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.