01 October 2015

Brooklyn Bike Lanes: Bust

Me: Good morning officer. I've just biked here from the Manhattan Bridge and there's been at least one vehicle parked in the bike lane in every block.
Officer: Welcome to New York, HA HA HA.
Me: Good morning officer, I see you're a traffic enforcement officer and there are a lot of vehicles parked in the bike lane in this block.
Officer #2: That's not my block, somebody else works there.
I think it was easier biking in downtown Brooklyn a decade ago, without bike lanes, taking your chances in the free-for-all.

28 September 2015

Back on the Bike in New York

I've survived my first few bike rides back in New York City. After a year biking in Cambridge, where the streets are narrow and twisty but the cars are tiny and move slowly and the drivers accustomed to yielding to cyclists and pedestrians alike, I was feeling a little squirrelly.

It's great to be back on my Brompton (which cost me more than my first car, a ten-year-old Datsun purchased back in the 1980s) but there's also something to be said for being able to park a bike and run errands while being confident that the bike, and all its parts, will still be there when I return.

The new 25 mph speed limit is a huge improvement. Most of the cars actually seem to be doing that speed, as opposed to pushing the old 30 mph limit to 35 or 40, and it makes a difference. The traffic lights have been re-timed accordingly and it means that cyclists don't get shut out by red lights, block after block after block.

I ended up on Houston Street by accident because I forgot which one-way streets went which direction, and discovered the new bike lane feels quite safe. Until it's blocked in its entirety by delivery trucks, taxis, and livery cabs. There's a web site where you can report blocked lanes, but when I heard about it I actually laughed: I had just ridden from the Lower East Side to Penn Station and found blockages on every street I rode on, and almost every block.

The joy I felt when I saw one police officer giving a ticket to one truck parked in a bike lane was not schadenfreude. It was self-preservation.

Cars turning across the bike lanes are also still a major problem: they don't yield for bikes, but they do yield for pedestrians, so they cut you off and then stop suddenly, diagonally across the bike lane. Pedestrians stepping into the street while absorbed with their smartphones are also an on-going problem, and I've nearly been in two pile-ups as a result, when one cyclist slams on the brakes and then the next several have to react.

Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan is a huge boon for pedestrians and cyclists alike, but there's still a lot to be done to make New York truly safe for cyclists.

But to brighten your day, here's Gianni riding in style with Elizabeth:

11 September 2015

Editing at Sea

I came home from a year's sabbatical at Cambridge on the Queen Mary 2 -- the dream of a lifetime. I've spent a lot of time on the Maine coast. You can see ferries and cargo ships far out at sea, and I yearned to traveling on one of them, feeling the swell of waves, smelling the clean salt air, watching sun glint off water or storms whip up whitecaps.

I'd printed out my book manuscript, and my plan was to spend the voyage line-editing while watching the sea and its life slide by beyond the ship's rails. 

I was editing the chapter on Anglo-Saxon imagination and the sea, sitting in the ship's library and looking out at the fog, as repeated announcements asked a crew member to report to his supervisor in the kitchen. The ship was searched and he was determined to be missing; the captain turned the ship back. Eventually shipboard video was located that showed the crew member slipping overboard several hours before; given the water temperature, it was clear the search was for a corpse.

I joined crew members and other passengers on deck, squinting against the fog, trying to peer into the gray-blue sheet that was the water many feet below. At dusk, the captain reversed course once again, giving up the search.

The crew sails together for six months at a time, working seven days a week, 12 or 15 hours a day, then getting two months off before the next shift. They live in close quarters, share bunkrooms, get to know one another very well. They were rattled and upset. But the show -- and life aboard the Queen Mary 2 is nothing if not a show of opulence, service, entertainment, constant attention to the wants and whims of passengers -- went on.

After that, I sat in the library, concentration shot and editing abandoned, peering again into the fog, craving a sight of land, another ship, a whale (a few passengers had seen them) -- anything but the shifting liquid light that had surrounded us since we left England.

When we arrived in Halifax for a day on land, I eagerly inhaled the air and its odors: pine trees, hot sun on asphalt, decaying seaweed, truck exhaust. Coffee shops and human bodies and grassy earth. 

When we sailed into New York Harbor two days later, I awoke at 4 a.m. to take photographs of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. I suspect I was the only passenger also photographing the Port of Elizabeth and gazing with longing at the Shore Parkway, watching the late-night/early-morning traffic pulsing like the city's heartbeat.

Back on land, we went to Maine to visit family, as I've done every summer. I watched the big ferries and the cargo ships creep by on the water, barely visible far in the distance. And I was glad to be grounded.

09 July 2015

Over at Medieval Ecocriticisms, I've just posted my notes for remarks given in a round-table session on "the Twitterati" at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds last night. Here's the link, if you'd like to go have a look.

Thanks to Carla Thomas for organizing a great session, to my co-presenters Dorothy Kim, Jonathan Hsy, Kristen Mapes, and Angie Bennett Segler, and to a fabulous and engaged audience.

07 July 2015

Live-Tweeting Presentations and Lectures

Live-tweeting presentations is getting more and more prevalent. By and large I think it's a good thing: people who can't attend a given session or paper can learn about the key points made and look for published work from the presenter if they want to know more.

From a personal point of view, live-tweeting helps me follow a talk better. When I'm thinking in terms of conveying important points from a lecture in 140-character blurbs -- including attribution and hashtags -- I have to pay very careful attention in order to be tweet responsibly. Also, when other people are tweeting the same lecture, they often tweet points that I've passed over, so the record of the presentation is enriched by the presence of several tweeters.

That said, I'd like to propose some guidelines for responsible and effective live-tweeting.

1. Use the published conference hashtag plus a session number hashtag so that people can find and follow your tweets.

2. In your first tweet of a paper, identify the presenter by full name and provide the title or the topic of the talk. If you know the presenter or the information is provided, use the twitter handle.

3. In subsequent tweets, always attribute. People following your tweets need to know who is saying what, including in discussion at the end of a session. If you don't know a questioner's name, you can attribute a tweet to "question" or "comment" so it's clear it's not a statement made by one of the panelists. But attribute additional comments from the panelists. (When I live-tweet, I type the last name followed by the hashtags into the first tweet and then copy them so that I can paste them into subsequent tweets, saving typing time.)

4. If you don't agree with the paper, or you don't think the information is well presented, don't tweet. No one needs a paper trash-tweeted, whether a nervous graduate student or a senior scholar. Disagree privately in discussion at the end of the session, or contact the presenter directly. If you're going to disagree publicly, do it respectfully, after taking time to think over your position with respect to what you've heard.

5. If you are presenting and don't want your paper live-tweeted, or photographs tweeted of slides you're presenting, tell the session chair, who should then announce your reservations to the audience. If you enter a session late, it's probably best to refrain from live-tweeting a paper in progress, in case you've missed such an announcement -- or in case you've missed contextual information from the start of the paper that affects comprehension and interpretation.


6. If you are asked not to tweet, or not to tweet point-by-point, or not to tweet photos, don't do it. Be respectful of your colleagues.

Please let me know what you think.

05 July 2015

Just Say No To Compulsory Heterosexuality

Humans of New York posted a photo two days ago of a young teenager near tears. The caption: "I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me."

If you have a child, you've seen compulsory heterosexuality at work. A girl baby and a boy baby combat-crawl around, trying to get a handle on mobility, and someone says, "oh look, she's flirting with him." A boy toddler makes friends with a girl toddler, and someone talks about his "girlfriend." And so on, until she's thirteen and realizes she's attracted to girls and thinks she's the only one in the world.

Did you ever hear someone talk about a boy having a "boyfriend" at three?

Yeah, no, didn't think so.

But you know what? If you have kids, or work with them, you can push back. No, you don't have to suggest that a girl who can barely walk and talk has a girlfriend: why sexualize tiny kids? I'm in favor of letting them be kids.

But we can make sure our kids know gay adults. We can give them books about trans kids. We can model a variety of expressions of gender identity. Dads can take 3 a.m. feedings and clean toilets. Moms can assemble the furniture from Ikea.

When we talk with kids about their futures, we can be neutral about whether they'll be gay or straight or bi. With little kids, that's fairly abstract, though if we talk about marriage, we don't have to assume they'll marry someone of the opposite sex.

As they get to be pre-teens and teenagers, there are those important conversations about dating and consensuality. During those conversations, we don't have to assume, and speak as if, their explorations of physical intimacy will only be with people of the opposite sex.

The photo of that boy gets me all choked up. But we don't have to keep perpetuating a culture that makes young people feel so isolated and afraid if they realize they're not straight.

01 July 2015

We're Not Finished Here

Seventeen years ago this week I had recently finished my PhD and had signed a contract to begin a job at a smallish private university in New Jersey. I went off to the International Dyke March in New York City. A photographer with a press pass pointed his huge lens in the direction of my friends and me, and I panicked.

My job talk had been a queer reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, on the theory that if they didn't want to hire me after hearing it, then it wasn't the right institution for me.

Still, the university is in a pretty red county in a deep-purple state, and a careful academic analysis is different from photos with a bunch of women in various states of dress. Or not. I had met most of my future colleagues only at a long day of interviewing, and I had no idea how they might react if they saw that photo. And it was a tenure-track job. I didn't want to screw it up before I even arrived on campus. After I'd been on campus for a few months, the department rattlesnake let me know I wasn't the first choice candidate. Who knows?

The Supreme Court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land brings us a long way away from that day. It followed some smaller steps. Clinton's dictum of "don't ask, don't tell" for gays in the armed services now seems completely backward, as does Obama's slow movement toward gay rights.

But like the removal of the Confederate flag from many municipalities and state houses in recent days, marriage equality is a beginning, not an endpoint. Gays and lesbians can still be fired in many states. Churches are burning across the South, and people in power are silent.

We still have a lot of work to do. I don't want any gay or trans kid to fear coming out to her parents, or be shamed by his classmates, or get beaten up by acquaintances. I don't want any mother to have to fear for her sons. I want full inclusion for people who are disabled, who are trans, who have chronic illnesses. Not tolerance: acceptance and respect.

And I want us to quit using plastic and eating the animals.

Does that make me an outrageous idealist? Well then.