November 30, 2004


There are these tall, skinny houses in the Beaches. Marlene’s and my conversation went something like this:
“they’re really tall”
“and skinny”
1128_0.jpg1128_gnome.jpg“which is kind of cool”
“I think it would make you feel tall”
“of course it would suck if you couldn’t climb stairs”
“like say if you had a broken leg”
“or a hip replacement!”
“or you were pregnant!”
I can’t remember who said what, but that’s kind of the point: we were talking back and forth with rapid-fire speed while we did our usual bopping up and down. Lee, who was sedately walking his dog between us on the boardwalk, only had one comment:
“same voice box, same logic, look, stereo”

1128_2.jpg1128_1.jpg1128_3.jpgHeh. Given how much I like my sister, being told we’re very similar is only a compliment in my books. And Lee gets bonus points for hanging out with the extremely hyper Wandel sisters this weekend. He didn’t even try to run away and hide. Though once, when we went into the chocolate store, he stayed outside with the dog. And disappeared! We came out, chocolate in hand, and no Lee. We had been ditched! (So we ate his chocolate. What would you do? Except, of course, then Lee came back and we were well on our way to starting a sugar rush, and the only way people on a sugar rush are bearable is if you’re on a sugar rush yourself, so Marlene went and bought some more chocolate while I guarded Lee to make sure he didn’t give us the slip again. Because then we’d have to eat his chocolate again!)

1128_f0.jpg1128_f1.jpg1128_f2.jpg1128_f4.jpgChocolate was only appropriate: it was the weekend of indulging in our obsession. And this weekend was all about our Fred Eaglesmith obsession. I had a flight credit to use up before it expired, and in August Marlene and I started poring over the Fred schedule to see where and when our attack should be: should I fly to Thunder Bay? Should she come here? We ended up settling on a Fred double-header at Hugh’s Room: there were four shows scheduled, and two of them were on a weekend. Rather than decide on one or the other, we decided to show no restraint and buy tickets for both! Because they were different shows: one was the Flying Squirrels show, and one was the Smokin’ Losers show, and really, you shouldn’t have to decide between ice cream and cookie dough either and that’s why cookie dough ice cream exists so the Fred double-header can also exist. Besides, there were people who went for a Fred quadruple-header! We were mild in our obsession, really! And not at all freakish, because Lee, who is a sane grown-up and has no Wandel blood in him at all, also decided to go to both shows, so this is perfectly normal.


1128_m1.jpg1128_m2.jpg1128_m3.jpgAnd if you’re going to see two shows in Toronto on consecutive nights, you might as well stay… and thus the dog walking in the Beaches interlude, as well as the coffee shop with the slab of fudge-peanut butter-brownie cake and scrabble game and the greasy breakfast and the poking around stores on Queen East and general hick-like behaviour because we got to go to the city! I don’t think we stopped bouncing up and down and chattering the entire time. Except maybe when we had a sugar crash, and got grumpy and decided we needed naps.


So, really, let me sum up the highlights of the weekend for you:
Sister! Fred Eaglesmith! Beer! Dinner! Lee’s house! Being woken up by a dog! Breakfast! Walk! Beaches! Chocolate! More chocolate! Scrabble! Wine! Dinner! Fred Eaglesmith again!

1128_7.jpg(I think I would need a lot of naps if I was around my sister all the time, because being hyper makes us all tuckered out after a few days. Hence the mellow multi-lingual Scrabble playing on Sunday, where we discovered that we don’t, after all, speak German, we only thought we did…)

Posted by Johanna at 03:26 PM

November 23, 2004

Google meets Academe

For a very large chunk of my week, I'm in a world dominated with acronyms. One of those is "P&T", which stands for "promotion and tenure", which is how academics get from assistant professor to associate and full. The P&T committee meetings (from the way I understand it) meet to evaluate academics' merit in three big areas: teaching, service, and research.

Research is the big one - maybe not on paper, you could have a 40-20-40 teaching-service-research split - but your worth as a an academic in a research-oriented institution is measured by your publications. How many, and in what sort of journal (i.e. it doesn't "count" for nearly as much if it's not peer-reviewed, and international journals count more and then there's the prestige of particular journals.

Now enter Google Scholar. At this point, I can type in my name, and see my articles and click on the citations to see how many people in what articles have cited my paper - and who in turn cites them and so forth. Neat (and intimidating). Right now, it looks to me like the ranking is just based on absolute numbers of citations. But it also seems like just a tiny step to apply the Google web-ranking algorithm to citations, so that we spit out a "scholar rank" of x based on number and quality (ie. rank of citing articles) of citations. Your scholar rank would then indicate how well you are regarded in the scholarly community.

I know, I know, there are huge drawbacks: there are topics that aren't discussed very often, thus you could have the seminal paper on your topic, but only the six other papers ever written on it would be citing you. Furthermore, I know that research topic is heavily influenced by funding availability, which in turn relates to politics. Thus, you could be dismissed as not a particularly great scholar by scholar rank because you are not doing mainstream research...

But still: I'm at the "neat! cool!" stage. Even though I know that if someone cites you, that doesn't mean he necessarily read your paper (cynical? no, not me) - it's still a bit on the ego-boosting side.

Job interviews in academe, however, may never be the same again.

Posted by Johanna at 11:18 AM

November 16, 2004

Close to Home and Very Safe

1115_1.jpg1115_2.jpgOn Sunday, Elke, David and I went for a wander in the Elora Gorge. I've been there many times - so often that it takes a visit from an out-of-towner (a foreigner at that!) to inspire me to 1115_3.jpggo (well, that, and I was convinced I saw the Elora Gorge in a cheesy made-for-tv movie I saw a few minutes of while hanging out in the 500 channel universe the other night). And, turns out, a few things have changed since I've last been to the Gorge.

It's as pretty as ever. As always, there were boats playing in the water - even though the water levels were so pathetically low that I wondered just how much fun that would have been. But there's new stuff, and it relates to safety. I already knew that the powers that be in the Gorge had already managed to 1115_4.jpg1115_5.jpg1115_6.jpgregulate tubing. Once upon a time, if you wanted to tube down the Gorge, it was frowned upon, but here's what you did: you stopped by the garage on the outskirts of town, and bought a tractor inner tube. I think I paid $10 for that. Then you took that inner tube (which they blew up for you at the garage if you asked nicely) and, wearing bathing suit and shoes, made your way to the top of the run, and then float on down. No life jacket, no helmet, not a sanctioned activity. I was all for the Conservation Authority taking over that one: now, you can rent the tube (I have no idea what I did with my $10 tractor tube), you are outfitted with helmet and lifejacket, and I'm sure it's just as much fun.

1115_7.jpg1115_9.jpgThe latest development of note in the Gorge ("latest", by the way, defined as "since I was there last") is the placing of an awful lot of black chain-link fencing. The fencing's primary purpose is to keep you away from dangerous edges - unfortunately, that also means it keeps you away from many of the more interesting things there are to explore. Now, you can bumble along the fence, knowing that you won't fall to your death if you close your eyes and continue walking for 20 or more feet. You can also enjoy the view at the designated scenic viewpoints, since those are the only places you are allowed near the edge. Best of all, in those places where there are steps/stairs to take you down the edge of the escarpment, you can riccochet from fence to fence, since you are safely contained in a nice little chain-link compound. Fun!

1115_10.jpg1115_11.jpgExcept not. For the first while, I was the nice little rule-abiding citizen that I usually am (though perhaps I should point out: we went in the back way. The way that used to be the back way in, then got turned into the back way with the self-service honour system fee station - and I have put money in there that way - and then became the closed off by chain link fence back way which is now the chain link fence with a hole cut into it back way into the Gorge). After a few frustrated attempts at exploring, though, I wandered away from Dave and Elke, and then I just happened to wander over the fence. Interestingly enough, within about 10 minutes I ran into Dave and Elke - on the same side of the fence that I was! Instead of the fence being between us and the cliff, we were between cliff and fence. It was fun! We didn't stupidly wander off the edge of the cliff! It didn't sneak up on us and suck us down!

In all seriousness, I know there are many reasons for rules, and I know that safety matters. But the abundance of chain link here? The way I see it, it lulls you into a false sense of security: given this big-ass fence, a child could not possibly wander near the cliff edge. Hence, supervision of children becomes less crucial. Except of course the fence abruptly ends at some point, leaving the cliff casually exposed to aimless wanderers who would of course fall right off the edge unless there are flashing danger! danger! signs (or chain link fences). Or something.

Fortunately, the pub was as it always was, and it was a beautiful day, and I had fun. And Dave was bound to be satisfied, since he was eating Smarties. They don't have those in the US. (Oh, shut up. I said SmartIEs, not Smarts. Dave's bumper sticker was blue.)

Posted by Johanna at 04:37 PM

November 01, 2004

Puppy Love, Swan Hate

For ten years, I lived in Guelph. Maybe all relatively affluent small cities in southern Ontario are like this, or maybe it's because Guelph has a veterinary college and thus lots of aspiring or wannabe vets - regardless, it is a city where many people have dogs. And some of those people are my friends. Thus, I have dogsat Woody, (at my house, together with my room-mate. She bit someone while we had her), Indy (many times, once for a whole month, at her house - though I took her to my apartment for the night once) and Dexter (at his house. Dexter liked to triple-poop on walks, and I am a conscientous stoop-and-scooper). I went for endless walks with Woody's successor, Bridget, during a stint in Brandon (though I was not fond of the kisses she attempted to give me, she is, after all, a poop-eater). And all of those dogs, they were okay. I didn't bark back at them - though Indy deserved it when she scarfed the appetizers off the coffee table at a dinner party, and Woody certainly deserved it after the biting incident. At times, I even rather liked the pooches: if you say "Dexter dance!" and he hops up on his hind legs and does a 360, that's pretty cute. Even cuter, when you say "Dexter dead" and then point your finger and say "bang", he flops over dead. Sometimes, I got off on the growl you get form Indy when you rub her belly, and I still greet her with "pretty girl".

Despite that, though, despite the amusement brought on by stupid dog tricks and the many sort-of fun walks I've taken with various dogs, I know this: I am not a dog person. I don't want a dog. More than that, I don't really want to be around other people's dogs. I've never had a dog, my family never had a dog during my lifetime. I'm never going to have one, at least not at my initiative. Puppies are cute and all, but they're also annoying. That's the sort of statement that can get you lynched in Guelph, I think.

So, after all of this, it turns out I have a whole lot of affection for Boris, the smelliest dog I've ever met, a dog who hobbles along on three of his four legs because he has a hip problem, and who loves nothing more than digging into whatever was into the bucket of compost that was just tossed onto the manure pile. This weekend, I caught myself on the floor in front of the tv - in front of the tv in the house, not my apartment, because I was keeping the dog company. And on the floor with the dog, not on the couch, petting him. I caught myself thinking that I should buy a brush so I could brush all the nasty burrs out of his fur. The next day, I had him in my apartment again, and when he licked my bare feet, I didn't get up to wash them or even get annoyed by this. When I gave him his supplement, I let him eat it right off my hand, instead of putting it in his bowl because I didn't want dog slobber on my hand (but I did wash my hand right away, I haven't come that far).

I like a dog. Huh. I don't know what to make of that. But I guess it's a good thing, since I'm dog-sitting again, for most of November.

But I'm still not a dog person. Not by a long shot. I just like Boris.

Now cats, on the other hand... I want a cat. I really, really do.


The unfortunate side effect of watching tv with the dog was that I saw the world's most disturbing show ever. I had heard of it, of course: I shop in the supermarket often enough to see the headlines in the checkout line, so I was fully familiar with The Swan and it's premise and not that shocked by it when Vanessa called me in outrage over it when she just saw on tv last week. I'd just never seen it. So I watched The Swan reunion. And not only was it just plain stupid (I turned it off after a while), its message was far too blatant. This was the message:

If you are normal looking (or ugly, with a minor "duckling" tacked onto the end of duckling, in the parlance of the show), your love life will be crap, your marriage will be crumbling, and you will not bellydance in public. If, however, you have your body radically altered, everybody (including your husband, whose interest before has waned) will want you, you will be full of confidence, and, most importantly, you will feel good enough about yourself that you take control of your life.

Now, granted, you could package the whole confidence thing into something palatable. Confidence is truly important. But if your newfound confidence is based on looking like a plastic "build-your-own-Barbie" kit, how real could it possibly be? What happens when the skin starts to sag again, or you gain the weight back? If your self-worth is so intimately dependent on your (manufactured) shell, ummmm... ?

More distrubingly, though, is that the whole show presented us with a vision of beauty that I just don't get. Is it beauty if we all look the same? Because a lot of these people looked similar after they they had their faces pulled to the back of their necks, their genetic fat deposits sucked out, and their hair dyed. It wasn't ducklings or swans, it was a damn gaggle of geese. Granted, I'm a woman, so my vision of female beauty is not the same as a man's - but I'd also hazard a guess that male taste in beauty is not uniform, so why should everyone look the same? And, to be perfectly honest, I didn't like the way these women looked in their "after" transformation. There was something incongruous, these mostly normal women trying to move like beauty queens, that was painful to watch.

Why? I don't get it. I really don't. I don't even like tatoos or piercings (I can live with them. I just don't want any), I can't even imagine radical modification of who I am. And it's not that I'm arrogant in the "I'm pretty enough" sense, because I'm not exactly under the "I'm so cute" illusion. And it's not that I don't occasionally feel a twinge of, wow, she's so pretty, wouldn't I love to look like that...

But. I'm pretty confident, in many ways. No part of my confidence, however, is based on looks - maybe it's because I have plenty of other things to create my self-image. Who knows... I know that I don't buy into the theory I heard from a friend recently, it went along the lines of "unattractive women are more interesting than attractive women because if you're pretty, you don't have to become interesting" - because, hey, I happen to know a whole lot of very beautiful women who are also very interesting (just like I know less beautiful annoying people).

I know that very few women are fully happy with the way they look. And I know that this is only going to get worse if we accept that reality television has anything to do with reality. I'm not watching shit like that again, not even for Boris' sake.

Posted by Johanna at 04:07 PM
visitors since August 16, 2005.