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.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reason 84,373,958 Why the Internet is So Good

Not only can you find the Aurora Borealis (yes, localized in your kitchen at this time of day and year, and in any part of the globe), but you can also investigate old televisions shows that your mind retains vestigially in the darker parts of memory (not to mention the ability to annotate everything you write with words and pictures, video and sound...).

Example? you might ask. Well, somehow last night I churned up a memory of The Kids from C.A.P.E.R., a very bad Saturday morning kids show from the late seventies that my girlfriends Chris and Carla and I watched with some fondness. Naturally enough, we had to then surf the net to see what we could find and within minutes we were listening to their hit single and refreshing our knowledge of the theme song. A pinch of the Goodies, a touch of the Monkees [thanks, Gene, for correcting my spelling!] and tiny hint of the Marx Brothers: Forgot about the secret word!

Is this a good thing? Should bad seventies (or any other decade) shows live on in a kind of zombiefied ethereal amber? Is the internet really replacing my brain? I don't know -- perhaps I can Google the answer...

Well, we are off Becketting today (very different from Bunburying) thanks to Robert. Will report back later.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Finland Pictures -- Part 2

Thanks to Gene, the second batch of pictures is up! He encountered one problem with Flikr -- we've hit the limit of freebie space. What I'm going to do is get these up on my site with tags soon. In the mean time, you can still access raw photos at this alternative site.

Finnish Connections

I received a wonderful email from Marja-Leena Rathje, who told me that she blogged on my trip to Finland, too, and put up one of my pictures which she had enhanced to bring out the image of the rock painting at Astuvansalmi. How lovely! It really looks good with the colors sharpened. With luck, I will have the rest of the photos up very soon, thanks to Gene.

Isn't it amazing how these connections form? One comment in the right ear, one post with the right key words and new friendships form, new inspirations begin. Thanks, Marja-Leena!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


One of my students today in class turned over her copy of W. S. Merwin's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with evident distaste. I thought perhaps she just didn't like the reading, I assumed, but then when her seat mate pointed to the cover and said "It's on the back, too!" I realised she was responding to the Chipp Kidd design:

She found it eerily creepy. I guess I have discounted it because I have in mind the medieval manuscript image. It actually looks better in the web version than on the book jacket -- it looks too fuzzy on the book.

Ironic, because the book is all about image: the vision of the Green Knight when he arrives amid the Yuletide revels; the image of perfection that Gawain's shield represents, a pentangle on one side and Mary on the other; the picture of the perfect chivalrous knight that Gawain finds burdensome when he's face to face with an avid reader of romances and doesn't feel up to the role; and the picture of heroism that Gawain measures himself against -- and finds he is lacking.

I usually can't be bothered with Arthuriana -- it's the one part of medieval literature I really can't abide (perhaps because it's so popular? after all, ask anyone what they know about the Middle Ages and they will quickly come to Arthur), but I really enjoy SGGK. Perhaps it's the deliberately archaic form the poet chooses -- he even alliterates in good old Anglo-Saxon style. Perhaps because it pokes holes in the absurd ideals of chivalry, ideas that probably never existed in reality at all. Perhaps it's because the characters seem aware of all those pressures and still make mistakes -- but the poet, rather than harshly judging them, treats their failures with compassion and good humor. It's an attitude some modern Christians could well imitate, in contrast to the public face of their religion at present, which is all about judgment and accusation.

All too often people look at the Middle Ages as "Dark Ages" of ignorance and superstition -- when all you have to do is read some of the texts to find a world much like our own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My Brother-in-law went to Long Beach --

-- and all I got was this link to his pictures from the trip (where he presented a video installation at Soundwalk 2006). You can also check out his musical projects. I have lots of talented friends, like Short Punks in Love and film director David Schmidt. I'm a pretty lucky gal!

From Albacon to Albacore

Okay, I lie -- we didn't actually have albacore, but we did have sushi with Robert yesterday near Bard when we went out for lunch. We got to stroll through the swanky campus: the Italian gardens, which overlook the Hudson, had lovely plants and a bunch of Monarch butterflies. We gazed in wonder at the Frank Gehry-designed Performance Center, which is hosting a bunch of Beckett. And then we went off to Woodstock to shop -- I even got some plants for my office. The beautiful fall day was too good to last, but we enjoyed it while it did.

The last day of Albacon went well, despite the usual fatigue that sets in by the last day of a con. There was the guy demonstrating the violet ray, which was both amusing and interesting. Some audience participation resulted in sparks and not a few hasty movements away from the glass. I went to the writer's workshop panel with hopes of coming away with some thoughts for my next creative writing course and I did -- including the idea of using the net and perhaps Blackboard to keep students networking after the course is over.

Another busy week begins -- with one less day. The good news -- my proposed three week intensive course at the end of spring semester has been approved! Now I just have to get students to sign up for it, but I think a good number of them will want to take advantage of one week of intensive reading, then two weeks in...


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Albacon Day 2: From Basketball to 'Beauty Queens'

I can't believe I forgot to blog about the creepiest thing we encountered: Friday night, after marvelling at the basketball coach gathering on the other side of the floor, we were leaning over the balcony looking at the pool are below. There was a woman and three children in descending ages. The youngest was perfoming to music from a boom box. We finally realized that she was prancing around like a stripper beause she was practicing for a pageant. Ew -- it was disconcerting to see this little child shimmying along.

We had no idea -- Saturday we competed all day with the blasting thump of music from the pageant next door. Parades of little Jon-Benets ran in and out of the ballroom adjacent to ours, either in spangly costumes and garish makeup or in gigantic plastic curlers. It was really icky and really loud.

I went to a panel on "going beyond medievalism" in fantasy, but was quickly irked by one panelist who characterized history as being divided by the sudden leap to reason in the 18th century -- a ridiculous notion that overlooks the employment of the scientific methods by many in the Middle Ages from Albertus Magnus onward (not to mention the continued popularlity of rather irrational ideas even today). It was as ill-informed as the other panelist calling the Middle Ages the "Dark Ages" -- a notion as offensive as it is misguided. But then this was the same panelist who referred to animism as "primitive" (because it was different from her beliefs?). Neither of them seemed to recognize that the chief problem has been 2nd hand Tolkien: I may not like Tolkien's style, but he knew his stuff. Too many people have only read Tolkien and his imitators, and know (and apparently care) nothing about the time they are supposedly portraying. Fortunately, there was one panelist who countered this misguided opinion with a little common sense: Melissa Scott. I saw her on a couple of panels and was impressed with her thoughtfulness. I'll have to check out her books.

Another, more amusing thing to check out: look at the cover illo on this book, then imagine this woman sitting at a panel, stroking her pen with two fingers from the top down repeatedly. Hmmm -- sometimes a pen is your best friend.

There was a panel on the best and worst sf films, which predictably devolved into a lively debate with completey partisan defenses. That was amusing. There was a panel on the state of comics, which predictably seldom got beyond the "comics=superheroes" equation. That was not so amusing.

Back today for more...and by the way:


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cons and Conferences

This week had both: first on Wednesday my colleague Kim Middleton and I went to a conference on Visual and Information Literacy in Massachusetts. Among the speakers was Henry Jenkins, who had some very thought-provoking things to say and some terrific exempla at his program's site, New Media Literacies. I have been inspired to try to incorporate more on these topics into my courses. Students are passive consumers of media -- they need to be more critical, but it's our job to give them the tools.

Then last night we went to the first night of Albacon, the local sf/f con. Among the highlights -- the ice cream social! Hood ice cream, all kinds of toppings and hot fudge sauce. I went to a panel on incorporating characters outside the mainstream, and later joined Gene at a panel on Kubrick's 2001 which proved full of diverse opinions.

We had a little time before things got rolling to walk around downtown and see a few sights, including of course the Egg:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New Web Designs

The initial stages are complete: I have new web pages up for my home and academic sites (links at the right). I'd love to hear feedback on the new looks while I'm continuing to work on the underlying pages. After all, it's no good having a shiny exterior if the interior is still rusty!

And this is all thanks to Open Source Web Design and the artists who share their hard work!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Welcome, October!

My favorite month of the year begins and I am so far behind! I have yet to make the Hallween card, but I have started on the costume. Due to the busyness of starting a new job, I thought I would skimp on the costume this year. However, after seeing old friends last week, I have been inspired -- or is it only competetive? Whatever the impetus, I have a better idea than the one I was planning to use, so we'll see how it turns out.

Appropriately enough for our entry into October Country, it is a cool and rainy day. Perfect for grading papers which is what I ought ot be doing, rather than daydreaming about Halloween. Which reminds me -- I need to scan in the picture from my folks of three little kids in their scary Halloween costumes quite a few years ago...