Marking Time

7 May 2021 | 25 Iyar 5781

The Omer is the 49 day period on the Jewish calendar, a week of weeks, in which we count the days between two major holidays: From the second night of Passover we count up to Shavuot. I love the Omer because I love calendars. It has something to do with how my brain works. It just loves marking time. I relate to the world based on when events occurred. I’ve found myself frustrated in the last 15 months or so because marking time during COVID has felt different -- both epically long and surprisingly short -- as compared to pre-pandemic days.

Gif of actor Jon Lovitz in an early episode of “Friends” saying “Tartlets” repeatedly and then saying “The word has lost all meaning.” The word “Tartlets” is overlaid with the word “time” in my altered version of the gif.
How time feels since the start of the pandemic. If the gif stops playing, refresh the page. Click here for gif description.

I also love the Omer because it’s a period of self-reflection. What I’m most taking stock of this year is how my teaching has changed during the past three semesters as a result of the pandemic (see some of my work here).

For the past 40 days, I have been waiting for inspiration as to how to connect my love of the Omer, my love of the academic calendar, and my love of self-reflection. But maybe I don’t need anything more profound than that. The point I’m trying to make is that everyone, whether through religious observance or otherwise, figure out a way to mark time.

My two cents for you is that for some period during the year, or maybe severa, reflect on what has happened since you last marked time, or since some significant life event. What do you hope for when you next reflect on your life? I like to do a lot of this work during the Omer. It’s an added bonus that this roughly coincides with the end of an academic year as it brings together a few of my favorite things: The Omer, the academic calendar, and self-reflection.

Today is day forty, which is five weeks and five days of the Omer.


24 March 2021

Word cloud of the post below. The most salient word is ASL!

The ASL Lab (@theasllab) by Justin Jackerson, a fairly new Instagram account which “dissects” ASL from interesting etymologies to explaining the appropriate use of commonly-confused signs., recently shared a video about fingerspelling (view it here) and I just have to talk about it.

Fingerspelling is a passion of mine, so much so I wrote my dissertation on it. I love it because it’s complicated, it’s messy. If you like studying phonetics, there are so many gems in fingerspelling analyses. You’ll be set for life!

Every now and then I see these arguments against fingerspelling that bother me. People argue we should stop fingerspelling, we should invent new signs to replace words which are typically fingerspelled. Make no mistake, I’m all for coining new terms, as needed; I’m talking about attempts to get rid of even the most entrenched fingerspelling in our language.

ASL and English have existed in contact since ASL’s birth. But unlike other languages which have been persistently in contact for at least 200 years, ASL and English have a complicated relationship. ASL has been -- and continues to be today -- withheld from deaf children, often with devastating consequences. Significant intergenerational trauma has been inflicted on deaf people and in some cases their hearing family when deaf people were forced to speak English orally, to the exclusion of ASL.

Despite this complicated past (and present), it is natural for languages to borrow from one another. In fact, The ASL Lab has videos explaining the roots of various ASL signs borrowed from French Sign Language (LSF). These signs are generally not questioned or thought of as illegitimate in ASL, perhaps because people are unaware of their origins or because ASL and LSF don’t share the same contentious relationship as ASL and English.

But even when two languages have a complicated history, borrowing still happens. It’s still a natural process. Fingerspelling isn’t an “outsider” and like it or not, it is very much a part of ASL, so deeply entrenched I can’t imagine being able to completely “purify” the language of all fingerspelling. Even if we could somehow do this, we’d have to take it one step farther and get rid of any signs based on fingerspelling like the basic color terms BLUE, BROWN, PURPLE, PINK or even kinship terms like AUNT, UNCLE, and COUSIN.

Just like the character “Fingerspelling” in Jackerson’s video, we all have to come to terms with fingerspelling’s place at the table. Whether you like it or not, fingerspelling is here to stay, so deeply entrenched in ASL it would be impossible to remove.

Razi and Leah entering their wedding reception hand-in-hand. 📸 Amy Mulkey

The wedding dress and how it relates to hybrid/online course design

14 January 2021

This past weekend was the 95th annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of America (#lsa2021). On Thursday, I attended an all-day workshop on hybrid and online teaching and Saturday, I participated in a panel discussion about teaching through covid-19 and beyond. So, since Thursday, I’ve been deep in thought reflecting on which new strategies I might like to implement and how I might go about that. Then suddenly I had a flashback to my wedding dress, of all things. But it occurs to me, maybe that’s not such a random thought after all. It occurs to me that there are a lot of parallels between what I’ve been learning/discussing about online teaching and how my dress came to be.

My dress is bits of frill from my mom’s wedding dress (which she made herself!), sleeves and skirt from my mother-in-law, and a completely new bodice. These were pieced together skillfully by a master seamstress.

When we teach hybrid or online courses, we’re taking pieces (like sleeves and a skirt) from our f2f classes, the frills of technology from the long history of pre-covid online courses, and building new components to cultivate community within the virtual classroom. These are pieced together to create a different course and a different learning experience.

While the final product may not look like the original, we can be true to the original dress, to the original learning outcomes and course design, by adding some frills from here and there, and building new pieces to create something new, something functional, and something beautiful, just like my dress.

Presentation Opportunities for Scholarly Teaching, Education, and Resources Panel | Scholarly Teaching in the Age of Covid-19 and Beyond | LSA Annual Meeting 2021. Accessible version of poster here.
In the upper left is me in my mother's wedding dress. It didn't fit. My hands are behind my back trying to hold it shut. The neck was a little chokey so I knew I wanted something lower cut, but not so low as my mother-in-law's swooping neckline (top right). A friend's mother, a skilled seamstress who did all of the revisions to her daughter's dress, used the various components we provided from my mother's dress and incredibly long veil and train, fully adorned with daisies, and the beautiful satin fabric from my mother-in-law's dress, to design the perfect dress for me.

Raising a (covid) puppy

11 January 2021

Adopting a new pet is always a life-altering decision. Your life will never be the same! But this past summer, after our grueling covid semesters, my husband and I found ourselves in a position where our lives would never be the same anyway, so we did something we thought we’d never have the time to do: adopt a puppy.

Through a friend who volunteers with a dog rescue, we were directed to the Itsie Bitsie Rescue. We’d kind of decided that we wanted a dog about a year in age, and of a size similar to our — at the time — 10 year old Rat Terrier, Kyle. That’s not what we found. In scrolling through the pups available for adoption on Facebook, we saw a lot of puppies. Like baby dogs. But we decided we wanted to meet three of the little ones, and introduce them to Kyle to see if any of them spoke to us, as it were.

Indigo -- then Crony -- one week before we adopted him.

And then there he was, little “Crony” (short for “coronavirus” because his litter had been picked up by IBR about the same time the world was shutting down due to covid).

He immediately took a liking to me, giving me lots of wet puppy kisses with his horrible puppy breath. He was interested in Kyle, and Kyle didn’t hate him. “That’ll do,” we thought. And we finished up the paperwork. Indigo, as we decided to call him, shrieked the whole drive home, and I immediately thought, “OMG what did we just do?”

Our world was upended; that first night was especially rough. No one (except maybe the two cats) slept more than 4 hours. It’s been quite an adjustment since then. As he approaches his 1st birthday in just under a month, we can see just how much progress Indigo has made on his journey to adulthood.

Indigo licking my face just moments after meeting for the first time.

We can’t go back to how our life was with only one dog. We can only move forward. It’s the same with covid, really. We can’t go back to the olden days. And I’m not sure we’d want to. Teachers everywhere have been thinking critically about what’s most important pedagogically, medical centers have streamlined telepractice, and many people -- but unfortunately not all -- show a little more compassion for the hard work other essential workers like postal carriers, grocers and of course teachers teaching in person.

Here’s to going forward! To helping that puppy turn into his best doggy self and for post-covid life to be better than our previous normal

Kyle (front; 11 years) and Indigo (back; days shy of 11 months) sit together looking longingly at me (and the treats in my hand) on New Years Eve.
“I’m different, Miss Danvers, but so is everybody, and I don’t know when that became a bad thing. The greatest gift we can give each other is our authentic selves.” - Dreamer
For this and more quotes from this episode, click here.

Nia Nal: The perfect character with the perfect casting

8 January 2021

Content warning

-Some Supergirl (seasons 4 & 5) spoilers

There are a lot of pretty weird and unexplainable plot holes in Supergirl. The number of crossover episodes that don’t make much sense if you only watch Supergirl (and not other DC comic shows), along with shows with lazy story lines (like randomly going back in time to undo Mon-El and Alura’s deaths in the season 3 finale or the season 5 episode about undoing the past with Mxyzptlk), are pretty annoying. But if there’s one thing this show nailed it's the character Nia Nal.

Nia Nal is portrayed by actor Nicole Maines who visited my university, Sacramento State, a while back with her father to talk about the book which shares their family’s story, Becoming Nicole. Nicole is transgender and came out quite young. With the support of her family and access to appropriate medical care, she’s been able to realize her authentic self and pursue her passion for acting. Since Nicole’s visit to Sacramento, my husband and I have been slogging our way through Supergirl to get to the season introducing Nicole’s character. Over winter break, we finally got there!

Like Nicole, Nia Nal is a transgender woman who came out young and had a very supportive and loving family. Oh, and her mother was an alien immigrant from the planet Naltor with the power of dream divination. When Nia “gets the dreams” she (eventually) leans into this power to become the superhero Dreamer, joining Kara Danvers and the other supers in fighting the good fight.

Nia is perfect because she’s portrayed authentically by an actor whose lived experiences are very similar, minus being a half-alien superhero. But she’s also perfect because she’s a complex and multifaceted character who just happens to be transgender. In season 4, episode 19, reporter (and Supergirl) Kara Danvers interviews Dreamer, who shares funny yet personal facts about herself in order to combat anti-alien sentiment. She mentions that she is a trans woman, almost in passing and it is clear that this is just one facet of her identity.

We later see Nia and Brainy, another alien superhero, develop a relationship. They have the awkward “I like you, do you like me in the same way?” dance at the beginning. They struggle with how to tell your partner that something they’re doing out of love is actually kind of irritating. These are real lived experiences that many people have, regardless of their gender identity. Seeing this represented authentically is important for young trans kids to see in themselves on TV, and as superheros no less, but it’s also important for combating anti-trans rhetoric like that of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).

I love Nia Nal, even if other aspects of the show Supergirl are puzzling, and I love that the casting director took care in picking the best actor for the role and didn’t shy away from portraying the very real hate crimes that trans women, especially those of color, experience. Nicole’s portrayal of Nia is what allows her to say, with a unique level of authenticity, “They want us to be invisible, because of their own fears. They want to erase us so we need to shine even brighter.” This authentic casting, the quote continues, “is what will change this world.”

As I reflect on my recent winter break Supergirl binge, I realize I have yet to see a deaf character developed and portrayed as authentically as Nia Nal. There’s always something tokenizing about deaf characters, or a plot about cochlear implants (because that’s the only thing to talk about with deaf people). Maybe this gap in film characters and good casting will be filled by another Superhero — Makkari, played by Lauren Ridloff — in the upcoming Marvel film Eternals. Only time will tell!

Happy 109th Birthday, NM!

6 January 2021

Happy birthday to my home state of New Mexico, which today celebrates its 109th birthday! Why is this a big deal? Well, because despite having statehood for 109 years, many people from inside the US and abroad, seem to forget about its existence. Or if they do remember it, the only thing they remember is the “Mexico” part. As a teenager in LA, someone complimented my English. At a meeting in DC on telling someone I’m from NM, they replied, “I thought you said you were from the US.” When I was a graduate student at Gallaudet when we were discussing our plans for the winter holiday, someone asked, “Where are you from?” “Albuquerque,” I replied. “Oh, so your closest airport is Phoenix,” they stated knowledgeably.

But my favorite example of USians having no idea that New Mexico exists was at The University of Texas at Austin; I was getting my new student ID and was told, after handing them my NM driver license, that they didn’t accept international licenses as proof of identity to get a student ID. I’d need to get back in line and present them with a passport. After a short squabble, and the worker conceding that my license did say “new” (as in “New Mexico”) on it, I did get my student ID.

Me wearing my Language Priority New Mexico shirt and signing the letter N on my right hand and M on my left hand.

It seems like many people forget about New Mexico, or perhaps worse, don’t know about it at all, as if Texas and Arizona share a border.

Given this, imagine my surprise when I found a New Mexico shirt in the Language Priority “home state” shop. I was so excited to see it I ordered it right away! So thank you Language Priority for remembering New Mexico and maybe helping to remind more people that New Mexico is in fact a state!

For anyone learning about New Mexico for the first time today, here are some fun facts:

  • New Mexico is the 5th largest state by landmass

  • New Mexico ranks 36 by population

  • New Mexico’s nickname, announced proudly on our license plates, is the Land of Enchantment

  • Our state question is “red or green?” (talking about chile)

  • The largest city, Albuquerque, has an elevation of 5,312 feet, which is great for you endurance athletes who want elevation training!

What the map of the US doesn't look like -- Arizona bordering Texas with no New Mexico in between.

So next time you envision the Southwest, make sure you remember the gigantic state between Arizona and Texas, the fourth corner in the Four Corners National Monument, and the state I still call home.

New Mexico centennial license plate
New Mexico chiles