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Steampunk Sketch by Key and Peele

Elizabeth Salem:

Via my new favorite blog For Whom The Gear Turns…this is a link to a Key and Peale sketch on Steampunk. I have to say that this contains an absolutely hysterical (and concise) definition of Steampunk. Warning for NSFW language.

Originally posted on For Whom the Gear Turns:

It’s good to remember not to take yourself too seriously, and comedic duo Key and Peele help their viewers do this regularly. They are taking a good-natured poke at Steampunk in this sketch and it is very funny. “Levi” and “Cedric” are recurring characters on their sketch show. I couldn’t get the video to embed properly for some reason, but click on the link and you’ll get right to a viewer.


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In Which I Fracture My Narratives

I’m trying to blog more these days, even if it’s about nothing in particular. We’ll call it the Seinfeldian approach.

As I’ve continued to trudge away at my dissertation, I’ve been thinking back to the first time I had my mind completely blown by graduate school. This was pretty early on, some time around reading Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream (for me, it was one of those books that took a few tries). What sent me into some existential angst was the realization that there is no such thing as objectivity. There are narratives, and narratives, and more narratives. And my narratives aren’t your narratives, etc.

I then realized that if I became a cultural historian that these narratives could become my playground. I gleefully started pulling at threads and strands of cultural tapestries and social constructions…the articles on gender theory finally started making sense, and away I went.

Real life, of course, continually got in the way, in the form of my two lovely and rambunctious children. It also, more negatively, brought a lot of changes, and the halcyon path toward a historical utopia that I had so carefully planned out for myself fell apart. Things did not turn out the way I had hoped. What I didn’t realize is that this disappointment was going to take years to get over. I’m actually not sure I’m over it.

If there’s a technical term for this phenomenon, the closest I’ve ever found is used by Christine Hassler, who wrote a book on the subject called Expectation Hangover. I think it’s as good a term as any for how I’ve felt in recent years. I just hadn’t realized that I’ve been so busy being full of regret and beating myself up for not being perfect (and not writing), that it’s made me rather stuck.

I think we all have these stuck places. Mine seem to be any situation that I didn’t feel I handle perfectly, or people who don’t act the way that I think they should, or who don’t respond the way I hoped they would. Situations where I am so upset about how things didn’t turn out or didn’t do something for me that I decided to quit or stop trying. I’m sort of amazed at the places that I’m stuck. They don’t seem logical, or easily explainable. Hence the “stuckness,” I guess.

I’m not even sure about how becomes “un-stuck,” other than to realize that nothing’s permanent in a world of multiple narratives.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in an ultimate Truth. I just theorize that we tend not to see It most of the time. The implications of recognizing that all of us are in this together are too existentially disturbing. But I’ll go there if you will.

In other, more random thoughts:

I’m rather thrilled that Ida B. Wells is the Google doodle today.

I’ve discovered that the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes novels were actually ghostwritten. I am still enjoying the glorious eighties-ness of them, however. It takes me back to my childhood.

My house is starting to be infiltrated by Minions, down to the banana bubble bath in the bathroom. We also have some of the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, though, apparently, not the ones that swear.

In Which I Catch Up

Why, yes, I haven’t updated this blog since March.

I wish I could give you a fabulous reason as to why, or to relate some dramatic development in my life. But, no. What it really comes down to is that I continue to hesitate putting myself out there. I keep following the same old patterns that lead me toward “doing nothing” or “not bothering,” because “it will be a failure anyway.”

I could (and I have) gone on and on about how I have all of these “circumstances” that have prevented me from living my life, that because my living situation and my graduate school experiences haven’t been glitter and rainbows and money, somehow what I do doesn’t matter.

But there’s another voice in my head, that asks why after thirty-five years on this plane of existence do I want to stay unhappy?

Normally I’d then segue into something about how I’m so awful because I’ve been throwing a giant existential temper tantrum, etc. I am convinced lately, however, that all of my mental shenanigans are actually the first step toward Enlightenment.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to fix all of the externals, thinking that would make me happy.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that I need to stop trying to control everything. I just need to live my life.

So here I am updating. Here I am reading everything on neurasthenia so that I can get my next chapter draft done. Here I am listening to my self-help gurus (lately, Jennifer Hadley and Nick and Jessica Ortner). I am catching up on’s Star Trek rewatch. I just finished Margaret Truman’s 1980 mystery Murder in the White House, and was pleasantly surprised by how sophisticated it was. I am trying to get my head around the events of this summer, between protests near my house, Rachel Dolezal, and the Charleston shooting. I hope that the flag comes down and that everyone reads the books on the Charleston Syllabus (especially my professor Rhonda Y. Williams’ new book Concrete Demands). I am happy that Obamacare lives on.

I’m living in the present, as much as I can. It’s a good day.

Book Review, Lissa Rankin, The Fear Cure

I have followed Dr. Lissa Rankin’s career with interest for several years now, particularly as she inhabits the same corner of the self-help universe as other authors I admire, including Martha Beck and Tosha Silver (and what I refer to in my head as “The Hay House Cavalcade of Stars!”). Rankin also has one of the more honest email newsletters and blogs out there, and I’ve always appreciated her bravery in being so honest and open with her readers about what is going on in her personal life.

Rankin’s new book, The Fear Cure (released on February 24, 2015), takes on issues of fear and anxiety, and discusses how fear drives how we live our daily lives, even though many of us remain unconscious of this, as Western society in particular tends to treat fear as a taboo subject. The book is a highly useful guide to getting past fear, largely by teaching that the key to handling fear is to embrace it for the lessons it teaches, instead of doing what most of us do, which is to engage in avoidance behaviors.

Rankin points out that fear is actually a useful tool that warns us about the parts of our lives that we need to pay most attention to. Many of us, myself included, have spent years priding ourselves on being busy and stressed out, without admitting that these terms cover up the underlying reality, which is that we’re really scared of uncertainty. We spend most of our time dealing with what Rankin calls “false fear,” which is that sense of anxiety and paranoia that roams through our thoughts, leading us to feel small, to lash out at others, or to see the world as a terrible place. (“True fear,” by way of contrast, is the adrenaline rush that kicks in when we are in actual physical danger, for example.)

The key, Rankin says, is to understand that false fear causes us to awaken to the truth about ourselves. In other words, fear can help cure you. She provides many strategies for getting in touch with fear, being kind to ourselves, figuring out what is really going on in the subconscious, and learning to surrender to the Divine. By becoming more vulnerable and honest, we can find the path to wholeness and a brighter future.

The book contains much discussion of clinical data if you are into that sort of thing, but is far more spiritually-oriented than Rankin’s previous work, Mind Over Medicine. She also provides multiple exercises and activities to help to promote your journey toward learning fear’s lessons and moving forward with life.

I enjoyed this book very much, so much so that I ordered it from Amazon while I was about one-third of the way through my library’s copy.

Source: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, copy from my local library

Harry Gene Levine: Joseph R. Gusfield and the Multiple Perspectives of Cubist Sociology

Elizabeth Salem:

I know I don’t always write about my dissertation research, but I can’t resist reblogging this: one giant of alcohol history talks about another giant of alcohol history.

Originally posted on Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society:

Note from Ron:  Here is another tribute to the late Joe Gusfield, authored by Harry Gene Levine.  It circulated via email among some of us old-guard alcohol and drug history types a few days ago.  And, when I asked him, Harry was kind enough grant permission it be published at Points. The italicized first paragraph, below the Picasso image, offers Harry’s suggested introductory words for the piece.  I’m also going to take the liberty of adding, as a comment, below, my response to it when it was sent around by email.  I really like this piece.  Thank you, Harry!

Picasso's Guernica Picasso’s Guernica

In 2000 I was invited to join a panel at the meetings of the Law and Society Association devoted to Joe Gusfield and his book Symbolic Crusade.  I wrote a four page presentation, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.  Since hearing of his death I have been thinking about him a…

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In Which I Muse about Writing as it Snows

It’s been snowing heavily in Cleveland. My husband, a high school teacher, already has the day off from school tomorrow. I’m hoping for the same for my daughter and son, mostly as I’d love to have another day to work on my dissertation in (relative) peace.

It’s funny how it feels like I have to steal time in order to write. Like I feel like I’m not allowed to work unless I’m given permission by some outside force.

I’ve spent the last week or so watching all of the crazy stories I tell myself rise and fall inside of my head, crumbling into bits. Yet I’m not exactly sure how, as Martha Beck advises, to step away from the old and find new thoughts to replace them with. The old thoughts certainly keep making me plenty miserable. I’m also really starting to see how I keep myself from moving on. Every time I make real progress on my dissertation, for example, I somehow seem to find a reason to return to mulling over past regrets, mistakes, or worrying about the future. Or, I suddenly have a need to order ten books from the library, binge watch British television, and then it’s days later and I haven’t written anything new.

While I’ve been much better about this of late, I note the irony that I’m writing a dissertation about how Americans made up their own narratives about anxiety and the drugs they treated it with, even as I see my own narratives coming apart at the seams.

I’ve also been a bit flustered because I accepted an offer to return to a summer job, but in a slightly higher position. While I love this job and it’s short-term, and pays well…the idea of coming back to it and having to supervise others seems incredibly daunting. It brings up all of my anxieties over teaching and leadership…and makes me dredge up all of the times in which I’ve made mistakes in these areas, instead of seeing them as learning experiences.

In other news, I have truly been horrified about the recent revelation that the Egyptian Museum glued King Tut’s funerary mask back together with what looks like Gorilla Glue. (My favorite roundup so far is here at The History Blog.) I guess I’m flabbergasted that in 2015, this could happen to the one of the world’s most famous artifacts. Having read Jo Marchant’s book on Tut’s mummy, I know that the Boy King has had a rough time of it since the 1920s, but this really takes the cake. (And further brings home to me the fact that archeology and history both, in their own ways, aren’t nearly as professional as we like to think they are.)

I’ve also been watching “Grantchester” on Masterpiece Mystery. James Norton’s portrayal of Sidney Chambers is making the show watchable for me. I am about midway into the second book of the series that the show is based on, by James Runcie, but I have to say that the books make me somewhat uneasy. They are not British cozy mysteries, despite how they’ve been marketed. They are more meditations on the dark side of the British psyche during the 1950s, and, in my opinion, are too preoccupied with issues of sexuality. I also was truly appalled by the treatment of Amanda (as much as I dislike the character) during one of the stories in the first book, as it seemed completely unnecessary. The television scripts seem to be handling the subject matter better (though do we really need to harp on the curate’s sexual orientation constantly?), but the stories are faithful enough to the books that I’m not looking forward to what’s coming.

In Which I Stumble Around and am Afraid

Of course, it turns out that practicing what you preach is so much harder than I thought.

I did not sleep much again last night, and woke up with heartburn. (In Louise Hay You Can Heal Your Life terms, that would be “Fear. Fear. Fear. Clutching fear.”)

And it was the same old things…fear of how I perceive these family members, of how I think they will hurt me again in the future. Fear of what the world thinks of me because I can’t seem to do everything perfectly. Fear of the consequences of my next mistake.

I started the day well. Discovered a YouTube video via Mary Hayes Grieco’s Facebook page. It was an explanation of a short prayer that author Debra Engle uses to combat fear (the theory being that fear is at the heart of most of our issues).

This resonated with me. I plan on using it.

As the day went on though, I kept finding (or, my ego kept finding) new and exciting ways to lose hope. Constant reminders of the things I’m afraid of, and this nagging sense that there is no safe future for me, that bad things will continue to happen, that there is nothing I can do to make anything better. I searched the world around me for proof that things are terrible and are going to be terrible, and, because I was searching so diligently for it, I inevitably found it.

And I found myself retreating to my usual coping mechanism, which is a whole lot of anger. Which I took out on my husband and children, because anger seemed easier to cope with than “clutching fear.”

For some reason I think that I am owed guarantees of what the future will be like. That if I do all the right things, everything’s going to be fabulous and no one will ever, ever criticize me. (Never mind that I certainly haven’t kept the peace myself.)

Tosha Silver has a chapter in Outrageous Openness about how the world can seem a stark and hopeless place “without God.” She even attaches the phrase to sentences just to change the dynamic: “this is what my family/job/money situation looks like…without God.” The idea being that with the Divine, everything changes, if we just let go of how strongly we hold to these stories that we tell ourselves about how horrible the world is. If we really do believe in a Divinely-inspired universe—then it is imperative that we let the hell go of the lies.

So I guess I’m sitting here today trying to get past my own stories about my family, despite the big scary world out there that looks like it’s out to get me in the form of people who (I think) don’t understand me and actively dislike me.

Although I know that I am going to need to surrender this idea that I can fix all of this by myself. I’ve been “controlling” all of this for years, and it has made me miserable. The good news seems to be that the only thing that needs fixing are the perceptions inside of my head.

I wrote quite a bit of my dissertation today, but I can’t seem to get the old writing high I used to get. When was the last time that happened, actually? Again, this reliance upon the external things to make me happy.


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