Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Where ever you may be, hope the tricks and treats are great -- eat lots of chocolate!

UPDATE: here's why we miss our good friends so much this time of the year -- here's the Joey Zone and Perilous Cheryl as Papa Legba and Marie Laveau at Ralph's Diner in Worcester, MA, photo courtesy of Sasquatch and the Sick-a-Billys drummer, Miss Natalie.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

That Feeling of Accomplishment

Halloween cards are in the mail! I was despairing of actually getting a card out this year, but the right conflation of events finally coaxed it out of me. What were those events? Well, first a meeting that I needed to attend but didn't need to hear everything at, so I could scribble in the back of the room the ideas I had had for the card (as well as get some grading done). The original idea didn't pan out, but I had a new (simpler) inspiration which seemed much more fruitful. Then it was off to teach the third class of the day and finally make it home (after a stop at Star Pizza -- yum!), where I realized I had left the piece of paper with my notes on it in my office. Perhaps, I thought, it just wasn't going to happen.

Then there was waking up at quarter to four; it was difficult to get back to sleep and so my thoughts turned to what I had been trying to write earlier. I knew I would likely forget all I had thought, so I got up and wrote down the new version, and it seemed better (of course, it was the middle of the night). I had to try not to trip over the cats ("what are you doing up? this is our time" "I'm going to follow her" "No, I am!") on my way to my office and back, but I finally got back in bed and eventually fell asleep,

Convinced I had dreamed it, I got up this morning and sure enough, there were the new scribbles on a pad next to the computer, so I typed it up and fixed the layout and started printing. I went off to my class in the Woodlands and then came back to finish printing. Then Gene and I sat to fold, sign, envelope (ow! paper cuts -- some lucky people are getting a little blood with their cards) and stamp the cards, before I ran out to the post office to send them off.

It may seem a little silly just for Halloween cards, but getting something done -- having tangible results -- is always a great feeling. Now it's time to get back to work on projects with less immediate feelings of accomplishment.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Fiasco" no fiasco

Thanks to some of my generous colleagues (and friend Peter!) we had a reading of my new play Fiasco last night. It seemed to go all right; that is to say, people laughed (it is meant to be a comedy). I was able to see errors and typos, as well as judge where it might need to be expanded or cut. It does make such a difference to actually hear the words out loud. It was a bit embarrassing that I was laughing more than anybody, but you do have to write to please yourself. At least I wasn't the only one laughing, so that was all right. Some folks were reading it cold, so the laughs came unexpectedly. I had actually forgotten parts that I had written -- is that odd? Not for me. Once I've written something, I tend to forget it. It is almost as if someone else wrote it; I kid about channeling Peter Cook as I wrote this play, ha ha. But it is wonderful how creativity just pours out of your head surreally (when it does), and depressing when it doesn't. The sad truth is that sometimes the flow just dries up. Usually it means that it is time to feed your head. Go out for a walk, read a good book, see some engaging art, or even watch a film. Dive into conversation with interesting people -- it fills the well once more.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970)

I took advantage of a bad cold to finally relax and watch this film. An oddity from 1970, this film takes a cynical look at advertising, politics and the often thin line between them. Co-written by Peter Cook, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and director Kevin Billington, it's no surprise the satire bites. The film is also stocked with terrific mainstays of British acting including Arthur Lowe and Denholm Elliott; and that's not even mentioning the role played by recent Nobel prize winner, Harold Pinter. As the superb review at IMDB says:

"... it is a truly wonderful thing to behold Peter Cook, Denholm Elliot and the great Harold Pinter (as an fantastically smarmy TV talk-show host) appearing in the same frame trying to out-smarm each other. It's a three way draw. Brilliant."

But the reviewer is also correct that the overall effect is unsuccessful. While Peter Cook is unsettling and surreally charming as Rimmer, there's also a remoteness that keeps the characters from ever becoming engaging, although Denholm Elliott very nearly succeeds in making the too-easily-corrupted Peter Niss, if not sympathetic, at least believable. Given the current climate of bald-faced media manipulation by politicians, this film seems far ahead of its time. The ease with which the sociopathic climber Rimmer succeeds, moving from deceit to dissembling to outright murder (and perhaps more chillingly, from ad exec to eventual dictator), hits a little too close to home to be very funny anymore.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Star is Born: Finnish Style

Multi-talented Finnish musician/storyteller/performer Ulla Suokko just added one more line to her resume: TV personality. I was alerted by intrepid Finnish-American reporter Diane Saarinen that she had heard (by way of Gerry Henkel) that Ulla had appeared on Conan O'Brien's Late Night show. I was aghast to have missed Ulla's television debut, but fortunately, I am married to a very clever man and within minutes, Gene had located a clip on the internet.

Apparently this all came about because Conan's show is now broadcast in Finland, and Finnish fans have started showing up at the tapings in NYC, which delighted Conan -- even more so when he decided that he had a more than passing resemblence to Finland's President Tarja Halonen (note that Finland's president has no qualms about posting her resume on line). He has decided to help in her re-election effort for that very reason (although as an extremely popular president she doesn't really need much help).

So, they prepared a "campaign advertisement" for Finnish television, with Conan and Ulla portraying a couple at the dinner table. Ulla did most of the talking, since the ad was in Finnish (much of it very silly but positive things about Halonen's presidency, like "now we have more carp!"), but Conan repeated the final lines about voting for her "because she looks like me!" in Finnish. Very funny.

Undoubtedly, after this performance Ulla will be much in demand for television roles -- and who knows? Are movies next? I wouldn't be at all surprised. [In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that not only am I a friend of Ulla, but I also worked with Conan's dad at Harvard Medical School.]

Sunday, October 16, 2005


It is probably a good thing to give your paper in the first panel of the first day of a conference. Not being much of a morning person, I had given my paper and answered questions before I even had a cup of tea (I foolishly assumed there'd be coffee service at registration). Consequently, I was barely awake. Things went well nonetheless, so perhaps I should consider such a thing more often. I spoke about Old English charms, in particular about a charm to return fertility to a field that (I argue) treats the body of the earth much like the body of a human, in particular much like the body of a woman.

The conference was at the M. D. Anderson library at the UH campus across town. They're also hosting a lovely little exhibit of medieval manuscripts which will be a fine extra credit opportunity for my students, I think. There were some beautiful examples of manuscripts, and they were matched with a nice display of the tools and techniques of manuscript production, as well as recreated pieces of manuscript art produced by some Fine Arts students.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Departure (Delayed)

I’m writing this as I wait to find out whether my flight will be leaving four hours later as I have just been told or whether the weather will make that unlikely. They aren’t very forthcoming with information. They try to avoid saying anything and don’t like to put up on the board that the flight is delayed.

Well, the conference ended better than it started. It helped a lot that Rod and Elena came up to hang out for the afternoon (thanks again, I really appreciated it!) We went to the Witch History Museum which was a hoot. All these tableaux with Sears mannequins dressed as Pilgrims. It was clear 1) how old they were (Elena pointed out the authentic cob webs) and 2) how much our knowledge of the history has diverged from the original narrative the mannequins tell. So there was a clear split between the rhetoric of word and of image. We got out just in time to go over to the Boys & Girls Club for my talk. To my surprise there was a pretty good crowd (I expected a half dozen at most, including me, Rod and Elena. There were forty or fifty people there, I think, and fairly enthusiastic. At least they seemed to laugh in the right places (“oh dear, I’ve got a huge lump on my arm! What do you suppose caused that?”) and asked a few questions, asked for my card at the end, and best of all, bought the books I brought with me. Yay! It was a fun talk – one I’ll have to repeat. Of course I tried to cram way too much into the time, but hey, I do that.

We had a great dinner out on the Pickering Wharf at the Captain’s and then Rod and Elena had to head back to Connecticut. I ran inside in time to catch Sharyn November’s storytelling hour. She’s the editor of Firebird, the YA imprint of Penguin, and a really lively individual and a straight shooter. Although the picture she painted of the editing world was far less glamorous than some audience members hoped, she clearly loves her work and gets a serious charge out of it. It was clear from the way she quizzed audience members on their current reading and recommended writers they might not have heard of yet. Besides, she folded an origami crane while she was talking.

It was an easy transition to Charles de Lint’s story hour, since he’s one of the those writers she edits, and anyway, he was already sitting in the audience. He started off reading his story from the forthcoming Firebird anthology (Firebirds are Go! just kidding), which Sharyn has convinced him to expand to a novel. It was both funny and touching. Then it was coffee hour time. Charles and MaryAnn explained that they liked to have more informal sessions to allow fans to ask questions and eat -- they brought chips and salsa. Sharyn stayed to kibbutz and had people laughing out loud often, especially when the two Canadians kidded her about her fascination with their Canadianism. Eventually Charles and MaryAnn got back to making music, stopping in between songs as usual to tell stories and explain connections. I finally couldn’t resist asking if Sam were there, and sure enough, he was along for the ride -- and we were also introduced to MaryAnn’s little bear Ted who travels with Sam, but seldom gets the spotlight. Charles was aghast to hear one young woman suggest that Sam the Monkey was really an ape, but said it didn’t really matter anyway. “His name is Sam the Monkey,” he said, which didn’t necessarily mean he had to be a monkey. “My name’s Charles de Lint but it doesn't mean I'm made of lint.”

A lot of songs, mostly different from the night before, except for ending on “Cherokee Girl” (which has continued in my head all day -- when will they finish their CD?). They sang Charles’ crow girls song, “Bad Girls,” which he described as a sort of Tom Waits/Ennio Morricone/Pink inspired tune. MaryAnn (or should I say, “Blind Citrus Harris” as she was introduced) even played harmonica on one song rather than her usual turns on mandolin and shaker. At the end, Charles signed books and we reluctantly left, to await the (last!) yellow school bus back to the Sheraton.

And now is only the waiting -- I should do work, but somehow I don’t much feel like it. At least I have plenty to read…and a computer!

[Written: 10/10/05 3.45 pm -- the plane was delayed about four hours, so I finally got back to the house about 11.45pm]

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Charles de Lint & MaryAnn Harris

Last night I was delighted to have another opportunity to see these two perform. Unfortunately, it was at the conference-who-shall-no-longer-be-named, so that meant it was held in the gym at the Salem Boys & Girls Club (according to the grafitti in the girls' locker room, "the YMCA is much better") which was a nice echoey cinderblock-walled cavern. There was sound equipment but no sound technician, so none of it was working. They finally gave up and just pushed the equipment aside, asked everybody to pull up close and performed an intimate acoustic set. Meanwhile conference staff chatted amongst themselves, laughed and talked loudly, people came in and out shouting, leaving the door open so that the noisy hallway ruckus competed with the singing. They actually had to stop singing at one point to ask someone to close the door. It was disrespectful and unprofessional of the conference staff.

Those problems aside, it was a delightful show nonetheless. And no, not just because they played my request "Crow Girls" right away, or what would have been my second request (the song about the dog that Karen Shaffer [who is not coincidentally Charles Vess' wife, and who co-curated the Mythic Journeys art show last year]) without my requesting it. Everybody sang along with the chorus of "Cherokee Girl," the song Charles wrote for Terri Windling, which he hoped would help send healing thoughts her way as she was suffering from a cold. The two of them told stories, finished -- or corrected -- one another's sentences. "We're married," MaryAnn added superfluously with a smile. The stories were always fun and gave little snapshots of their lives and adventures. As usual, they performed some Fred Eaglesmith songs, including one called "Good Dog" which brought tears to a few eyes. There was a tribute to author and conservationist Edward Abbey, and a Dave Alvin song about a painter who worked long enough to get money, went out into the desert to paint, returned only to sell paintings and get supplies. One time he just never came back. The chorus was something like "they never found your body, never understood your mind." Very moving, but they also had plenty of upbeat songs, like their paen to Highway 105, the route they take to their school-bus cottage on the lake.

It was a bit dark and the PDA takes only so-so pictures, but here's a blurry one (that too speedy shutter):

Saturday, October 08, 2005


No, not talking about the conference (yet), but a play that I have been working on. I have Act I done (I think) and I'd love to hear feedback. As I don't have to worry about it being "published" as I would with a story (you can't generally get plays published anyway, until they have been produced), I will make it available here for download. I should let you know it's about 50pp long, so you don't just download and start printing. It is of course a comedy -- or rather, I suppose, a satire. Naturally, it has been heavily influenced by my immersion in British comedy of late (thanks to all who contributed to that, especially Brad--those CDs have been wonderful!), but I hope still sounds like me and not as if I am channeling Peter Cook (though it felt like that at times).

Out my window it's a beautiful fall day, a little drizzly with the leaves only beginning to turn. But I can see miles and miles of trees and it makes such a difference. Yesterday when one of the bus drivers took us along the shoreline, I realized just how much I miss the water, too. Bayous just aren't the same. They are either nigh invisible trickles or raging floods. It's good to be in New England, if only for a visit.

Off to Pottermania! (I just realized that my blog still maintains central time, so I added the hour.)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Haunting Salem

What is it? A lunar landscape?

Nope -- just the patched over ceiling of my hotel room. But did you see the gorgeous crescent moon last night? And two planets clearly visible nearby -- Venus? Mars?

Well, after a 45 minute wait I finally got on a shuttle bus (you know this conference is going well, right?) for the 40 minute ride to the other hotel, but I did manage to do a little touristing and shopping. What's Salem without a visit to the cemetery?

Here's the last known resting place of both Nathaniel and Jon Archer. And of course, I couldn't resist swinging by the Pirate Museum.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tires, me and OAPs

Early in the morning I was on my way, off to Intercontinental for my flight to Boston. Everything was going smoothly—I even got a seat in a row all by myself, so I could go back to sleep—until I realized we were not moving. I was behind a big tour group of elderly folks with matching bags and IDs, the women with big Texas hair (some of it synthetic, some natural; well, when I say “natural” I do mean it grew out of their heads. What was done to it after that had nothing to do with nature.) who were chatting merrily so no one seemed too concerned.

I thought maybe they were waiting on a vet to sedate the dog that we could hear barking madly, but no. The captain comes on the intercom to say that we needed a new tire and it would take 45 minutes to an hour to accomplish that. After a little more time, they decided we needed to get off the plane, but told us not to go too far. I barely had time to call Robert and annoy him at work when they called us to reboard. We were all set to go when they realized that two people were missing from the tour group. Their friends tried phoning them, but they had left their cell phones off. One of the tour leaders loudly proclaimed that she would not depart without them, and in her firm resolve I imagined the story of another tour who had left one behind, disappearing into the jaws of an itinerant crocodile. But they arrived at last, out of breath, deeply embarrassed and greeted with applause.

After that things went smoothly, and I stretched out across my empty row and slept most of the flight (not used to those early hours!). Before I knew it, we were descending into Boston. I weaved my way among the retirees on the jet way and walked out the door of Logan to find an Avis bus just pulling up, and hopped on it to go get my Ford Focus. There’s always a lot of traffic north of Boston, but two rotaries (and a pass nearby Malden, Adrean!) later I was approaching Danvers and the Sheraton. I got in all right and they had a registration desk for the conference too, but not my registration stuff (forgot to send my last owl). Then I get to my room and find there is not, in fact, internet access because the wireless network cannot be found in my room. Nice eh? So I’m writing this in Word in my room, and if the free wireless does work in the lobby as the front desk now says (after three calls and no answer!) then I’ll put it up. If not, I’ll be entering these when I return.

Well -- the free wireless in the lobby isn't working, but I finally found a spot in the room where I can get the wireless signal: between the room door and the bathroom door. Lovely -- welcome to the Fawlty Towers of the North Shore.

Witching Hour

I'm off in the morning to The Witching Hour: The Harry Potter Symposium where I'll be talking about Anglo-Saxon magic and charms. It should be a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see what academics have written about Rowling's books. Best of all it's in Salem, MA. This means October in New England, "foilage" and friends, if all goes well. If nothing else, it means a tiny break in a very busy semester. Yes, I did have the hurricane days, which did help, but I have had far too many deadlines to meet in the first six weeks of the semester. Why do I do this to myself? (well, in the hopes of getting more than a few days off.) But the fellowship applications went off Monday (ten copies! for one of them), so there's just this weekend and next (TEMA) and then I can draw a little breath.

Then there's only MLA... (eek). But I should have plenty of time to get that paper polished before the last week in December. Right?

Monday, October 03, 2005


Courtesy of ANSAX, I have links to the Irish Repertory Theatre's musical production of Beowulf complete with "Celtic harp"(!), as well as a review of the new Icelandic film, Beowulf and Grendel which ANSAXer Murray McGillivray describes as "a fine job of depicting the period imagined by our poet" if still a "a 'modern riff' on the Beowulf story." Some wag also forwarded a link to some McSweeney's writer's riff on the story. With both Benjamin Bagby and Julie Taymor's works in the new year, it promises to be a real golden year for Anglo-Saxon scholars.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

New Publication

I just got an email from editor Suzanne at Quiet Mountain Essays that my short non-fiction essay "Picking up the Chalk Again" is up with the rest of the new issue. As always, there is an interesting mix of feminist points of view: I am paired with Helene Kylen's biographical essay about "midlescence," the term she coined for a rebirth of adolescent enthusiasm in midlife. She ends the account of her ups and downs with the positive reflection, “Never let the presence of the thorn stop you from enjoying the rose.” Wise words indeed.