Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facebook Philanthropy & Mediocre Mush

My latest column for BitchBuzz contemplates whether Web 2.0 is a failure. I know, I know -- I am a real booster of Web 2.0 interactivity and trying to get people on line, but the results can be disappointing when that pack mentality gets transferred to the digital world:

Has Web 2.0 failed?

It's supposed to be the break-through moment, when the web frees us of our chains and allows children to hold hands across the world and sing songs—at least virtually.

More people are online than ever: Facebook is the single biggest time suck out there for people with computers and more sign up for Twitter every day. You can sit down to your keyboard and have the world at your fingertips.

But not everyone thinks this is working out for the best. The Guardian interviewed web guru Jaron Lanier this week, who was talking about his new manifesto, You are Not a Gadget. This self-described digital optimist was one of the earliest promoters of the possibilities of the web, but now he finds it mired in a kind of "digital Maoism" that flattens the efforts of the truly inspired into monotonous product and noise...

As usual, read the rest at BBHQ and if you have time, leave a comment (or share it on your blog or Facebook, or retweet it). Help get the buzz going.

I'm hoping to get my own buzz going -- keep your fingers crossed that I will be off on spring break today. With the weather, I'm not so sure. I'm supposed to fly out at 6pm tonight. Let's see if that happens...

By the by, Happy Birthday, Pirate Bob :-)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jane Quiet Moves!

Yes, obvious parallels to "Garbo talks!" will strike a handful of film buffs (and likely no one else), but here's the latest Jane Quiet fun stuff, courtesy of Elena's playful skills and her son Doozie's music:

Half snow day today; yeah, that's going to be effective. Surely my afternoon students will come in for the end of The Lion in Winter. Oh, irony of that name, eh?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Punch Prognostication of Lady Gaga

Cited on page 147 of D. J. Taylor's Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Ageis mention of a Punch Magazinepiece from April 1929 called "The Dull Young People" which Taylor calls a "labored parody" of the sparkling folk. But the description made me laugh out loud:

Here Punch's correspondent is escorted by "Lady Gaga" to an entertainment hosted by "the Honorable Batsin Belfry" and her husband "Bobo." Arriving at "a little house in Bloomsbury" ablaze with light, the couple fight their way to the dining room, over whose door hangs a sign reading WE'RE ALONE. RUN IN FOR YOUR RUM. Here Bobo, in maritime gear, dispenses drinks to a "perspiring mob of boys and girls in rather too elaborate fancy-dress, most of the latter showing a curiously unoriginal preference for trousers."

"For all its heavy-handedness, this is a rather accurate take on the Bright Young People's ambience," Taylor asserts.

But what of Lady Gaga?! Punch predicted it, eh? Having a nice private chuckle about it, too. I'm trying to get a copy of the piece via ILL. We shall see how much Lady Gaga there is...

Of course the book's due tomorrow; I haven't had time to read much of it. I got it after I was inspired by writing a story set in Jazz Age London, but I didn't ever quite get caught up in it. I found this passage by accident as I flipped through the remainder. Luck, eh?

Friday, February 19, 2010


You may have noticed a new box on the right to sign up for my newsletter. This will give you updates on my appearances and publications, and nothing else! I promise not to involve you in pyramid schemes or real estate dodges. I will however offer you freebies, beginning with the story "Tangled Up in Some Sort of Cerulean Hue" -- a mash-up of Dylan lyrics gone slightly askew and Marlowe's Faust that appeared in a small literary magazine and thus, difficult to obtain. Once you've joined the group, you'll find it under "Files" on the main page.

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The group is run through Google groups. While it may be easier to manage if you have a Google account already, that is not required. You send your email and then it sends you a confirming email (which sometimes gets caught in your spam filter, so check there if you don't receive one fairly quickly). So join the Cult of Kaity (thanks again, QoE) and enjoy the fresh citrus flavour!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BitchBuzz: The Worth of Women's Words

My latest column for BitchBuzz was inspired by a random confluence of things -- or, if you don't believe in coincidence, a surprising (to me) confluence of wyrd. Love the image from the Gagosian exhibit on J.G. Ballard's Crash, Douglas Gordon's Self-Portrait of You and Me (Jayne Mansfield) from 2007:

Somehow a weird collision of events sparked a realisation for me - or really it was a reaffirmation, I suppose.

When you add together the narrow escape from tragedy dramatised in Lone Sherfing's An Education, the inescapable tragedy that was the University of Alabama in Huntsville shooting and the head-scratching success story of mixmaster/plagiarist Helene Hegemann - "There’s no such thing as originality anyway, there’s only authenticity" - with the news that social media supposedly means big opportunities for women, you get an equation with a solution so convoluted that Schrödinger's cat just hid in the litter box.

The internet -- and not coincidentally, social media -- are supposed to take away the stigma of gender assumptions by allowing us to relate immediately without that bow in the hair or tie around the neck.

Read the rest at BBHQ as always -- help spread the word by sharing it on Facebook or Twitter or with links on your own blog.

If you're in Albany, the last showing of An Education is today: I recommend you go see it. Yeah, sure -- it will depress you, but you'll have a greater appreciation for the power of education particularly if you are a woman. Not that it doesn't slam the bland world of standardised education, too. When Emma Thompson's headmistress tells Jenny that there are alternatives for her future, "It doesn't have to be teaching. There's always the Civil Service," you do share her dumbfounded outrage.

I have a potentially unpleasant meeting this afternoon. Wish me luck. I will either come away with less work to do or with a renewed level of support. So win-win once I get there, I think. Still trying to catch up from being sick; much to do before spring break which is coming up in a week (for me).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where's My Pancakes?

It's Shrove Tuesday -- where are my pamcakes?!

I shouldn't have a Tuesday that's this crazy but I do, so forgive the brevity of this post. Monday was a whirlwind, too, but that's kind of expected. This morning I woke up to an email with a contract for the short story "Lachrymae Draconis" and in a few minutes I'm giving a talk with my pal Jenise about our team teaching experience to encourage other faculty to take the plunge and then I get back in time to record (finally!) a new episode of Prose at the Rose with the fabulous Jackie Kessler, who'll be reading from her new novel Hunger. Then it's the required "staff meeting" at my favourite pub, Mahar's and then I'm grabbing a drink later tonight with Catherine to celebrate Mardi Gras and tenure :-)

-- and prepare for tomorrow's classes in there somewhere and do a dozen administrative things that I have somehow let drop until now...

Need as many arms as Durga!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: The Wolfman

I had planned to write this yesterday until sidetracked by other news. I managed to catch the first matinee at the Spectrum (oh, how lucky to have the Spectrum!) and had a small crowd with which to see it, as it's not the usual fare of that venue.

The short review: it was fun! I enjoyed it immensely and not always ironically ;-)

The filmmakers really tried to capture the Universal monsters feel albeit with swanky CGI, speedy camera movement and a whole lot of gore. There was so much digital fidgeting that the settings looked as fake as an Universal set. You would think that in a film with an historical consultant (and a tarot consultant, Shakespeare consultant [really want to see del Toro's Hamlet!] and Siekh consultant) someone would have mentioned that you don't blow out oil lamps, but simply turn the wick down. Facts -- phht!

The cast was excellent; I think the director's charge to Benicio del Toro was simply, "Okay, now SMOULDER!" He was very subdued at the start, as was Anthony Hopkins throughout. Yes, I know, you were expecting scenery chewing, but Sir Tony really kept his cool. Never raised his heart rate ;-) And I think they were surprisingly clever and insightful as they developed the answers to the "del Toro is Hopkins' son?" question quite admirably.

Of course it's always surprising for a young man to find that his brother was about to marry Queen Victoria; poor Emily Blunt was "the Girl" or more precisely for this film, "the sexual enticement" because that's what The Wolfman is all about. In the usual oversimplification of the past that inevitably happens in films, the Victorian-era sexuality repressed becomes lycanthropy (I love when Blunt pages through the coincidentally handy Big Book of Weird with a serious expression, researching lycanthropy).

Yes, it's another Movie with 1 Woman: this film is all about dangerous masculinity on the loose. Sure Geraldine Chaplin takes over the gypsy crone role made famous by Maria Ouspenskaya with more make-up and less panache, but she's just there to supply facts -- as is the pub owner's wife. No, it's all about the sexual temptation. There's a great scene where del Toro breaks out in sweat just glancing the little bit of skin that peeks out from Blunt's collar.

Unbridled masculinity -- it's a monster!

Think about it -- when the wolfman changes, he gets all hairy and things...grow. He sprouts long hard nails, he loses all reason and gets all violent. It's Super Bowl Sunday all over again.

There's a whole Englishing to the script that's meant to heighten the sense of emotional and sexual repression, but it's so self-conscious and over the top that you practically expect the Inspector to greet the first killing scene with "Here's a howdy-do!" I did laugh out loud when they said his name (yes, I was the only one to do so) but it was a nice link, though they could have done a little more with it. Ditto the silver cane. I loved that they started with the rhyme as a headstone; fun. Loved the London scenes, especially the Wolfman astride the griffin, howling.

That's all I can do in a spoiler-free review; more to say when some of you have seen it, which I do recommend.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yes, it's true

I am an Associate Professor of English with tenure.


Saint Margaret

From the Cloisters, statue of Saint Margaret of Antioch: Like most of the early Christian virgin martyrs, she was secretly faithful and it was only when a Roman bigwig wanted to marry her that she ran into trouble because she refused him, and in public, too. Roman bigwigs hate that. She was tormented by a demon, but she got the better of him, because when he turned into a dragon and swallowed her, she made the sign of the cross and presto! She popped out of a dragon's belly and thus became the patron saint of childbirth. The demon who was left behind she threw down and held with her foot until he cried "uncle!" and gave away all his secrets. Her suitor tortured her but Margaret refused to give in. Finally he had her beheaded and she died, though she managed to convert a lot of people in the process.

Saints and zombies -- beheading will do them both in. You can always tell the difference, though: saints always smell good. Medieval texts always describe them as being accompanied by a wonderful scent, flowers and spices. Information to file away: you're welcome.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

BitchBuzz: Hate Valentine's Day? Blame Chaucer!

My latest column for BitchBuzz dips into the medieval history of Valentine's Day celebrations. I know some people think they're a bit excessive, but even in the Middle Ages there were a lot of fairly ridiculous beliefs about the nature of love:

Hallmark and Cadbury might seem to have a lock on the holiday now, but Valentine's Day celebrations can be traced directly to Geoffrey Chaucer. While the feast day of the martyred Roman saint gives the occasion its name, Geoff was the guy with the bright idea to tie it to romance.

Saint Valentine himself was priest who may have married Christian couples at a time when Christianity was persecuted (or not – he shows up on a fifth century list of martyrs whose acts were known "only to God") but he got a slot on the liturgical calendar.

In "The Parliament of Fowls" Chaucer sets Valentine's Day as the day when the birds gather together to find their mates. He opens with a sigh, "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne" – that craft of course being the practice of Love. In his usual manner, Chaucer portrays himself as someone who knows of Love only from books, but in his dream he meets Venus and observes as Nature oversees the pairing off of the birds into nice heterosexual couples...

As always, you can read the rest over at BBHQ. I've been a bit quiet; trying to catch up form being sick. It's always a tad overwhelming to suddenly find your email inbox chock full of folks waiting for a response. One or two other dispiriting things this week reminding me just how petty people can be. That's life, right? Instead remember the good things: Peter Cook, loud punk music, pie, friends, John Donne's poetry.

Pity about Alexander McQueen -- how sad.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where are my Minions?

After a week of being ill and getting next to nothing done, I am feeling the pinch. So much email has piled up in my inbox that I feel quite harried and I've taken the extraordinary measure of not giving my students any homework this week so far (awful, I know). It is days like this that make me wonder why I try to do so much, but then again, I know why. Because when I'm not ill, my head is so full of ideas that I can hardly keep my skull from popping open. They all want to get out and be real, like little Pinocchios.

The ideas are wonderful: it's the tedious things that get me frustrated. All those things that could be done by somebody who is not me -- typing, filing, mailing, sorting. If I had more money, I would pay someone else to do those tasks. My most recent payment for my writing, however, won't buy much more than lunch. Thus I remain minion-free -- and all the ideas that might bring me a better royalty payments have to wait until the more pressing but less inspiring tasks are done.

On the plus side, one editor called my work "dazzling" this week and another made reference to my "fan base" (!), so there are some (intangible, unpaid) benefits. After reading Chris Anderson's Free, I'm still contemplating the impact of the abundance of free content on the web and how it's turning the publishing world upside down. It's going to take some time for it to all shake out. Exciting times we live in -- full of confusion and frustration, sure, but also brand new opportunities.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Purely Medicinal

A lovely gift arrived from my friend Chloë in Switzerland:

Quite decadent, eh? Especially since I managed to get my codeine cough syrup in the background as well. What every writer needs (except I've done little writing this week). She sent dark chocolate with hazelnuts, too! Why is it so difficult to get good chocolate at a reasonable price in the States? Why do people settle for the awfulness of Hershey's?

Slowly getting better; still coughing a lot but not as much. The codeine has certainly made it possible to sleep (yes, even with the squirrels still dancing about overhead). My already high daily tea quotient has gone up even higher this week. I hate being sick; I don't seem to get anything done. But maybe I need sleep more.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

BitchBuzz: Facebook Crowded?

My latest column at BitchBuzz is up, about the effects of Facebook's enormous size and attempts to wrangle that power:

Sure, I can understand that the estimated 300 million people on Facebook are going to create a hubbub that makes it increasingly difficult to be heard and I'm not going to point fingers at number 299 millionth person (when it was really the 718,543rd one anyway, I'm looking at you, Edith). Nonetheless, the strains of this enormous size have become apparent.

It may be the codeine for my sinusitis talking (mmm, codeine — as close as the average person ever gets to laudanum, that nectar of the Romantic poets), but those crowds of newbies have begun to suck the life out Facebook...

As ever, read the rest over at BBHQ. Of course, it's not really about the new folks -- after all, it's the new folks who keep FB alive. It's about what I suspect is a rather ham-fisted attempt to manipulate FB's legions.

I wasn't even sure I would write a column this week: I have been truly sick. I finally broke down and went to the doctor, mostly because I thought the cold had turned out to be bronchitis and that takes so long to get rid of. Instead it turns out to be acute sinusitis, which seems to mean a wild inflammation of the ears, nose and throat, eliciting mutterings of "oooh, that's not good" with every look the doc took. Now I have antibiotics and codeine cough syrup, which I credit with finally really sleeping for the first time last night.

Sleep deprivation is a debilitating thing; it was the coughing mostly that kept me awake. The muscles in my lower back and diaphragm ache from all the coughing. I felt as if I were auditioning for the part of Beth or at least Camille.

I didn't teach at all this week, which is very weird. Much to catch up -- yes, of course I gave them assignments, but it's not the same. I am definitely feeling better, though still coughing and still finding concentration difficult. I left a brand new package of envelopes and my address labels at the post office the other day. D'oh! Oh well.

I got some videos from the library while I was out: the latest BBC version of Wuthering Heights (fun), Hamlet 2 (no fun) and the two-disk version of Valley of the Dolls, the camp classic. The extras are wonderful! There's some contemporary footage of the cruise ship that went from the Venice premiere to the Los Angeles one. The early days of showbiz TV reporting were quite awkward and self-conscious. Even better was the doco on Susann herself, transferred directly from bad tape. What a fascinating woman -- I learned half of what I know about promo from her bio. The clothes, the hair -- no contemporary recreation of the 60s captures the real look of that time (impossibly high hair!). Best bit was Susann talking with a radio critic who was just livid about her "dirty book". She merely laughed at him and said, "You shock easily."

Happy birthday, Russell Hoban!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My Symptoms

All right, the latter is not a symptom so much as what I heard as I woke up about every half hour through the night unable to breathe. There are at least two squirrels in the attic who show not the slightest interest in the trap.

I would be in bed, but I need toilet paper, tissues, cold medicine and to mail a bunch of comic books (yay!). The piece at Coilhouse has brought us some new interest, as perhaps has the latest wardrobe for Jane :-)

When I return, more British comedy and weepy films. Why don't I have more Garbo?