Archive for February, 2008


Went hiking in the dunes today, and brought the camera. As my stepdad said, “… it looks mighty cold.” Heh, yeah. And windy! Here are the top 4 (of about 80! :-P).

I have a picture of those trees with leaves on them… somewhere!


Yes, I like shooting into the sun. Yes, I was taught that was a bozo-no-no as a kid. I think that’s why I like it.

I am learning how to use Aperture’s (the computer program for Macs) ranking and filing system… pretty sweet. Now to go back and sort, rank, and file the several thousand photos I have from my pre-Aperture days. I think sort (as in, ‘weed out and delete’) is the key there…

Up North (highlights)

The cats and I met my Mom and her dogs Up North for the first part of Spring Break*. “Up North” is the all-encompassing term for parts of Michigan and Wisconsin north of, say, Midland… or Milwaukee. Sometimes includes parts more southerly such as Saugatuck or even “Michiana,” that tourist haven on the border of Michigan and Indiana. (my friend who actually grew up in Michiana corrected me on this point– only FILPs call Michiana “Up North” and they actually say “Michigan.” Ask me in person what a FILP is. Heh).

To me, Up North refers to the pinkie finger of Michigan. To understand what I’m referring to, hold your right hand in front of you, palm facing you. That’s the state of Michigan. Point to your pinkie finger. That’s where I am right now. Clever? Yes.

My ‘Up North’ conjures the feel of sand dunes between your toes, the smell of pine forest, and the taste of ripe sweet cherries. When I was a kid, my family simply referred to this magical place as “Michigan,” as if the entire state had these same characteristics (give us a break, I grew up in Chicago).

When I started school at another entity referred to simply as “Michigan,” we had to clarify so that people wouldn’t get the impression that I spent every day on an idyllic beach in perpetual summertime. And so, we adopted the term used by all Michiganders and Wisonsionites to talk about their ‘summer cabins’: Up North.

Maybe I’m lying. All of my family probably still just say “Michigan” to refer to the dunes, forest, lake, and cherries and then quickly correct themselves if I’m in earshot. For the first two years at UM, I found myself facing looks of ridicule when I made the very same mistake. I still have to explain my nostalgia for the State of Michigan to people. I grew up with “Michigan” referring to Childhood Summer, not just some location on a map (or a school).

I digress.

Now that I own a car, and live a mere 5 hours from “Michigan” (my family seems to think that I live much closer than I previously did, which is false. Chicago is 6 hours from Up North. The way I drive + traffic in Flint means I now live about 5 hours away) I go Up North more frequently. Mostly because I have a car now. Plus, there are fewer tourists in the non-summer, making everything that much more peaceful.

People ask ‘what do you do Up North?’ Well… mostly, lately, it’s just relaxing. And of course, it depends on the season. In the summertime, my activities are completely different. I present here some of the highlights of this (wintry) trip:

1) Red Wine. My mom brought red wine that is not 3-buck-Chuck, thus making it “good” in my mind. Occasionally, she brings real Good red wine, though I still cannot differentiate between it and “good” red wine… I suppose I need to drink more. Sadly, the local wineries are closed during the weeks in the winter, otherwise we’d go local.

I am drinking a glass now, which is why it is the first item to occur to me.

2) Brie. Let me be more specific: warm brie with blueberry preserves and crackers. This is consumed with “good” red wine. Also, currently being consumed.

3) Molten Chocolate Cake. I hadn’t made these in a while, and we ate them warm with vanilla ice cream. Mmmm. (substitute cake flour for regular, and SIFT!)

4) Mindless television. The above (3) were eaten while watching the Oscars. I had actually seen two of the movies up for Best Picture, and heard of one other! I think I will see another later this week… I am trying to be positive about the mindless TV. It reminds me of why I am glad I don’t have a TV… and I guess it is nice to space out for a little bit every once in a while.

5) Novels. I am currently reading Inés of My Soul and have been since I bought it over Winter (semester, holiday) break. My attention span is getting shorter and shorter, and it’s taking me longer and longer to read even fiction. I will finish it this week! Dammit.

My mom usually brings an art project to work on, but this time she is also reading 🙂 I brought my camera, but it has stayed in its case the whole time. I am, however, thinking about projects.

6) Cauliflower soup. A friend of mine happened to have an orange cauliflower, and gave it to me because she was going out of town and didn’t have time to eat it. So, I made it into this soup. I didn’t have basil, or cilantro, sadly. But I threw in two tablespoons of white vinegar, which really rounded out the flavors. 🙂

7) Sleeping late. Really late. 10 am. Woo!

8 ) Baked oatmeal. Sorry, no recipe for this one… my mom got it from a friend of hers, and it has become our official Special Occasion breakfast. We had it for Christmas Morning too, and it is very tasty. Basically, you soak some oatmeal in a milky-brown sugary-buttery mixture overnight (in a casserole dish) and then bake it in the morning. She threw in some granola this time, along with the oats. Mmmm.

9) Window shopping. We went into Traverse City today and did a brisk walk-by of most of the stores, stopping briefly in two. One was a gallery, which had work by this artist that I had seen before but never really appreciated. My parents have two of his prints in their bathroom. Basically, he has these quirky-abstract wood cutout people (or printed people) painted in bright-ish colors, with a little saying. Three of the sayings really struck me this time.

This one got me choked up for some reason, and I felt really silly, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s just a nice thought, or perhaps it made me sentimental:

I once read that the ancient Egyptians had 50 words for sand, and that the Eskimos have 100 words for snow[**]. I wish that there were a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep. And there are no words for that.”

This one’s perhaps not so optimistic:

He loved her for almost everything she was. And she decided that was enough, and let him stay for a very long time.”

But this one is happy again 🙂 :

Sometimes we do things because they feel right & they make no sense & they make no money & maybe that’s the reason we’re here: to love each other & eat each other’s cooking and to say that it’s good.”

Then we went to lunch (split a chicken-spinach salad and each had a cup of asparagus- Parmesan soup) and sat and read in Borders for a while. Like I said, relaxation 🙂

10) Coffee. As much as I want, without really needing it. Which means I actually enjoy it, rather than just settling for burned, weak, cheap swill that is really just caffeinated water. In particular, this coffee is delicious and locally-roasted. We walk into town with our books and sit and drink coffee for a while, then walk home. Today we walked in with the dogs, so didn’t stick around to read. Still delicious coffee.

And that is how I spent the first half of my Spring Break*. There are other highlights to, like hiking/snowshoeing, taking pictures, not showering, more hiking… but I thought I should keep it to an even 10.

The second half will involve much less relaxation, and much more cleaning, organizing, and catching up on work I should have managed during the first half of the semester. But that’s okay.
*Excuse me, I meant “Winter Break.” To stave off complaints from the U community, the administration reminds us that we are, in fact, in the midst of winter semester, not “spring” semester. Therefore, we are on Winter Break. This somehow explains having our weeklong vacation at the end of February, long before the snow melts and the sun appears in Michigan. Not that I’m complaining that we have a week-long break in the middle of the semester! If we didn’t, I’d be petitioning for mental health leave, let me tell you.

**Yes, I know the thing about Eskimo words for snow is a misconception. It’s still a nice thought, and I liked it.

How to Date a Michigan Girl (Apparently)…

I found this amusing, nothing more.

Circa 1943, courtesy the Michigan Men’s Club (aka: The Union): How to date women

Screw Flowers…

If, by some random, felicitous chance I have a secret admirer (har dee har), this is what I want for Valentine’s day:

No ugly pretentious roses, not even sweet pretty wildflowers (I mean, if I were to get flowers…).  Just chocolate.

Delicious, fair trade, organic chocolate available at the People’s Food Co-op and other Fine Retailers.

(A friend of mine introduced me to this when she got a package from her sis for Christmas… I have to give her the credit. Otherwise I never would have tried 3400 Phinney…!)

PS. I make a big deal about not liking Valentine’s Day (aka: Singles’ Awareness Day). But it’s just a show. I assure you, I love both chocolate and flowers. Especially when they’re from my mom. Plus, pink and red are my All Time Favorite Colors. Yes, capitalized.

Activism and Collaboration

(another response paper…)

George Marcus, in his article “Ethnography in/of the World System: Emergence of Multi-sited Ethnography” and Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson in the introduction to Anthropological Locations both urge for reconceptualizations of ‘the field’ and ‘field work’ within Anthropology. Concepts of ‘the field’ as being remote, exotic, and potentially dangerous construct the locations where ‘fieldwork’ is carried out such that they must fit this criteria in order for the work there to be legitimate. Unless one is conducting Malinowskian ‘field work,’ one is not a ‘real anthropologist.’ These conceptions also privilege a certain form of knowledge production, placing ‘the field’ and ‘the academy’ (granted that ‘the field’ as conceptualized above cannot exist without the academy, as it is an academic construct) at the center of this system of knowledge production. The naturalization of these perceptions masks the structures of prejudice and inequality that shape our disciplinary work, as well as shape the ‘knowledge’ (ie: representations, analysis) of the work we produce as anthropologists. I found two points from these articles of particular relevance to my own interests as an anthropologist: Marcus’s assertion that multi-sited fieldwork, as an alternative to ‘localized’ fieldwork, can serve as a form of activist research; and Gupta and Ferguson’s account of collaborative investigation as one of their examples of heterodoxy within anthropological research.

One of my main problems (points of discomfort?) with activist research is the claim many activist scholars make that you must align yourself with a particular political group or effort. I don’t align myself with a political group/ effort because I feel that they tend to have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude, in that you are either ‘with’ or ‘against’ them (which has been my experience in being involved in organizing and other activist work) and this attitude clearly has the tendency to mask the nuances of social interaction that anthropologists so relish. However, I don’t feel that being ‘unaligned’ should preclude politically active research. Indeed, research cannot help but have political influence, and pretending it does not only serves to mask the systems of power and exchange that are in play.

For these reasons I appreciate Marcus’s proposal for an anthropology OF (rather than IN) world systems. That is, instead of viewing social processes as contained within (and controlled by) an overarching world system, we must view these processes of interaction as constituting and producing the system itself, and therefore having the power to alter that system.

Studying these systems of interaction, through participation (and observation) within them, in multiple locales thus becomes a form of activism. By conducting research, we are becoming political actors. Marcus’s argument is further supported when we take into account the points made by Gupta and Ferguson that field site selection is an inherently political process (based on our personal experiences, likes, dislikes, and the social systems we are a product of– and produce ourselves). Therefore, our research cannot help but have strong political undertones which become overtones when the system of their (re)production is articulated.

Marcus alludes to, and Gupta and Ferguson describe the benefits of, collaborative research, particularly (in Marcus’s case) as multi-sited research. Gupta and Ferguson suggest collaboration as one of the heterodox (in Bourdieu’s sense of the word, then, capable of producing a new system– or at least making a change in the current system) examples of anthropological research.

In my personal experience, I find research very (very, very) difficult to do without collaboration. First of all, Gupta and Marcus are right– I am indeed a socially awkward graduate student. I find it nearly impossible to travel somewhere new and immediately begin making ‘contacts.’ It helps if I am working with a local academic or a nonprofit organization aligned with my topical interests. Furthermore, through collaboration with the people you are ‘studying’, you gain a more sensitive insight to the topics at hand.  You also (hopefully) develop empathy with your subject, rather than attempting to maintain a falsely ‘objective’ stance.  In this way, the research becomes explicitly political (rather than simply implicitly political), and the structures of such organization (and research, including the academy) are further clarified. The anthropologist, through collaboration with the organization she (or he) is studying, is more obviously part of the object of study.

Routes vs. Roots

I had to write a [very] brief paper in response to James Clifford’s Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century and Yasemin Nuholu Soysal’s article “Citizenship and Identity: living in diasporas in post-war Europe?”, for my course in Diasporic Aesthetics (you should be jealous). It’s rough, it’s not so pretty, it’s just some ideas and responses.

Clifford frames his discussion of diasporic identity by posing two binary oppositions: traveling vs. dwelling, and (allegorically) routes vs. roots. As we learn from Lévi-Strauss, however, for every binary opposition there is a middle ground, a gray area. For Clifford’s oppositions, we find ‘diaspora’ located in that middle area. At once, it is both a state of traveling and dwelling. An individual (or community) in diaspora is traveling in the sense that they are not physically located ‘there,’ but they continue to dwell ‘there’ in a spiritual sense. They are traveling in the sense that, although they physically dwell ‘here’, they do not develop strong ties to ‘here’, and often feel that they may never be fully incorporated into the spirit of ‘here’.

Clifford’s initial arguments raised questions for me of how minority communities within Nation-States (for he defines diasporas as being tied to, but necessarily removed from, Nation-States) may or may not be ‘in diaspora’ within their ‘own’ country. He resolves this by drawing on indigenous movements’ claims of strong association with the land and the geographic place of the Nation-State, while not necessarily the political place. Clifford contrasts this with communities in diaspora, citing ties to the [physical, geographical] land as the central identifying component that diasporas lack. He concludes the issue by suggesting that minority communities within Nation-States may have diasporic elements to their identities, although they are not in diaspora.

Soysal’s article, in a sense, ties into my above question. Soysal asserts that the concept of ‘diaspora’ is inadequate to describe modern ‘transnational’ communities. Citing examples from Muslim communities in Europe, who make claims on universal human rights in order to leverage certain educational claims, Soysal suggests that communities such as these exhibit more universalizing tendencies, while exerting claims on the particular (local). The simultaneous ties to universality and particularity make such communities appear diasporic, while in fact contradicting actual diasporic characteristics.

I wonder, is it not possible to live both ‘in diaspora’, dedicated to a ‘locality’ (though perhaps not your physical location), while also drawing on claims of universality? I don’t believe diaspora is necessarily inadequate as a descriptor generally, but merely incorrect for communities such as these. ‘Diaspora’ is one of many qualifiers of community identity, among which are also indigenist, immigrant, exile/ ex-pat, universalist, etc, all overlapping and shifting. Just as individual identity cannot be nailed down to fit in a single box, neither can community identity.

Yes, We Can.

Okay, so I’m generally somewhat cynical when it comes to politics. And don’t think that my getting goosebumps over this video actually changes that. I’m still cynical. But damn, this man has some powerful rhetoric (and, okay, some celebs) going for him…