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Archive for the 'Small, Shiny Things' Category

The Ghost of Christmas (Hall Decorating) Past

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Per usual, my semester ended with me collapsed on the couch, soul-sucking seminar papers turned in, exam blue books thoroughly scribbled upon, piles of books and essays covering the dining room table, and very, very little done in preparation for Christmas. I was absurdly proud of myself for decorating our tree 6 days before Christmas and designing Christmas cards and writing our Christmas letter 5 days prior to go-day. Sure, no one will actually get said Christmas cards or letters by Christmas, but I’m not ashamed to lower my standards to attainable levels at this point.

And then I remembered the two weeks leading up to Christmas break at good ol’ Cov Col. Surely calling upon some wisdom too lofty for mere undergrads, the powers-that-be ordained that the weekend prior to finals week was Time to Clean Your Rooms. Bathrooms were doused in bleach, bunkbeds had to be re-stacked, everything needed to come off the walls, and all earthly belongings were shuttled to storage or stuffed inside our minuscule closets. This was character-building and all, but also directly counter to our professors’ admonitions to study for our imminent exams.

But then, since — clearly — cleaning and studying for exams wasn’t enough for our over-active undergraduate bodies, our dorm also declared the Wednesday before finals to be the annual Hall Decorating Contest. Because, really, the best use of time would be to decide that the hall theme should be Narnia, corral freshmen into cutting down assorted pine branches from around campus, string said branches along the entire length of the hall, craft an ingenious lamppost out of a cheap Wal-mart floor light, create huge brown craft paper “wardrobe” doors for visitors to walk through, and then spread cotton batting and spray snow everywhere.

So we did.

And then, because no one had papers to write or projects to finish, of course, we all assumed a character to fit the Narnia narrative…

…Tricia labeled everyone in order to prevent confusion…

…and I got to sit swathed in a white sheet (wearing Betsy’s tiara) and offer passersby Turkish delight. I think I threw flour — er, magical freezing dust — at people who refused me.

Frankly, even as I can feel myself becoming the bitter old professor who is aghast at how students spend the last weeks of the semester, I am still ridiculously proud of this feat. I have romanticized it to the point of utter brilliance in my mind.

I am also incredibly grateful that I never have to do that ever again. Amen.

Dirty, Dirty Santa

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

I take a break from my self-exile in paper-writing-wonderland to report on the results of our small group’s Dirty Santa gift exchange last night. We gave:

  • Our extra copies of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters and an extra copy of John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the Christian Life. We feel a little less Presbyterian having given these away, but we’ll manage.
  • A three-in-one picture frame that had been sitting in our bedroom for a while. I’m not sure why. And the unbelievably hideous brass wreath ornament that Noel received at last year’s company Christmas party. There’s an engraved fighter jetĀ  tearing around the world in the middle of the wreath.

Noel received, in a single, black, white, and pink patterned gift bag:

  • 4 pink, green, and white striped cotton napkins
  • 6 write and erase stem markers for all those wine parties we throw; it came in a difficult to open plastic cube that almost proved too complicated for Noel to open
  • 3 orange plastic packs of paper soaps. In citrus!
  • 1 pale yellow plastic tube that the gift-giver swore was for peeling garlic

I received, in a single gift bag:

  • A translucent pink, white polka-dotted, glitter infested bracelet. Words really don’t do it justice.
  • Uno.
  • A magnetic key hider box that says KEY HIDER EXTRA LARGE in incredibly large type on the front. Way to be discreet.
  • The heaviest tea light candle holder in the history of mankind, crafted from some kind of Pakistani stone.
  • And, the ultimate Dirty Santa gift: a length of navy blue velor edged with artificial pine garland and complexly stitched and pinned to allow the lucky recipient the opportunity to wear it as a “Christmas tree costume.” Liz claimed she had worn it for several years. I don’t know how they celebrate Christmas down in Alabama, but that seems like a bit much.

Thanks, Dirty Santa. We can’t wait to give all of this away next year!

Project Elissa

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

I am the Bravo reality tv lineup in real life.

On Project Runway Elissa, I sewed a dress to wear to Paige and Trent’s rehearsal dinner. It took a lot longer than one day to do so. Sorry, Nina.

On Shear Genius Nerd, I cut Noel’s hair. He hadn’t been shorn since Josh and Corinne’s wedding at the beginning of June, so there was a lot of curl to tame. Good thing there was a lot of Olympics to watch.

On Top Only Chef, I baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for a church fellowship. Unfortunately, we did not have time to let the dough rest for 36 hours, but the cookies that chilled for 18 hours were, according to Noel, superior to the cookies that chilled for only 6. Not much of a Quickfire Challenge.

Up Next: Aliens.

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, Noel and I received these slips in our fortune cookies:

The software developer, of course, was affirmed with the declaration that his financial future was secure. Me? Facing a new semester with a new batch of freshmen and the always combustible departmental politics, I am told: “An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!” Cool.

I’m Here, Feeling Awkward

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

As April and Bets have already chronicled, we indeed all got our new piercings. Because I’m a nerd and a weanie, I just got another hole in my ear…

…and consequently my tale of The Moment of Piercing itself is rather unremarkable. What no one else has commented on, however, is the general atmosphere of the piercing-and-tattooing establishment we patronized. We went to Iron Age on the Loop, which came highly recommended. We also went on a Monday afternoon. And…the place was packed. On a Monday afternoon.

I arrived first. A man with a frizzy beard divided into two ponytails and assorted metal accessories protruding from his face was ushering a client into the back, curtained-off chairs. The woman at the counter — dressed in skinny black with various facial piercings and a purple bow in her ponytail — was surrounded by several concentric rings of clients. Because it was so busy, I quietly took a seat in the waiting area, decided that trying to read “Skater Times” wasn’t going to help anyone and pulled out a journal article instead. Nothing like reading a little Asian American visual culture theory in a tattoo parlor. April called shortly and I announced, “I’m here. Feeling awkward.”

Given the state of anxiety I’ve just described, you may be wondering: “Well, what did the clientele look like, Elissa?”

And I would tell you — and you may be disbelieving — that they were largely middle aged women.


Friday, July 4th, 2008

Back in our CovCol days, Noel and I lived on halls in the same dorm that had (helpfully, for our purposes) proclaimed themselves to be “brother and sister halls.” This was a nice idea. Under the guise of spirituality-glazed affection, it gave some members of each hall their most regular and sustained contact with folks of the opposite sex. Occasionally, Second South would grow distracted by the bright young things on Third South or Third Central would saucily invite Sutherland to dinner. But, in a rather impressive commitment to hall-to-hall fidelity, Second South and Third Central managed, overall, to maintain this purported “brother-sister” relationship.

Clearly, this racket worked out well for us.

When Noel and I got married, I was ushered into a sub-coterie of Second South: Manville. The Manville boys were a big part of our lives in Chattanooga. We ate Sunday suppers and watched soccer together. Noel and I counseled several of them through relationship beginnings, endings, and false starts.

Noel, meanwhile, became privy to the energetic, and generally loud emotional lives of some of my Roomates in the Lord. On occasion, he was asked to speak in defense of his entire gender. He remained unperturbed when Rachel and I would dissolve into tearful messes on his couch. He didn’t understand the girls, per se, or why the decibel level needed to be so high, but he loved them because of what they meant to me.

This weekend is the third Second South + Third Central marriage in the last four years and the second Manville + Roommates in the Lord wedding. Brien and Kelly’s wedding weekend extravaganza in Ft. Lauderdale is bringing together some of the people who know me best and who are dearest to my heart. It’s a family reunion, of sorts: two unrelated but tightly bound groups of friends who have history, traditions, and plans for the future.

In our card for Kel and Brien, we’ll tell them how precious this group of friends have been and how delightful it is to have them joined together, again.

Because, like your mother-in-law told you, you don’t marry a person.

You marry the family.

Seven Weeks, Seven (or so) Pictures

Monday, January 28th, 2008

I’ve stopped apologizing for long gaps in my blogging attempts. When writing fancy academic things is your daily grind, it can be hard to code switch to witty, more public-friendly banter. So, good visual culture historian that I am, here are roughly the equivalent of seven thousand words, summarizing my winter break and subsequent return to the hallowed pink granite halls of learning:

Week 1:

Not yet free, I grade final exams where students tell me ridiculous things about Manet.

Week 2:

snow angel

St. Louis has its biggest snow since ancient times. I am addicted to making snow angels and singing along to Over the Rhine’s Christmas album.

Week 3:

gingerbread jungle

In the culinary paradise of my in-laws’ home in Houston, my sisters and I create a veritable masterpiece: a gingerbread savannah. In 3-d.

Week 4:


I grow deeply attached to my Christmas gift: riding boots.

Week 5:

love on the beach up up up


Week 6:


We get our very own Roomba. Suddenly, we come home to a clean rug every day. Lives change. The faint sound of rejoicing angels is heard.

Week 7:


I get my thesis chapter back from my adviser, begin TAing for Intro to Modern, clean out the basement, return to choir, and finally get a Missouri driver’s license. But perhaps most importantly, I realize that my Mac’s Photobooth application got an upgrade with Leopard.

A Thesis in Pieces

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Huzzah! I am 58 pages closer to a graduate degree in Contemporary Art and Theory.

Four days ago, my dining room floor looked like this:

Thesis in Pieces

When I taught writing at Cov, I would occasionally frighten hapless students by whipping out a pair of scissors and announcing that we were going to cut up their essays. I am a big believer in slicing up essays. In real life. There is something so productive and material and satisfying about physically playing with the order of an essay that even Microsoft Word’s scissor icon can’t quite approximate.

After a satisfying round with my scissors, some tape, and scrap paper, things started to come together:
Abject Forever

Yay. The final few projects of the semester seem far more manageable after taming this beast.


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.

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.