Saturday, March 31, 2007


Apologies for being so neglectful of the blogs -- I plead illness and the hectic week that my going away created. We had an all day symposium for the department Thursday which led to increased illness, as I was completely exhausted and feverish by the afternoon. All went well, as far as I could tell, but I ducked out around 4.

I spent yesterday resting or at least trying to do so; many things looming over my head make that difficult. Inevitably there's always too much to do in the latter half of spring term, much of which, yes, I have brought upon myself. The London trip with the students is making me pull out my hair; my paper for next week's conference is not complete. At least my major paper for Kalamazoo was written last fall (if only I were always that early), but I have to edit that paper because it is still too long and finish the second paper (more about that later).

I have pictures from Oxford -- they'll be up soon! It was a wonderful visit and I just can't get enough time in England, particularly Oxford. Hmmm, wonder if they will be needing a new medievalist soon? There's always some kind of stress, eh?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Publication: Palakainen

Almost forgot! While I was gone the issue of New World Finn with my short story "Palakainen" arrived. This is another of the Unikirja stories. I am hoping to complete the collection (at last!) this summer (along with the Anglo-Saxon project).

Home Again

No time to post much today, but I did have a great time, the paper went well, the conference was terrific, and Oxford --


Oxford was great. Must find a way to get back there for a longer visit! In the meantime, visit the Botanic Garden, as I did (yes, of course, to see the ivy), and enjoy.

And for all your finest graphic design needs, why go anywhere else but England's finest design firm, Sequential Design!

(This commercial message brought to you because Brad and Liz and Sophie are always so generous with their home; sorry it was only a whirlwind visit this time, but see you in May!)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Off to Oxford

There will proabably not be time for posts this weekend (including the serial) as I am off to Boston, to catch the plane to Halifax, to catch the plane to Heathrow, to catch the coach to Oxford.

Sounds tiring, eh? Cheap flights have another cost. But at present, cheap flights are the only option (memo to self: play lottery).

I will be giving a paper on Tove Jansson's Moomin comics. The conference looks like it will be much fun. Of course, having the chance to wander around Oxford -- land of Alice, Dodgson, Charles and Sebastian, and for that matter, Alan and Dud -- will be wonderful, too.

Here are some deer in the park next Magdalen College, Oxford (though I'll be at Pembroke).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Welcome Spring -- and Wallace Shawn

Spring takes a little faith when you've still got a foot of snow on the ground; I had to dig a space for my car on campus this morning. Good thing I put the shovel in the car yesterday.

More enjoyable was a chance to see Wallace Shawn at UAlbany yesterday, an event sponsored by the New York State Writer's Institute. I decided that the afternoon seminar might be the better of the two events, and I think I was right. No doubt the evening event was packed, because the recital hall was even in the middle of the afternoon.

After a too long introduction (though to be fair, he has quite a long list of accomplishments) by NYSWI Director Donald Faulkner, there was a sudden moment of awkward silence as he and Shawn each waited for the other to start. No surprise, everyone laughed. That happened a lot, as you might imagine (though if you don't know who Shawn is, which I find inconceivable, check here). Faulkner first asked about the last play he had been doing, The Fever. It had a difficult life and reception, beginning as a monologue performed at friends' houses largely because Shawn sought to remove that distancing effect of theater, such as when people see disturbing scenes and appreciate them only aesthetically. When he finaly decided to do it in a small theater, Shawn decided to hold a cocktail party on stage before the performance begins.

Mental note: next play, write a scene with champagne in it so I, too, can get free bubbly from a fine vintner! and what about some chocolate...?

Not surprisingly, one of the first questions from the audience was regarding My Dinner with Andre, where many of us first saw Shawn.** He spoke about the freewheeling process by which the basic script was developed, then the onerous process of editing down the conversation transcripts into "something with a beginning, middle, end and characters."

Shawn commented on the reception and difficulties of his play Aunt Dan and Lemon. In its first incarnation in London, there had been strong tensions within the cast -- and with him. He was eventually banned from rehearsals. But it went on to a strong reception, despite its worrisome topics, including a character enamored of Nazism. Shawn remarked somewhat ironically that he had yet to have someone come up to him after the play and say "Wow, weren't the Nazis great?" but he frequently had other people come up to him worried that that would happen (presumably with other, more stupid people).

Asked about how he got into acting, Shawn explained that it was all due to his ignorance about how to make a living (he mentions borrowing from friends for a long time, and said you might think there was shame involved in borrowing money from friends, "No.") As for choosing roles, "Well, let's not kid ourselves," he cautioned first, but usually he reads the whole script "and if it's not nauseating, I do it." You'd be surprised, he said, "a lot fit into the nauseating category, most are evil." Even if a film is not too good, it can be fun to make, as long as you don't pass out at the table reading from a truly awful script.

I think one of my grad students was going to the evening event; I'll have to ask how it was. I'll probably regret not going, ah well.

**My story (one last time, I've told this too many times): I went to see this at the Odeon, the first art house film theater I knew. In the unpromising location of the Frandor Mall, it was clearly a labor of love for the guys who ran it. When the audience for this film arrived, the manager came down to the front of the audience to let us know that there was a problem with the third reel. Although the picture was fine, there was no sound for about a minute or so. He unfolded a piece of paper with the dialogue from that section and read it out to us. You can only imagine how strange it sounded out of context: something about being buried alive! The film began and we all forgot about it until the reel started without sound and, naturally, everyone burst out laughing in the middle of the very intense scene. I just love that the theater staff were so fanatical about getting us the whole experience that they created a new one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Which Goddess are You?

Take the quiz here. Perhaps not too surprisingly, I am:

Athena's brilliance of reason was said to be as penetrating as her clear gray eyes. One of the most powerful of the gods and goddesses, her artistry in all crafts, especially weaving and pottery, was unrivaled. Goddesses with similar attributes include Sarasvati, Sophia and Brigit.

Well, I don't know about pottery! But I can weave words.

This is a lovely image from Kris Waldherr's tarot deck which you can see online.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Good News!

My abstract has been accepted for the "Forging Folklore: Witches, Pagans and Neo-Tribal Cultures" conference at Harvard May 3-5, 2007. I'll be speaking on Finnish magic and music which ought to be entertaining. Of course, I'll find an excuse to bring my kantele along as well. I had planned to attend the conference anyway as it has a great set of folks, including Ronald Hutton who will be keynote speaker Thursday night of the conference.

[image © Timo Kervinen]

The Joey Zone is happy: he got name-checked in Elena's Goth Scout strip on Sunday!

Less good: lack of plowing on campus (and Albany streets) meant I could not find a place to park today, so I finally gave up and came home to work. Good thing I can do almost all my work from home -- except for the office hours. Sorry, students! At least I don't have any meetings scheduled today. Besides, I would have had to leave early for my doctor's appointment anyway. Perhaps tomorrow I need to bring the snow shovel and dig out a parking space for myself. Let's hope the melting starts soon!

Saturday, March 17, 2007


We got about a foot of snow since yesterday. I volunteered to go out first and start the shoveling (mostly so Gene could finish it ;-) but we got really fortunate that one of our neighbors was passing by with his snow blower, saw me shoveling and ran a couple of paths each side of the car and then up to the steps where I was shoveling. Made things a lot easier -- what a nice guy!

I was also lucky enough to have the Joey Zone sing his new shoveling-on-St. Patrick's-day song over the phone (no, I can't do it justice here; you'll have to wait for the MP3). Guess I have the luck of the Irish today (the good kind, that is)!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Urho Day!

Yes, it is time to celebrate St. Urho, the patron saint of Finland (and Finnish Americans), the man who chased the grasshoppers away from the vineyards of that land, saving the harvest with his pitchfork and the effectively dismissive words, "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, meine täättä hiiteen" or "Grasshopper, grasshopper, get thee hence!"

Wear your purple and green proudly and chase the grasshoppers away today (or that nasty snowstorm that's threatening the northeast today)!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh, to be in England

Now that spring and Alan Moore are there --

Moore will be performing at a tribute to the late Robert Anton Wilson this Sunday. In April he will be giving a talk at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery on"Magical Northampton":

Native psychogeographer, occultist and legendary graphic novel writer Alan Moore was “born in Northampton in 1953 and never left”. Alan will discuss local superstitions, myths and fables recreating the magical landscape of the town and its shire.

I shouldn't complain. I will be heading off to Oxford next week for a whirlwind visit where I'll give a paper on Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip - Book One. It will be fun to explore the land of Lewis Carroll!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Forthcoming Publications

N.B. I have had to finally join the herd at Google, so let's hope it doesn't have any effect on the blogs. The Google dashboard is supposed to be "better" -- we'll see.

Just got word today that my short humorous piece, "Corrections to the Rules for Fimble Fowl (for 3 or 4 Players)," will appear in the next issue of Wild Violet. I've sort of wandered back to humor by roundabout ways (as is, I realize, typical of my life). I have another piece out there with hat in hand, looking for a place to live, so we'll see what happens with that.

The ever fabulous Phil Nutman liked my hastily written review of Terry Gilliam's Tideland, which should appear in the next Up Against the Wall along with my review of Jade Warrior (which I am finishing, I promise, Phil!).

Coming up soon, too, is "Palakainen," a story based on the Kanteletar murder ballad of the same name. It will be in the pages of New World Finn, whose editor, the wonderful Gerry Henkel, has long been a supporter of my work on Unikirja (Dreambook), the collection of stories inspired by Finnish myth and legend.

Spring break is over and work awaits -- sigh! So much to do; I have to clear my mind of all the wild ideas I put there over the break.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review: 300 (AKA Beefcake-orama)

In our unending quest to see just about every comics-based film that comes out, we headed off yesterday afternoon to the see Zack Snyder's 300, based on the comic by Frank "Sin City" Miller and Lynn "Colorist Extraordinaire" Varley. It's received some scathing reviews, like A. O. Scott's which called it "as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid," but given the NYTimes scorn for anything not mimetic we didn't really take it all that seriously.

The central story takes place at the battle of Thermopylae, where the titular 300 Spartans face the massive army of Persia headed by self-proclaimed god, Xerxes (played with great vigor and costume by Rodrigo Santoro). The king of Sparta, Leonidas, becomes our focus with an introductory tale of his childhood path to warrior and king, and of course, eventually to become Gerard Butler, last seen as a terrific Beowulf in a very silly film. While it's a bit distracting to have a Scottish Spartan, it becomes less odd when he's joined by Welsh and Australian Spartans, notably the effective Vincent Regan, as his fiercely proud Captain, and the lovely David Wenham as guttural narrator, Blinky, er, Dilios. Lena Heady gets more of a part in the film than the comic as the tough but lovely Queen Gorgo (no, not that Gorgo).

Yes, we have nipples a-plenty with the few female figures (so to speak) in the film; but most of the film is a paen to the male figure -- oh, and the glory of combat fueled by honor. In a nutshell, fighting for freedom good, slavery bad. But that's just one aim -- what the film achieves is a romanticizing of the battle for freedom against all odds. While in our current climate, this would seem to be a thinly veneered commentary on existing wars (particularly given the racial politics as mostly Caucasian Spartans face an enemy of color and often, apparent disabilities), it really seems to be the artist's cri de couer against those who would subvert his vision, particularly in the case of slimy sell-outs like the oozingly slippery Theron, played by Dominic "Spice World" West.

While Miller clearly wants to glorify the clarity of purpose of the Spartans, there is more to it than that. It's easy to make these kinds of arguments about the past, when all the troubling detail has been stripped away by time. I recall the seemingly endless line of films about World War II and the conquest of the West that played on television while I was a child, all the time the very real Vietnam war ran on the news. I suspect that people were longing for a clarity of purpose missing from the real war at the time, but I also see a clear message of "war is hell" that came across in those films, the terrible loss that they all conveyed -- especially by odd films like Hornet's Nest. There's a romantic notion about the manner of one's death being as important as the manner of one's life, that our craven current culture might be less sanguine about embracing, but 300 really comes across as the declaration of the artist under fire who sees his life as bearing arms against an endless sea of troubles.

All of which may seem a bit heavy handed for a film that's really about shiny beefcake (sorry, Cheryl, nary a hairy chest to be seen), but I felt a sympathy for this film that doesn't jibe with my inherent pacifism (there's cartoonish violence a plenty, too, which I take with equanimity). While the real star is Butler's well-honed six pack abs (I have to note, though, that I think some of the other actors' abs looked digitally enhanced, especially Wenham's at the end), the struggle of vision and personal truth against the edict to bow down and kneel to the prevailing powers (whether markets or gods) does appeal to me (that and the drum heavy soundtrack).

And then, of course, there's the beefcake! Steve Reeves, eat your heart out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy International Women's Day!

Don't forget to thank the women around you for being so fabulous, then take a moment to explore the wonders of Women's History Month. Take a great woman to lunch today!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Absolutely Fabulous Women

Jam & Jerusalem: Soon to be playing here on BBC America as "Clatterford", "Jam & Jerusalem" is the brainchild of the always hilarious Jennifer Saunders. This new series takes place in the small country vilage of Clatterford St. Mary, where the Women's Guild rules with an iron fist -- well, perhaps only with knitting needles and baking trays. It has the cream of the crop of women in British comedy, which of course includes Saunders' pals Dawn French and Joanna Lumley, as well as Pauline McLynn looking very un-Mrs. Doyle. It was almost a little distracting noticing everybody who was in the first episode, but it was quite a hoot and we laughed out loud several times. So it's a bit of a mystery why it has been lambasted by so many in Britain as "unfunny" -- are you kidding?! Perhaps the absence of a laugh track threw people off who don't know that they should laugh when something's funny (as opposed to when the laughtrack tells you to do so, e.g. when we tried to watch the Rob Corddry sitcom which had a relentless laughtrack primarily, it seems, because there was nothing at which to laugh). Perhaps it was the predominance of 40+ women that threw them off--women who are damn funny but not (for the most part) youngsters with cleavage--what is this? A world of Christopher Hitchenses? Or is it just because it's not AbFab? Well, duh. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Ulla Suokko: The lovely flute player/storyteller/healer and friend Ulla Suokko plays tomorrow night in the city as part of "Fuerza -- El Swing del Flamenco!" with the Oscar Valero Flamenco Dance Company. They'll be performing Wednesday, March 7, 2007 8pm, tickets are $25 and available at the Jewish Community Center Manhattan Box Office (646-505-5708 or, 334 Amsterdam Ave at West 76th St. New York. I can guarantee you a wonderful time! What better way to shake off the late winter blues?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mexicali / Mini

Saturday night we met up with the Crispinus clan for a little Mexican feast downtown. Our recent attempts to enjoy Mexican food in the area had proved to be less than successful, ranging from the bland to the down right awful. We were very pleased to find El Mariachi neither. It was nice to sit down to some good chips and salsa (complimentary -- take note, Jose Malone's; they were also fresh). The staff were quick to refresh both when the Saratoga crew ran a little late due to soccer and sickness (hope you're feeling better Kaitlin!), but we got our orders in and a good bottle of wine and before we knew it, the guacamole arrived. I could have done without the nest of iceberg under it, but the guac was tasty. Our entrees arrived shortly after we finished the appetizer (good timing) and wow -- hefty! Gene got the mole chicken and I think he got the pick of the litter. I tried a little of his sauce and it was good. I had steak enchiladas with red sauce. The marinade for the meat was a touch salty, but the flavor was terrific. We all enjoyed our food and, of course, gabbing endlessly (where we all discovered the myriad reasons why Dan has not won father of the year yet [AKA why you should not dunk your daughter head first in the snow], some hints about Gene's 18th birthday party, the girl with a squirrel's arm, and why it's good to have grad school behind us). We loitered long at our table without any signs of impatience from the staff -- indeed, we got a complimentary round of digestifs, which proved a nice surprise. We'll definitely be back.

Today we enjoyed not having to get up and go anywhere early (other than Gene running out for the papers), but we did muster the energy to head over to SUNY Albany for The eXtensible Toy Piano Festival. Despite the stronger bite in the wind, it was quite a pleasant day and our first time at the Performing Arts Center. It was a lot of fun, with a broad variety of compositions, played on the lovely toy pianos as well as sampled on a lovely PowerBook (I say as one who has both toy pianos and a PowerBook). They ended the concert with John Cage's Music for Amplified Toy Pianos (can't find that online, but you can listen to his Suite for Toy Piano). Cage was the first person to give serious thought to composition for toy piano; this piece offers a bit of randomness with the original score being written on transparent sheets which were combined to give a unique score. The ensemble updated the process by turning the sheets into a Quicktime movie file which they projected on a screen both they and the audience could see. Great fun!

Buy this cd! It is amazing!

I've been trying to be productive this spring break (whoo hoo, spring break!) which I suppose really begins tomorrow when I don't have my normal repsonsibilities; so far I have managed to complete a story that I have been working on for ages (actually began it back at the writer's colony!), but I hope to get more done (including a revision of an essay due Tuesday, eek). We stopped to watch the Simpsons, which had one of their more bizarre episodes that careened from a sudden and vaguely Gorey-esque style, to a pastiche/parody of The Sound of Music, to Marge's dream of James Patterson (voiced by James Patterson), to name-checking Dario Fo(!), with a nod to Un Chien Andalou and -- what?!

Stephen Sondheim? Stephen Sondheim?!

Singing a jingle for Buzz Cola, no less! Just when you think the Simpsons have gone beyond the beyond, they snap back with something truly insane. Hurrah!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Goth Scouts Rule!

Run your browser over to Humorous Maximus to catch the ever brilliant and utterly silly Elena Steier's Goth Scouts cartoons. See the Goth gals get physical in the basketball sense. Use the calendar on the bottom to see previous strips from her. Elena's got a wealth of political cartoons, too, so drop by and check them out!