAs with the hope for a brighter future where our young people remember that the names of old masters are not, in fact, interchangeable.