On turning 29 for the first time

For women of a certain upbringing, 29 years old signifies the last year of one’s youth. I think it is fascinating (and more than a little funny) that this arbitrary prime number has been embraced as a number to claim, over and over through the years.

As a woman committed to a career in a field where maturity and asexuality will likely serve me better than youth and virility, I have to admit I am a little horrified by the idea that someone hearing my age will assume that I am seeking to conceal my chronological age.* As an anthropologist interested in the intersection between multiple frames of age (chronological, social, physiological, sociolinguistic, and otherwise) it is marvelous to have achieved (again) a chronological age with real social meaning**. As an outgrowth of the child I once was, I am thoroughly disgusted that I have not yet achieved a 2.5 kids and financial certainty. And as a grad student, the age trajectories of people who have not given almost a decade of their lives to training seem bizarrely foreign***.

What a ridiculous birthday this is, so saturated in banality and denial. And how delighted I am to celebrate it!

* I adore my (sadly few) gray hairs and years of experience in the world and unashamedly hope they will work in my favor.
** And, if I am being entirely honest, somewhat concerned that I will soon be too old to establish non-maternal rapport with adolescent informants …
*** There is a real sense in which graduate school seems to be a limbo of age in which real life only continues by sheer force of will and otherwise you are suspended between some freakish extended adolescence while preparing for obsolete decrepitude.

The Breast Anthropology Class Ever!*

In honor of Adrienne Pine’s Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet, here is a meme:

Futurama Fry Feminist Anthropology Breastfeeding Meme

I don’t really have my own ideas to add other than generally agreeing with what Pine and others have said already, which is fine because I’m pretty late to the game. But look! Another anthropology relevant meme!


*That was the worst pun in the world. I am so ashamed of myself.

Science fiction and fantasy recommendations for linguistic anthropologists

After my first post on SF/F books and anthropology, I decided I had a lot more to say. Today, I will say it about things I think linguistic anthropologists* (or, you know, anyone who likes thinking about people and language) should read.

Lingua Franca, as I mentioned previously, is by Carole McDonnell in So Long, Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s a short story about people who adapted to life on a loud world by becoming deaf and using sign language but now face the loss of that language and their whole way of life thanks to mouth-speaking traders and a new technology for hearing. This is a story that I would probably have any new linguistic anthropology student read, just so they could start thinking about the same things linguistic anthropologists think about.

Trade Winds by devorah major, also in So Long, Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. Unsurprisingly, about cross-cultural communication. Not as good as “Lingua Franca”, but you just checked out the book anyway, might as well read this one, too.

Embassytown, by China Miéville. Primarily appealing just because it’s so metalinguistic. This central premise of this book is language – or more specifically, extreme differences in language. And yet … Well just check out Jonathan Crowe’s review.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. It’s delicious cyberpunk and a sci-fi classic, but the thought experiment underlying the plot is all about the power of language, though how language is communicated is somewhat different (hint: it’s communicable!).

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Valuable in its exploration of the phenomenology of semiosis. Lol. Jk, I mean it’s cool because she takes the old Tolkien idea of Essentially True Words as having magical power to a whole new level. Is it how language works? No. Does it have something potentially fascinating to say about what language means to humans? I think so …

Leave your own scifi/fantasy recommendations for linguistic anthropologists in the comments!


*Linguistic anthropologists are not like Henry Higgins, whatever BJG‘s parents might think. They are betwixt and between academic disciplines and enjoy everything from weird sounds and gestures to the reasons for saying “y’all” in political speeches.

Letter of Alienation, er, Recommendation

Socially Awkward Penguin Letter of Recommendation

If I were writing my own letter of recommendation for another professor, here’s what would really come to mind.

To Whom It May Concern,

It is my orgasmic pleasure to recommend Samantha Grace. I know Samantha best in her capacity as house dishwasher, a role clearly well suited to her capabilities and aspirations. I’m sure that families here in the country where she wants to work would love to have her around for that reason, if no other. I can attest to her adaptability and intellectual curiosity based on her ability to take the bus from our house to the downtown mall almost every day.

While I know little to nothing of her research goals, and frankly have no interest in learning more about them, I whole-heartedly suggest that you (who are you again?) give her lots of money. Maybe she’ll mention me in a future publication or something. Oh oh, I thought of something! She totally talked about her work a lot, like she cared about it or something, so that’s probably good. She even sometimes did it in the language we speak in this country, demonstrating a truly basic grasp of a language often described as “one of the easiest to pick up”.

In sum, Samantha is really the best person in the entire world that I haven’t talked to in five years. I’m happy to provide any more details if you want, just give me some notice so I can have her write up some bullet points for me.

Best,

Professor Roped Into This

Grant Writing Sucks

Grant Writing Forever Alone

Grant Writing Forever Alone

I am a happy, confident person. I generally do the things I have learned are beneficial to my learning success*. But grant writing is the loneliest, awful-est, ego-destroying-est task I have ever had set before me.

As I mentioned previously, this is my first semester of dissertation grant writing. I am keeping in mind the following pieces of sage wisdom:

  1. this process sucks for pretty much everyone
  2. it will eventually get better as I practice more (even though it may still suck a lot)**
  3. getting support from peers is a good thing (think samples, writing groups, and editing)

This wisdom, while good to know, generally doesn’t make me feel better. Neither do assurances of my awesomeness. I think this feeling of soul-wrenching inadequacy has a great deal in common with how I have felt in some of my most socially painful phases: when I have experienced personal rejection that I took as proof that I was fundamentally flawed. The best advice I ever got on how to deal – at least temporarily – with these feelings was to call the person doing the rejection a “dumb bitch”. So I think the time has come for me to stop thinking of Fulbright as my “new best friend”, and to realize that she might just be a dumb bitch*** whose opinion of me should not reshape my world.

Any other strategies for dealing with the similar yucky feelings are welcome. Except for @xarkgirl‘s because liquor is expensive and I’ve got a long semester ahead of me.

* These vary so much by person that it does not seem worth wasting a blog post enumerating them.
** Getting better at it is simplified with such awesome tools as Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, by Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In (http://theprofessorisin.com), which I highly recommend.
*** Yes, “dumb bitch” is a vitriolic and sexist thing to actually call someone and not something I endorse “in real life”. But the point of the original advice, and the application here, is to utterly disengage from one’s sense of obligations of appearing to be a good person to the rejecter in question. Thus, the immorality of it serves as a way to really turn off one’s instinct to “be good” so that instead one can focus on the task at hand.

Anthropology Memes and Methods

Last year around this time Anthropology Major Fox* made it big when it hit Savage Minds. But that’s pretty much our only meme. How can this be? There are hundreds of anthropology bloggers looking for content! Apparently memes just aren’t our thing. It doesn’t seem like it has been the study of much anthropological study either, despite the obvious relevance of the communicative form to the field of linguistic anthropology**.

But when the What People Think I Do meme hit the scene, it seemed like one had arrived we could really get into. Suddenly my Facebook was full of people aligning themselves with Indiana Jones, Bones’ Temperance Brennan, exhausted paper pushers, and 1920s ethnographers. And it struck me that, far more than the random ass Anthropology Major Fox, this was our meme.

“What People Think,” broken down into six panels most relevant to one’s particular cultural milieu, and always including the two parameters: “what people think I do” and “what I really do”. It also commonly includes “what my friends think I do,” “what my mom thinks I do,” “what my boss thinks I do” and “what I think I do”. Seriously? This meme is a basic field method. Maybe you the anthropologist choose the other subjects, maybe you let your informants choose. Maybe you have your informants draw in the boxes with a pen. Maybe you’ve got a computer savvy group who’ll do it online. But how could this not work out and be awesome? (That actually wasn’t rhetorical, because I’m thinking about putting it into my grants and if I’m missing something it would be great to be told that ahead of time …)

And because, you know, how could I write this whole post and not provide an example of what I’m talking about and because this is the internet and I can:

What I Do Meme - Anthro Grad Student


* fuckyeahanthropologymajorfox.tumblr.com seems to have disappeared, but many of the memes live on in places like this.
** though I wish I had a copy of Lisa Newon‘s 2011 AAA poster to share.

An Open Letter to a Prospective University of Arizona Anthropology Graduate Student

Sam writes a letter

in which I write a letter to myself

Dear Prospective Student Self From 2008,

I know you have already read everything telling you what a bad idea it is to pursue a doctorate in anthropology, and have decided to go for it anyway. That was a good move, and this is the right place for you. I also know you’re a stressball at the moment, so let me give you some of the specifics about the UA School of Anthro program I know you’re aching for.

What is the grad student culture like? Just as you hoped, it is close and supportive. People are passionate about what they do. Not in the dorkilicious way you experienced in the Oberlin Classics Department, but in the grown-up, professional, “I am trying my best to do what I love for a living now and for the rest of my life” way. In my experience, this does not result in backstabbing or cattiness, as I’ve heard is the experience in some other places. To the contrary, people are gentle with each other, show up to each others’ events, and drink to each others’ success unreservedly. If you care about that (I know you do), and having a strong community is part of what matters to you being successful (it definitely is), this is a good program for you to be part of.

What about the professors? There are a lot of them and they vary in all kinds of ways, so this question is not as easy to answer as the first. It does matter that you share interests with them. However, I find that the some of the professors I am most supported by and committed to working with are not always those who share the most interests on paper. You should probably Continue reading