Monday, April 30, 2007


Hee hee -- a badge of honor: we have been spoofed in Elena's very fine comic strip, The Goth Scouts, today. Whoo hoo -- we join the ranks of other proud spoofees like most of the Bush entourage (in a less kindly way), Johnny 10X and the joey Zone.

It's Walpurgisnacht (well, Walpurgismorgen?) which of course makes me think of the story I wrote with that title, which led me to a very nice comment about that story. Tomorrow is May Day, but I actually celebrated with friends yesterday at Peebles Island State Park (nice to have such a lovely park so nearby!). We even had a Maypole to dance around which, after a few glitches, weaved together nicely (I didn't think to take pictures, but here's the Bloomington Quarry Morris Dancers' finished Maypole). We even had a spiral dance that did not devolve into chaos (!) and, of course, lots of delicious food.

After that, sadly, I had to come home and grade. Ah well -- can't celebrate all the time.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: Hot Fuzz

We have been waiting a long time for this movie to be released, so it's a bit ironic that we didn't get around to seeing it until a week after its release. Life intrudes. But it was so worth the wait! We loved the previous Pegg and Wright projects Shaun of the Dead (aka the romantic comedy with zombies) and Spaced (the best surreal, pop culture-fueled sitcom ever), so it was a good guess that we'd like their cop spoof as well. I was laughing so hard tears came to my eyes. Yes, it was that good.

The first few minutes are a wild ride of "spot the British comedian" with uber-serious, robotic PC Nicholas Angel finding his superb record of accomplishments has made the rest of the force look bad, as his immediate superior (Martin Freeman) points out. Refusing to believe that he would be transferred to a tiny country village for doing well, he asks to speak to his superior's superior, who turns out to be Steve Coogan (uncredited as far as I could tell) who then appeals to his superior, (played by the always wonderful Bill Nighy). The list of who's who goes on and on (some nice surprises, like Bill Bailey), but it's just one highlight.

Of course at the center of the film is Simon Pegg, playing against type, and Nick Frost who has a lot more puppy-like sweetness to his oafish sidekick than in their pairing in Shaun (Ed might have been hilarious, but he wasn't very lovable). While Nicholas has lived the life of the action hero, Danny has only seen the films. Their unlikely friendship builds as Nick tries to learn the ropes of village life and Danny, whose position seems to rest on his father being chief of police, finds he has a lot more to offer than anyone thought.

Which could be any cop/buddy picture, but they're spoofing the whole genre -- and it works. It works because they know the genre, just like in Shaun of the Dead, which was one long homage to their favorite horror films, but also because they make a satisfying story in the genre that is both gut-bustingly funny (whodathunkit? Timothy Dalton is a hoot) and an exciting action film. The attention to detail is key; everything that seems to be there just for a laugh has a payoff, even the casting of Edward Woodward (but don't click that link unless you want a subtle spoiler). As you might expect from the zombie fans, the moments of horror are truly gruesome yet inevitably funny, too.

I highly recommend it -- you'll laugh so hard, but you'll also get caught up in the story. Keep your eye on the swan and don't forget to water your peace lilly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hélène Cixous

It was a delight to go hear Cixous read at SUNY Albany last night. My colleague and I arrived early and got parking. There was even time to run to the library to pick up a book I wanted. I was reluctant to cut short my grad class (AKA my reason to go on living this semester--let's not talk about the freshman class who make me pull my hair out) but I knew I would regret passing up a chance to see this inspiring scholar/writer who seems to effortlessly accomplish so much.

It took no time at all for the room to be packed. We had the usual rambling introduction from the permanently rumpled Donald Faulkner (like I should talk), then a second introduction (whose name I did not catch) who tried to fit a lifetime of scholarship into a few paragraphs. Cixous read first from her autobiographical book The Day I Wasn't There, a section focusing on the memory of seeing a three-legged dog in the bois on May Day (Abandonment day) that looked like a "Tintin dog" [hence the picture of Milou above] and eagerly searched faces for a place to belong. Cixous of course reflected somewhat ambivalently on this moment; born in Algeria, stripped of French citizenship during the war because she was a Jew, living and celebrated now in France, she does not have a "home" as she corrected a questioner later. "Ask Beckett," she said by way of explanation, mentioning other writers who found themselves in exile for one reason or another.

After reading a couple of dreams from another book ("we should not read dreams in translation, but we will") she anwered questions about her writing process. She is so precise about everything, it was interesting to hear that she writes "like a painter," longhand at a desk full of "tens, no, hundreds, no, thousands, no, tens of thousands" of scraps of paper of all sizes with 50 or so pens and pencils. For ten hours or more at a stretch, she just writes and writes "with the sun" -- such luxury! My colleague and i were talking about how hard it is to imagine having that kind of time to write (and whether we could use it--shades of the writer's colony!). "I have about four computers, but they're all virtual."

I am glad I went to hear her read, to hear her speak. It has filled me with hope again after a rather discouraging couple of weeks or so. To hear her speak with such confidence, self-assurance -- never arrogant, not that, but certainty that her writing is important, that she will find herself in good company with Hugo and Flaubert. I think we tend to lack that sense of history in our writing in this country, that there's a discomfort with the same past that Cixous feels herself to be in active dialogue with as she writes. Speaking of Hugo's careful columns (writing on the right, corrections on the left, "and there were almost none!") and Flaubert's endless rewriting, revisions of single sentences, Cixous was clear that she fit into neither extreme: "I am idiosyncratic, untranslatable." Though, of course, she has been translated many times. In fact one of her translators was there that night, prompting Cixous to say "translators are heroes" as well as "adoptive mothers." In the end, "we are all translators," trying to get wht is in our heads to others as precisely as possible. Writing, revision--I was intrigued by her simple assurance that in writing, like music, you can always hear the "false note." I would like to think so, but I guess I doubt myself too much to feel that same sense of confidence. Something for me to work on. Cixous is a great example for an unapologetic intellectual in the 21st century who simply works to the best of her ability and has confidence that her work is worth doing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Prose at the Rose -- on the Air!

Listen to the first broadcast of my new show hosted at the internet radio station at the College of Saint Rose. I'm interviewing Hudson Valley Writer's Guild president, Donna Miller, about the Guild and about her writing. I haven't had a chance to hear it yet, and probably won't as I have my usual crazy Tuesday schedule and Hélène Cixous tonight (more on that later). Although the schedule for the program will be irregular for a while, it will be an on-going series.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Not My Job

As I sit here regretting that I ever volunteered myself to take a group of students to London next month and dealing with all the endless details that go with it, I realise it's part of an overall sense of exhaustion that's making me pull back from things I really don't need to be doing. Among them:

Correcting someone online who names the wrong group as performer of a 60s pop song;

Pointing out to someone (again, online) that when Hamlet says something is "a consummation devoutly to be wished" he is talking about death and oblivion;

Arguing with someone (on yet another online list) that pro-2nd amendment sites may not be the most "fair and balanced" sources re: gun control.

I do have work to be doing, yet it is also a gorgeous Earth Day and the temptation is to be outside ignoring all this work. Maybe it's just time to remind myself again that I don't have to do everything, I don't have to be responsible for everybody and ignorance is my job only in the classroom. I don't like to see it elsewhere, but sometimes I just have to let it go. It's the law of diminishing returns, and besides, no one else cares about these things. Think of it as trying to avoid becoming too much like Bottom.

I don't have to play all the parts just because I have ideas for them. I do not need to say, "Take pains; be perfect: adieu." Instead, let us say, "take pains, but be reasonable, be seeing you."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Blow on a Bruise

Campuses across the country are reeling still from the worst gun massacre in the country (the horror is that we must add a silent "so far"). We struggle to understand, stagger to find there were people we had met (the world gets smaller and smaller) and try, in vain, to understand. All those lives, those lights cut short -- and the call for anger, for vengeance, for sorrow. Sanctimonious leaders ask us to pray while they close their eyes to legislation that might make it a little more difficult for a troubled person to amass an arsenal without flags being raised. Instead they'll continue to leech rights from the innocent, all in the name of protecting us, as they have done for the last six year, and the numbing pain continues.

This incident has particular repercussions for those of us in the education field -- yes, particularly those of us in English Departments, and even more, those who teach creative writing. One of the shooter's fellow classmates posted his writings -- a highly suspect thing to do regardless of one's honorable motives -- and there was a deluge of comments about how clear it was that he was disturbed and his teachers were negligent in not recommending him for counseling (the latter not true).

Ridiculous: shall we lock up anyone who writes horror novels and films with their "really twisted, macabre violence"? Let's get Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez behind bars now! Here's the thing -- and it's a little thing called imagination. It has a lot of power. But power can be used for any aim. I had a student in one creative writing course who wrote macabre horror where she killed her boss over and over in imaginative ways. It was a good outlet for dealing with a boss who treated her with disdain in a job she could not afford to lose. Imagination has the power to help us transcend the pain and loss of our lives. We need to use it, not hound it out of existence.

The world is not a safe place; the world will never be a safe place. Let's not hide behind our locked doors, regulate every inch of our bodies and live in festering darkness. Honor those who are gone with light and hope.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Water Foul

Hey -- our basement's flooded so the hot water heater's pilot has been put out. Our landlord's down there now (I'm sure it's just how he pictured his Sunday night) snaking out the drain to see if it will clear the water. All the rain flowing down our hill in its search for the Hudson decided to make a detour and flood us. At least it can only get a few inches high before pouring out the door and toward the road (and better yet, that the furnace is above water level, so we have heat). Looks like a job for Kuan Yin!

The good news is I got a call from Laurel who had called me last week from the ICU to say she was going to miss PCA. Relieved to know that she's much improved and sounds like her usual self. I cheered her by saying that her tale even beat out the panelist who came late to her session, apologizing with "I was hit by a truck."

Life's a dangerous thing.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Give it up for Lent!

One of the pleasures of this year's PCA was presentation of the Interplanetary Journal of Comic Art to its inspiration, international comics scholar John Lent. While I couldn't attend myself (due to chairing another panel at the same time, argh!) everyone took pictures of Gene and Wendy presenting the posters (including one of the back cover by Ralph Steadman [fan girl moment, "I'm in a book with Ralph Steadman!"]) and the festschrift to John, who was apparently touched almost beyond words. When I saw him shortly after he was still sparkling with joy. His wife Ying said that he stayed up late that night reading it cover to cover. Comics folks from around the world contributed to this hilarious book in honor of the man who really forged a trail in comics scholarship. Kudos to Mike Rhode for doing all the hard work of coordination, editing and whip cracking over the slow contributors.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prose at the Rose

I taped (er -- digitized, I guess) my first espisode of a new show that will appear on Saint Rose's Internet Radio Station. While it doesn't get access to the traditional airwaves, it will be accessible anywhere on the 'net. I'll let you all know when it is up. We do have a logo! I need to get a blurb written for Fred Antico, my colleague in Communications, but soon it will be live.

And you'd be surprised at the other luminaries in the Saint Rose ether...


We didn't hear until this morning -- the world is a poorer place without his singular voice. Which was the first book for me? Maybe Slaughterhouse Five, maybe Sirens of Titan, but surely Breakfast of Champions was my introduction to the post-modern before I knew there was a name for it. I remember Emfinger writing in my high school yearbook, "Always read Vonnegut!" or something along those lines (along with all the other incendiary opinions we shared). One piece of advice I have always heeded over the years. Sigh. So it goes...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Beer and Loathing at PCA

We were somewhere around Boylston on the edge of the deserted streets when the doubts began to take hold. There were no huge bats swooping and screeching and diving around us, but we had definitely taken a wrong turn. We knew for sure when our pints of Guinness arrived in 12 oz plastic cups. The waitress said "we ran out of mugs," and I expected her to suddenly turn into a vomiting green-hued lizard, but no such luck. We had decided to sally forth to find an alternative to the hotel bar, whose $11 martinis and flowing beer welcomed us the night before, but looted our pockets, too. Besides there was the piano player whose repertoire included bizarre choices like Paul McCartney's "Every Night" that left its mark in my brain for three more days, repeating helplessly the inane chorus, "ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo, ooo ooo, ooo ooo," like a tape loop from the depths of Gehenna.

Our first attempt, however, landed us in what looked like a promisingly inexpensive dive but instead featured plastic beer cups and music that proved deadeningly moronic in its assault. Rabbitting away as soon as the first round was consumed, we reeled around the corner to the more welcoming wooden warmth of Charley's and settled in for more amenable surroundings, the promised beer and the occasional spit-take brought on by just a little too much silliness. Lingering until last call, we had plenty of time to chat with old friends and get to know some new ones. We intrepid few, still wandering abroad afterward sidled over to King's because Miss Wendy was craving some food. She and I had gone to breakfast at Thornton's so we kind of skipped lunch (not to mention playing hooky afterward to go to the Brattle Book Shop) and there had been no real time for dinner. When we finally got back to our hotel around 2 am, our neighbors were having a loud party. Hurrah -- and I had a 7 am meeting to go to. Consequently a little dim and punchy the next morning, but there was a breakfast service with lots of tea, fruit and pastries, so I slowly woke up and recovered some semblance of humanity.

The conference went very well -- about 800 panels over four days. Not a howler in my area, which is always good to see. I checked out some of the comics panels, one horror panel (yawn) and couple of other things, but with so many panels in the area I run (Medieval Popular Culture) there wasn't as much free time as I have had in the past. I had to miss the sword fighting demonstration that I had set up with the help of Amy West of the Higgins Armory Museum because it was opposite one of Gene's presentations, but I suppose it's better to have an abundance of riches. Or so I tried to think as I spent the day grading papers after stretching out the conference to stay at Wendy's Saturday night and Robert's last night (mmmmm, tasty tapas!), so that we finally got home this morning to Kipper's voluble delight.

Three weeks to the next conference -- what was all that noise I made about doing less?

Next: the mind-bending experience that was the Korvac panel...

Publication: Up Against the Wall 6

(When's the last time I let a week go by without a post?! Blame lies on the narrow shoulders of the Midtown Hotel, whose internet service did not in fact work.) I have two reviews in the latest issue of Up Against the Wall, Phil Nutman's magazine of pop culture with teeth. Enjoy -- and yes, there'll be a recap of Boston later (maybe even today).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Oxford: City of Aquatint

Let me get a few of the pictures up if nothing else (Radcliffe Camera pictured above), so you can share a little of the beauty of this medieval center of learning. Oxford and Cambridge were the first universities in England; Chaucer's "Clerk of Oxenford" would likely have learned his trivium and quadrivium and gone into the priesthood. Nowadays, the beauties of Christ Church College at Oxford (below left)are primarily known as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.

The time I happened to be there, it was also host to the Oxford Literary Festival (which is how I saw Philip Pullman). But it will always be the home of Alice and Lewis Carroll also. You never know when you might come across just the right rabbit hole (this one found in Christ Church meadow).

As you wander around town, there are endless beauties to see -- in fact, there are endless grotesques, too, which for some of us is at least as much fun. I took a lot of pictures of them (naturally) but this travelogue will have to be spread out over several days, so here's one to start on. If I recall correctly (uh oh, already forgetting where I took what picture) these rams come from St. Mary the Virgin's church.