I Sweat In Your Phone

IMG_0261I know I look fetching with perspiration dripping down my face, eyeglasses sliding down my nose, abdomen puffing in and out like the bellows it is, and a four-foot wooden tube stuck in my mouth, which I lick with abandon to get the proper saliva quotient on a finicky piece of cane held in place by two miniature metal screws.

But as dashing as my fluid fingerwork looks in 1080p HD, the sound is kind of important too.  Between the amplification, the reflective acoustic, the talkative crowd, and the recording quality of your phone . . . well, you get the picture.

Then there’s me.  At 80ºF plus humidity, the lower register of my flute refuses to speak—that is, when it’s not sliding off my chin.  Tuning is a pipe dream (no pun intended).

Have you tried focusing on the feet?  They’re the most musical part of the body, anyway.  Though they might distort your audio quality.

I am alternating between four different instruments, and thus can’t fully warm up any of them; I mean, they’re overly warm, but not warmed up.  My licorice stick is thirty-two years old. That’s 150 in people years. This species of wood is depleted, so I try my best to keep her going with hospice care as long as I can.  Even so, at any moment she could explode in a spasm of uncontrollable asyntactic modernist squeaks. Fasten your seat belts . . . and there she goes! I hope that did not make your ears bleed.  Or break your iMicrophone.

Is there a clarinet doctor in the house?  No?  But there’s an expert leatherworker?  Hmm, an interesting possibility, but I think I’ll wait.

Sinuses.  Arthritis.  Insomnia.  Not enough coffee.  Too much coffee.  PMS.  Plus a run-of-the-mill cluster of neuroses.  And I left the beta blockers in my other case.  Actually, I think they’re in your case.  Are they good?  Should I get some?  I’ve always been afraid to try them.

I’m furious at my duo partner and am glaring at him.  We had a fight on the way to the gig. Not true, but it could be. For some other person, that is.  Not me.  Meantime, I do not want to miss when he winks at me between jigs, or when his eyes widen in surprise at my choice to play Mixolydian when he expects Ionian.  He needs to be undistracted, so he’ll notice when I bounce in my chair to urge him to go twice as fast, or twice as slow, to accommodate the state of my lungs.  (See above about sinuses, coffee, neuroses, etc.)

It’s a gymnasium, festive.  Free-range kids running around screaming with glee. Throngs line up and jostle one another to thrust their tips in our expectant guitar case.  Was that you who left the jalapeño croissant?  (I am not making this up.)

As you see, it takes devotion and complete concentration to deliver the level of performance that passersby will want to keep as a souvenir.  When you aim your phone at me, my performance ceases to be worthy of capture.  Even Benedict Cumberbatch agrees.

Take away my comfort in knowing that these moments are ephemeral, and I fly without a net.

So, while I am honored that you want to carry me off in your pocket,—very honored, believe me—I am not ready yet. I want to look and sound my best before we take that step.

See that stack of business cards over there?  Take one, and come see me next time.  I’d love that!  How my haircut will hold up until then I can’t predict, but I’ll sound much better than I do in that .m4v, I promise.  And maybe a little later, when I’m ready, you can take me home with you.

—Barbara White

Wherefore art thou, wherever?

We’ve been going about this all wrong!

We need to locate a big, fat disgusting pig with a slobby bimbo dog face.  Then we can ask this unprofessional disaster herself where her wherever is.  (Full disclosure: it’s possible that she will drop to her knees to show us.)

Except . . . she doesn’t have her facts.  So we might be out of luck after all.  Whoever can tell us, then, where her wherever is?

Whither wherever?  We may never know.

[Libby Nelson, “Here are all Donald Trump’s insults to women that Megyn Kelly asked about.”]

Not in Kansas. And Not in Oz.


Hucksterism, yes.  Charlatanism, yes.  Buffoonery, yes.

Now that we have established that, let’s consider how the gleeful campaign to expel Dr. [sic] Oz from his Columbia professorship intersects with the current state of higher education.

Poppy Field Photo by Jon Bunting, via flickr

Poppy Field
Photo by Jon Bunting, via flickr

Budgets, curricula, trigger warnings, competition from the University of Wikipedia.  Societal suspicion of intellection and reflection.  Increasing corporatization.  And let’s not forget human rights.

Professor Oz (yes, that does sound odd) is not the only academic (that too) to have his professorial status challenged of late.  There are others whose livelihoods have been threatened because they hold unpopular political views or have stood up to the man.  Or because they did something as distressingly ill-advised as any of us might have done under the right wrong circumstances.

So, let’s not smoke the poppies just yet.

In 2013, University of Kansas faculty member David Guth was suspended over a tweet that distastefully maligned the National Rifle Association.  (Now, if he had tastefully maligned the NRA, would that have gotten a pass?)  Later, National Public Radio described the Kansas Board of Regents’ introduction of guidelines for social media, which restricted what faculty could say online.  On NPR, State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady had this to say about the incendiary tweet:

“Look, you have freedom of speech, but you can’t go this far,” he says. “I think having a clear understanding between faculty and the board of regents on what’s acceptable and what’s not is better for everyone involved.”

Couture-Lovelady, by the way, is not only a state representative but is also a member of the NRA.

In 2014, at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, the School of Public Health’s executive director expressed disagreement with the administration’s budgetary plans, which he and others had been told not to oppose in public.  Robert Buckingham’s tenure was revoked.  He was fired and physically removed from the University and was told he was “banned for life” from returning to campus.  Although he was to retire in a matter of months, his retirement benefits were withdrawn.  University Provost Brett Fairbairn’s letter to Buckingham read as follows:

“In publicly challenging the direction given to you by both the president of the university and the provost, you have demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination and have destroyed your relationship with the senior leadership team of the university” [emphasis added].

Some leadership.  Some team.

(Buckingham was later offered part of his job back, and even later, Fairbarn resigned.)

Earlier this year, Steven Salaita filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois.  In 2013, he was wooed away from a tenured position at Virginia Tech to accept a professorship, also tenured, at UI’s Urbana-Champaign campus.  The following summer he was informed that his hire had been denied by the University’s Board of Trustees.

About ten months had passed since the initial offer.  The previous autumn, Salaita had proposed to UIUC that he finish up the year at VT, and UIUC had agreed to defer his start date until the fall. However, the Trustees’ vote on his position did not take place until the summer, well beyond the point where he had had to sell his house in Virginia and resign his position at Virginia Tech.  He was already working for UIUC, without a contract, preparing courses for the ensuing semester.  Yet the discussion about l’affaire Salaita circled around his offensive tweets.  (Some faulted Salaita for accepting such conditions, even as they failed to scrutinize the management that expected him to commit, relocate, and begin working before the Trustees voted.)

In March, former associate professor of anthropology Kimberly Theidon filed a lawsuit against Harvard University.  She contends that she was denied tenure in response to her advocacy for victims of sexual assault:

Yes, I was denied tenure in retaliation for my Title IX protected speech and conduct in support of survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Theidon says that she was explicitly told not to speak up about sexual assault.  Her tenure case was decided while Harvard was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in regard to Title IX violations.  Theidon, quoted in the Boston Globe, says she was expected to “check her conscience” when she entered campus:

“It’s about the fact that that institution would prefer to deny tenure to an eminently qualified person rather than tenure that person and have her continue to speak out about how much they have failed to protect students, both women and men, on that campus.”

(I remember reading an account—though I do not have a link handy—wherein Theidon reported being advised by an administrator that faculty do not normally undertake advocacy before attaining tenure.  I wonder what sort of explanation a junior professor might offer for keeping silent about violent criminal activity for six or more years.  “Sorry, can you reschedule your assault and PTSD for 2020?  Maybe I’ll be able to offer support then.  That is, if I get tenure . . .”)

So, back to Oz.  The anti-intellectualism and even magical thinking that feed his success deserve critique, and he deserves censure.  But the reactive craving for his termination, undertaken in the name of reason and science, give pause.  Oz is no intellectual—at least, not in his current incarnation.  However, the mass vendetta that seeks to remove him resembles, causally or not, battles against the very intellectual integrity that Oz-ousters claim to value. The content drives the public discussion, and the form is overlooked.  As are the likely repercussions.

It’s not so far from cries of “Reiki faker!” to accusations of  “amendment thwarter!” Or “insubordinator!” Or “Anti-Semite!” Or “man hater!”

In hawking magic coffee beans and in hosting celebrities who blame themselves for their cancer while promoting their new albums, Oz may do harm.  And so may those who tread the warpath looking to incite his downfall.  We do well to keep our bloodlust in check.

Those who are so invested in Ozgate may consider themselves rational and intelligent and superior.  They may be right.  But they may also be playing with a fire they do not even know is lit.  Some academic voices are touted and amplified, others merely tolerated, and still others are silenced altogether.    The forces that determine these outcomes cannot be seen on TV shows.

Some praise Oz for daring to speak up against GMOs and Big Food.  Others deride him for promulgating wishful thinking through homeopathy.  One need not embrace a rudderless relativism to realize that the verifiability of his claims is not the sole issue at stake.  (Have you never received inadequate advice, based more on personal bias than rational consideration, from a medical professional?  I have.)

Imagine an intellectual you respect, one with a keen intellect, unwavering integrity, and a fierce commitment to the greater good.  Imagine her fulfilling her professional obligations with expertise commitment yet being subjected to claims of inappropriate speech and insubordinate behavior.  Imagine her research, lauded in the field at large, suddenly subjected to disproportionate scrutiny and found lacking by the administration that had previously tenured her.  Imagine her being directed not to speak in public—whatever “public” means these days—about any misgivings she may have about her university’s policies. Imagine her receiving word that she should not, at 11 p.m. of an evening, on the comfort of her sofa, compose an impassioned, impolitic few sentences expressing frustration at gun violence.  Imagine her being told she is not to speak up in support of students who have reported being raped.

That’s why we have tenure.  Or had it.

A little Reiki and unfounded weight-loss advice might not be such an insupportable price to pay for academic freedom.  And who’s so sure we can’t converse with the departed anyway?

If You See My Superhero On The Street, Kill Her

The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out.  They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it.  They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it.  Those women are my superheroes.

—Elizabeth Gilbert (Facebook Post, March 26, 2015)

Women are not required to suffer and “handle it” for me to admire them. They do not need to be superheroes.  They do not need to do anything to serve me.

We all suffer and manage as we can—or not. If one is going to invoke the greatness of “handling it” when “s*** happens,” it might be useful to distinguish between the inconvenience of waiting for the bus in the rain or finding that one’s favorite restaurant is out of squid pasta and the outrage of being undervalued, overlooked, underpaid, harassed, threatened, stalked, abused, beaten, raped, or killed—all of which happen to women every day simply because they are women. Idealizing “superheroes” who “handle it,” without elaboration, risks giving the impression that one approves of those things, that one is content with inequity, exploitation, even atrocity.

Replace “women” with “men,” and see how that sounds.

By admiring “s*** handling,” one disregards the matter of injustice—and we are not obliged to “handle” that either.  Not on our own.

Sure, rhapsodize about the gifts of suffering—there are many—but rhapsodize over one’s own, not someone else’s.

There is a tired old myth still circulating out there about women—a myth that says that we must be rescued, that we are fragile and helpless, that without external validation we collapse, and that disappointment and heartbreak and loss will destroy us.

—Elizabeth Gilbert (Facebook Post, March 26, 2015)

Another tired myth is that it is noble for us to withstand, to endure, without any expectation of relief or release.

If a woman loses her nerve, falls short of her goals, crumples in despair, or takes her own life, she is not failing to serve her purpose as my “superhero.”  She does not have to “handle it” for my sake.  She has the right be destroyed when destruction finds her.

Women (and others) who romanticize women’s suffering and endurance in the face of adversity—or outright injustice—have my compassion but not my admiration.

No matter; their value is not dependent on my admiration.  My opinion is irrelevant.

A Paglia Reduction

Chuck Jones Dover Boys Pimiento U

Listening to Dark Powers: Camille Paglia on CBC’s Ideas


Rather than illuminate her dark women, Paglia turns the light on her true subject: herself. She offers reductive comment after reductive comment, promoting herself and smearing the intellectual community, while claiming other scholars are reducing art to ideology. Did no one advise her to cite sources?  Who is it who claims that “a few laws and sexual harassment committees will make it all [misogyny] go away?”  Is she unable to distinguish between opinion and idea, between attitude and inquiry? And how is it that with all her time on the stage she cannot deliver a single sentence without “uh, ok, you know” and a parade of em dashes?


Paglia claims, “Academics on the whole have absolutely no idea about how art is made or how the artistic mind works. This is one of the main reasons for the utter incompetence and sterility of so much academic criticism about the arts.” Apparently, all scholars, except Paglia, lack any understanding whatsoever of vision, ecstasy and peak moments: “All of that is completely gone from any kind of discourse on the arts. What passes for criticism of the arts in the academy is absolutely,—ok—it’s useless, and it has driven away several generations of young people from the arts.” Well, there are plenty of young people in my arts community, at my university, in my courses and private lessons.  They are mentored by devoted, probing scholars and artists who refrain from—fasten your seat belts—reductively reducing all other scholars to ideologues who see nothing but ideology in art.


Paglia claims that “art is deeply interconnected with the dream process.” Indeed, her fictional account of a uniformly bumbling, incompetent, unimaginative academic community is quite a dream.  (Bumbling comes easily, but one of the many things we academics are not good at is consistency and unity.  [Oh, that’s two things.  See what I mean?])


Perhaps Paglia would like to read Brandon LaBelle’s commentary on the dream nature of Hildegard Westerkamp’s sound art; or Daniel Albright on the “inhumanly intense orgasm” in Yeats’s pseudo-Noh plays; or Malcolm Turvey’s account of the “machine aesthetic” in Ballet Mécanique.  I’m sure she could find a full reading list if she were to give a moment’s notice to the scholars she terms “incompetent” and “provincial.”  There are many subtle and invigorating critical writings to be found.  Or are listening and nuance also “useless” to Paglia?


And what about those of us who are both creative artists and scholars? Does Paglia understand art-making better than those of us who . . . um, ok . . . practice it? And who sometimes collaborate with full-time scholars to consider exactly the phenomena she insists are “completely gone” from the sterile work of us blunderers who have “absolutely no idea about how art is made or how the artistic mind works”?  I guess, when I step out of my studio and into class, the composer region of my mind goes to sleep and I am suddenly seized by the delusion that all artists are “political sign wavers” in order to “drive away several generations of young people from the arts.”  No wonder I have been so tired lately.


It is telling that Paglia casts ad hominem aspersions rather than exploring the ideas and insights of these unnamed scholars.  We hear about “the people who are teaching in humanities departments,” accompanied by crude, unattributed caricatures.  I would rather focus on Paglia’s inquiries rather than her infantile persona, but it is difficult to do so when she herself cannot get past the players to see the play.  Paglia energetically describes herself as “persona non grata in academia”: apparently that self-description gives her street cred.  At a time when universities are becoming more and more corporatized; when academic freedom and intellectual inquiry face extinction; and when most higher-education instructors are overextended, under-compensated adjuncts with little time available to misunderstand art in the way Paglia condemns,—and when dozens of universities have been investigated for Title IX violations for mishandling sexual assaults—it is not only sensationalistic, not only irresponsible, but abhorrent to flog the entire scholarly community for imagined sins.  Who is it, again, who is driving young people away?


Has Paglia based her own ideology on scholarship about bondage?  Has she noticed that we did not agree to her terms?  And does she know that that makes her words an assault?  Or does her insistence that revulsion is part of our “dream life” extend to fantasies of whipping her comrades, enacted through words?  What about the “dream life” that depicts students overpowered and violated by their peers in their own dorm rooms?


Few women are accorded a stage where they can construct themselves as rebels and iconoclasts, where they can believe their own hype. Such honors usually go to the Steven Pinkers and . . . those other guys. One does not want to come down harder on Paglia than on the unbuttoned noblemen who—you might want to sit down for this—trade on their institutional privilege to pretend to puncture the very establishment that provides the pulpit from which to do so.  But why Paglia? Is it because she proffers shallow, vacuous, easily digestible propaganda, bullying the tenants of the university rather than scrutinizing the master’s house? Does her hemming and hawing invite the spectator to look down on her inarticulate bluster even as he makes an ostentatious display of cheering her wild transgressions?  Does the anti-intellectual state maintain order by “allowing” her to play the maverick, as long as her performance does not threaten the royals who continue to exclude true iconoclasts and risk-takers from the banquet? (A meal laid out on a table being dismantled even as she critiques the entrée.)


Now that would be reductive. And ideological. And useless. To some of us, at least.


—Posted by Barbara White


Fourteen, and Fourteen, and Fourteen More

Fourteen Poems of Fourteen Words,
contributed to 14 Words For Love
—Barbara White


They say, “love the one you’re with.”
But what if I’m with Granny Smith?

Can’t sell me Love™, but keep on trying.
I’m sure someone else is buying.


Fourteenth Justice

Ginsburg is better than lingerie.
Congress, in truth, is not always play.
Even today.

Vegetarian Valentine
To South Carolina Senator Thomas Corbin

You call me a lesser cut?
My loin’s too tender for your tasteless butt.

Valentine’s sentiment is but a veneer
To obscure the outrage that we live in fear.

A Song for Keats

Keats was sweet on unheard music.
If only he’d lived long enough to sing.

[Keats’s Grave.  Photo By Giovanni Dall’Orto, via Wikimedia Commons.]

We’ll be ashes before long.
Shall we gasp the Valentine song?
Is that wrong?

If it’s not love, it need not—can’t— do.
Gamergate, Rodger, Rice.  And you?

After Miles Davis

“My Funny Valentine”:
Chromatic inner line.
I’d walk miles to hear that muted trumpet.

[“Miles Davis by Palumbo” by Tom Palumbo from New York City, USA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]


After Billie Holiday

“My man don’t love me;
Treats me awful mean.”
[Repeat first line on subdominant.]


“One of you is lying,”
Dottie says.
I think her lie
belies her truth.

Buddha Cracks Filter
“Be a lamp unto yourself,”
the pot-bellied sage advises.
Or, unto one another?

Number’s Up

Fourteen, and fourteen.
Fourteen more.
Spent am I.
Time to stop, sleep, and snore.


Something You Do Not Like

1. Remember that they may not know what you would like from them, especially if they have not yet had the pleasure of meeting you. (Most people cannot read minds, and if you can’t do so, you will not know who can. Of course, if you can, you’ll recognize each other, and all will be well.)

2. Remember that if someone says something you dislike, abusive language is not the best way to respond. Calling someone an “asshat” does not fall under the tone argument provision.

3. Remember that projection is also a boundary violation.   Especially because you are bossy and intolerant.

4. Remember that attributing nonexistent statements or thoughts to others is also a boundary violation; and yes, I know you think semicolons are pretentious.

5. Avoid presuming to tell the other person what to do.  Take a breath and lighten up.  Be kind.

6. Remember that not everyone has the privilege of being able to learn about complex social interactions; not everyone has the resources to do so to your liking; and some have limitations that make this difficult. And remember that these people just may know something you do not; you would not want them to start correcting your grammar, would you?  (I have not forgotten that you think semicolons are pretentious, you intolerant asshat. Clearly you think I am stupid, and clearly you are intolerant of stupid people.  Lighten up, breathe and be kind.)

7. Take your own inventory: Ask yourself whether you have ever interacted with someone in a way that they disliked. No? Good. Then remember to engage in projection, aggression, escalation, and insult. When the superior ones among us do it, it has an entirely beneficial effect.

8. Make sure you know how to count.  And be kind.
Come Again

All Hail Motherhood!

“Be her motherfucker.  She wants you to be her motherfucker.”
Not quite Anonymous

Norman Rockwell • Saturday Evening Post • 1943

“Girls are fully nurtured by society in their journey to adulthood. Girls understand that when they show leadership, integrity, and self-respect, they are honored as total motherfuckers.”
Not quite George McEncroe

“As we head in opposite directions, he politely inclines his head toward me,  leaving a respectful space between us, and congenially says, ‘Top of the mornin’, fellow motherfucker.’ Humbly, asking nothing in return, he keeps walking, and I stop dead in the middle of the street, hoping someone else just saw two motherfuckers meet in delight.”
Not quite Emily Heist Moss

Consumer choices define the especially iconoclastic figure known as the “Marvs Mofo”: she supports the economy by patronizing Trader Joe’s, Michael Kors, and Starbucks.   There is a complex daily ritual of exercise, support of the arts, self-nourishment, and spiritual practice.  First comes yoga class, making sure to hydrate with tequila (brand of choice) while listening to Ariana Grande (a cult figure, no doubt).  Grounded and energized for the day, our Marvs Mofo changes into elegant jean shorts and moves on to eat artisanal flatbread while sampling craft beer.  This is followed by a dessert of locally sourced organic froyo and a peaty, imported single malt.  Then comes a late-night trip to Chipotle—and, in the morning, brunch.  Due to the highly secretive and selective nature of the Marvs Mofo sisterhood, is not yet known whether the typical—not that there could be such a thing!—Marvs Mofo cultivates friendships, makes a living, or attends church. Howevs, appaz she considers the esoteric, underground art practice known as Instagram totes crazy!
Not quite Kara McGrath

“No one would expect a motherfucker to quell her ambitions for the sake of others’ pettiness and envy.  That would be like asking her to gobble up dung with an incongruous smile, and why would anyone want her to do that?  It’s be as if she were pretending to be small so that  others could feel bigger.  What a fucked-up idea.”
Not quite Jessica Valenti

Yes, you are allowed to be sexist. And yes, I’m going to call you a sexist.

Thoughtful post by Marc Naimark.

Marc Naimark's writing and interviews _____________________________________________________

I’m a member of a Facebook group about language usage. A fellow member started a thread asking whether it was OK to use the word “freshman”, and if not, what alternatives exist. Just to be clear, the issue at hand is whether the “man” in “freshman” excludes women students.

There was some good discussion. I noted that I’ve recently heard many women students use the term “freshman” for other women students. Others wrote that terms like “first year” or “frosh” were favored in the schools they know.

And of course, there were the regular lot of men (only men) complaining about having to be “PC”. In their mouths, “politically correct” is an insult. For me, it means being inclusive, sensitive to others’ feelings and history, being gracious to others. For such traditional guys, it might even be described as simply being a gentleman.

Instead, we get stuff like: “So why…

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