Saturday, December 30, 2006

Review: The History Boys

Yes, we finally saw it. We went to the first matinee yesterday, reward to myself for finishing the first draft of the paper due tomorrow. Rewards are important -- especially with something like writing where the end result is usually a long way away from the initial "completion."

Not surprisingly, the only place the film was playing was the Spectrum 8, Albany's best movie theater for the discerning film fan. I think we've been to it more than any other theater, including the one nearest us. The theater was surprsingly packed for a weekday, but as Gene noted, it is winter break (although we were among the youngest folks there, so perhaps it is normal for the Spectrum).

Of course, I was already predisposed to love the film. It's hard not to enjoy a film that grapples with some of the key issues that continue to plague teaching when you're a teacher (particularly in the No Child Left Behind era). It's hard not to romanticize the idea of teaching (in contrast to the daily struggle of making progress as a teacher). I don't imagine that my students will go on to become artists and scholars; I'm happy if they can still understand references to books we read earlier in the semester.

Bennett's play turns on a number of complex issues, but a central one is what sort of knowledge is important. Richard Griffith's Hector conveys his love of literature and its magic, mixing the high and the low to keep students from pretentious navel gazing. The slick new instructor, played by "Bright Young Thing" Stephen Campbell Moore, turns the students toward the efficacious in order to win their desired goal -- admission to Oxbridge. Naturally enough, the boys themselves become a pendulum between the two approaches, alternately swayed one way or the other as they feel the benefits of each approach.

But the key moment comes from the much overlooked Totty, played by the amazing Frances de la Tour (last seen as the giant Madame Maxime in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). She disposes of both approaches with an insightful spade of feminist scholarship, snapping, "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket." Typically enough, the men smirk behind her back and go on with the mock interviews.

It's only a moment, but it's the best moment of the film -- and it's a film filled with wonderful moments. While many of the moments are expected, there are a number of surprising developments and a lot of good laughs (this is Alan Bennett after all -- Gene pointed out how very Bennett-like the weaselly headmaster's last speech is). I can't wait to see the play in London!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Coolest Yule Gift Ever

Wow -- it's great to have talented relatives! Look what Robert made for me (the picture doesn't do it justice):

Talk about your one of a kind item! He made these charms from 18k gold. A bobbin, a spindle and a ring -- the three tokens carried by young Hallgerd in my novel Pelzmantel represent her link with the past and the responsibilities that lie in her future. Handed down from mother to daughter, the three items reflect the timeless reminders these women have had to keep in mind to rule fairly and well.

The bobbin for guidance through wisdom and sense,
The spindle for drawing out all excellence,
The ring for binding the oath to this land
To love and protect and be at its command

I just can't get over it -- what a great surprise. Thanks again, li'l brother!

And he spoiled us with food, too. A birthday cake, prime rib, crab legs, baked mashed potatoes and asparagus (well, there had to be something healthy). Yum! All under the watchful gaze of Joey Heatherton.

We had a great Xmas eve dinner over at Anna's (thanks, Anna -- hope you're feeling better!) and a lot of talk and good times. So stuffed from all the food, I may not need to eat for days. And the weather wasn't bad either (fair bit of rain last night, but no snow), so we walked around in the greenery, fed the ducks and even enjoyed the koi pond (yes, with yule crown).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cool Yule

We're at Robert's enjoying a little time away. We got here last night after Gene had to work a Saturday (ugh, how happy are folks who get service calls on the Saturday of Xmas weekend? Not very). Robert had a big tray of sushi waiting for us which was very yummy.

Today we sipped mimosas while decorating the tree. Showing those pagan proclivities, I had an impromptu puppet theater with figures from the nativity scene (maybe it was the mimosas) which Gene dutifully filmed on the Treo. We're off to Anna's for an afternoon party, and later... who can say?

Pictures to come -- Gene was snapping photos earlier. I'm wearing my Yule crown of holly and mistletoe and bells.

Relaxing is good. We have a stack of Xmas cds and a pile of British comedy dvds. Holidays are good. Hope everybody we know is having a good time today!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

History Boys

No, it's not the review of the show, unfortunately. We had planned to hit a matinee yesterday and unexpectedly (well, I suppose if we had thought about it, it might not have been a surprise) ended up in a an unbelievable snarl of traffic downtown and missed the show's start. So, another day. But I did get a ticket to see it in London!

I was thinking of trying for a half price ticket when I got there, but found I could order a cheap balcony ticket online and not have to wait in line. Yes, it is still possible to see West End plays for reasonably cheap, unlike Broadway. I had actually gone on line to check ticket availablity for the Punchdrunk Productions version of Faust, which I had read about in the NYTimes. There's a performance on Jan 9 that I might be able to attend, but tickets are not available on line. So we'll see.

Well, soon I'll get to see the film, and a bit later, the play (at last!) and who knows -- London is full of opportunities. I get to see friends and hang out and relax. How good is that?!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Catherine the Great

We finally got around to seeing For Your Consideration and while it was not really successful, it did feature Catherine O'Hara, one of the funniest women in the world. She managed to give her character, aging actor Marilyn Hack, both hilarious moments and actually warm and touching ones as well. Celebrated first when she and Andrea Martin anchored the otherwise male cast of Second City Television, who can forget her wonderful Katharine Hepburn or the borderline suicidal ex-star Lola Heatherton? She is the center of the film despite the star-studded cast, including most of the other truly funny women working today: the wonderfully loopy Jennifer Coolidge (her short scene with Ricky Gervais is just priceless), the razor sharp Jane Lynch, the fearless Parker Posey, and an almost unrecognizable Rachael Harris. In part, that may be the biggest problem -- an embarrassment of riches that distracts from the connections, and like A Mighty Wind, there's a little too much fondness for the characters (not all of them! wow -- there are some brilliantly oily Hollywood types). Comedy requires distance; we can't laugh at people we care for and as ridiculous as O'Hara's Marilyn becomes, we pity her desperate vulnerability. A mixed bag, the film has some wonderful moments through out, some laugh out loud, some so tiny but wonderful (Larry Miller proves once again a master of minute) that while ultimately a failure, I'd gladly watch it again.

And while I'm on this tack, I want to rant a bit about Christopher Hitchen's ridiculous tirade "Why Women Aren't Funny" in the January issue of Vanity Fair. First -- huh? As a woman surrounded by funny intelligent women, I say again -- huh? There’s the usual folderol about how women can’t do stand up because they’re too busy birthin’ babies, then backed up by examples Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron and Roseanne Barr.

Old much? At least two of those women used to be funny, so that’s something, but get with the times, Hitch. Leaving aside for the moment all the funny women from his native shores (off the top of my head, let’s just mention Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Julia Davis, Kathy Burke, Caroline Aherne, Tamsin Grieg, Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge…and the list goes on and on and on) there are so many funny women on these shores that it’s impossible to list them all. Even going back farther than Hitch himself does to mid-century stars like Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller, their crowns have been more than adequately carried forward by contemporary women like the ones mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, as well as, oh let’s just mention, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr, and the ever fabulous Julie Kavner.

Two words, Hitch –- Amy Sedaris.

The fact is there have always been funny women -- admittedly, a lot of Hrotsvit’s jokes were lost behind the pious posturing of her Christian moralizing, but still! But humor does generally require intelligence and there is a certain kind of Neanderthal male that fears any show of intellect on the part of women. Fortunately, the world is full of smart, funny men who like smart, funny women (and in my case, marry them).

Of course, this is not too surprising coming from a man who has gone from a Trotskyite to a neocon. Men do tend to get more conservative as they get older, but it’s a pity Hitchens’ self-imposed cocoon has kept him from experiencing some of the best comic minds out there -- just because they happen to be female. Open your eyes, Hitch, and your mind. You’ll laugh a lot more.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

The darkest day is passing now (technically up here in the north, it has already passed) and the return of the light always brings with it hope, even if the cold intensifies. There are songs to sing and various celebrations of which the best known are still Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa, but throughout the known history of this world, this has been a time to feel hope after the dark days and dream of the spring to come. It's still a long way off, which is why we need those February celebrations to keep us going through the cold and snow. The new moon falls on this day as well, so we have a return to light even in the night sky.

Hey -- and it's Frank Zappa's birthday, too. So, don't eat the yellow snow, all you mudsharks!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Great Singer or the Greatest Singer?

Can you tell classes are over? Not that I don't have a million and one things to do, but after a training session on archiving all my Blackboard files (dead easy) my first thought was "Can I find some good Vic vid on YouTube?"

Well, of course!

Vic sings "Dizzy" with the Wonderstuff on MTV3 with the usual Vic and Bob stage crawling -- not good sound or image, but hey, it's YouTube the land of many wonders that you might not otherwise be able to see (although I have a PAL tape of Vic videos that I need to transfer).

If you think that's bad, at least I didn't put up a link for Mulligan & O'Hare or Slade in Residence!

Glimpsed on this Morning's Walk

About eight turkeys; one dead squirrel and perhaps a quarter of another; one red balloon, half-deflated...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Up Against the Wall 4

The latest issue of Up Against the Wall is online! It features interviews and reviews of all kinds of faboo stuff, from Anya Martin's take on the Dark Shadows dvds to an interview with horror/fantasy/sf cover artist John Picacio.

Yeah, and a review by me, too (hey, gotta self-promote on a day like today with two rejections already, argh).

Celebrating with Friends Old and New

We headed over to Northampton yesterday to meet up with our pals at India Palace for my birthday lunch. We started running into folks right after we left the Raven, no surprise (well, only surprise is that we didn't meet them in the Raven). We also got calls from both sets of folks before we got to the restaurant, so I had a chance to thank them for their gifts as well. The staff at the restaurant was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of a table of 16, but they coped and we were easy going enough that it wasn't a problem.

I don't know if their other customers shared that opinion. It was quite a voluble crowd and like the Garden Party, everyone was there and there was indeed magic in the air. There were the Queen and Johnny 10X, Marko, Rod and Elena, the Boojums Joey and Cheryl, GK4 and Donna, Miss Wendy, Robert, and meeting them all for the first time (wouldn't that be a bit intimidating?), Dan and Krista and Kaitlyn.

It was the most wonderful gift to be surrounded by our family of friends. We're so glad to be back in the Northeast (not that we don't miss our friends down in Houston!) and with folks we have known so long. Of course, even though I repeatedly said that was the only gift I needed, they loaded me up with fine birthday swag, too. Wow -- amazing generosity, guys! The gifts ranged from the thoughtful to the personal to the wacky and all were very much appreciated.

After a long and laugh-filled lunch, we headed off for shopping around town. Northampton has the advantage of being about the same distance for all of us as well as full of terrific shopping opportunities. We kept running into one another the rest of the afternoon, and by the time the shops were closing, those of us left headed over to the Tunnel Bar for a relaxing drink. Swanky! Gene and I had never been there, so it was quite a treat. The big overstuffed chairs make a great little private enclave, so we chatted until quite late, but finally had to make our way back home (grades were due today!).

It was a great birthday! But has anyone painted their cats yet?

New friends: we headed over to (near) Peebles Island Saturday night for a Yule celebration with some new local friends. Yummy food (pot luck!) and lots of laughs, singing and a new tradition: the wraparound! Various gifts were wrapped in layer after layer of wrapping paper, which each person would have a go at it, taking off one of the layers. You never knew if you would get nothing or something fabulous. It was a lot of fun. So we're getting to know people here, too, and having a good time doing it. It's always hard to move to a new area; we're lucky to have a lot of "built-in" friends in the region, but we're also making new friends which is very pleasing.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Graduation Day

It was my first graduation day at Saint Rose. I had to be up early to catch the bus to the Empire Center (Home of the Egg!) with the rest of the faculty. Fortunately, we had labeled the box with the caps and gowns very clearly, so we didn't have to hunt for them. Now no longer in the big box taking up space here at home, but hanging in the closet in my office.

Quite a bit different from UHD graduation in Minute Maid Park. The convention center is at least set up for this kind of event. They had refreshments for us faculty but I didn't actually partake with the thought of sitting for a couple of hours. I did have my PDA (AKA the Sampo) with me, so I could read during the less engaging portions, but I was curious to see how Saint Rose graduation woudl be different. Smaller college, smaller list of names -- particularly for mid-year graduation. As it's my first semester, I only knew one graduate. I'm sure int he future I'll know many more.

They had us line up by seniority, so of course the newbies were all in the back where we could learn the ropes without too much stress. It always feels funny to be wearing these medieval robes and funny hats. Somehow the solemnity always leads to a few giggles. Of course, the proud parents and gleeful friends provide the most entertainment, shouting, whooping and clapping for the graduates.

We were back to campus by noon!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Queen: Jane Tennyson Gets Royal

We had dinner last night with pals Kim and Kelly at El Loco, a sort of nouveau Mexican restaurant. Very good and healthy dishes (whole wheat quesadilla!), good taste, although it did not quite assuage my longing for Tony's quesos flameados. Then we headed over to the Spectrum 8 to catch a film; well, when I say we, three of us went -- Kim, poor Kim, went home to grade. How very sad!

We saw The Queen featuring the always reliable Helen Mirren, who when she's not classing up horrible fiascos like Caligula or bringing criminals to heel in Prime Suspect uses her spare time to turn in Oscar-worthy performances. Or at least Golden Globes, as of today I gather. It is a fantastic performance -- I won't say it makes you sympathize with the queen, but you do kind of pity her for being a living antique in a world that finds her veneer unfashionable.

It takes place at the time of Diana's death (even now still making headlines) and shows the chilly reaction the royals have to the event in contrast to the tears and wailing of the public. It's amazing the effect it had -- seeing the footage again I still found it hard to grasp. If he had married Parker Bowles (and no, it's not possible to hear that name without hearing "Nooooo!"), it wouldn't have happened, yes for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because she's plain. Because Diana was beautiful, people projected all kinds of feelings onto her. We're easy prey to glamor.

As the film unfolds, the then-fresh Tony Blair (Bright Young Thing Michael Sheen) realizes the mistake the family is making and tries to get them to "modernize" but they don't seem up to the task (James Cromwell is not nearly vicious enough to be Prince Philip). The bubble that surrounds them is well maintained by Lord High Everything Else Robin (played by the wonderful Roger Allam, last seen as the very evil Prothero in V for Vendetta) who is genuinely stunned to see other servants crying over Diana, assuming they all share his opinion of her (which is of course the queen's).

There's a bit of heavy handed symbolism, but it's such an interesting story and Mirren is just captivating as HRH. It'll be interesting to see if she does get the Oscar nod; considering that she doesn't die or play a hooker, the odds seem against it. But the gorgeous scenery of Scotland -- wow, it was just lovely and made me want to back again. A nice long tour of the highlands would be wonderful: maybe when we win the lottery!

This morning on our walk we stumbled across a baker's dozen of wild turkeys. We wouldn't have seen them at all if we weren't tsking about all the junk people had chucked from the their cars on Boght Road, but there they were. Some were sitting on a fallen tree, the others pecking about on the ground. When they realized we weren't continuing our walk, they started to slowly make an exit. We tried to get a snap of them, but they were far away with too many trees in between. So here's a picure from the Michigan government:

Ooh -- forgot to mention! They showed The History Boys trailer before the film -- coming December 22. Hurrah!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wise Words from Ancient India

The Tirukural is an ancient Indian book of wisdom, written in Tamil probably between 100-300 BCE. I actually get a verse a day from it. Today's missive had a very striking comment with great resonance for me. In the email version I receive, it was rendered as:


The wound caused by fire heals in its time;
the burn inflicted by an inflamed tongue never heals.

I decided I wanted to see the original, so I GoogledTM for it and found this:

129. தீயினாற் சுட்டபுண் உள்ளாறும் ஆறாதே
நாவினாற் சுட்ட வடு.

The fire-burnt wounds do find a cure;
Tongue-burnt wound rests a running sore.

The art of translation is a lively one, but in either case, the sentiment is vivid and resonant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Electric Kawaii!

As we're a little short on funds this year and trying to avoid the whole tragic silver comb/watch fob fiasco, we bought one present for the season to share between us. But it's a doozy:

What could be more kawaii?! Fender and Sanrio join together (with a little help from Target -- free shipping even) to get girls rocking and we benfit. It's a real Fender guitar. Gene is teaching me chords and being very patient. It's so much fun just playing music. No, we're not going ever be rock stars, but that's not the point. People just don't make their own music anymore and it's a real pity. It used to be that everybody knew how to make some kind of music, but now everybody passively listens to professionals. Forget that -- make some noise, have some fun. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said,

Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Speaking of kawaii, we finally saw all the episodes of Jonathon Ross' "Japanorama" (or as he says, "Japanawama"). Above is a still from his interview with Minoru Kawasaki, director of "Crab Goalkeeper." We learned a lot of new things that we had never seen before (beetle sumo wrestling! creepy Super Dolfie collectors!) and learned a new term for a concept we had noticed before but didn't know it had a special name: "kawaii noir"! Like the cute but dangerous Gloomy Bear who is adorable, neotenic and pink -- but a bear! Sharp claws and an instinct to bite -- so he attacks poor Pity, the boy who rescues him as a cub (I guess Timothy Treadwell never saw Gloomy Bear). Kawaii noir still has the kawaii reaction but with a twist. The show is terrific fun and Ross is a hoot as always, jumping into any new challenge with abandon, even dressing up with super-famous Japanese phenom [yes, really], the former wrestler who now appears as "Hard Gay Man" (it's a different culture, ain't it?). Japan is notoriously homophobic, so it's peculiar to see this cartoonish character become so popular -- even among children. Many teachers apparently think he's a bad influence because kids go around imitating his moves (there are two, thrusting his pelvis and shouting "Hard Gay!").

Well, hmmm -- wandered away from the HK guitar, eh? Well, it's fun and for the future, there's always accessories to get, too!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scholars and Artists Grant

I received a nice surprise this weekend -- in the form of an email from our Provost telling me that I was one of the lucky ten who will be receiving a Scholars and Artists Grant from the College. Yay! This means time and a little money, so I can focus on completing the Anglo-Saxon book project and get it to a publisher (fingers crossed) by next fall. I'm beginning to get better at this grant writing process!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Beatum Diem Tenurem!

Or words more or less to that effect -- gratulatio, Crispinus, on achieving tenure! As Catullus said, the golden light of your radiance reflects upon us all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Nineteen Degrees

It's a bit to get used to again, feeling those temperatures below freezing. The snap of the frozen grass is a memory so old I could not forget it even if I haven't heard it in years. As I went out for my walk this morning, the cold felt particularly biting. I think I need mittens -- my black leather gloves, although they have Thinsulate, are not going to be enough for things like shoveling snow. The importance of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth becomes very clear on a day like this. Let the cilia do their work.

By the time I got to the top of the hill to head west into the very strong wind, my fingers had warmed again even if my cheeks had become numb. At least going a bit later (closer to 9) there was far less traffic. My red wool cape may not be all that aerodynamic, but I figure the wind resistance just adds to the aerobic workout. I couldn't figure out at first how I got Nick Cave's "Henry Lee" in my head, but then I recalled the lyrics,

and the wind did howl and the wind did moan...

although the groans came mostly from the bare tress rubbing against each other in the wind as if trying to stay warm. It seemed odd to have a murder ballad in my head when I was in such a good mood, but in the midst of life we are in death. I had already on my mind when I awoke that today's date is a very sad one; I was nearly all the way back down the hill when I saw the lifeless body of one of our local cats, soft peach and white. It must have been struck by a car. It was one of the cats Kipper stared at out the windows, crying. Poor little thing -- but it's a busy street and people just don't care.

Not every thing can be mended; destruction is a much a part of life as creation. But occasionally we can stave off the inevitabiliy of dissolution. I mended the broken gnome with some tacky glue (thanks, Susan). He's pictured here in pieces, along with my ever appropriate mug from the Museum of Funeral History in Houston. It sports the legend, "Any day above ground is a good one." Indeed.

After gluing him back together, I put him in the window to dry. Now he faces out to the porch like a child staring from the sick room, eager to rejoin his friends outside.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Broken Gnome

Now I realize what that loud crash and thumping sounds was. I guess somebody left the building very unhappy...

We'll see what glue can do!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Krampus Eve and a little snow

It will be Krampus eve tonight and we have a dusting of snow. When I went out for my walk I saw a lot of chaos everywhere as people drove over the light snow packing it into ice, particularly on Boght Road where I usually walk. It's a hill and, of course, there was a good deal of sliding, so I cut my walk short and instead cleared snow off the car and driveway (also aerobic!).

It seems that around here if you start to skid on the ice, the thing to do is to blow your horn. Not sure why, but I saw that scenario repeat a few times this morning. By the time we went out to go to work, the roads were mostly clear, though we still drove with caution (it's been a while).

We got a cool Krampus card from the Boojums -- no surprise, eh?

And if you don't know who the Krampus is, clearly you need to buy a copy of my chapbook When Little Joe the Krampus Met! All I have to do is find the box that has all the chapbooks (including the frog ones) and I can list them for sale here and on the website. In the meantime, enjoy this vintage card:

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Well, the upshot of the endoscopy is that I don't have the bacteria they suspected most likely, so I probably don't have an ulcer, but they're giving me ulcer medicine anyway (famotidine: side effects may include "fussiness"). And I'm supposed to change the way I eat -- mostly by eliminating anything potentially troubling to a stomach, including (but not limited to):

caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, fat, bacon, tomatoes, cream (and cream soups, ice cream, etc.), spicy peppers, peppermint... and the list goes on.

Perhaps the most painful thought is giving up my morning tea, which is as much ritual as beverage. But it would be nice to get rid of the persistent reflux, so I have to resign myself to mending my ways. Of course, this is less than inspiring, particularly in the midst of the holiday season when people are making such tasty dishes and richly fatty desserts.


Well, let me console myself with something from Cute Overload:

Friday, December 01, 2006

Preview: House of Black Wings

Chicago film maker David Schmidt has just posted a lot of news on the website for his new Lovecraftian film House of Black Wings, which will be wrapping up shooting in December. I can't wait for it to come out!

I may be biased, of course. You may recall my glowing review of his witty adventure-comedy Sword of Hearts in the premiere issue of the fabulous Phil Nutman's Up Against the Wall magazine.

But having had a sneak peak at the script and some photos from the shoot, I feel totally justified in gushing. If you're tired of endless torture-foo (which seems to be Hollywood's only conception of horror at present), you too will yearn to see a film that has heart and character as well as plenty of chills.

Trust me -- and check out the website for fine snaps of the artwork and filming!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Gift from Lapland

A little present I got for myself; I have always loved these drums, but I never imagined I could get one. Ain't the internet great? Thanks to Michelle (the seller) and Irene (the Sámi artisan) I have a beautiful drum with designs I had a hand in choosing. Very exciting!

If you don't know much about shaman's drums, please see this page for more information about the history of the instrument.

Friday, November 24, 2006

T-Day Dial-Up Horror!

Well, Robert still has a dial-up modem, so I'll be brief: much turkey, stuffing, badadas (po-ta-toes), pie and cake. Mmmmm. Gene, Brenda, Robert, Jordan and I having a good time and eating far too much. We went out to catch the new Bond film (more about that later, I suspect) and will no doubt consume more food soon. Robert sure does know how to lay a spread.

Who wants cake?!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I had an introduction to this unpleasant procedure today. The nearest thing to it that I had experienced was when they checked my vocal chords before the the thyroidectomy. Hmmm, I thought -- will they make me sing? No, they stuck a thin filament down my throat to take a look, but I choked too much and so, lucky me, they went through my nose.

Well, things have changed a bit in the ensuing years. Now they numb your throat and give you a mild sedative via IV and then they stick a filament down your throat. Less choking -- though not as comfortable as, oh say, anything that doesn't involve things going down your throat. But fairly quick. And they can take samples, too, which they did. At this point the vague diagnosis of gastritis is all they have. By Monday the doctor will know better having had a chance to get out the microscope. It may well be a common bacteria that can be addressed with antibiotics. On the other hand, it may call for more permanent changes in diet (like loss of chocolate and caffeine!), so in the mean time I just have to keep taking the Prevacid.

I'm home recovering while Gene's at work. Slept for a couple hours and probably should rest more. Kipper is all in favor of that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mash-ups Go Mainstream

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I had to go out and get the new Beatles album. It is fun. More fun than a week of rejections (just got one more, yay).


Yesterday I attended the Diwali celebration here on campus. It was a lovely ceremony with lights and music (although it's a pity the Interfaith Sanctuary only seems to open up to non-Abrahamic religions when they have a colorful festival to offer). The priest began speaking haltingly, seemingly less than confident with his English, but when he began to chant the prayers, first to Ganesha, then to Lakshmi, his tone changed to be ringing and confident through the 108 names of Lakshmi. We all lit our candles from the ceremonial lamp (representing the enlightenment of knowledge) and afterward we had beautiful music from Veena Chandra who played sitar while her son played tabla. Some volunteers applied mehndi (henna designs) to eager participants (yes, I got some decoration).

And of course, Saturday night was the big Markofest at Aloha Alcohula. Much fun catching up with the CT crowd -- even the elusive Bilokur. We arrived early and got to spend a pleasant afternoon with Miss Wendy. We showered the birthday boy with a bunch of Peter Cook dvds and a cd (copies of the massive treasure trove courtesy of Our Man in Britain), so we have one more member for the World Domination League.

Thursday of course is Giant Turkey Day (as celebrated in Japan) and we'll be off to Robert's, where we'll no doubt be asked, "Who wants cake?"

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Belatedly, I offer a few reviews of recent indulgences:

Slade in Flame: We borrowed this from the Boojums after Halloween mostly because we read the back of the DVD and were intrigued. I will admit up front that my primary image of Slade comes from the "Slade in Residence" vignettes on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, which mostly involve sitcom-like misunderstandings and a lot of Cup-o-Soup. The packaging of the DVD makes the point that while they might have been expected to make a sort of Beatles-esque romp, Slade chose to make a gritty film that shows the darker side of the music biz. And it works -- this was an impressive effort, which captured both the fun and the grind of the climb to the top. Tom Conti, in perhaps his first major film role, plays the slick artist rep who milks the group for all it's worth while the fad lasts. From small town thugs to the modestly talented folks dropped along the way, the film offers a snapshot of the old story with a few new notes. We were really impressed, and even watched the long interview with Noddy that comesas an extra. It hasn't quite put Vic & Bob out of my head, but it was good.

Antigone: We attended a one man performance of Antigone at the Steamer No. 10 Theater right on the edge of the Saint Rose campus. Bertrand Fay plays all the parts with the aid of wooden masks on poles. He modulates his voice for the different parts, so when two characters are conversing you can easily tell them apart. There was a great sense of ritual to the whole performance (turning the masks forward and back as they spoke or departed) which seemed ideal for the material. Unfortunately, Gene and I were both lulled into occasional somnambulance by the sing-song delivery and the tiring week. Worse, the house lights were not low enough, so it probably apprent to the performer that we snoozed. Oh well.

Literally Speaking: Last Saturday we did a lot better at the short story reading sponsored by Lterally Speaking at the Chapel and Cultural Center at Rensselaer. It's a great idea -- short stories read by actors which circumvents the problem of authors who are not the best readers of their own materials. While I like to think I'm one writer who is a pretty good reader (teacher training helps there) it would be wonderful to hear what a talented actor could do with any one of my stories. The two actors were excellent -- one of them had just been called that morning, so he was really working cold. Unfortuntately, there won't be another reading until spring. Waah!

The series is supported by two groups, Theater Voices (who provide the actors) and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. We went to the biannual meeting of HVWG on Wednesday at Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary (hmm, that's the second 'sanctuary' I know of in the capital region -- which suggests a kind of hunkered down mentality...). The coffee house is terrific -- Gene was really impressed by the fine coffee aromas. The group seems useful and friendly and I think we'll both be joining. Yay.

All right, that's a lot for now -- off to the Aloha Alcohula tonight, so it's time to pack our jimjams and get on the road soon.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Overwhelmed by Stress on a Friday Afternoon

The best medicine: a little whimsy from the divine Edward Lear.

There was a Young Lady whose bonnet
Came untied when the birds sat upon it;
But she said, "I don't care!
All the birds in the air
Are welcome to sit on my bonnet!"

There was an Old Man of Whitehaven,
Who danced a quadrille with a raven;
But they said, "It's absurd
To encourage this bird!"
So they smashed that Old Man of Whitehaven.

There was a Professor of English,
Whose cat had a long-standing fond wish;
To pen its life story,
And win lasting glory,
And never again eat from a dish.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rejoicing in Insects

I think I have finally come to an understanding of my students that somewhat fits (appropriately enough) with our reading this semester: Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, they resist the chaos and madness I try to impose upon them. Like Wonderland, I keep throwing them off balance. They feel like the rules they have learned are not working the way they ought to do, but they persist in looking for the "right" answers. While I continue to insist that the texts are multivalent, slippery and full of problems, and that answers are only the beginning of new questions.

The students in the Early Women and Writing class (AKA the class that started out disastrous and has steadily improved) had a wonderful set of responses to writing their own "pilgrimages" based on format of the perambulations of Margery Kempe. They were moving, thoughtful and creative. In fact, I've expanded the topic to be one of their choices for a more formal paper.

They may not be rejoicing in insects yet, but maybe they have begun to look more carefully at their assumptions and dig a little bit deeper. Or perhaps, like the Mad Hatter, I'm just a little loopy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ooooooh, Moomins!

It was wonderful to come home today to a nice surprise -- the hardcover edition of Drawn and Quarterly's first volume of Moomin Comics. I had the prepublication galley, which is a softcover, but this is really gorgeous! And I'm not just saying that because they quote me in the press release (as the voice of Finlandia Weekly) saying nice things about the book.

I love it -- in fact, I not only wrote a handful of reviews for it, I will also be writing an essay for a collection on Tove Jansson and a conference that will be held at Oxford in March. The hardcover edition has lovely cream color pages and a nubbly feel to the cover. The beauty of the drawings is enhanced by D&Q's attention to detail. They really think about the book as an entire work of art. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job with these terrific stories and Jansson's singular style.

Buy it! You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For the Discriminating Bee Enthusiast

At last the highly prized periodical (once available only to a select few who knew the secret handshake and where the bodies were buried) has become available to the general public through the grace and largesse of St. Ephesus and of its proprietor, Stanley Ribble. Yes, the Bubwith and Rawcliffe Submariner now lies exposed to the baleful eye of a jaded populace for their edification and general sobriety. All who cheer the restoration and preservation of safe, clean water may now rejoice. Those opposed, say neigh.

Lovely ladies of the roses, you have been vindicated.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Prize Winning!

Whoo hoo -- thanks to alert Horror list member Todd Mason, I just found out that the Joshi/Dziemianowicz collection I'm in just won the International Horror Guild award for Non-Fiction! Hurrah! Read the whole story at Ansible. I would say buy the book, but perhaps the better exhortation would be to get your library to order it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Little Lifts on a Rainy Day

It's amazing the big effect of a small good thing (about the size of a hazelnut, if you asked Julian of Norwich). As the days get darker and my students get more tired, it's harder to find energizing moments. So it was nice to see the new webpages of my friend Diane Saarinen and find that she credits me with inspiring her to write about her Finnish heritage. Thanks, Diane!

And then I got a note out of the blue from a colleague who happens to have been one of the judges for a recent competition where she read (unbeknownst to her at the time) one of my stories. When she found out, she wrote me a very kind and complimentary email. Yay -- gives you that warm snuggly feeling that Cute Overload does.

I'm certainly not complaining about rainy days. Bring on the cool weather! But drizzly times are best for hot chocolate and quiet contemplation. Yet there's so much work to be done. The long mad dash toward the end of the semester only gets shorter and shorter (and faster and faster). I'm still trying to find my feet at St. Rose -- my students are so quiet! I know I'm not alone -- everyone seems to have the same story. But it only makes me more determined to get them talking somehow.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vote Today!

As the Joey Zone is fond of saying, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." If you don't work for change, you have no right to disparage the way things are. Vote!

Then complain all you want.

I'll just be glad not to hear the names Gillibrand and Sweeney on a daily basis. But New York does not have a corner on the market for vitriol. If we had Comedy Central, we'd be watching the Daily Show/Colbert Report live tonight, but alas, we have scaled back to bare bones cable+modem. Instead, I'll be preparing for teaching Wednesday (as usual).

Off to vote in a few minutes --

Sunday, November 05, 2006

More Fun in the New World

Thanks to our reliance on treeware (specifically the Times-Union) we found out about a couple of exciting groups in the Capital region:

Right in Albany is the Federation of Ideas, a loose collective that defines itself as "a 'neighborhood' community and arts group" who run various events like the University of Ideas, "a non-boring lecture and presentation series that varies monthly between surrealist parlor game club to presentations on urban permaculture to missing women of Mexico. Speakers get to hold an audience captive for 20 minutes and lead them through participatory thought-sharing. "

Across the river in Troy is The Sanctuary for Independent Media, a group with a more overtly political agenda, actively engaging people in the construction of non-corporate media. This community center "provides screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds." There's even an election night comedy party sponsored by The Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center. Their focus is on involving everyone in the media, and they offer workshops to build skills -- everything from using digital cameras to building your own website.

Why does it take so long to find out about the exciting things going on in the area? As if there were a shortage of things to keep us occupied...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gene's Bad Poetry

By popular acclaim, Wombat's World is pleased to present the very bad poetry of the beret-wearin' Dr. K (AKA Gene):

Dutch Mastery

The flint lighters of our souls
illuminate the stygian darkness
in the Prestige Spanish Cedar Walk-In Humidor of this worldly existence

Our souls ignite the toasted, creamy tobacco of our love
having first prepared ourselves
with the Rubber Coated Double Blade Cutter of our courtship

Nothing can clear the Romeo y Julieta Belicoso-scented haze of our love
not even the petty Prometheus Habana Crystal Ashtrays of occasional arguments
or the Ionic Zone IZ-270 electrostatic air purifier of jealousy

Nothing, that is, until the Sav-A-Cigar snuffer of death itself readies us
for a perfect 65-to-70% humidity of everlasting bliss


Composed Upon an Overcast Autumn Morn, When I am Filled with Ideas, Hope, and Zest, And All the World's Possibilities are Laid Before Me, Awaiting the Transforming Touch of My Lyric Lexicon

The only...
When I am unsure...
I think I'll just

Review: The Mystery of Irma Vep

We dropped by the Curtain Call Theater to see their presentation of The Mystery of Irma Vep by the late Charles Ludlam. As expected, it was a good chuckle with a few guffaws. All the parts are played by the two actors, Aaron Holbritter and Kris Anderson -- which becomes part of the humor, with characters alluding to the necessary absence of other characters. It's a wild tale of vampires, werewolves, mummies and other gothic trappings, like a mix of Rebecca, Laura, and a little Wuthering Heights. The script is full of bad puns, salacious hints and wild turns. The two actors made the most of their widely disparate body types, Holbritter in particular showing great zeal for the transformation between the rough Nicodemus and the delicate flower, Lady Enid. The appreciative audience really fueled the energy -- the first row in particular howling with laughter, so much so that Jane the Housekeeper (Anderson) threw a sprig of "wolfsbane" to the woman who was laughing so hard in the first row. Before this, the shrieks of laughter had their effect on bringing on a fit of corpsing that never quite left the second half of the play. Which was all right -- the second half being where the script turned more Martin & Lewis than gothic, despite its setting in an Egyptian crypt.

During the interval we went downstairs to the cafe. While we were able to resist the decadent looking desserts (oh that cake looked good!) we did indulge in coffee and hot chocolate while looking through the art exhibit. For a small place, the Curtain Call Theater has a lot packed inside. We'll be back.

The program also had an ad for the Saratoga Springs theater company, Home Made Theater which will be doing a version of Alice in Wonderland, which I need to mention to my students, as well as Wit and I Hate Hamlet. More fun coming in regional theater!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bad Poetry & Good Pictures

Last night the College held its Frighteningly Bad Poetry Reading. Gene got into it big time, not only producing a couple of minor masterpieces of crap poetry, but dressing as the quintessential beatnik/Frenchie poet, with stripey shirt and my Canterbury beret. The students (a few faculty members!) got into the spirit of things with bad costumes, bad poetry (some reaching back into juvenalia, others composing doggerel during dull meetings) and spectacularly bad performances. topics ranged from necrophilia (a prize winner) to toast (the latter perhaps the best performance, but that wasn't up for awards this time). A good time was had by all, much guffaws and titters.

I'm sure, if you ask nicely, Gene will share his odes with the world. In fact, I'll offer to print them here.

Which reminds me that Gene got our Halloween pictures up and I forgot to link to them here. You've probably seen the other pictures already, but if you're not tired of the same costumes yet, here's ours.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Feliz Dia de los Muertos

Get out your sugar skulls and marigolds -- it's that time again! I don't know where our sugar skull mold is, so I guess we won't have any today. It's good to have a day to remember those we miss. My folks sent a number of articles from their local paper that explained the holiday for folks new to it. Not surprisingly, there are big celebrations in Las Cruces.

I think I was first introduced to the celebration in a Ray Bradbury short story, "The Next in Line," from The October Country, one of those linchpins of my life (along with Alice in Wonderland, Shrieks at Midnight and the Mary Poppins books). Living in Tejas for the last few years, we were more easily steeped in the celebrations. There seems much to value in this attitude toward death. No one really wants to think about its inevitability, but the silence more common in our culture seems to fuel our grief rather than relieve it.

Tonight our college will feature a bad poetry reading to celebrate the day -- what could be more appropriate?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

It's so lovely to be back in the Northeast for Halloween -- hearing the leaves crunch under your feet, seeing the smoky colors of fall, feeling the crisp cold in the air. Why not read a little passage from Ray Bradbury's The October Country?

With luck, most folks got their Halloween cards even though we were a bit remiss on getting them into the post on time. If so, great -- if not, we'll do better next year!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Spooky Snaps

Nah -- we didn't get our pictures up yet, but the Boojums did, and you can see them here. The Queen got hers up as well and you can see them here. When we'll get ours up is anyone's guess -- we're spending an evening with Slade and cold medicine.

And yes, despite my illness, there is another episode of the serial!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Home Again

We're back, I'm sick -- but it was worth it. Pictures tomorrow. Stopped by at Robert's on the way back and he gave us a lovely roast beef dinner and a wonderful apple tart. Mmmmm.

For those of you with money riding on the contest: yes, of course, Johnny 10X (who is the canvas of the Queen of Everything) did win. Wow. Bet he's still peeling the fur off...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Boojum Bound

Off soon to drive through the apparently pouring-all-day rain to Connecticut to join the gang for the annual Boojum bash. Have to make sure we have all the bits of our costumes with us, jimjams and all (hey, camera might be a nice idea, too). I am trying to believe that the sniffling I am experiencing is just allergies, but I think we'll swing by the pharmacy on the way out of town. Let's hope that not too much red comes out in the shower this morning -- but I still need to scrub off a little more red along the scalp line. I forgot what a pain dying hair is -- of course usually I bleached it lighter, which doesn't leave traces behind.

Enjoy the spooky day!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lookee here!

Stage two of the costume complete! The color is not the best on that PDA snap (i.e. eyes should be blue, eh?), but the hair is now a pleasing candy apple red. Ignore the bags under the eyes...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Honorable Mention

A nice way of saying "You Lose!" Next reading night for Literally Speaking will not feature my story "Eating the Dream," but at least it gets a mention.

Ah well -- better than nothing at all. Pity they couldn't spell my name correctly.

Several hours and burned fingers later (hey, glue guns are hot) I think my headpiece is done. We'll see. After letting it sit a while, I may decide to add flourishes.

Halloween Approaches!

Time to furiously work on those costumes -- time is getting shorter. Have to get the glue gun out today. First, though I have to run out to the stores because we need a new color ink cartridge, the sure sign that production of our Halloween cards has begun! Oh, well -- more in the mail today, assuming all goes well. I have to make sure I get all my reading and course prep done before the weekend so I can enjoy the big Boojum Halloween party with a clear conscience. And let's hope Gene's feeling better by then, too. A cold has laid him low for the last few days, which he finds very inconvenient.

For your amusement -- here's a blast from the past, courtesy of Howard (again, yeah -- the blackmail payment is on its way). It's my first attempt at a Norma Desmond costume (recycled a few years later with greater success, but without my [later] wedding shoes -- and hey! aren't those the gloves from Carla's wedding?). It was sometime in the eighties, somewhere at USC...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Heat Alleged

Things were in turmoil around here (i.e. my office on campus) yesterday but the end result was meant to be heat. As it's been in the forties lately, it would be a welcome thing to most folks in the building. Well, the first floor that is -- the other floors have heat! But no sign of it at present. Bethany and I tried to turn up the thermostat but no heat has resulted yet, but a lot more drilling and pounding has ensued.

Looking forward to the Boojum's Halloween party Saturday. Joey sends this link to vintage costumes. Still haven't quite finished my costume, but the materials are gathered and I have tried to simplify some aspects. Still need to get out the glue gun, but thanks to Gene, at least I know where it is now.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It Begins!

Well, the new idea I have been preparing for at last begins -- a serial novel which you can read here on my newly launched second blog (is this the sign of the new virtual wealth? "oh yes, our second blog is just for tooling around town...").

The plan is that new installments will come out once a week (barring unforseen events, travel, or monster grading sessions). The novel in progress does not yet have a title -- I am considering running a contest to choose the title from suggestions. I may be employing a Google Adsense advertisement to support the project, too. At present I'm just playing with the possibilities so nothing is set in stone.

That goes for the story, too.

I have a notion where it will go, but I don't have set ideas about how it will get there. Initially, the idea I sketched out during a panel at Albacon was much more formal. After I let the idea percolate for a time, I decided against pursuing that course for something with much less pressure. Nonetheless, I hope it will prove engaging. I guess you all wil be the judge of that. So mosey on over to the new blog and see what you think. It may not rival the popularity of Dickens' Little Nell, but one must try new things!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Elvis has left the Diner

And later this morning, Yvonne will be leaving Albany. Her talk went well last night, although she was fighting a bad cold. We had a pretty good turnout for a Friday night, Fridays in general at St. Rose "looking like a ghost town." She played a little on her flute which is modeled on the early flutes, which were wooden not metal.

It sounds lovely too -- warmer than a modern flute but with much the same tone. A good number of my students were there (and my dean and department chair -- eek!) as well as some folks from outside the college, which was nice. Hildegard still remains a magnetic personality. The apparent non-students were the ones who asked most of the questions -- my students were too shy, it seems.

Afterward we went out for a late bite at the Gateway Diner. Albany is the land of diners and bowling alleys, so I feel like we have moved to Lebowski-Land. Of course our first eye-catching sight as we walked into the diner was the guy in the back, at a table of about a dozen guys, who looked like an Elvis impersonator. Or if he wasn't he should look into the possibility, because it would be a shame to waste that rug and sideburns.

In case you are wondering which Lebowski character I am:

According to the "Which Big Lebowski character are you?" quiz:

Why don't you check it out? Or we cut off your Johnson!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Goin' to the UK

Hurrah! I got word to day that I have been accepted for a conference on Tove Jansson at Oxford University *and* the book collection that it will spawn. Hurrah! Best of all, I am writing on the comics collection from Drawn and Quarterly which I recently reviewed for New World Finn.

Plus, it looks like there is the possibility of attending a meeting on behalf of the College at Regent's College in January (6-10) as well as the late May short course I'll be teaching if I get enough students to sign up for it. Of course, everyone who knows me knows this is just an elaborate excuse to go book shopping on Charing Cross Road and to see friends. Well, and to convey that sense of fun to a new generation of American tourist/students. I have a few other plans for the trip that will be unveiled later...

Those who have known me for far too long may recall that my first trip to England came via a study abroad program between Michigan State University and -- wait for it! -- Regent's College. The dorm I stayed in is now a private home, but it remains right next door to the big mosque on the Outer Circle of Regent's Park. And that park (with its secret garden) remains one of my favorite places to be -- Regent's Park may not have as high a profile as the other London parks, but my sentimental attachment to it is strong.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hildegard of Bingen

My friend Yvonne Kendall is arriving this afternoon from Houston. I was lucky enough to get her as a speaker here at St. Rose to talk on Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century mystic. My students in my Women & Early Writing course have been reading her and examining the illustrations of her visions.

Her work is fascinating and she's a bit of a rebel for her time, claiming authority to speak about visions of divinity, although "a poor little womanly creature" without the "proper" training. She saw divinity as the green force of life, "viriditas," which valued the earth in sharp contrast to many of her contemporaries. Healing, too, was a great interest for her. Hildegard wrote on the healing properties of both plants and gems, and of course her music expressed both her spirituality and the healing qualities of the human voice. A woman far ahead of her times!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thanks, Howard

Oh, sure -- pick on me. My friend Howard from Las Vegas (a man of various talents) sent me an email noticing a correspondence heretofore unmentioned (as it should be). I see no comparison between the two pictures!

Yet Another Scam!

Beware of phone callers from 800-963-6230!

They will announce themselves as calling from "American Financial" and that your requested credit account has been approved. When I got the call, I asked "what credit account?" and was told that my name had been forwarded by a credit card company that had denied me an account. Yeah, right. I clearly stated that I did not want their "credit account," the woman said "That's all you have to say." When I pumped her for further information, she hung up.

I called the 800 number listed by my cell phone and got a guy who then mocked me as I tried to ask questions. So I told him I was calling the police and hung up.

Well I doubt the police will do anything, but I can enter a complaint at Consumer Action and at the FTC.

More Rocks!

Tiit Kao, fellow member of the Kantele Players Group and kannel player, knowing my interest in rock paintings, sent along a link to me for the Peterborough Petroglyphs in Ontario.

Clearly, I am going to have to make a pilgrimage north! Particularly with all the suggested links to Scandinavian/Siberian cultures. There is always so much more going on in "primitive" art than we credit. Last night we were watching another episode of How Art Made the World where the effects of that attitude were clearly revealed, resulting in the misreading of cave paintings for years. Surely they were fakes, the thinking went, because "primitive" people could not draw with such sophistication.

Yeah, and the Middle Ages were the "Dark Ages" and people knew nothing before the twentieth-century. Cue rolling eyes. There have always been curious and talented people who tried to creatively connect to the world they wanted to understand. Too often we dismiss what we do not understand.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Beckett at Bard

We drove down to Annandale-on-Hudson (where, as Robert pointed out to us Monday, "the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handle") to where the big Gehry looms out at the edge of the woods for the Gare St. Lazare production of a Triple Bill of Beckett shorts.

Of course one of the first things Gene noticed was the big poster for the Charles Burns designed version of the Nut Cracker for the Mark Morris Dance group:

He was more than willing to take the poster off their hands -- as I was wiling to do with the giant Beckett Centenary poster (think how good it would look outside my office!). After sighs of longing, and at the appointed time, we trooped down to the intimate theater to find our seats. The space, dark and small, gave the impression of throwing those of us in the small audience together for warmth or comfort agaisnt the high reaching ceiling of the theater. The stage was bare but for a wooden bench, all that was needed for the first monologue, "Enough." For "A Piece of Monologue" this was changed to a lamp and the suggestion of a bed, then a set of steps for the final "Texts for Nothing" selections.

Beckett's characters are hesitant to speak, yet bursting with a story to tell -- Ally Ni Chiarain who performed "Enough" captures this beautifully, appearing haunted and almost frightened, needing to speak yet afraid -- of criticism? or being misunderstood? of revealing too much? Yet like most of Beckett's characters, the story that consumes her is so personal and so intimate that she does not tell us the details that would make her pain plain, so we much listen very carefully, put together conflicting clues and never quite feel certain that we know what has happened -- yet we're riveted to her halting confession. At times the silence was so profound as we waited for her next word that you could hear stomachs rumble and gurgle. How often do we experience that kind of silence with a group of strangers?

If "A Piece of Monologue" worked less well, it was because Conor Lovett conveyed the sing-song and looping dialogue too hypnotically. Vocalized beautifully, but the droning old man, awash in a persistent memory, soothes the brain into drowsing too easily. Beckett plays with language and silence, sometimes to extremes.

A transformed Lovett reappeared after the break fo the continuous presentation of the "Texts." It's a less difficult row to hoe -- the Texts are humorous (as well as jarring, hesitant, loony and sometimes frightened). The audience responded with relief to the cameraderie of humor, and tensed up even more with the pregnant silences. At the end their applause warmly rewarded him for the spellbinding trip.

How must it feel to have that power over an audience, to play them like an instrument -- I think part of the reason I have gone back to writing plays is that I long for that immediate connection. While it's fun to play with the long narrative of a novel, there's nothing quite like the alchemy of the stage. To see your words live -- and live in unexpected ways as actors play with them, take the for a walk over new ground -- is an amazing thrill. I remember talking to Clive Barker once and he remarked that he was glad not to be a playwright anymore because the pain when that magic failed was too much to bear. But sometimes the distant pleasure of knowing someone out there somewhere is reading your work, just doesn't compare to laughter you created -- or gasps, or tears, or just anticipatory silence.

And why Beckett? I don't know for sure. He's been hanging over my shoulder for some time now with a lesson or two for me. Maybe it dates to seeing Bill Irwin perform some Beckett at MLA a few years back; maybe to my dog-eared copy of Waiting for Godot still sitting in storage in CT (soon to be liberated). I can't really say for sure -- but there's something I need to know that I do not yet know.