Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The future -- now! "Out of this World" indeed; it's great to find how many airports are using their spaces to give a little break to travelers who see the same industrial, utilitarian surfaces in every airport across the world. Better art than garish ads (although in the Albany one I noticed there's an ad featuring a former student of mine [yes, of course, it's Omar, it will always be Omar, it may well be until he's about 100 years old, even though he's already graduated]).

Giant robot, giant comics panel -- lovely.

Space Angel is good enough, but what about the bright yellow Dalek?! Wonderful!

Lovely little rocket cars -- don't you just want one?

Ray guns -- how cool!

As you can see, the phone tends to wash out pictures in bright light, but this was part of the wall that had the giant WEIRD TALES etc covers blown up big so you could admire them as you were whisked by on the futuristic moving sidewalks.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More SF Pix

The plush bike -- how could I resist? This was right around the same block where the drag queen complimented my outfit. Seal of approval, check!

I loved all the warning signs about the dangers of parking on the streets of SF, which at times reach close to 45 degrees up Knob Hill (really!).

If the light had been better, you could see the Golden Gate between the tall buildings (trust me on this).

The TransAmerica Building from California Street.

A cable car goes up Powell Street with Alcatraz in the background.

Adrean and Michelle linger in the comfortable gloom of Foley's.

Frankie waves with a pint in hand.

Johnny Foley's Irish House ("Time for a pint!") with the top of Skipper Bill's head.

Lobby of the Hotel Whitcomb, seen from the bar, where the statue has adjusted to seeing the omnipresent Starbucks logo 24/7.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

SF Pix

The Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park -- gorgeous!

Among the seemingly endless "Don't" signs at the Botanical Gardens was one demanding you not feed the squirrels; however, coming up to a huge cypress tree we were suddenly surrounded by a herd of squirrels all of whom clearly expected to be fed, but we remained obdurate, instead trying to snap pictures of them which did not appease the little rodents in the least.

The DeYoung Museum from the fountain between it and the Academy of Sciences, both of which were completely booked due to it being the Saturday after Xmas -- a fact which had eluded us and hundreds of others who sought admission.

The Conservatory of Flowers

Haight-Ashbury: just as you pictured it, eh?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Xmas Pix

Murray on the tree top

Xmas Chicken (Robert wouldn't hold it still)

Fine plate o' Xmas cookies (nice work, boys)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Happy

Xmas Eve

Well, we'll be off to Robert's this afternoon (AKA land of dial-up connection, no no no!) so I likely won't be posting tomorrow at all, so happy Christmas to all of you who celebrate it. Friday I'm off to San Francisco for MLA, so there will doubtless be lots to say, especially seeing Adrean for the first time in several years.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Live Blogging MLA

Because I always need one more thing to do: I'm going to be live blogging MLA, the Modern Language Association conference. Many of you know that this is the biggest conference in the language and literature fields. It's not only the place for papers deemed to be cutting edge, it's also the place where the majority of academic job interviews in the field will be done. In fact, that's why I have to be there this year (well, I'm also member of an executive committee): we're interviewing a bunch of candidates for our department.

The catch is that I will be blogging anonymously because this is for a site that takes a critical (and often somewhat humorous) view of academic life. So I can't tell you where I'm blogging. It will certainly make MLA more entertaining for me, because I'll be looking for material (and there's always so much).

Well, I also get to hang out with Adrean, so there's plenty to balance the weighty responsibility of interviewing people (argh, how did I get put in a position of responsibility?), which after all is shared with my colleague, Kim (so there's someone to share the blame ;-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Figuring things out

I've been skimming through Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. In the midst of the chapter "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2" suddenly so much seems plain, particularly when I look at the way people behave in academia. Despite all my years spent in that realm, I retain an uneasy feeling of having one foot in and one foot out of it. It's an obvious thing, but one I didn't connect to behavior. Gladwell argues, for example, that the difference between two geniuses, Oppenheimer (you've heard of him) and Chris Langan (you probably haven't heard of him), really comes down to class and culture:

That was the lesson Langan learned from his childhood: distrust authority and be independent... He didn't learn entitlement. He learned constraint. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a crippling handicap in navigating the world beyond Bozeman [his hometown]. (110)


Thanks, TjZ, for the link to the great picture! Yuletide is here, the longest night just passed and the light beginning its journey of return. For us it's meant more snow -- it was falling long before I got up. Not that I have to be anywhere, but the more difficult it is to get around, the more you itch to do so.

As the Wife of Bath might say:

We wommen han if that I shal nat lye,
In this matere a queynte fantasye;
Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have,
Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.
Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;
Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we fle.

Her only mistake, of course, was thinking it's only women who feel this. It's human nature to want what is forbidden or difficult to obtain. The anxiety of the season -- holidays and winter both -- tends to exacerbate these longings what with the stresses of gift-giving, gift receiving and too much indulgence of every kind. Deep breath -- winter's just beginning, but the light has begun its return. Hope can't be far behind, eh?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Podcast: The Flea

I forgot to mention the latest podcast, my reading of John Donne's "The Flea" -- always a fave. Donne was witty and inventive. He could write with heartfelt love -- or lust -- and in the end found a troubled sense of faith. Great stuff.

Oh, look at the snow coming down -- it's not going to stop for a while, is it? Sigh. At least we don't have to do any shoveling, but I think it's going to be a mess for a while.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Birthday Odyssey

The birthday week unfolded: Sunday friends gathered at WTs for drinks and cake (no, Gene, no one was fooled by your going off to the restroom -- and taking your jacket). It was fairly quiet (amazingly enough) and I wasn't facing any of the televisions, so that was good. Thanks to all who came out.

The actual birthday day was a bit more quiet, but I was inundated by kindly wishes via the internet. It's wonderful that while I can't afford to be a jet-setter, I can be a net-setter and at least virtually visit my far-flung friends. Sigh. Must win the lottery one of these days to provide that private jet and chauffeured car.

After a good bit of time on the computer, I balanced a bunch of boxes all the way to the post office -- after picking up my own mail which had more birthday cards -- and then trotted over to Central Ave and Tom Spaulding's Tattoo Studio. Tom's place had been recommended to me by local friends. It's certainly a very friendly place (with wifi too!).

Tom himself did the work. He's a second-generation tattoo artist. He had artwork from his father's studio up on the wall, vintage stuff from the 40s and 50s -- very cool. He's also a big movie buff, so we watched Ray while he was working, although we ended up chatting a lot as well.

Tom took the rough image I brought -- a xerox of a black feather, with corrective fluid turning it into a magpie's wing feather -- and turned it into something really beautiful after listening to my inarticulate explanation. I'm very happy with the image!

Gene and I had dinner at Café Madison, where I enjoyed the 1108 Strip and Gene had the Dijon. Both were marvelous, of course, and there was also the fantastic bread they make every day, too. Yum! Best of all, I have the leftovers for lunch today!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fresh Ink

Another Year Older

...but no deeper in debt, really. Sharing a birthday drink with Tommy Steele, Eugene Levy, Bill Pullman and Mike Mills, it appears. No idea what I'll be doing today as everyone is away or busy. Doubtless I'll find some way to occupy the hours.

Hey, I could write!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jane

Get your Jane on: be devastatingly witty in a gentle tone so no one feels the knife's blade. Who but a genius could invent the delightful Henry Tilney and Elinor Dashwood?

From Austen's pen:

"I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive."

"People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them."

"There are people who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves."

"A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Sometimes you just need something like this: George singing to you with giant toys -- what could be better? We've had freezing rain that has delayed my last final and (of course) made it conflict with other things so I won't see all of my favorite class on the last day of the term. Oh well, "all I have to be, is to be happy."

If only the director had gone with the wacky Georgeness, instead of trying to make him seem earnest. George was funny. They should have made more of that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Have you? (AKA 99 Things to Do)

Meme picked up from Marja-Leena (thanks!):
Bold the ones you have done.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped (never!)
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea (does Lake Michigan count?)
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (despite living in NY)
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France (maybe next time)
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb (piglets!)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors (in Finland)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (midway, it was closed)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie

56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (can't)
65. Gone sky diving (no way!)
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square (repeatedly)
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London (going to London for 28 years but no)
77. Broken a bone (toe)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (does the Douay-Rheims count? Well, still haven't read it all)
86. Visited the White House (outside)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

Odd list -- I would add things like "fallen in love" or "betrayed someone" or "walked in a desert (or rainforest or glacier)" or "climbed Macchu Picchu" or "stayed up all night" -- I don't know. It's very Euro-centric -- what about "been to India, Egypt, New Zealand or Australia" or "experienced a hurricane" or "seen a dead body not in a coffin" or "kept a secret for more than a year."

A lot of these, who cares? But it's interesting to see what adds up to the experiences of our lives.

No Krampus!

Well, this is phenomenally bad timing, but just in time for the holiday season I regret to announce that we have sold out of the Krampus chapbooks! I have had to refund Paypal payments. Will there be a second print run? Yes, if we can figure out a better way to do it. I want to do full justice to Joey's terrific artwork.

The first printing were all hand-assembled chapbooks and I went to a lot of printers all around Houston to find a way to afford making the gorgeous red covers and two-color lettering. I hate to have this go the way of Three Penny Dreadfuls, however, and will find some way to get it back in print in an affordable form. I'd also like to see the cover re-scanned and colored better. We had relatively 'primitive' technology at the time and we can do it justice now, but there's a backlog of work to get through first. As little Joe says, "Next year!" for sure.

In the meantime, please enjoy the podcast version of this seasonal poem.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


A moment of idleness finds me -- done teaching and finals aren't until Thursday and Friday. Of course I have a billion things to do that have piled up for various reasons, but I can actually draw breath for a moment and reflect on how to fill my one month break with a massive load of work.

Of course, a lot of it is already filled with holiday celebrations and travel (have to go to MLA to interview candidates for my department), so there might actually be about two weeks "free" -- and yes, today I already need to use to order my spring texts (long overdue), catch up on web updates for a couple of organizations, schedule some interviews for Prose at the Rose, and oh, about a million other things.

Naturally, I'm instead thinking about Twitter and its effect on blogging. Seems like every one is "so over" blogs. Twitter, for those of you who don't recognize the Fail Whale, is microblogging. You have a limit of 140 characters to blip your thoughts. Suits a lot of people who have things to say, but don't ramble on like your average blogger (e.g. moi). There's also Facebook, of course, which allows people to waste as much time as they do on MySpace but without all the hideously ugly clutter and endless ads.

All of which makes me wonder how much time I ought to be investing in blogging -- is it worth doing anymore? Especially with three blogs (since I am a glutton for punishment), I'm beginning to sense a law of diminishing returns. Part of this is the lack of interaction here (i.e. few comments but spam), but I'm also thinking about these issues for the conference next June and the grad class in the spring where we'll be exploring the effects of new media and Web 2.0 interfaces.

I just don't know. Given my obsessive need to write, it's always good to have an outlet, but I'm beginning to think I'm a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. I'm no Stephen Fry after all.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Snow Bloom

The wee Christmas cactus (a cutting from Robert's bigger one) is blooming big time. Here it is perched on the window sill with the wombat, the dusting of snow visible below (tried for a close-up which did not work so well). That's all the winter we need. If only there were a steaming mug of hot chocolate next to it!

The planter is a vintage PanAm wine glass (cracked unfortunately!), courtesy of our pal Peter Williamson, avid pilot (Hi Peter & Pat & Aaron!). Yes, it's from back in the day when they used glass on airplanes. Now we can't even be trusted with cutlery.

UPDATE: Impromptu winter nature walk with pal Peg Aloi today -- pictures here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

When Little Joe the Krampus Met

Hop on over to Radio Wombat for the latest podcast, "When Little Joe the Krampus Met" which is also available in a quieter version as a chapbook if you prefer. Perfect for holiday gifts, unless you want to go totally BISON for the season (and who doesn't?).

It's barely registered with me that it's December already. So much to do -- grading to finish and more to come next week. Lots of other work in between those papers as well. Somehow it will all get done, eh? Isn't that what I always say? Hope I'm right!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bison Power

Inspired by the delicious taste of Zubrowka (the secret? bison grass!), the Queen of Everything came up with these cool designs of weird ideas that we brainstormed together. Show your bison power and support the artists!

Buy items at Cafe Press, too! Na zdrowie!

Conference Acceptance: Great Writing 2009

Just got word that my proposal "140 Characters: Micro-Narrative and New Media" has been accepted for the 12th Annual "Great Writing" international Creative Writing conference at Bangor University (which lies conveniently close to Snowdonia!).

This is, of course, step one in my cunning plan (a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel) to spend all of June in the UK. On to step two!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Publication: Medieval Community

Who knew? My essay on The Black Knight has come out already in LATCH. Feel free to check it out. It was adapted from a paper I gave at Kalamazoo.

Monday, December 01, 2008

London Recap, Part Three: Mmmm, Bacon

Sunday was Bacon day! Over to the Tate Britain in the cold cold drizzle (it always seems to rain when I go over Pimlico way). I had expected wonders from the Rothko exhibit, but I hadn't quite realised how much the Tate had gone all out for Franky Bacon, including a bunch of talks (none while I was there, alas!), study days, a symposium and family events (?!) including "Bend it Like Bacon" where you could try to recreate the figures in the paintings and "Bacon for Begninners" where young artists would look at Bacon's beasties and then create their own. How can you tell it's not an American museum? No, no, not because it's publicly funded. It's because that session was labeled "for under 5 years." Despite the recent panics over knives (admit it, it's a panic), there's still a willingness to let children do scary things WHICH THEY LOVE! I remember it well.

The exhibit is enormous! The layout is odd as you find yourself in cul-de-sacs wondering whether you've reached the end, only to peer around the corner of the room you already went through and find another you haven't seen on the other side. The rooms bear names like "Apprehension" and "Crisis" and "Epic," stark labels that the paintings match. If you only think of Bacon as gaping grimaces and tortured flesh, this exhibit serves as a reminder of all the variations through which Bacon passed and offers many surprises from the 1933 crucifixion which hints at all the early paintings destroyed to the surprising whimsicality of a sudden spray of water which seems to splash right out of the frame among his late work. There is a reel of BBC interviews that show Bacon murmuring with erudition in that silky voice so at odds with the frank violence of much of his work. Wonderful!

Monday I finally made it back to the National Gallery, snapping a bit of Les Grandes Baigneuses as wallpaper for my phone, visiting the Caravaggios and tracing the steps through a portion of the gallery I want to use in a story. A flimsy excuse for a trip to London, but there you are. I checked out the Sisley exhibit, too, which was like a lovely visit to Wales.

Then it was time to head out to Hanwell to visit that talk-of-the-town, London superstar Sophie Brooks and her "entourage" (or you might say, her mum and dad) where as usual I was treated to lots of good food (mmm, thanks Liz!), fun conversation and plenty of dancing by the superstar herself, although the highlight may have been Sophie and Brad's re-enactment of the classic "Duck season! Wabbit season!" dialogue. As always, I got to laze around and enjoy their hospitality and feel at home. Perfect way to end a trip (if it has to come to an end, sigh). Big thanks to my hosts in London for a lovely time -- and aren't they a handsome bunch?

Long day today -- somehow my colleagues and students were not the least bit sympathetic to my moaning about all the work that piled up while I was gone. Sigh.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

London Recap, Part Two: Not dining with Mr Jones

Friday afternoon I hit the Andy Warhol, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" exhibit at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre. The guidebook lists its contents as "21 films, 1 clouds installation, 40 screen tests, 6 videos, 42 tv-episodes, 16 drawings..." and on and on. I'd never really thought about the direct link between Warhol and Capote, but it's impossible to miss here. That shared hunger for absorbing the rich and famous drove them both and, one might predictably say, cost them both a lot, but what's amazing to see in this jumble of time capsules and ephemera as well as the completed work is just how rich a vein they both mined. Rather than a shallow wallow in pursuit of acceptance (not that it wasn't that as well) there's an endless fascination for what fame is and what people will do to achieve it.

The hunger seems to be at an all time high at present, which amazes me. I'd love to be able to make loads of money with my writing, but I'd prefer that people express no interest in the person behind the words (besides, I am incredibly dull, always talking about the blackness of black pudding, for instance -- you would be bored). Warhol had a genius for touching that hunger in others and expressing it in often macabre and funny ways. I'm going to probably write about these exhibits elsewhere, so I won't go into deep detail here, but the surprising things were the tv soap project which was very funny for being little more than bickering, the fun snippets that filled the tv-scape and the simple delight of the Silver Clouds installation -- mostly because there was a window so you could watch other people go through the room. They tended to just push the mylar balloons out of the way and walk into the gift shop (the latter surely the capstone of the exhibit). Playing with the giant balloons was a delight, though.

Saturday was Rothko day at the lovely Tate Modern, my favorite museum. The turbine room was filled with bunk beds and monstrous thingees as part of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's TH 2058, but as many reviews had said, it was better in idea than execution. I liked the giant dino skeleton, the big spider, and immense apple core, but it wasn't quite enough. Scale alone isn't enough (big is big, though). I'm not sure what was missing, but it never really affected emotionally and that's a miss.

How was Rothko? Amazing, utterly amazing. Repetition and variation -- things that obsess me, too -- are keystones of his later work. Immenseness of scale and depth of color -- so many of his paintings had been brought together for the first time. I guess I'm still not ready to write coherently about these works. They're hypnotic. Rothko's paintings strike directly into my subconscious. I don't know many painters like that.

Saturday night I had been invited along to the BFI by my pal Hamilton, where Terry Jones was holding a Q&A after a screening of Holy Grail as part of the Time Out 40th anniversary. While waiting for the film to start we saw Anita Pallenberg and James Fox come out of the screening of Performance that preceded it. Waiting in line for Jonesy was Richard "Moss" Ayoade, who is much taller than I imagined and was sheepishly surrounded swooning girls. We were supposed to be joined by John "No Knuckles" Hind (left in photo), but since he is apparently notorious for always being late, we left his ticket at the box office and found our seats.

It was a delight to see MP&tHG on the big screen and with such an enthusiastic crowd. Peter Greenaway's Dear Phone preceded it and seemed an odd match, but there was a humorous post-modern angle to it, so that's some kind of link, I suppose. Jones complained that there were too few laughs at the end of the film, but the crowd clearly disagreed and enjoyed quizzing him about the film-making process (surprise, Terry Gilliam was a perfectionist even then) and his thoughts about current comedy (he likes Eddie Izzard). We finally caught up with Hind in the cafe afterward, where he told us regretfully that we had missed the chance to tag along to dinner with T Jones (Hind knows him and has a brief cameo in Meaning of Life). Ah, well -- so it goes. Messrs Hind and Hamilton nonetheless made sure that I was adequately entertained until closing time.

Next up: Bacon and Brookses (and back to the National Gallery)...

London Recap, Part One

Now that we're back from Robert's where he treated us in the usual style, i.e. stuffing us silly with good food and drink, I'm finally facing the horror of catching up with all I've neglected while swanning off to London. Is writing it up just another way to avoid work? Oh, let's not think about that.

Despite the new camera, your correspondent is as crap as ever at taking pictures, now complicating this with the additional factor of crap video ('auto-focus' my Aunt Fanny) -- when, of course, she occasionally remembers that she has a camera with her.

Well, let's see -- I took off a week ago Wednesday after teaching my classes and attending a fairly painless faculty meeting. May dropped me off at the airport (thanks!) and there was really no line at all for security, naturally, because I had left plenty of time. Go figure. Once through security I fell into that zen state that airports always invoke: the knowledge that what happens is completely out of your hands until you get to your destination, so why worry. I suppose it applies to the rest of life as well, but I haven't been able to invoke that view consistently -- something to aim for.

Short hop to Philadelphia, leisurely wait there and then a mostly empty flight which featured the worst meal I have ever been served on an airplane. Beet salad -- what possessed them to think a beet salad would appeal to the broad spectrum of coincidental travelers? I can only imagine a very persuasive salesperson in the market that day ("oh, try this recipe, it never fails!"). I was grateful I'd decided to have a turkey wrap a couple of hours before that. I had a whole row to myself and stretched out to get some sleep. Before I knew it, they were bringing breakfast around.

The first day, inevitably, was the struggle to keep jet lag at bay. Walking around just to keep awake, indulging in a beer and a light meal and eventually collapsing at a reasonably late hour. Friday was the day in which things did not go as planned. While I had mostly planned for arty things this time around, I had hoped to catch one play. Top of the list was Ivanov, but the half price ticket booth had nothing but the usual Broadway transfers and the box office's long line was met with the announcement that there was standing room only. At 2 hours and 40 minutes (and after one day of walking around on that ankle) I decided that maybe I didn't really need to see a play that night. There were a couple of other plays I might have considered, but weren't on that night. While having a think, I wandered and decided to drop by the Portrait Gallery since I don't tend to go there as much. I walked in to find that most of the lights had gone out and people were standing around in knots waiting to see if they would come back, while docents were trying to keep kids from retiring to darkened corners. It was kind of interesting to see the gallery plunged into darkness.

I went around the corner to the National Gallery, only to find it surrounded by crowds of people all staring with the aimlessness of the unexpectedly idle. So, no good there either. I sat on the steps of Trafalgar Square for a bit, writing in my travel journal, then took a leisurely walk in the direction of the British Museum, stopping at Quinto and a few other places to browse, but buying nothing (longtime readers will tremble with shock to hear that I purchased only one book the entire week). There was an exhibit on at the BM, 'Statuephilia' which inserted modern sculpture amongst the artifacts. While it gave me a grin to see Damien Hirst's skulls in the old oak cases around the corner from Doctor Dee's scrying mirror, the exhibit also discarded the artificial division between art and artifact. Antony Gormley, whose 'Case for an Angel I' fills the entrance (making me imagine little kids who assume it to be an artifact and so conceive all manner of strange alternative realities) writes that the BM "is a laboratory of possibility for any creative mind." Indeed!

To be continued...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Yes, I'm Back

...but I won't be giving a London recap until we get back from Robert's, where we're heading for Thanksgiving today, because of COURSE he only has dial up (OMG!). Yes, pictures, yes, fun, yes, friends -- much to tell. I will add because I have to get it off my chest:


Eww, eww! Stay away from Terminal F if you can. They had the most disgusting restrooms I have ever seen in a major airport. It was absolutely revolting -- and not just one, because I tried a couple. Ick. Awful. I have to shower now. I may write a letter to the Times about it (not that it will do any good...).

Monday, November 24, 2008

London so far

BT Openinternet is CRAP! Warhol, Rothko, Terry Jones Q&A, Bacon, and more, cold! Thames... The usual and the unusual, but always a great time. Very relaxed and that's the aim, right? Head full of art, ears full of music, face full of smiles. Home with the Brookses, so feet up and well-fed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

London Bound

This afternoon I take off for a trip to London -- a sort of delayed vacation or early birthday present. Only a week, but I will be able to see the Bacon and Rothko exhibits (ergo, it is also a business trip, as I'll be writing those up, possibly for the newly relaunched Up Against the Wall, whoo hoo!) which I have been thinking about with great envy. Why now? Well, I can squeeze in the time now with Thanksgiving coming up, before finals, and before the "break" which this time around includes going to MLA to interview job candidates for our department, then completing several projects that I ought to have gotten to during the fall, but haven't been able to do. I'm getting better about not over-loading myself, but there's still a lot to do if I want to achieve the things I hope to accomplish in this life.

I will try to keep up with at least the occasional tweet or Facebook update. I'll blog if I find a wi-fi hotspot and actually feel like typing for a bit instead of exploring all the cool things going on in London (it could happen). I am actually bringing a camera this time, too!

So, please don't send giant files to my email for the next week (Joey, I'm looking in your direction!) and I'll see if I can send some updates that make you envious -- deal?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Moore!

Hey, It's Snowing!

It's snowing right now -- big old flakes. I forget it's November already. This semester has been crazier and more disorienting than usual. In our department meeting yesterday (a disorienting experience itself) I suddenly found myself unable to remember what month it was. At least I knew it was Monday.

Let's hope the snow doesn't last. I have to fly tomorrow. No delays allowed! I don't think there's too much to worry about, however; it's already slowing. It is pretty though.

Hmmm -- content? How about a bit from Theodore Roethke's "The Far Field" (it's got snow):

I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls,
Churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I glory at the wonder of the internet. I know it is fashionable to pooh-pooh its success, how it's turned us into a world of loafers who would rather interact virtually than actually. I know the tendency is there -- I Twittered about not being able to find my favorite sweater, so I know the trivializing tendency of it all.

But I adore the fact that obsessive-compulsive Stephen Fry follows my tweets as I follow his. I love that I can talk to friends around the world in real time and not always over the phone, because I will always imagine that I am better in print than in person. I love being able to bring up images of obscure medieval things in an instant for my students who have no idea what a wimple is or a rebec. I have more publishing opportunities than ever, because I'm not snobbish about print as "the only way to go". I get news from around the world and see films and hear music that I would never have come across before the internet. I was listening to Robyn Hitchcock sing at the Iron Horse while reading a review of Roy Blount, Jr.'s Alphabet Juice.

I love the lively interaction of languages across the globe and I revel in the ability to find cheap travel and obscure books. My mind is alive with ideas and inspiration right now. Life is good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Willimantic Frogs

The latest podcast is up now at Radio Wombat: The Willimantic Frogs, a new urban legend. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

Heeeeeeeeelp! I still don't know how I did this ....x on TwitPicOf course, this spider isn't deadly, but it looks as if it were! Okay, there's not really a link to my topic, I just thought this picture Stephen Fry posted on Twitter was terrific. He's currently down in Madagascar and if you follow his tweets, you will get some cool photos.

In class today I had my sophomore class do an exercise I have used before, but the results intrigued me because this is one of those quiet classes that seldom speaks. Consequently, they have made a lot of extra work for me to come up with a variety of techniques to get them to engage with the materials, including making them lead the discussion at the start of each day. Not always successful, of course, but at least they get to feel a little empathy (I hope) for my frustrating situation.

The exercise focuses on our reading of Chaucer's Pardoner's Prologue and Tale. The Pardoner is a swindler who not only tells his fellow pilgrims how he swindles people, but tries to do it to them at the end of his tale. That's some chutzpah! In demonstrating his art, he actually offers a moral sermon on the theme Radix malorum est cupiditas, or avarice is the root of all evil (a subject he knows all too well).

In the course of the discussion, we talk about the Seven Deadly Sins, a popular rhetorical tool in the Middle Ages (and beyond: Marlowe gives us a wonderful parade of them in his Doctor Faustus). Then I mention how the Vatican has come up with a new list for our time, modernizing the medieval trope.

Before I show them that list, I ask them to work in pairs and make their own list. I also ask that they provide people in the news to exemplify them. It's always interesting to see what they come up with. I did a version of this just a week or so ago with the freshman medieval class: their major point of concern? Gang violence, for one, which seemed an odd thing to focus on in this relatively safe city (especially for a bunch of mostly small town and suburban kids). They also came up with some of the same concerns as the Vatican, like environmental damage, drugs and excessive wealth.

The sophomores also focused on greed, citing Enron, the oil companies, Hollywood and, perhaps unfairly, Bill Gates, as examples of avaricious wealth. The big thing for them, however, was adultery. I think every single group listed that, citing either Brad Pitt or Bill Clinton (they ran neck and neck throughout). Pity that this seems to be the legacy for Clinton, not that balanced budget and lack of debt that we're all paying for now with the no-tax-but-plenty-spend (AKA après moi, le déluge) practices of the current administration. There was one group who blasted stupidity and named W and Palin as examples, but by far Clinton was a favorite target. Those who named murder as a key sin also mostly named O. J. Simpson as the example. I mentioned that he had been found not guilty in his criminal trial, but they seemed to disregard that detail.

Paris Hilton was the equivalence of conceit for several of them. There was a group that found flashy dressing to be a sin and mentioned a co-worker as an example (too much glitter). One group mentioned rape as well as murder (Ted Bundy and Charles Manson respectively), but on the whole I was struck by their very personal and judgmental focus. There was little perspective on the larger world around them or vision beyond their own immediate concerns.

I always learn from my students, but I don't always like what I learn.