Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to School

Yes, the dread day has rolled around again -- the beginning of the semester. I'm half joking, of course. It's always good once it starts, but there's always so much nervousness about the semester before it starts -- how will the classes be? how will I be? have I lost my touch?

Add to the usual stress the fact that I am now officially director of Women's and Gender Studies (and all that entails, including a bunch of things that need doing now) and I am applying for tenure -- package due October 1! -- and well, it's a more heavily freighted first Monday than usual. This semester is all medieval, including my sophomore level gender in medieval course, the upper division course I'm team teaching with my History colleague, Jenise, and the grad medieval class.

So much to do!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Social Media Breakfast--Tech Valley

Yesterday morning, much too early, I headed downtown to the Capital Rep Theatre, host of that morning's Social Media Breakfast for the Tech Valley region. The lovely picture is from the CapRep stage: they're currently deep into Shear Madness. Great set, eh?

The featured speaker was Justin R. Levy, a PR/social media maven, who live-tweeted his own wedding. While his experiences were centered in business, there was a lot of useful info for everyone, including the most useful aspects of different social media -- e.g. how building relationships on Twitter is different from doing so on Facebook, but also how you need to use a mix of media not only to cast the widest net, but also to deal with glitches like the recent takedown of Twitter.

And yes, we're back to that sticky issue of branding, again. If you want to make the most of SEO, then you need to know what the search terms are that will lead to your virtual door. Once again I'm stymied by shoehorning my work into some kind of catch phrase. Perhaps one will come to me.

You can see a stream of the event (featuring the back of my head). The lovely Amy Mengel was our hostess and organizer (who's so on the ball she tweeted to tell me there was tea along with the coffee and bagels when I complained on Twitter that there was no tea). While I hold to Wilde's edict about breakfast and brilliance, it was worth getting up early to be there.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

BitchBuzz: The New Puritans

My latest column for BitchBuzz responds to a recent trend in lit commentary, including Alan Bissett's book blog for the Guardian, the usual sort of 'things have gone too far, and now the pendulum must swing the other way' opinion. I think it's got a way to swing yet, particularly because this has become a very gendered discussion, meaning that it's women writers who have gone too far:

I was amused to read Alan Bissett's blog in the Guardian this week arguing that "Literature is due a new era of sexual modesty." It seems an odd pronouncement from a guy with a new book out on sexual addiction, but there seems to be a bit of this about.

It's not the least bit coincidental that this call comes from a male writer. While trumpeting the new frankness of sexual writing that calls body parts by their common names, i.e. the ones we all know rather than the ones the doctors use, he signals a desire to step back from this frankness. " Ironically, it is British men (and I'd have to include myself in this) who have been been more uptight about it all." He details a number of books (preseumably his own included) that portray men as sad, deluded victims of their own libidos, like Welsh's Porno and Stretch's Friction...

Read the rest at BitchBuzz.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Publication: Rothko Red

My flash fiction story, "Rothko Red", is published in the current issue of the FinNALA Newsletter. The Finnish North American Literature Association also publishes the lit mag Kippis, where my story "The Kantele" appeared.

There's nothing Finnish about this story other than of course the author's heritage. Well, perhaps the mood of melancholy could be seen as somewhat Scandinavian/Baltic (depending on where you fit Finland, opinions vary). I wrote this while sitting in the room with all the Rothkos at the Tate Modern (my favourite museum in the world) and thinking about the wonderful contemplative ambiance the paintings give and what sort of person might need that magic very much.

Some of the Rothkos are now over at the Tate Britain with the Turners to give a new perspective of that well-loved painter, especially his late work. So I spent more time at the Tate Britain this last visit -- there was a great Blake exhibit, too, that re-created his first exhibit.

And I nearly forgot: you can still hear the audio version of this story over at Radio Wombat.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Unikirja Reviewed!

Rie McGaha over at the Pagan and the Pen reviewed Unikirja and had some really wonderful things to say about it. In fact, I'm thinking my feet aren't quite touching the ground:

K. A. Laity has written a marvelous collection of stories that have the dreamlike quality of bedtime stories. I was mesmerized by these stories with their intelligence, simplicity and warmth. From the very first story with its simple message that life has its ups and downs for everyone, to the humor of Raising Lempi, you will want to savor every word, every page and read this book over and over. The warmth and peacefulness these stories bring to the reader feels like a big, comfortable blanket on a cold wintry day. I am just so impressed, I can’t say enough for Unikirja-Dream Book, except what a wonderful treat.

Wow, eh? It's makes all the hard work of writing worth it when you can have this kind of impact on a reader.

Be sure to drop by the Pagan and the Pen and check out all their book reviews and articles!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pi-Con Bound

I'm off to Pi-Con today. All kinds of interesting things going on there, and interesting people including the guest of honor, Mary Doria Russell. I'm on a few panels, I will be signing books, too. Maybe I should bring a kantele to play just in case no one shows for the signing.

I'm also having lunch with my pal Dennis from grad school, which ought to be fun. We haven't seen each other except on Facebook for some time. After Pi-Con, I'll head down to Hartford for a slumber party at Elena's with the Queen and Miss Wendy. Whoo hoo!

Let's hope the weather stays reasonably clear -- look out, Hurricane Bill!

Friday, August 21, 2009

BitchBuzz: Vampire Cheese

My latest column for BitchBuzz on vampire shows to watch while waiting for the next installment of Twilight or True Blood, shows a little chutzpah considering my editor had tweeted earlier that same day that one of "the things we're all sick of" included vampires. Have I got timing or what? She still published it.

If you find yourself chewing on wax lips while waiting for the next episode of True Blood or the second Twilight film, there are a couple of series that might just ease those sanguine jones for a time, though they've tended to fall out of toothy fashion.

If you like your vamps as do-gooders, check out Forever Knight, the saga of detective Nick Knight, an 800 year old vampire with a conscience who works the night shift as a cop, cleaning up the streets of, er, Toronto. Okay, glamourous it's not. But there's a low budget charm to the show, helped immensely by a game cast...
[continue reading at BitchBuzz].

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Ponyo

My pal Peg convinced me to run off for a matinee this week even though I have a million and one things to do what with the approaching semester. We saw the latest Ghibli film, Ponyo. I love Miyazai's films, so no surprise, I really enjoyed this one, too, though it doesn't rate with the best of his work. Pitched at a very young audience, it lacks the complex nuance of works like Mononoke Hime or Kiki. Peg thought it needed a lot more backstory on characters, too. But there is a mythic thread that underscores the fairly subtle environmental message (obvious enough in the sight of all the trash that fills the ocean) in this retelling of Andersen's Little Mermaid story.

I'm so accustomed to the soaring heights of Miyazaki's imagination, that it's odd to think of him doing an underwater film, yet water allows for the same fluid joyful movement. It also allows him to people the ocean with all manner of amazing creatures. Some are amazing because they're unusual sights: when the ocean becomes unbalanced by the "goldfish" Ponyo's attempt to become human and surges over much of the land, ancient fish (coelacanths!) swim down the streets of the town.

But even the less impressive creatures are a delight. I recall in particular an octopus sidling in the doorway behind Ponyo and Sosuke, the little boy who has befriended her, as they stare in wonder at the newly watery world around them. Miyazaki invests so much into these details. The whole of the screen comes alive with magic. The sheer delight of watching Ponyo run atop the waves is equally matched by her total captivation with the simple actions of making tea and noodles. Impossible not to smile.

The American voice cast is on the whole good. Considering the horrible effects that can have -- Mononoke was poorly served by its central voice actors -- this is praise indeed, with standouts Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Lily Tomlin and Cate Blanchett as Ponyo's mother, the mère of the mere, who's described as "beautiful" but also big and a little bit frightening (which is quite wonderful -- the awesome power of the ocean goddess).

The only real Disney effect (apart from the tacked on logo, which we booed) was the horrible pop song at the end. The rest is pure Miyazaki. Not the best he has done, but still delightful.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Python Reunites!

The surviving Pythons will be reuniting in NYC on October 15th for the premiere of a new six-part doco series that will be airing on the IFC channel October 18th-23rd. In addition to the documentary and timed to 40th Anniversary of the creation of Monty Python, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) will award The Pythons with a Special Award honoring their outstanding contribution to film and television.

“This is the documentary I always hoped would be made - something so complete and so faithful to the truth that I don't need to watch it,” said Terry Jones.

The complete Python troupe – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and even the late Graham Chapman – will attend this official Python reunion event, which will include a screening of the theatrical version of the Original IFC documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut). Following the screening, all five surviving members of the Monty Python team will sit down for a Q&A discussion and will be presented with a Special Award from BAFTA to honor their outstanding contribution to film and television.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (Lawyer’s Cut) will be told in six parts, airing one-hour each night during IFC’s “Python-a-thon” beginning October 18, 2009 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT. IFC will also air Python feature films including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

This six-part series features interviews with all the surviving Python members, along with archive representation for the late Graham Chapman. The Pythons tell their life story and reveal deeper truths alongside the more tried and tested Python history lessons. The documentary also features comedians and contemporaries including: Eddie Izzard, Olivia Harrison, Steven Merchant, Dan Aykroyd, Tim Roth, Lorne Michaels and Seth Green, among many others.

A select number of tickets will be available to fans online at in mid-September.

[h/t to Todd! yes of COURSE I'm trying to get a pass to this]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At the Fair

My pal Jenise talked me into going to the fair last night; that's one of her pictures of the fine fowl on display there. At least by the evening the heat had abated somewhat and once the sun went down, things were actually comfortable. We ran into people we knew very quickly (yes, even me!). Jenise and Mary tried very hard to resist the Bengal kitties, which did look like miniature leopards. We ate unhealthy food (no fried dough for me), looked at a wide variety of livestock -- one of the horses had a sign, "Friend me on Facebook" so the fair ain't what it used to be. Nonetheless, I felt like an extra in Oklahoma! walking around the barns and the midway.

This morning it was so humid, mist rose right off the surface of the lake and wrapped the trees in diaphanous white gauze. I kept an eye peeled for Avalon, but nothing appeared through mist but ducks. Another hot day today: thinking of gazpacho, thanks to José mentioning it on Facebook.

Friday, August 14, 2009

UK Trip: Week Three (Part Two)

The next highlight of the week was seeing one of my comedy heroes, Vic Reeves, in a taping of the Vic and Bob show, Shooting Stars. The fabulous Matt Lucas returned as "the man with the scores, George Dawes" as did Ulrika(-ka-ka-ka) Johnsson as team B captain. Team A captain is now Jack Dee instead of original captain Mark LaMarr or his first replacement, wordy wordy wordsmith Will Self. They have all kinds of guests of course, usually just there to humiliate them in some embarrassing way, though sometimes the guests do fine on their own (like frequent participant Johnny Vegas). One of the guests this time was the lovely Noel Fielding (now poised for recognition over here belatedly as the Boosh takes off). They also introduced a new repeating character that I didn't think much of.

It was my first taping at the BBC, but I've been to many such sessions and usually avoid them -- but it was Vic! and Bob! I had only ever seen Vic when I got him to sign my copy of Sun Boiled Onions, looking sheepish and sipping champagne at the Borders on Charing Cross Road. Plus there was a Dalek in the studio caf! Fortunately, this was one of the more efficient tapings I've been too. Very few pick-ups had to be done at the end -- mostly for props that failed to work. Vic and Bob were polite but intent on the show (Bob sipping cans of lager, too). Matt Lucas had everyone in stitches both with his new Potato song and with the inserts he had to keep recording over, yet managed to make us laugh each time. He was really magnetic.

One of the video inserts made me laugh so hard I thought I might pee. You will surely hear me on the soundtrack -- look for "Tiny Eyes" when it airs.

The end of the week I headed up to Wales. Did mention the weather? How the whole month while everyone back in the Northeast was moaning about the constant rain, it was gorgeous day after day? Should I emphasize that? Well, I figured when I got to Wales it would be another story, and as I passed by a medieval castle on the train it did become a little more cloudy. It only rained a little bit the entire weekend; you could certainly see the evidence of rain -- Wales is always so very very green.

I was there to attend the Great Writing Conference at Bangor University. That's where I gave my talk on Twitter and writing. It went well and the conference was a lot of fun, including running into someone I actually knew, the fabulous Terri Witek.

I should probably mention that between all the action-packed hi-jinks I was spending an awful lot of time just relaxing: reading! actual reading, as well as watching television -- I saw some great documentaries on writers Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis -- and of course, hanging out with friends.

The latter was probably the best part, but it doesn't make for much in the way of blog posts. Conversation and silly fun, but it's kind of ephemeral, leaving behind only a smile and those continued bonds of friendship. A good legacy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BitchBuzz: Julie & Julia & one unfortunate part

Yes, it's Thursday so my latest column for BitchBuzz is up, a piece on Julie & Julia, the film about Julia Child and the blogger Julie Powell, which I saw with my pal Peg last weekend.

I went with a girl friend to see the new film Julie and Julia which was just about what I had expected from the pen of Nora Ephron and from the reviews I had read up to that point.

Everyone raves about Streep as Julia Child and well they should. She's absolutely magical. Her ebullience as Child discovering the intricacies of French cooking is contagious. It's impossible not to be charmed by the fearless Child...

Read the rest to find out why this woman-friendly film nonetheless managed to annoy me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apropos of Nothing: Some Robyn Hitchcock

I will be getting to the recap of the trip; just a busy and frustrating week, so here's a little RH because... well, because it makes me smile.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

UK Trip Week Three (Part One)

Yes, it's August, so time I wrapped up my recap of June! Week two was so action packed that I cheated a little, because I'm starting week three with Saturday which is not entirely kosher, but oh well. I hit a matinee of The Winter's Tale that day. Most of the evening performances were sold out, as were almost all performances of The Cherry Orchard, which I had been wanting to see (Stoppard's adaptation of Chekov's play) as well. The same cast was in both plays, always an interesting feature.

It was really here, watching Simon Russell Beale as Leonides talk himself in and out of a jealous rage, that I finally articulated the thoughts that had been in my head since the week before about Shakespeare selling capricious plot turns with wonderful speeches, something I need to consider using. Sinéad Cusack was wonderful -- no surprise -- but so was Ethan Hawke as the oozingly slimy Autolycus, which was more of a surprise. I'm not too sure about the Oklahoma! vibe Sam Mendes gave to the sheep-shearing fest sequence, but hey, it's always good to try new things.

At the Globe I got an "Exit, pursued by bear" badge :-D

Tuesday was the day for Goodbye: The After Life of Cook & Moore, which I'd learned about from the Peter Cook Appreciation Society and attended with PCAS stalwarts Hamilton & Hind (Poor Mr Hamilton is in the hospital right now, so send him your best wishes).

The play by Jonathan Hansler & Clive Greenwood explores Cook and Moore in the afterlife, a grumpy Cook impatiently informing the late-arriving Moore that they will be judged for Derek & Clive in about an hour. They avoid an entirely predictable outcome, and the play offers Greenwood a chance to impersonate a wide range of departed comedians (Peter Sellers, Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams very well; Tony Hancock not so much) but the real problem is that Hansler sets an impossible task before him in trying to embody the sparkling wit and arresting charisma of Cook, so instead he plays him as grudging and bitter. No one seeing this would have the slightest idea why he remains a comedy icon. Adam Bampton-Smith makes for a cuddly Dudley.

But we had fun talking about it afterward at one of my fave West End pubs, where (making a stop at the loo at closing time) I found myself unable to resist liberating one of those really faboo posters for Arcadia, which I now need to get framed.

More later: Vic Reeves and Wales!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

BitchBuzz: Repetition

My latest piece for BitchBuzz is all about repetition, i.e. our addiction to sequelitis. I manage to name check the Fall, Clive Barker and Doug Bradley. Pretty good record for this vicinity:

"This is the three Rs, the three Rs," Mark E. Smith sang back in the late seventies, "Repetition, repetition, repetition."

I think that's become the theme of the naughties.

Of course it was already a trend ingrained in the minds of Hollywood moguls (if I can be forgiven for using the word "mind" in that context). Whether television or film, the sure-fire fall-back position has been repeat what worked before. Someone bought the straight to DVD Hellraiser: Hellworld (presumably), the eighth in a series which began in the late '80s and is about to be rebooted again.

Saw VI. Live Free or Die Hard. Star Wars III. Ernest Goes to Camp (Jail, Africa).

We dig repetition, apparently.

Read the rest and use the handy link below to share it on Facebook, Twitter (now that it's working again) and so forth.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I moved the serial blog, The Mangrove Legacy, to the "new" Blogger format, which is actually no longer new, in the hopes that it would make it easier to add things like "tweet this!" links and so forth. Hasn't worked out that way, so I'm hesitant shift this blog over because of course there will be so much in the sidebars, etc. to restore. But I do need to make some changes to the sidebar on this blog, but I've been dragging my feet.

I cannot convey to you how much I hate tedious typing and html-ing. Not to mention wasting time on this when I have a million and one things to do this month because I have goofed off most of the summer -- yes, I brought this on myself, but it doesn't make it any easier to get it all done. For the umpteenth time I wonder why I do not have a staff of about ten to do these things for me -- or five! I'd settle for five.

In the meantime (yes, yes, will get the final UK posts up this week) check out the latest adventures of Lizzie and Alice over at the serial. You will be entertained and gently amused. Tell me what you think of the new layout (if it looks any different to you at all).

Image via Email a Joke.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Phone Photos from NC

A GIANT dust mite at the Museum of Life and Science.

A gravestone in the cemetery at Ayr Mount

Flamingos at the NC Zoo

My little pal Chelsea, now 18, waiting for me to go to bed so she can lick my forehead and purr so loudly that I can't get to sleep. She's a little frail these days, but still rules the house.

Giant bee! Giant bee!
Just think of the honey this baby produces..

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hot Times in NC

Genuine astronaut suit at the Museum of Life and Science!

Birdie flees a T-Rex!

In the Butterfly House at the museum, a wild array of pretties.

What happens when African elephants roll in the red NC clay: orange elephants!

Birdie pets miniature zebras at the NC Zoo. All these lovely pictures taken by Mildred AKA the Demon Den Mom, Mater Lachrymarum, usw. With luck she'll get the rest of them up soon! More later -- a deadline looms, I've had three hours of sleep and two flights, but I'm missing my gals! Thanks again to Mater Suspiriorum AKA Susan, as well as The Boy and the cats, especially my little pal Chelsea. Mildred and Birdie, hope you got home safely!