Monday, December 31, 2007

On the borderlands

According to the Gregorian calendar, we stand on the edge of a new year. Since most people in this part of the world share that calendar, the belief is ubiquitous. It's fascinating how much our conception of time guides our lives. The arbitrary markings in opposition to natural markers (sunrise, sunset, warming and cooling seasons) try to impose an artificial sense of control over the natural world -- and we imagine we have some control.

We have returned from our visit to Connecticut (and filling up on cheap Massachusetts gas: at $2.97 it's a difference of thirty-some cents over local prices). We had a good time at Miss Wendy's where we finally watched the rest of The Simpsons Movie and the first couple of episodes of Paranoia Agent (yes, the song is still stuck in my head). A nice surprise to have Alex on hand, too, so we had a chance to catch up on her life in grad school and some exciting new comics news.

After some fine chili, it was over to the Aloha Alcohula where drinks and snacks were in plentiful supply with the QoE and Johnny 10X the always gracious hosts. Marko was in black-n-white and the Boojums in mostly black (black is the always black). Much conversation, silliness and laughter ensued as always. It was great fun to see Bernie play with Fang using the laser level, aka the most expensive cat toy. We managed to sit up a while longer with Miss Wendy after the party and slept rather late the next day before having a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, salmon and cream cheese.

Yet after that nosh we headed over to the Vampire Bed & Breakfast where Elena immediately began plying us with food, including some tasty pizza that Rod ran out to get from the notoriously cranky Angelina's. Sufficiently carbed up, we headed for home to collapse with a very happy Kipper.

Tonight we're scheduled to hit a party at a colleague's house; it's a tribute to her winning personality that we're willing to go out on "amateur night" especially when we're both feeling rather tired. I'm not sure we'll last long, but I'd feel bad about not turning up when we had already responded positively. So Gene's out shoveling away the few inches of snow we got last night so I can run to the laundromat. Hope it's not a nightmare. Too many of those lately.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Taking the Mountain to Mohammed

[Thanks to for the picture, where the lead story right now is the new Hello Kitty line for young males.]

We're off to Connecticut to see friends today, staying with Miss Wendy (who's also got A Hunt visiting), dropping by the Aloha Alcohula [CT's best tiki bar] to hobnob with the QoE and Johnny 10X and the Boojums. On the way back, we'll drop by the Vampire Bed & Breakfast to see the crazy mama herself and her handsome spouse. It should be fun (if I can get "Ironman" out of my head).

Yesterday we had a great (delayed birthday) lunch with the Crispinus clan at DeFazio's (mmmm!). Long-suffering uxor Krista was in good spirits and Kaitlin did not torment her papa too much. They loaded us up with a plethora of cookies through which we have already been making our way (mmmm again!). Thanks, you guys!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kantele Power

After looking at Gerry's video, I was curious to see what new kantele-themed clips might have been added lately and found this great video of some Finnish school kids playing Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah" on kanteles. Wonderful! You can see the original Eurovision winning songsters' video here or (live at the contest here).

Signs and Omens

Taking off a couple days to relax often seems a bit of a mixed blessing -- there's always that much more to do when you get home. But who wouldn't want a couple of days idleness with Robert who always feeds us as if he's expecting to harvest pâté from our overstuffed bodies? I actually even read, too, while Robert bustled around cooking prime rib the first night and goose the second (not to mention the various other tasty tidbits, all washed down with copious wine). Miss Wendy joined us for the second day and much merriment, calling family members from all three families and watching movies. She was even kind enough to give in to my wheedling when she got the pirate tattoo from her Xmas cracker and I wanted to trade the horn I got for it -- yay! Sign of a good friend -- now I owe her. You can see how I have carefully maintained it. How long can it last?

If only all the news were good: I feel the same chill of foreboding at the assassination of Bhutto that I did when the buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban. If the outcry in March 2001 had been louder, would we all be in the same situation we are now?

My friend Gerry, the craftsman who made my first kantele, sent along this video of a piece of music with the wish that we all find peace in ourselves as a place from which to start to bring peace in the world. A lovely peformance -- and a nice reminder of the power of music to heal.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Publication: Up Against the Wall 10

Hurrah! After some unfortunate delays, the latest issue of Up Against the Wall is live. It includes our gift giving recommendations, as well as my reviews of the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore and the comedy The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer starring the ever-fabulous Peter Cook. As always the issue is chock full of heartfelt recommendations and opinionated reviews, not least of which is the editorial from fearless leader Phil about the film that took over his life this year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How to get to Carnegie Hall

Yes, yes, you can practice, practice, practice -- or you can just go see Flamenco Duo (pictured to the right in a photo by Heikki Jokiniemi). Flamenco Duo is Carlos Revollar and the lovely Ulla Suokko, a wonderful and multi-talented performer (and friend of the Wombats). As winners of the Artists International's Special Presentation Award, they'll be playing at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Sunday February 10, 2008 at 5.30pm. You can buy tickets at their website where you can also see the program of music. It promises to be an evening of exhilarating music. I haven't yet had a chance to see the two perform together, but Ulla has spoken so rapturously about their musical partnership, I am thrilled there will be this opportunity. It's kind of funny to think that Ulla may look familiar to most people because of her appearance with Conan O'Brien, but the real treat is to hear her perform. She's an extraordinary musician!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Review: Sweeney Todd

Hear that?

It's the sound of goths around the world emptying their closets. Now I thought it was so they could buy new clothes in the guise of the new icons of gothdom in this film, the consumptively pale Mr. Depp and Ms. Bonham-Carter; Gene, however, figured that it was in disgust that goth has gone mainstream with Burton's new film. I can see the Halloween costumes next year already churning out of Chinese factories and I can feel a pang of disappointment that the grey streak in my hair is not more prominent.

Okay, yes; I am a sucker for Johnny Depp, which Gene can attest to after sitting through Arizona Dream, but even the NYTimes thought he was terrific in this. He's not got a great voice, but it is an evocative one. Who knew Helena B-C had some pipes on her?

The cartoony opening credits are less effective than the setting throughout. This is Hogarth's London, a pestilential prison on Gin Lane. When Todd sings of his London it's easy to understand his scorn against this back drop:

There's a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And the vermin of the world
Inhabit it
And its morals aren't worth
What a pig could spit
And it goes by the name of London.

The tragic tale spins out in gloom and shadow that signal the devotion to horror that suits Sondheim's dark vision. Sondheim has realized the power of song to uplift even the most morbid topics (think Assassins) and Burton makes the most of this. While the dark humor remains, make no mistake -- this is a tale of revenge and blood. While the blood is a technicolor spray, the violence is very palpably real -- I winced a lot, especially when "customers" went down the chute. It's not a film for everyone, but if you like it dark and don't mind blood, it's a wonderfully surreal trip.

You know the main cast are going to be great -- Alan Rickman almost makes you pity the Judge, but not for long. Timothy Spall just about oozes oily malevolence. The real bonus is the mostly new younger cast: Jamie Campbell Bower makes for a powerfully hopeful Anthony and Jayne Wisener looks like Christina Ricci's lost sister from Sleepy Hollow and lends Joanna a wistfulness that her tortured childhood predicts. Most amazing is Ed Sanders as the boy Toby who has a range of emotions to present and a great singing voice. There are a couple of cameos (one almost too quick to catch) that add a little extra fun.

While most of the film is Depp and Bonham-Carter, the supporting cast keep the film from devolving into just a star vehicle. The wonderful ambiance throughout really throws you into another world. Some of the set pieces really stun -- the brief party scene is just glorious and the whole meat pie system is perfectly gruesome and plausible. While I still quail at the thought of Burton tackling Alice (as Gene says, how will Johnny look in the blonde wig?), this goes a long way toward resurrecting the reputation of the man responsible for the remake of Planet of the Apes.

If you've got a taste for the macabre with catchy tunes, you'll love it. Just be sure to bring some gin and a meat pie for sustenance.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Strange (Solstice) Sensations

Happy Solstice everyone -- the sun begins its return! May hope return as well.

Having finished my review of Deleuze and Horror Film and caught a cold, I justified retiring to bed for a little video splurge yesterday which included finally watching the last half hour of Monte Carlo or Bust AKA Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies. Not a great film (hence the delay in finishing it) but part of the Peter Cook oeuvre, so necessary to have accomplished. I did loot one of the character names for a work of my own, so there's that. After it, I decided to watch another episode of the Marty Feldman show (thanks, James!) and found myself in a madeleine in the tea moment.

Lightning Tours!

That's the clip above. It was one of those family things -- we always remembered it and used the "toot-toot, everyone back on the bus" whenever we got out of the car for a long time after (we can really run a thing into the ground). I can't be sure if they simply showed the Marty Feldman show in the States in the late sixties/early seventies, or if it was that comedy clip show that was maybe called "Comedy Tonight" (taking its name, of course, from the song in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Either the clip show looted liberally from Feldman's show or they did just show whole episodes, because I recognized the next sketch, too about a "pet" in a giant wicker basket at the vets, although I probably didn't recognize at the time a young "Goodie" Tim Brooke-Taylor. The following stuntman sketch was written by show regulars Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

That clip show also provided us with another long-standing bit that was, of course, repeated ad infinitum. "Nuff, nuff": it came from a bit told with all the sound effects by a comedian I cannot quite bring to visual memory. The story is about a kangaroo and an elephant who are robbing a store (or a bank?). The sounds included the elephant chucking a brick through the window, the kangaroo stuffing things into its pouch, and so on. In the midst of the first run through, the elephant says "nuff, nuff" and the kangaroo says, "what's that?" and the elephant answers, "I got my trunk stuck in the door" (or window -- how memory fails us). It gets repeated without explanation in the "real" robbery and of course the audience laughs. For ages afterward, we'd all do the "nuff, nuff" and roll the window up and down, and laugh. I'm sure my folks got tired of it faster than we kids did, but they did it, too.

If anyone recognizes this bit or can tell me which comedian it is, I'll give you a cookie.

The other strange sensation was watching a film (thanks, Robert) starring someone I've only met as an adult, who in the film is playing a 15 year old (and is somewhere near that age). He looks recognizably similar, but he sounds almost exactly the same, which struck me as bizarre. I hope I don't sound like my fifteen year old self!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Prose at the Rose: Fulwiler

On line now: the latest interview and reading from Prose at the Rose, my podcast on local writers and writing at the College of Saint Rose radio. My guest this episode is colleague Megan Fulwiler who reads a wonderful essay on the challenges of buying a house as a single woman. We have fun talking about writing and teaching writing and her essay will make you laugh even as you share her anxiety in the face of intimidating paperwork and byzantine processes.

Anglo-Saxon Yuletide (Redux)

A slightly different (and Latin-free) version of the piece I read on the radio can be found at the winter edition of the The Oracle at Global Goddess.

On the shelves: "Raising Lempi"

In your local big chain bookstore, you'll find my story "Raising Lempi" in the pages of Circle Magazine. It tells the story of a group of friends discovering the restorative power of the sauna. It's accompanied by Elena's lovely illustration (much more attractive than the cover illustration, I have to admit; in the past they have had such good covers). It's a slight ego boost much needed at the moment, the current despondency cheered by the publication accepted ages ago. But that's the lagging nature of publication.

Another lovely present came in the mail: the Fantod Pack! Cheers to the Boojums -- a great combination of Edward Gorey art and tarot-esque form. Tarot cards have been used for years to tell the future or to convey the subconscious desires lurking in one's mind (depending on your beliefs). The Fantod Pack is also gorgeously illustrated and mordantly funny. The pack has been interpreted by Madame "Groeda Weyrd" (unscramble those letters) who is, of course, "of mixed Finnish and Egyptian extraction." Cards bear Gorey's singular artwork, like The Child, a picture of wee smiling skeleton pulling a toy bull standing against a typically ferny wallpaper. Madame tells us the card signifies "September, denigration, sexual inadequacy, sties, hallucinations, breakage, loss of youth, rust, crawling sickness, an obstacle, forced restraint, aberrations and catarrh."

Who wants a reading?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eddie gets Medieval

Eddie Izzard tries out some of that Anglo-Saxon era English on an unsuspecting Frisian farmer (tip of the blog hat to Scott at Unlocked Wordhoard for the medieval viral vid):

You want fries with that MFA?

I'm not much on the same page with the Atlantic (or anybody else; what can I say? I'm cranky), but I have to say I was nodding my head through this piece by B. R. Myers about yet another inexplicably celebrated MFA-style writer. To be fair, I've not read anything by him, but I'm not going to rush to do so after digesting the excerpts in this article.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Quiet Birthday

Groovy! Elena's got the next few pages of the Jane Quiet story up over at the Goth Scouts blog, as well as a giggly Goth Strip riffing on the Beowulf movie.

Thanks to all who've called and emailed -- it's much appreciated. Though of course it would be great to actually see people, the weather hasn't co-operated. I think we have five layers (snow, ice, snow, ice, snow) to dig through this morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


The positive aspect of snow is that it can force you into slowing down. I must admit it's hard to find the good in the freezing rain that's supposed to come this afternoon, but an excuse to be stationary is probably enough. Friday I had my last two finals back to back, ending with the presentations from the Creative writing class. It was a pleasure to see how far the students had come (for the most part) and I told them to be very pleased with themselves and appreciate just how much they had accomplished. It came in the tangible form of their very large portfolios, which were a bit of a struggle to get back to my office through the snowy paths.

The freshman-level medieval class (non-majors) seemed to appreciate the opportunity for extra credit points, including "what kind of tea does your instructor drink?" because I always have my thermos of Twinings English Breakfast and usually burn my mouth on the first cup, making them chuckle. I also gave them up to three points for listing medieval films -- considering how much we talked about it and how much advertising there was for it, I was surprised that they didn't all name Beowulf.

Saturday started early with a trip to campus to be on time for the bus to graduation at the Empire Center. I make sure to be at mid-year graduation because Kalamazoo always conflicts with spring graduation. Unlike last year, I knew at least a dozen students who were graduating, which was nice. I got a little distracted by the president's speech, because he began by quoting Nicolas de Chamfort's advice, "Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day," but ended with a reference to one of the founding sisters of the college, who advised starting each day with an expression of joy. Would that be before or after the toad?

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get through as much grading as possible (I had no intention of taking all those portfolios home) before running to the post office (oh my, what a line) then rushing home to bake cookies, cut Gene's hair and get ready for the first of two parties. The hair came out okay, but the cookies less so. Fortunately Gene had made his special aromatic rice dish, so we were a hit anyway. Such good food! I'm grateful we have so many friends in the area already, but I'm even more grateful that they all cook so well.

This dark time of the year seems to exacerbate doubts and despair. I feel like a root of the poison tree of late. Two publications I have written for ceased publication this year, and a third seems to be tottering on the brink. I got a paid commission just last month, only to receive an email from the editor saying that the owners were halting publication. Unfortunate news for me, but I felt worse for the editor who was now out of job -- happy holidays. It feels like I cannot open an email without finding a rejection inside it. How did Blake maintain his confidence in the face of relentless adversity? Surely he doubted at times -- did it make him more certain the next moment?

If the Sun & Moon should doubt,
They'd immediately Go out.

My mind springs randomly to the Victorian protagonists of Dracula, like Mina Murray and Jack Seward. Stoker has the latter record in his diary, "I have a sort of empty feeling; nothing in the world seems of sufficient importance to be worth the doing... I knew that the only cure for this sort of thing was work..." So, to work; I have grading to do.

Happy Birthday Jane Austen -- and Philip K. Dick, two writers whose legacies live on. Sometimes you have to trust that your vision is right; just try not to think about the all too common fate of such writers to end up impoverished and unknown.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Radio, Radio

My essay on the Roundtable program of WAMC is officially scheduled for Monday morning about quarter after ten. It's me talking for a couple of minutes about medieval Yule celebrations. I start out with the Anglo-Saxon world, but because so little is known for sure about that time, I have to move forward, finally ending with the (late medieval) boar's head carol. It's an opportunity to read a little Old English, a little Latin, and a chance to get medieval on the WAMC audience.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How Congress Wastes its Time

H. Res. 847: Mr. McNulty has already received a complaint from me. Sure, it's just words with no legal effect, but rhetoric matters when it reinforces one narrowly intolerant point of view.

Lucia Day & Snow

Lucia day dawns with a heavy snowfall in upstate New York; when I saw "dawns" well, I wouldn't know about that because I didn't get up until 11. Longest I've slept in I don't know how long. You'd think the candles alone would have woken me up, but we went out last night to see The Golden Compass (review to follow) with our friend Lou and then watched Order of the Phoenix when we got home, so we were up rather late. Kipper did his part, crawling up between us to make us fall asleep, snoozing between my feet most of the night and sitting by my head when I started to wake up, as if he were trying to will me back to slumberland. Gene says he's been doing the Snoopy vulture pose over my head after I fall asleep. Is he plotting?

My colleagues publish in academic journals; Chuckie's friendly faculty find buried treasure! Who's cooler? Is there any doubt? Maybe we need a different patron saint for the college, although as saints go, one who lives and meditates in a garden and makes handicrafts to support her family and the local poor ain't so bad.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Black Sheep

Everybody's been talking about this on the Horror list. I may just have to break down and get it. I love the tagline about the "violence of the lambs."


I find it a tad ironic that last night I made nut brittle and this morning everything was coated with a thick shiny layer of ice -- at least I felt a strange sense of déjà vu as I chipped off the shards of ice glazing the car. I had woken up at the usual time, but went back to bed until I heard the snowplow go by. I figured that after rush hour the roads would be clear. As expected, the worst parts were at each end of the journey to campus, our driveway at home being a sheet of ice and the lot at my office barely punctured by the sprinkle of salt chucked on it. The crossing gates were stuck down at the railroad tracks, but the cops were there to wave us through (which nonetheless made me a tad uncomfortable).

I just don't have the adventures Miss Wendy has, but her story did remind me of a favorite song by Neil Innes that was part of the Rutland Weekend Television (with Eric Idle), where he performs as the Marx Brothers.

Friday with Jordan went okay. After worrying so much, the shot went fine. He never even flinched. Plus, Robert left us yummy enchiladas and fresh guacamole. Not to mention the fabulous breakfast, too -- he always spoils us. On the way home, not quite as many raptors as the last trip, but 17 or 18. Mostly they were red-tails, but there was one that I think was a Broad-winged Hawk, enjoying a meal up on a branch. We saw one in the process of catching her lunch as well. One raven sat way off in the distance on a lone tree.

The season heats up: finals to give this week (tomorrow and Friday), graduation and two parties Saturday, and of course, next Monday is my birthday -- where I already find that most of my local friends have to attend a meeting, while one of my colleagues is giving a holiday party that everyone here will probably attend. Grumble, grumble; nothing like a birthday the week before Xmas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Grüß von Krampus?

Did the Krampus visit you last night? If so, you're reading this from a warm location, eh? Perhaps you were good and Saint Nikolaus filled your shoes with goodies (check before putting them on). Our pal Joey (illustrator, designer and inspiration for my chapbook When Little Joe the Krampus Met) sent along this link to some Krampus stylin' by Mister Reusch. We spent the evening with some friends near campus at Mahar's adding to our passports and doing the usual moaning about students before moving on to interesting topics like British comedy (who's obsessed?). Then we headed home just in time to meet Robert for some DeFazio's pizza (mmmm). He came up to show us how to give Jordan his insulin shot, because that's what we'll be doing tonight while he's down in the city for a Bard event. Eeek! I practiced on a satsuma. Let's hope it's enough.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gene K Superstar!

Well, UConn Alumni Magazine recognizes it! Jim H. Smith's profile concludes:

Author of dozens of papers about comics, former chair of the International Comic Arts Festival, a lecturer in frequent demand and host of a scholarly Web site,, he is currently writing a guide to “essential graphic novels.” Kannenberg is, by general consensus, one of the world’s leading comics scholars, but he describes himself as “a guy who knows a lot about comics in general, and comics from around the world.”

For the shopping list

The folks at Knock Knock Books have just what you need!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


My students in the medieval film class watched The Virgin Spring today; they nominated it for "the feel good film of the year." I forgot to talk about Odin ahead of time, so they had no idea what the squawking raven presaged (or, for that matter, the guy with one eye and a cloak standing on the river bank, or the carved seat that Ingeri sits down on). But they were quiet as the proverbial mice all the way through which is unusual for them (and no, not sleeping). After the downbeat BBC version of the Pardoner's Tale last week and now this, they say I'm depressing them. "I usually feel happy after this class," one student complained.

My work is done.

Walking back to my office afterward, it was time as usual for the roosting of the crows. It's that time of year. Dozens fill the trees surrounding our building, calling to one another, catching up on the latest gossip, complaining about the weather, I'm sure.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Learn from a professional, kid!"

I walked through the ice and snow over to WAMC studios to tape my mini-essay on Anglo-Saxon yuletide today. We're not that far from the station, but with all the ice on the sidewalks I took my time (it was particularly bad by SUNY not just because of the frozen surface but because the surface was so uneven and ill-kept!). I got there and idled a few minutes, looking up at all the awards lining two walls of the studio as people buzzed busily around and the Roundtable crackled through the room. I met the producer, Andy, and we went into one of the little cubicle studios to record. He explained their procedure and I asked how close to be to the mic (at Saint Rose we tend to be right on top of them). I only had two pages so there wasn't much paper shuffling. I read a few sentences to set the levels and then he pushed play and we were recording.

When it was through he looked kind of surprised. "That was great. It usually takes more than that." I was tempted to say, "call me one-take Laity!" -- instead I told him I do a podcast at Saint Rose (not to mention being a practiced performer of my own stories). Of course it was nice to be complimented, and I walked back to campus and my grading feeling cheered.

The piece is scheduled at present to appear on December 17 at 10.20 am (yes, you can listen on line). Nice birthday present, eh?

Today's post takes its name from a piece of dialogue by Krusty the Clown in The Simpsons episode 1F12, "Lisa v. Malibu Stacy" [written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein] where the family's precocious middle child tries to fight the corrupting power of an insipid fashion doll:

The next step is for Lisa to record what her doll will say. She stands in the recording studio in front of a microphone.

Techie: Talking doll, take eight.

Lisa: "When I get married, I'm keeping my own name." Oh, no, that should probably be "If I choose to get married."

Techie: Uh, look, little girl, we got other talking dollies to record today.

Krusty: [barging in with cue cards] All right, you poindexters, let's get this right! One: "Hey, hey, kids, I'm Talking Krusty." Two: "Hey, hey, here comes Slideshow Mel" -- again -- "Here comes Sideshow Mel". "Sideshow Mel". Three: [does a Krusty laugh] Budda-bing, budda-boom, I'm done. Learn from a professional, kid.
[walks out, squeals his tires away]

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hangin' out with The Girl Next Door

Check out today's episode of Movie Geeks United! On board will be pal Phil Nutman, who will be sharing the mic with his co-scripter Daniel Farrands and director Gregory Wilson as they talk about their film Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. The story is based on Ketchum's novel of the same name which is loosely based on the Sylvia Likens murder. Phil says the interview will happen live today: Sunday 12/2 at 3:30 PM Pacific/6:30 PM Eastern/11:30 PM GMT.

This is part of the media blitz to ramp up interest for the DVD release Tuesday. The film received only limited distribution, mostly at festivals, so this will be the chance for most folks to finally see it. It has been highly praised for its intense and involving narrative. But don't take my word for it:

"The first authentically shocking American film I've seen since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer over 20 years ago. If you are easily disturbed, you should not watch this movie. If, on the other hand, you are prepared for a long look into hell, suburban style, The Girl Next Door will not disappoint. This is the dark-side-of-the-moon version of Stand By Me." - Stephen King