Friday, November 14, 2008

Facing the Music: the Diss Defense

How do you dress for a dissertation defense?

when it's less than a week from today? and between now and then you've got to run an orientation for new students? fight the annual departmental budget fights with the university controller? get in the spring faculty appointments to the dean and the provost? have a normal weekend with family and friends? get to the other dean the college draft of the dissertation knowing that the committee has found it relatively dense and muddling and lengthy? and you just want to blog about the wonderful things that professor Hawhee and professor Mountford are talking about and doing as the latter "mixes historiography with ethnography" to overturn Aristotle's documented influence on our societies such that we've all conspired to silence women in the pulpit and in the pews and even (thanks Deborah) at Huffington Post?

Last time I put on a good face for something, it was this one:

And my Episcopal priest friend steps out of his car that dark night with, "What kind of social statement are you making now?"

I replied that it had been my university service earlier in the (Halloween) day, when as part of the "community relations" committee of the "staff governing body" I did my part to make a few school kids happy. The students of the school run by our college of ed dress up themselves and go trick or treating safely on campus. I was told by the committee chair to dress "not too scary" but some of the teachers scowled at me anyway. And yet the down syndrome kids just loved the make up, and the older kids kept debating whether I was a clown or if it really was the Joker. In the neighborhood, one uncostumed boy told me he'd be right back, and a few minutes later, a proud looking batman showed up. I didn't try to explain anything to my friend the priest as kid after kid, with knowing chuckles, kept saying to me through their own masks, "Why so serious." He had not ever let his kids trick or treat before, so this was quite a conversion experience.  (Our daughters are good friends at the private school, and mine invited his over for the event).

Which takes me back to when I was a (younger) kid growing up in South Viet Nam, and my (Southern Baptist) missionary parents let my siblings and friends and me run a neighborhood haunted house in their Center (for literacy and for printing and for sewing classes) in Ba Ngoi (where we lived in Cam Ranh Bay). I'd hung on to my glow-in-the-dark skeleton costume (from America), and wore it. At the right moment, around the second turn in the haunted house, I'd pop up out of a grave and scare the bejeebers out of grown men and women interested in seeing what American missionary kids did for entertainment. It was horrifying, mainly because all my friends believed in ghosts as resurrected phantom ancestors who must be appeased daily by incense burning and veneration and such. Some of them saw their uncle Minh in me the animated glow. Needless to say, we Americans were run out of the country shortly afterwards, and I claim my responsibility for that. Which is why I keep going back from time to time under the guise of a scholar doing English language and sociolinguistic work. That's particularly horrifying in itself. But then that's another story altogether.

I've been facing the music and putting on faces all my life, I suppose. To prove that, my parents sent me this photo of me that they took back when we lived in Sai Gon (which is now Ho Chi Minh City).

If you have any better ideas for how to dress for my defense, then by all means, leave me a comment. 

The only thing I have to add, before I go away from blogging again, is that I think we all wear faces, don't we? I mean would you look at how Rafael dresses up his only woman (Hypatia) in his School of Athens? And guess who he has front and center? You're right, it's Aristotle. So that kind of makes not only me but also her his feminist subject. And don't be fooled into thinking that you're not Aristotle's barbarian subject either.

If you have any pearls of wisdom, then by all means leave them here.  I leave you all now, until . . . .


bethany said...

Good luck on your defense! When I defended my thesis I wore this lovely little black embroidered skirt and then when I was celebrating with friends afterward a bird pooped right on my lap! Fortunately I was so elated from the defense going well and a few drinks into the celebration, so I didn't care that much.

Jane said...

Just to let you know that I have been thinking of you and hope it has all gone swimmingly


J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Bethany.

Merci, Jane.