Saturday, January 30, 2010


Earlier in the week, my academic department noted with sadness the passing of two great visionaries: author J.D. Salinger, without whom many of us would not have made it through adolescence, and radical historian Howard Zinn, who demonstrated the power of combining scholarship and activism.

In sharing memories and stories of these great thinkers over email, someone commented "I hate to see who will go next to make it three."

Today, much to our horror, we found out who it was: we lost a young woman, a recent alum of the program I teach in, who was a doctoral student and administrative assistant in another program at the university.

She died in freak drowning accident last night, when she and some friends had gone to the beach to admire the full moon, appearing 30% brighter at its perigee. As she waded in the knee-deep water, she lost her balance, and was swept under and out to sea by a sudden large wave. Her friends -- one of whom was a former lifeguard and competitive swimmer -- tried to reach her, but the surf was too high and the undertow too strong.

Our students are in shock. They are a particularly tight-knit community. Lasting friendships are formed in the program, and graduates tend to remain in the same social circle. Because she worked on campus, she knew everyone, maintaining ties with alums, and meeting new students. When I arrived on campus as a new faculty member, she was one of the first people to welcome and orient me - even though she worked for a different department. We spoke often of shared interests.

It seems impossible that one so full of promise, so full of joy and life, could depart from us so quickly, without warning or reason.

This evening, our chair had planned to host a beginning of the semester party for faculty and students at his home. Instead, we had an impromptu wake at the home of our program coordinator - the glue of our department - who was her best friend and roommate.

I can't imagine the pain and sadness and helpless torment of losing a best friend this way: unable to help as she got pulled out to sea in the turbulent surf.

Others have told me that she was the type of person whom many called best friend - she attracted people to her, recognized their inner qualities, and encouraged them to shine. She gave voice to inner hopes and longings.

I stand in awe of the mysterious and capricious workings of the world that gives us the brilliant words and examples of Salinger and Zinn, on this Earth for 80 years or more, inspiring multiple generations; and takes suddenly one so young and full of promise and joy and potential. I know her death will bring our community together in certain ways, and leave gaps in other ways. We will try to make a meaningful story of her life and death to understand and comprehend it. Beyond that, the world remains inexplicable, too indeterminate to understand.

Again, I am reminded of the transitory nature of this life: a gift on loan from the Universe, that can be retrieved at any time and without warning.
Seize the day!
Live your dreams!
Hug your best friend!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let Your Love Grow...

Via the Telegraph, via Shimona on fab FB

For the ultimate expression of love in an organic, carbon-neutral way: Growing Jewellery by Icelandic designer Hafsteinn Juliusson.

The rings represent
"... a redefinition of modern values. It is a clash of jewelry and gardening; couture and organism. The collection is designed for people in metropolitan cities and is an experiment in drawing nature toward man, as nature being the presupposition of life."

Tiny Icelandic moss, which requires watering, is planted in the ring, and can they can last up to six months.*

*The ideal length of an engagement -- longer than that, and the flowers/centerpieces/ menu/ fittings/meddling/ etc. will drive you mad.**

** Unless you like that sort of thing... that's cool.

**aI'm still recovering from the wedding year... It might have been nice to have a ring with an expiration date.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The world's too small, or The perils of Facebook

In our search for a DJ, we were delighted to find a super-talented one, who, along with being a music-first, no-cheese artist, was also in our demographic, and intuitively grokked the kind of party (heavy on the '80s music) that we wanted to have. Score!

However, through a bizarre swerve of Fate, he couldn't play at our wedding after we'd booked him. To make up for his error, he ended up substituting one of his partners at no cost to us. That honored his commitment so professionally and generously impressed us, so we accepted the substitution. Although we (or at least, I) were completely smitten with our would-be DJ, we figured that zeroing out a line item made good financial sense.

Now the plot thickens: the would-be DJ followed up by email recently to make sure the music at the wedding went well. Indeed it did. The substitute did a great job, and everyone had a blast. The would-be DJ mentioned that he noticed that I was Facebook friends with a former co-worker of his, with whom he had a very serious falling out. He was worried that this person would be at the wedding, creating an uncomfortable situation for all involved. He thought it was fortuitous -- fated even -- that he had mistakenly double-booked, and didn't have to risk a difficult encounter.

So now I wonder: Did Fate interfere to prevent the would-be DJ from meeting his old nemesis? What if I had invited that FB friend to the wedding? How much do people conclude from the (virtual) company I keep?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lasting names

Scene: Reception desk at a Caribbean island resort hotel, where Eric and I are staying for three days to relax after trekking in Patagonia (more on that soon). We've booked the "Honeymoon Special," which offers a free airport transfer, and a bottle of Champagne in the room.

Receptionist: Are you Mrs. Hislastname?

Me: No, I'm Elizabeth Barefoot.

The Receptionist gives me a perplexed look.

Me: We ARE married.

[I bring my left hand - with its delicate band - to the counter. I've left my engagement ring at home during our travels. I suspect that, compared to the hardware she sees on many honeymooners' hands, my low-key bling is not very convincing.]

Receptionist: But what should we call you? How shall we address you?

Me: Ah, I guess you can call me Ms. Barefoot.

Receptionist: Is that "Missus" Barefoot, or "Miss" Barefoot?

Me: No, it's "Miz" Barefoot.

An even more perplexed look. We're not in Berkeley anymore, Toto. Back home, at least half the married women I know have kept their birth names. And everyone goes by their first names, anyway.

Me: [searching for some handle that will make sense...] Or you could call me "Dr. Barefoot." [Since even my students call me by my first name, I figure I may as well get some mileage out of my hard-won degree.]

Receptionist: [lighting up] You're a DOCTOR? Oh my goodness! I want to ask you a question...

Eric: [breaking in] .... Not a medical doctor....

Me: But if you have an environmental problem, I might be able to help...

At that point, the Receptionist gave up trying to figure out what to call me. We offered up "Professor," but that didn't gain any traction, either.

This was my first real confrontation with the name-change expectation. Given the amount of time and effort and commitment I've put into establishing my professional identity, changing my name never made sense to me. Actually, even before all that, it never made sense to me. In giving up her name, it seemed that the woman was being asked to subsume her identity to that of her husband, a role I wanted no part of. After living with one name - which I like very much - for decades, I didn't have any desire to change it. I'm also profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of being defined only by my relationship to someone else - in my mind, "Mrs." sounds a lot like "possession."

Our friends and family (especially mine, who have known me to be stubbornly independent) implicitly understood this: I've fielded only one question about what I was going to do about my name. Both my sisters-in-law have their birth names, as do my best friends. My mom reverted to her original name when my parents divorced, and stuck with that name after she remarried. In this context, it would have been almost strange for me to change my name.

Eric and I had several conversations on this topic before we got engaged. He probably would have been happy for me to change my name - to harmonize with cultural expectations - but fully understands and appreciates the reason that I have chosen not to. Of our two last names, his is slightly less mellifluous, and more prone to annoying nicknames, which he's suffered since childhood. I encouraged him to take mine - we could be "Dr. and Mr. Barefoot" or "the Professors Barefoot" - but sadly, that is rarely done. More importantly, he is the only male in his generation of his family and feels strongly about passing on the name (whereas I have two brothers, and two nephews, so our last name is not about to die out). Thus, any offspring will likely be Hislastname.

In a nod to family unity, we thought it would be nice to take each other's last names as middle names, reversing what women who change their names have done for years (eg., I would become Elizabeth Middlename Hislastname Barefoot, and he would become Eric Middlename Middlename Barefoot Hislastname, creating a really excellent acronym in the process!). However, although San Francisco City Hall offers numerous options for combining and changing names while applying for the marriage license, adopting new middle names is not one of them. To do this, we will have to file for an official legal name change. Bah!

City Hall does have a pretty ceiling, though. I was so giddy that day, I was only looking up.

I feel fortunate to be surrounded with people who accept and respect my feelings about my own name - really, what is more personal that what one is called every day? And I recognize that for some (maybe even most, outside of the People's Republic of Berkeley) families, sharing the same last name is important. However, I didn't expect that people I don't even know would be unable to address me by my name, if it wasn't the same as my husband's. Thank God for the progressive and protective bubble of the Bay Area!

Have others reacted with surprise or confusion at your changed or not-changed last name? Have you found creative ways of managing the expectation that women change their names? Have you confounded others expectations, in one way or another, about what your name would be after marriage?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I've changed my name!

Not actually *my* name (whole rant about this issue coming up soon...), but the blog's name.

I've been thinking about this for awhile. The new name captures much more of what I write and think about: not just being a bride (as soon as I post some of the pro photos and honeymoon stories, I will be waaaay over the wedding!), but trying to live in a way that captures the lightness and grace of walking barefoot.

I'm nearing the same crossroads that other wedding bloggers have reached, where I wonder what the purpose of this blog is, if not to capture my musings about my impending wedding. I don't have cats, or a major recipe habit, or deep knowledge of wine, or even an abiding passion for weddings (though I must confess to catching up on some pretty pictures and thoughtful writing upon the return from my honeymoon). I'm still interested in following how the bridal bloggers who got married around the same time that I did are experiencing the transition from fiancee to wife, and I'm sure I'll have more thoughts to share on this issue.

But much of what I think about - having had the experience of trying to plan a large event that would be both beautiful and socially and environmentally-responsible - is how to create a life that embraces both beauty and sustainability. I know in the past that these ideas were not opposed: artifacts were beautiful because they were well-made, handcrafted, durable and long-lasting. In the age of disposable everything, beauty, functionality and durability seem to be at odds. Things are thrown away before they are ever used. Durability is sacrificed for efficiency. We spend more time taking care of our stuff than actually enjoying it. How many times have I been to the Apple store to get my ipod repaired??? All because of the crazy notion of planned obsolescence.

So I want to take the lessons we learned from planning our wedding - about local sourcing, about working with artisans, about slowing down, about deciding what is truly important to us, about creating a day that deeply reflected our values - and work on applying it to Real Life. Much of my life, especially the past half dozen years of grad school, is spent zooming around at top speed, cramming in as much as possible. I'm starting to see that mode as neither sustainable, nor desirable, and not at all in line with my values. While I was to experience as much of the awesomeness that this life has to offer,* I'm no longer convinced that doing more is the answer.

I'll share my thoughts about how this works - especially in balancing roles of wife, professional, friend, etc. - and I still have a bit to say about our wedding. By now, blogging has become a habit that I don't want to give up. (Take note, all you New Year's Resolution Makers: after a year, a habit is engrained!)

*Somehow, marriage has put me in touch with mortality, too. A friend who married over the summer told me that her first thought after getting engaged was about death! Something about the transition in life stages, and the acknowledgment of generational change, I suppose. I'll have to come back to this in another post.

Friday, January 8, 2010

This Ring's the Shizzle!

Rings - plural - actually.

Four - count 'em - four! Such a statement!

Probably not what my niece had in mind, when she told me to request rings for every finger upon my engagement, but perfect for those days when you're feeling less demure debutante and more shit-kicking suffragette.