A 21st Century Leap for the ExCollege

live-1003646__340What is by far the fastest growing sector at Tufts?

No, not the number of national championship sports teams, although that would be a good guess. And no, not the number of Comp Sci majors, even though that’s another good guess.

The answer is graduate students. Yes, while their presence still may be hard to discern, in fact the graduate student population on the Medford campus has doubled in ten years — to nearly 2500. Now that’s a significant change.

And while grad students have always had a presence in the ExCollege as instructors, the sample has been small and in a certain sense accidental.

It was high time for us to get out ahead of the curve. So when the graduate school came calling early in the year, looking for our help, we jumped at the chance.

Three initiatives emerged.

The first, which in hindsight, seems like a no brainer, was perhaps the most “radical.” For fifty years the ExCollege’s governing board has been comprised of equal numbers of faculty and undergraduates. Indeed, when the ExCollege was given a permanent charter as a department back in 1979, this organizational structure was explicitly spelled out.

As the new director of the ExCollege, I felt it was the right time to add a graduate student to the board. So it fell to me to determine whether or not I would push to break with tradition or maintain our mandated status quo. Would there be “strict constructionists” among the current board members? Or would they be willing to interpret the charter in a manner that reflects the unforeseen changes in the student body?

Happily, there was nothing to fight about. The board quickly and unanimously voted to add a graduate student representative. And based on recommendations from the Graduate Student Council, Seth Rothschild, a PhD candidate in Mathematics, was accorded the honor of being the first ever.

The second and third initiatives both grew out of new trends in graduate education.

On the one hand, it seems that more and more PhDs are looking to build careers outside the academy, hoping to take their highly specialized skill set into every major profession one can imagine. For this cohort, the need to experience on-the-ground training has become critical. With this in mind, the ExCollege, in partnership with the Graduate School and Alumni Relations, started a new program, one designed to meet this need, called Professional Development Fellowships wherein advanced grad students will shadow a professional for a week over winter break.

On the flip side of the coin, those grad students who want a career as academics have found that, unlike years past, their experience and/or training as teachers has become a key factor in the university job market. Addressing this issue became, I think it’s fair to say, our most important endeavor this year. With the blessing of the Graduate School, we established the Robyn Gittleman Graduate Teaching Fellowship program for advanced graduate students looking to develop solid teaching skills.

Named in honor of our Director Emeritus, who devoted her professional life to furthering the cause of university teaching, the program attracted an impressive cohort of applicants eager for the experience. It also won a Tufts Innovates Grant (which is given to help kick start new ideas), secured additional funding from the Janover Family (who support our Voices from the Edge lecture series), and has already garnered gifts from alums who want to contribute in celebration of Robyn’s career and passions.

13255917_10153778740892572_2489340888281956062_nCome the fall, the inaugural class of eight advanced graduate students will teach courses in the ExCollege and will meet with me, individually and as part of a regular roundtable discussion, in what we’ve come to call “curated” teacher training.

Stay tuned for updates as to how this “experiment” goes!

Finding Art, Life, and Excitement (and Walt Whitman!) Along the Way: An Interview with Zachary Turpin

 I met Zachary Turpin during my first week at NYU in August 2001. We became good friends and, eventually, roommates in a crappy Upper East Side apartment. Turpin is currently a doctoral student in English at the University of Houston. He recently gained notoriety for discovering a 47,000-word article series titled “Manly Health and Training” by Mose Velsor, aka Walt Whitman.

 A mutual friend described you as the “Indiana Jones of the English World.” 

I wish I were the Indiana Jones of the English world! I’ve got no whip, no fedora, and no former Bond for a father. Plus, I do much of my initial research from my kitchen. No, there are plenty of other literature scholars who deserve much more to be called Indiana Jones, because they have some seriously wild adventures in the service of the field. All those folks who dig through physical archives, family papers, attics, and trunks, in search of lost work. Hell, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, a scholar at UConn, sails three-masters to learn more about the little maritime details in Melville’s fiction! — Anyway, if I were an Indiana Jones, what would I be doing? Probably searching for Ambrose Bierce’s body in Mexico, or trying to determine what happened to Yda Hillis Addis (a Mexican folklorist who vanished in 1902), or rooting through archives looking for any trace of Herman Melville’s supposedly lost manuscript, “Isle of the Cross.” …Well, I am doing that last one.

What led you to this groundbreaking archival research in the first place?

Curiosity and ignorance. A few years ago, I experienced a burst of bibliographic energy and spent the better part of the summer looking for unknown works by understudied writers, like Louisa May Alcott, Emma Lazarus, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and so on. These are all 19th century writers; it’s the century I love most, and it also happens to be the era in which periodical culture and professional authorship exploded in the US. Anyway, I started purely out of curiosity, without knowing that there was anything to find. (Stephen Ramsay calls this “the hermeneutics of screwing around.”) What I was shocked to find is that nearly any 19thC writer you can think of has neglected—or outright undiscovered!—periodical publications out there, waiting for the curious cat to come along. Virtually no author is an exception to this rule.

 Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice from “Manly Health and Training?” 


Walt Whitman, age 35, from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass, Fulton St., Brooklyn, N.Y., steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison

I have two. For its beauty, I love this passage from Part IV, subsection “The Sure Reward.” It’s one long, ecstatic sentence, and I think it perfectly captures Whitman’s delight in simply being alive:

To spring up in the morning with light feelings, and the disposition to raise the voice in some cheerful song—to feel a pleasure in going forth into the open air, and in breathing it—to sit down to your food with a keen relish for it—to pass forth, in business or occupation, among men, without distrusting them, but with a friendly feeling toward all, and finding the same feeling returned to you—to be buoyant in all your limbs and movements by the curious result of perfect digestion, (a feeling as if you could almost fly, you are so light,)—to have perfect command of your arms, legs, &c., able to strike out, if occasion demand, or to walk long distances, or to endure great labor without exhaustion—to have year after year pass on and on, and still the same calm and equable state of all the organs, and of the temper and mentality—no wrenching pains of the nerves or joints—no pangs, returning again and again, through the sensitive head, or any of its parts—no blotched and disfigured complexion—no prematurely lame and halting gait—no tremulous shaking of the hand, unable to carry a glass of water to the mouth without spilling it—no film and bleared-red about the eyes, nor bad taste in the mouth, nor tainted breath from the stomach or gums—none of that dreary, sickening, unmanly lassitude, that, to so many men, fills up and curses what ought to be the best years of their lives, without good works to show for the same—but instead of such a living death, which, (to make a terrible but true confession,) so many lead, uncomfortably realizing, through their middle age, more than the distresses and bleak impressions of death, stretched out year after year, the result of early ignorance, imprudence, and want of wholesome training—instead of that, to find life one long holiday, labor a pleasure, the body a heaven, the earth a paradise, all the commonest habits ministering to delight—and to have this continued year after year, and old age even, when it arrives, bringing no change to the capacity for a high state of manly enjoyment—these are what we would put before you, reader, as a true picture, illustrating the whole drift of our remarks, the sum of all, the best answer to the heading of the two last sections of our articles, and the main object which every youth should have, in the beginning, from the time he starts out to reason and judge for himself.

My other favorite is his mention of “baseball shoes,” simply because of the reeling vertigo you get when you realize that Walt Whitman is recommending wearing sneakers or tennis shoes—in 1858! See Part X, under “The Care of the Feet”:

Most of the usual fashionable boots and shoes, which neither favor comfort, nor health, nor the ease of walking, are to be discarded. In favorable weather, the shoe now specially worn by the base-ball players would be a very good improvement to be introduced for general use. It should be carefully selected to the shape of the foot, or, better still, made from lasts modeled to the exact shape of the wearer’s feet, (as all boots should be.)

Are you going to be involved with the republishing of this series? Are you going to use any of this for your dissertation? 

So far, I’ve been quite involved! Besides transcribing the full series with my (sainted) wife’s help, I worked closely with Whitman scholars Ed Folsom and Stefan Schöberlein to ensure that the text was accurate and error-free, even down to its punctuation and spacing. And now, “Manly Health” is freely available online. But yes, looking forward, we are currently in talks with a publication house about perhaps releasing a print version, too. — As for my dissertation, “Manly Health” may factor in, but for now I’d prefer to step back and hear what other scholars and readers have to say about it.

When I knew you at NYU, I thought you would write a novel some day, and you totally scoffed at me. Any plans post-dissertation? 

For novel-writing? Oh no. No, no, no. Some scholars make excellent novelists and poets—Charles Olson, one of the great Melville scholars, comes to mind—but I doubt I’m one of them. But as for textual research and recovery, I have lots of plans. I juggle lots of projects, and a few of my current items of interest are based on some seriously hot leads. I’ll keep you posted…

 It’s so fun to read about an exciting development in the humanities. It seems like English majors get a lot of grief. Do you have any advice for undergraduates who might be thinking about majoring in English? 

English is the perfect major. Many students come to college knowing almost nothing about themselves, except that they love to read, they love art and life and excitement. When that’s all one knows about oneself, it’s little wonder that so many students (rightly) choose to major in English. Some of them may eventually experience realizations about their truer calling, and differentiate off into childhood education or art history or psychology or philosophy, but many more will stay in the field and happily read themselves into a stupor, finding art and life and excitement along the way. As William Deresiewicz says, the liberal arts are an education for the soul.


Zachary Turpin and Madeleine Delpha on Halloween in 2004

Any favorite college memories you want to share? 

There are so many! Our walks around NYC, looking for trouble and fat-free frozen yogurt; every day of living in Goddard Hall freshman year (but especially the day we saw Joshua Jackson); a hike all the way the way down Manhattan that got me very sunburned; going to art galleries and to Central Park; working at the Strand Bookstore for a year; &c &c &c. — I’d say my soul received a thorough education. Didn’t yours?

Staff Picks from the ExCollege

We love going into an independent bookstore and finding a shelf of “Staff Picks” that not only recommend great books, but also provide a glimpse into the interests and personality of the staff who recommend them.

In that vein, here are some personal favorites by ExCollege staff if they had time to sign up for a Fall course.  Check out all our course offerings here.  Registration opens June 6.

137122847247677.fJksADsW4rW8HTkpzGqI_height640ExCollege Staff Member: Director Howard Woolf

Course he’d like to take: Accused: The Gap Between Law and Justice (EXP-0070)

“I’m fascinated by the personal story of instructor Sonja Spears (J ’86), who was an elected judge for twelve years in New Orleans. Despite her unblemished legal career, she endured two years of intense scrutiny as the target of a federal criminal investigation. She was ultimately cleared without any charges being filed, and the office in charge of her prosecution has faced questions of prosecutorial misconduct

I love the complexity of New Orleans, and Sonja’s experience there gives the course a unique perspective on the wrongfully accused and what ‘justice’ means in this country today.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Madeleine Delpha

Course she’d like to take: All courses on reproduction and art

“As the parent of a four-year-old, I’m already thinking about age-appropriate Sex Ed: From Pre-K to Grade 12 (EXP-0041). I’m interested in the relationship between sexuality and gender from different cultural perspectives, a topic also explored in Reproductive Health: Gender, Race, and Inequality (EXP-0044).

At the same time, thumbnail-3the artist in me would love to take Guerilla Performance Art & Politics (EXP-0018) taught by Milan Kohout, who has been on the front lines of political art activism.

Finally, the art historian in me would not miss Art and the Nazis (EXP-0004), and its analysis of why modern art was so threatening to the Nazis, and why they were drawn to certain styles of centuries-old art.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Joseph Abrantes

136806564309631.0q8JyYEAKiXfsFCejBD4_height640Course he’d like to take:    Love and Blood: Perspectives on Adoption (EXP-0045)

“The topic is something I can relate to personally.  While each person discussed in the course has a different experience – whether they were orphaned, fostered, and/or adopted – they share a common experience of being part of a family that was disrupted.

My runner-up choice would be EXP-0054 The Aesthetics of Commercial Culture, because how often do you get to study Queen Bey?”


ExCollege Staff Member: Amy Goldstein

Women & Water

Course she’d like to take:   Women and Water: Fighting for Environmental Justice (EXP-0048)

“I have a longstanding interest in environmental justice (see my previous blog post), and I’m always fascinated by the forgotten roles that women have played in history and science.  This course seems to be a brilliant combination of environmental studies concepts viewed through the lens of the role women have played in conservation and environmental movements, with a focus on water.”

Need more suggestions? Just ask us!

President Kim Kardashian. Elvis alive. What are the odds?

When not photographing illicit fuel refineries controlled by Nigerian warlords, or teaching for the Program of Narrative and Documentary Practice at Tufts, Samuel James (A’10) is apparently bringing an old and classic feel back to sports.

Last week, we heard from Gary Knight – a renowned photojournalist and instructor for the Advanced Narrative and Documentary Program – that Sam was spending time in England photographing professional soccer with a speed graphic (pictured below).

Large Format - This is Getting Serious!When the young photographer showed up to stadium grounds with the old clunky camera, he was initially welcomed with laughter from sports photographers using state-of-the-art DSLRs. In no time, however, Sam won their hearts and praise, and he produced some truly amazing photos for the May issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Now, while Sam’s story is fascinating, I was frankly more interested in what he had the opportunity to witness in England… And bear with me, because I’m about to attempt a sports comparison that may well be incomparable to anything in American Sports.

Across the pond, the Barclays Premier League hosts the top professional English football clubs in the country. It is composed of twenty teams and is the most-watched football league in the world.

©SamuelJames2015(2)For those of you that don’t know, soccer around the world functions on a promotion and relegation system that is vastly different from anything in American sports – even Major League Soccer. That’s because, the three lowest placed teams in the top league are relegated (demoted) to second-division soccer to make room for the three best teams in a lower division.

That’s sort-of like the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers and the 76ers having to play in the D-League next year to make room for the three best development teams…

Here’s where it gets interesting and where – as Sam puts it – millions of fans across the world… have been left to marvel at one of the most baffling and unprecedented stories in the annals of sports. 

Leicester City, a no-name team that won promotion to the Premier League in 2014 – just to barely fight off relegation in 2015 – is now on the brink of winning the 2016 Premier League title.

I lost you? All I get was a shrug?

Well, picture the Cleveland Browns – who have NEVER competed in a Super Bowl and finished next-to-last in the 2015 NFL season. Now picture them winning the Super Bowl next February…

This still doesn’t do Leicester justice. The current odds that the Browns win the next Super Bowl: 200-1. The odds at the beginning of the Premier league season that Leicester City win the title: 5,000-1.

Bookies had better odds for:

  • The Loch Ness monster being discovered (500-1).
  • Kim Kardashian being the US president (2,000-1).
  • Elvis being alive (2,000-1)

I could continue to bore you with all the reasons why this is so remarkable, but instead I’ll direct the truly interested to this BBC article “explaining the full Leicester City story to Americans.” In the meantime, I just want to tell Sam how very jealous I am that he was potentially witnessing sports history!

Welcome to the ExCollege Board!

We are happy to announce two new students will be filling open seats on our Board next year!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the ExCollege, five undergraduates, five Tufts professors and one graduate student sit on our Board. Together, they select our courses, collaborate on events, and represent the larger Tufts community.

DSC_2275Kate Sienko is a rising senior currently studying abroad in Barcelona. In her junior fall, she taught a Perspectives course for first-year students, called The Medium is the Message: The Evolution of Advertising in America.

Kate is also on the Marketing and Publicity Team for TEDxTufts, in the Chi Omega Fraternity, a member of Special Friends, and a former student of the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice through the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts.  Check out the blog she’s writing from Spain.

When asked why she wants to join the ExCollege Board, Kate explained that it is a “hidden gem.”

The ExCollege offers unparalleled opportunities to explore, discover, experience, and above all, try…

It allows me to explore my creative curiosity and pursue my real-world interests that are not offered in the traditional classroom setting, such as advertising, journalism, photojournalism, marketing, public relations, and publication. I believe that the ExCollege complements my traditional studies and thus, every semester, I pair one ExCollege class with my four traditional classes…

– Kate Sienko, Class of 2017

IMG_1625Hanzhi Zhang is a rising sophomore who, in her first two semesters, took two ExCollege courses – Communicating for the Government (Fall 2015) and The Crisis Game (Spring 2016). Hanzhi is originally from Beijing, China and was actually drawn to Tufts because of the Experimental College – even writing about it in her “Why Tufts?” application prompt.

She is a tutor through the Leonard Carmichael Society, a volunteer translator for Home of Hope (Xiwangzhijia), and she participates in phone banking for for Bernie Sanders. Hanzhi is also a fanatic for maps and cartography!


The ExCollege is an irreplaceable part of my Tufts experience and I want to be on the board to help make it even better for the Tufts community. As a high school student, especially an international one, I never thought such multidisciplinary and hands-on courses were possible at an undergraduate level…I don’t think enough Tufts students are taking advantage of what the ExCollege has to offer. I feel strongly about it because I know how rare such opportunities are for an undergraduate student, not only in the US, but also around the world.

 – Hanzhi Zhang, Class of 2019

Explorations and Perspectives: Our First-Year Advising Program

E:P Fall 2016Congratulations to the 46 students who will be co-leading Explorations and Perspectives advising seminars for incoming first-years in the Fall! Explorations and Perspectives are signature programs of the ExCollege. Through courses designed and led by two upper‑level undergrads, they offer new students a special kind of participatory learning, a team approach to advising, and a sense of support and community.

PERSPECTIVES QUOTEThe Explorations program began in 1972 to meet the overwhelming demand from entering students for advising through an ongoing, small-group experience. The Perspectives program was added in 1989 to focus specifically on topics related to media. All seminars are full-credit courses that are graded on a pass/fail basis.

Explorations can be designed around any topic, and some of next fall’s creative courses include Immigrant Food; Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Play; Art of Revolution; rs_1024x759-150709052426-1024.Donald-Trump-Hillary-Clinton-JR-70915_copySport and Social Justice; The Borgias; and the Economics and Politics of Bad Habits in America. Perspectives will cover media topics ranging from The West Wing and the 2016 election, to environmental documentaries, The Wire, Star Wars, and Instagram fame.Explorations quote

Student-leaders are passionate about their topics, and come from all backgrounds and majors, including Biology, Art History, Environmental Studies, Community Health, and Film and Media Studies.

Past participants, both leaders and students, often remark that being part of Explorations and Perspectives was one of their most meaningful experiences at Tufts!


I believe the man who said, “All politics is local,” grew up just down the road from my house, and my recent campaign for Arlington Town Meeting Member definitely served as a crash course in politics. The process forced me to stretch way out of my comfort zone and acknowledge some universal truths. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind when running for office, which also apply to life in general.

  1. Work your strengths

egg hunt online graphic copy-2I love planning events, particularly holidays. I inherited this quality from my mother, who elevates menu planning to an art form. So when I saw a call on social media for someone to take over organizing the neighborhood egg hunt, I knew I was just the woman for the job. Knocking on doors to ask for votes felt intimidating, but planning an egg hunt as a way to meet more of my neighbors sounded fun! The egg hunt had a record turnout and helped me get to know some folks in my precinct while showing off my organizing abilities.

  1. Be proud of your story and experiencesback of postcard

I made a postcard to tell my neighbors a little about myself. I debated whether or not to describe myself a “pedestrian and bicyclist,” because it’s a car’s world and a lot of people really seem to hate cyclists. I decided to be honest about my values and it paid off. Someone in my network shared the postcard with acquaintances who were impressed that I identified myself as a bicyclist. What I feared was a liability may have ended up winning me some votes!

  1. Acknowledge and appreciate your support systems

150 feet from the polls with the best husband ever!

It’s no secret that I have some wonderful colleagues here at the ExCollege, and they were a big source of encouragement, including Amy convincing me to run in the first place! Howard and Joe were extremely patient with our frequent Arlington-centered discussions and each of my co-workers gave me valuable advice.

I have to give a big shout out to my husband, who though initially skeptical about my run, delivered postcards to over 130 households in our precinct and stood outside the polling place with me on the cold, rainy morning of the election, while Auntie Lylee babysat. It takes a village!

I was also helped tremendously by some of the other folks running for Town Meeting, who shared my name with their networks and commiserated with me over some of the more stressful aspects of politicking.

  1. Hard work pays off

Town Meeting elections are small. Only 204 people voted in my precinct this election. In Precinct #4order to get elected, I didn’t even have to get the most votes. There were four seats open, so I just had to be one of the top four. Even so, I took it seriously and put in many hours of work. I studied up on the issues, attended meetings, networked, printed and distributed postcards, and stood 150 feet outside the polls on the morning of the election. And I got 61% of the vote, coming in second for my precinct!

  1. Not everyone is going to like you

Local politics can be intense! Running for anything as a resident of merely five years in a New England town takes guts. Several younger residents who are new to Arlington politics were elected this year, and not everyone is happy about it. In fact, some have been downright hostile. But I’m proud of the work I did to get elected and optimistic that I can work for incremental, positive changes in my community. Bring on the meetings!

It’s Going to be a Superhero Landing

As soon as test footage for Deadpool leaked in August 2014, one thought raced through my mind – it is about dang time! The witty, raunchy “merc-with-a-mouth” was always one of my favorite superheroes, and luckily, fans online backed the film enough to push it to the big screen.

I know I’m late to the Deadpool conversation. It’s now clear that Wade Wilson is our newest record-breaking box office hero, earning over $130 million in it’s opening weekend and grossing more than than $700 million worldwide to date. In fact, it is the seventh-biggest comic movie debut of all time, behind two Avengers films, two Dark Knight installments, Iron Man 3 and Spider Man 3.  Concerning non-sequels, it’s right between The Hunger Games and Man of Steel as the second-biggest non-sequel debut of all time (third if you want to count The Avengers). – Forbes

I was always a huge superhero fan – although most of my knowledge is secondhand from older cousins who were often “too cool” to let me look at their comics myself. And I know there are plenty of people agonizing about the thought of another superhero blockbuster, but I say keep ‘em coming!

Deadpool only reenergized my love for comic book movies and kick-started what should be an interesting spring and summer. Just take a look at the next four releases:

March 25 (MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!) – Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

May 6 – Captain America: Civil War

May 27 – X-Men: Apocalypse

Aug 5 – Suicide Squad

Although comic-lovers are divided when it comes to… well, just about everything, I am completely gung ho for each of these films. You might be upset that Ben Affleck is playing Batman, or you might hate Spiderman’s new look in Civil War. But, we are really just getting started! Have you seen the potential four-year lineup?

Call me a naïve fan, or maybe blame my lack of “nit-picky-ness” on the fact that I never had own comics, but I’m really just looking for great action movies with the right amount wit and comic relief.

I will say, however, that I am particularly interested in seeing how Suicide Squad turns out – a film about supervillains-made-antiheroes recruited by the government for dangerous black-ops missions. Deadpool was an enormous success with an R-rating, yet most films moving forward (even those with darker plots) are still PG-13.

I just wonder how parents will feel walking down a toy isle with boxes labeled “Suicide Squad.” And the chilling effect from Jared Leto’s Joker at the end of the movie’s trailer makes him one of DC Comics most anticipated characters!

An Extremely Beleaguered Feminist

Don’t chisel that on my grave stone just yet, though the events of the past week are pushing me over the edge:

Monday: It began when I awoke blurry-eyed Monday morning looking for the results of the previous night’s Oscar awards, since I had not been able to stay awake till the end.  I turned to The Boston Globe, and reading both the TV critic and the movie critic sent my feminist radar flashing.


First, I was pleased to see that Brie Larson won Best Actress for Room, but I could hardly get past the writer’s characterization of her role as “an extremely beleaguered young mother.” WHAT?  Now, in the interests of full disclosure, the writer of that Oscar recap is an esteemed visiting lecturer at the ExCollege, and I went to see Room largely on his positive review of the movie. And, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps “extremely beleaguered young mother” was a short-hand way of not requiring a spoiler alert for people who haven’t yet seen this disturbing film.

Spoiler alert: Room is about a woman who is a victim of kidnapping and repeated rape, who somehow raises a child amid physical and psychological torment. Yup, rape and kidnapping can sure make young moms feel extremely beleaguered!  Hmm, would a woman critic would have characterized Brie Larson’s role – or the movie as a whole – differently, I wondered?  Here’s one clue: the New York Times critic used the words “hell,” “inhumane prison,” “horrors,” and “terrors suffered by real victims” in her review.

Next, I turned to the TV critic’s piece on the Oscar spectacle, and ruminated on this phrase:

Rooney Mara arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Rooney Mara arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

“Seriously, imagine trying to make small talk with Rooney ‘Good Times’ Mara, who appears to have a case of RBF….”  RBF?  Google it.  Now, you may not have liked her gown, or her hairdo, or her make-up, but do you really have to write in a respectable newspaper that she looks like a bitch?

Flashback to Friday: This got me thinking about a lecture last week by Tufts Dean and Professor of Philosophy, Nancy Bauer.  Her talk on “How to Do Things With Pornography” combined philosophical theories with some 21st century realities of hook-up culture and objectification of women.

Nancy Bauer eventThe comment from Nancy Bauer that stuck with me (when confronted with Rooney Mara’s “RBF”) was about how every day women have to navigate the gender roles and culture we’re immersed in, and we end up feeling like “bad” feminists when we groom our bodies to fit male expectations.  Gosh, Rooney should have tried harder.

Back to Monday: But of course the Oscars weren’t about women this year, they were about white people.  So no surprise that there was little mention (none in the Globe) of the Oscar awarded to A Girl in the River, a documentary about honor killing, directed by a woman of color, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.  The film already led to a change in law in Pakistan. “That is the power of film,” she said, about her second Oscar-winning film.

imageTuesday, that is, Super Tuesday:  Good God, with all the real problems in the world, if I have to listen to one more comment about Hillary Clinton’s face, hair, make-up, pantsuit, or color choice I’m going to explode.  Not another regurgitation of her “problem” with younger voters!  My go-to news source said it best:

“Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring”

Yes, The Onion.  You can’t say I’m humorless.

Wednesday: Hillary cleans up on Super Tuesday, but the talking head (male) tells me the upshot is we voted for “a third term of Barack Obama.”  Apparently, the first woman President would bring no experience or perspective or policy initiatives of her own.  Simultaneously on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court (5 men; 3 women) hears arguments (by a man) to uphold the most restrictive abortion law since Roe v. Wade.  The Texas law has shut down clinics, requiring thousands of women to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion.  Or not.  Talk about beleaguered.

Thursday: The Donald Trump show continues.  Tonight we’ll be treated to another prime time opportunity to hear him demean Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.  How is it that I’m now rooting for Fox News?  An extremely beleaguered feminist indeed.  And still three days left in the week.


I’m Here to Make Friends

One thing I did not expect about parenthood is how weird it is to be an introverted parent. Between hours spent at the playground, a grueling birthday-party schedule, and the dreaded preschool parent social, it’s one forced interaction with my fellow parents after another. I don’t want to talk to strangers about raising kids, I just want to stare off into space for a little while. Is that so wrong?

To make matters worse, my introverted husband and I somehow managed to produce a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert. For my daughter, every stranger is a future friend. The likelihood of someone being anything less than completely delighted to meet her is so remote, so far removed from her experience, that it doesn’t seem to enter her mind as a possibility. Before her second birthday, my daughter started shoving me over toward other parents at the playground, exclaiming, “This is Mommy!” Then she would grin encouragingly at me, as if to say, “Go ahead! Make friends!” So when our Assistant Director, Amy Goldstein, encouraged me to run for Arlington Town Meeting, the biggest drawback wasn’t the late-night meetings or the rambling testimonies of aggrieved townspeople, it was having to spend more time talking to new people.

My neighborhood of East Arlington has changed a lot in the five years since we purchased our half of a two-family. A lot of these changes are great! What was a deserted Hollywood Video is now a vintage store and a restaurant. What was an empty foreclosure is now a newly-renovated condominium. There’s a new path to Alewife Station, new crosswalks, and new bike lanes. And a lot is still changing: our little extrovert is going to be one of 1,000 new students entering Arlington schools in the next five years, wentering the raceetlands that prevent our basement from flooding are in danger of being developed into condominiums, and there’s even a proposal to put in a traffic light right where I’ve been saying there should really be a traffic light. My precinct has a bunch of open seats and not enough “young” people. So I agreed to run for Town Meeting Member.

The first uncomfortable step was to attend a small gathering of citizens in my precinct to learn about the process of running for Town Meeting. The second uncomfortable step was to get signatures from registered voters in my precinct. And you know, people were really nice. They were warm and encouraging. They said they had seen me around and were happy that I decided to get involved. And hey, as an emotionally-intelligent introvert, The New York Times tells me I can succeed as long as I’m willing to stretch that comfort zone! Never mind that this 2015 piece cites the success of Jeb Bush, who subsequently withdrew from the race after months of bullying from noted extrovert Donald Trump. I’m not running for President of the United States. I’m running to be one of 252 people who attend some meetings.

Election day is April 2nd and there’s still a lot to do: postcards to send, meetings to attend, hands to shake, babies to kiss. It makes me think of the reality show cliché where, in the throes of competition, someone faces the camera and explains that the only thing that matters is winning, declaring, “I’m not here to make friends!” Well, it’s true that I’m running to win. I’m here to represent East Arlington, including young residents who might be too new, too busy, or too timid to get involved and share their voices. But maybe I’m also here to make friends