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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in graytreefrog's LiveJournal:

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Monday, July 6th, 2009
3:14 pm
July 6, 2009
Obligatory disclaimer: bitch about movies is NOT all I do.

Nonetheless, I'm deeply curious as to what's going on with our writer friends in Hollywood. Didn't survive the big strike? Conforming to the demands of a schlocky and patriarchal world? Still writing good stuff but having it butchered on the director's edits? Because it is some kind of amazing how many movies this year have fallen down not on the acting, not on the directing, not on the ratio of shootouts and car chases to actual conversation (a perennial problem for which writers have relatively little responsibility) but on the dialogue. Case in point: Public Enemies, which should be named a public enemy in its own right. It had good material to work with (ganstas with historically documented personality, the best era for fashion since the first Elizabeth sent the Armada home to Philip, and all the eye candy any boring straight white girl could ask.) It had Johnny Depp, who was SO wasted on this script. And yet. A few points:

1) Listen, fellow writers: "Bye-bye, Blackbird" is not the dialogue that will make me weep over my months-dead boyfriend. Likewise, "I didn't come to ask you something. I came to tell you something"--I mean, from the the first "something," we can pretty much recite the rest of it unheard.

2) Writers, you might be expected to infer that even in 1933, quite a number of women had not only some brains but the mouth to match. "I grew up in _________. I like baseball, strawberry pop, robbing banks, and you. What else do you need to know?" Dillinger says to his soon-to-be-beloved. Billie Freschette smiles; apparently there's nothing else she needs to know about this self-confessed bank robber with whom she's been acquainted for two hours. Fast-forward to the TreeFrog version, in which Billie retorts, "You've killed some people, and you'll kill more; does that give you any bad nights? Do you hit your girlfriends? Do you actually listen when women talk, or do you call us 'frails' and let it go at that? And since we've only conversed for about ten minutes at this point, are you seeing anything in me besides the pretty face, and if you were, how would either of us know? So you can be in all the hurry you want, Johnny-boy, but, yeah, there's quite a lot I'd like to know." Or, when Billie has been beaten and intimidated until she wets her dress, and the noble Melvin Purvis unties her and says, "The restroom is down the hall," what woman wouldn't point out that it's a bit late now, thanks just the same? But no.

3) Really this one is just #2, redux, but Billie's early point that bank robbers tend to die by violence is very well taken and this film's verification of that premise is foreshadowed with a heavy hand. Why let Dillinger talk her out of what she does in fact know to be true?

4) Writers, or maybe director, I do not doubt that by now you all know Baby-Face Nelson from Pretty-Boy Floyd from Red Hamilton from Homer Van Meter by sight, and by history. I do not doubt that some few geeky souls in the audience share that ability with you, even in lengthy shots with multiple cuts that might best be described as "ill met by moonlight." But the majority of us, we just aren't there. These guys all look much alike, especially by moonlight and with a cut a second. Since there actually is a scene panning across these guys' mug shots, would it have been so hard to make it come early in the film? When it could've helped us out? This might've helped to undercut the overwhelming impression that you're only interested in Dillinger, the personality who is given very little personality in this film.

5)And if this film really deserved two hours and a quarter--which it totally didn't--couldn't some of these other boys have had some backstory and/or personality? Couldn't we actually find out what happened to poor old Hannah? Did she get deported to Rumania after all? (My money is on "yes," but the film never bothers to tell us. The wimmens, they just aren't important unless they're beautiful women showing undying support for rather problematic men. The not-Dillingers? They aren't either. Glad we worked this out.

6) To quote a man with whom I saw this film, "I really need a few episodes before I get invested enough in those lovable sociopaths to care what happens to them. I could give a fuck that Dillinger died and his girl was left All Alone." Well, kind of, yeah. I was invested in Hannibal Lecter from "fava beans and a good Chianti", but his writers wrote him pretty well, in both the book and the screenplay. The imaginary Lecter had a sense of humor and a clearly delineated personality. The historical Dillinger was reportedly a charmer, but Depp's version was on the sullen, inarticulate, repetitive side when he wasn't performing for the cops (maybe it's because Johnny Depp doesn't like to smile?) So they shot him at the Biograph, after two and a quarter hours of the same old same old: shootout, car chase, Dillinger assures Billie that he'll always be there while the music and the script assure us that he won't, shootout, car chase, Dillinger assures Billie...you know. The Biograph could've come an hour earlier without materially damaging this film.

7) Don't know just who's to blame for this one, but the moral of the story is apparently that chewing gum while kissing is in fact hot. Er, not so much. Even on Johnny Depp, that's just icky.

All in all, I have to disagree with the NYT: this was a thoroughly disappointing experience, eye candy and all. And, as with Star Trek, a lot of that can be laid at the door of those with whom I'd most like to identify, the men (I suspect) who wrote that screenplay. Too bad.

This caviling brought to you by GrayTreeFrog,
Monday, May 11th, 2009
7:20 am
What's wrong with this film?
Talking_sock is going to laugh, because she knows what a motif in my life this really is, but the answer to the question, "what drags a truly terrible blogger back to speech again?" is, of course, Star Trek. My disappointment and outrage at what this film has done to my beloved series (even though we all kind of knew it would) have driven me back to the web. So, if you loved the newest Trek full of people too young to have Romulan ale legally bought for them even on Romulus, read no further. If you don't want spoilers (though, believe me, this plot is not such as to be spoilable by anything I can say), read no further. Otherwise, answers to the title question include, but are hardly limited to, the following:

1) Someone, in remaking Starfleet as a "peaceful armada" (perhaps in the spirit of "military intelligence"?), has forgotten that Starfleet is, in fact, an interstellar navy, in which enlisted personnel go to boot camp, not to academy, enlisted personnel do not become officers at all except in time of war, and charming rebels who defy plausibility by being promoted instead of shot are, even in the movies, generally promoted ONE step up the line (to Midshipman or Lieutenant, for instance) rather than straight to Captain over the heads of equally-well-performing already-Lieutenants and already-Commanders, especially when one of the latter is their much-more-compelling Vulcan co-star. Would it have been so bad to advance him one step, in the spirit of C.S. Forrester or Patrick O'Brien's naval epics? It might even have allowed for more interesting sequels. But apparently Kirk is only interesting as the captain or acting captain of this one particular ship.

1') In military organizations, Captains, even newly-made heroic ones of approximately twenty, do not actually select their own first officers. They may put in a request which is then lost in bureaucracy before being ultimately ignored. Just a thought.

2) Spock and Uhura? No alternate reality excuses this. Ditto for the destruction of Vulcan, which is apparently okay because a) the "essence of the culture" is preserved by the rescue of a dozen white people, and b) it's not Earth. Which brings me to 2', which is...

2') One black hole formation per movie would've sufficed. Really. Cf: Tolkien's comments about dragons. And if we're going to have two...well, maybe they could be consistent in their effects. Black Hole #1 creates a weird-ass time warp; Black Hole #2 pulls ships apart, when it would've been so, er, logical to have it do the same thing as the first so that the original storyline could be restored, Vulcan saved (can anyone picture the Federation finding its own ass with both hands and a flashlight without Vulcan?) and the gratuitous death of Amanda undone. And that patch of meaningless space in which Black Hole #2 is so callously opened by our heroes? I'm sure there were no interesting species or scientific phenomena in that area AT ALL. I'm also sure a guy in a very small warp-powered ship could get far enough away from All-Important Earth (in the three minutes he was allotted) to have that black hole pose AIE no problems whatsoever.

3) If such needs-no-explanation elements as the appellation "Bones" must be explained, would anyone like to tell us what "red matter" actually IS? Or just WHY the very ethical and not-especially-sexual Mr. Spock would fraternize with a junior officer under his tutelage and command? Nah, thought not.

4) Spock--SPOCK!--speaks the appalling sentence, "Do yourself a favor--do what feels right." And Sarek is a touchy-feely father who doesn't mind if Spock embraces his human heritage. Enough said.

5) Who knew that the Enterprise, like an internal combustion engine, was water-cooled? And with all that zero-degrees-Kelvin space right outside the window through which to run the freon, too!

6) Minor plot matter: the villain hangs out in space for 25 YEARS on the off chance that Old Spock might eventually turn up. He eventually does turn up because this is Hollywood, but meanwhile, what the hell was Villain's crew saying about this? Didn't any of them want to go settle in Vegas? Where was the food coming from? Nor were there female Romulans on board that ship to render the quarter-century wait more palatable to the much-more-important men, either (though maybe that's a nod to slash?) But that's okay, because there was only one-quarter of a female character in the whole movie anyway. Big surprise, that, given recent trends in the Star Trek franchise, whose female characters have never been its strong suit.

7) The whole fleet's in the Laurentian system, wherever that is, doing something Very Important (we never learn what), so they send every cadet they've got into space to work a natural disaster? Hell, they don't need Captain Kirk, they need admirals capable of doing simple subtraction ("so, we've got a total of, like, 70 ships...if we send 60 to the Laurentian system, that leaves...uh...ten. Is that enough to deal with any sudden galactic threats? Gee, maybe we should keep one or two more around, just in case...") Or they could scrap all of that in favor of writers with some grasp of plot, but I guess those would've been just too pricy. The economy's bad in the twenty-third century too, you know.

8) Last but hardly least, the film is gratuitously condescending and patronizing: among the very few non-humanoid aliens appears little person in a big mask who does, in fact, speak clear English when allowed, and who is, in fact, a Star Fleet officer of some kind, but he exists only to be the butt of Scotty's apparently-Mike-Myers-inspired jokes. He gets one line, which consists of one word; the rest of the time he's a pet who follows Scotty around for the purpose of being abused. A Starfleet officer, who is presumably equal or senior to Scotty. Nice going, galactic empire--er, Starfleet.

In fact, I hate to say this of my peoples (writers, also Trekkies), but the cast is not the problem here (Quinto in particular does well, but admittedly he has a good deal more to work with than most of the cast, including the audience's undying love of Spock); the writers and director are. They're trying to work the series' best thing--the love story, the K/S friendship--but they're not earning it with plot or thought or charm or good writing or anything else; as Monty Python remarked so long ago, leaping straight to the clitoris is not a good idea. The original series had its share of terrible moments, heaven knows ("Brain, brain, brain! What is brain?"), but they were redeemed by others ("Let's get the hell out of here"--thank you, Harlan Ellison.) Not so in 2009. These guys do not deserve your ten dollars, and this film does not deserve to have NCC-1701 on its hull.
Sunday, November 9th, 2008
7:11 am
Brutal summary
Hello again. Not sure why I'm posting, since I'm pretty clearly not committed to keeping up with LJ other than to read some of your 'blogs semi-regularly, but here it is Sunday morning, my favorite posting time, my houseguests (including small children) and spouse are still sleeping, and somehow the impulse is there.

Brutal summary, based on what I've put here before: since that last posting, two more miscarriages, so we're done there. Feelings were mixed for some while (the last time was in April), but as the grief ran its course, there was more and more of what I expected, which was, honestly, relief. Throughout all that, I never knew what to hope for: I didn't feel safe hoping for anything, so I stuck with that fine old standard, thou knowest the desires of my heart. Even if I don't know anything about the "thou", even what or whether to believe, that's something I do feel safe wanting: the good that maybe I can't see. Even Socrates prayed for that, so the company's pretty good. And now I feel--well, brought out of bond, despite my best efforts to go there and stay there. I think things worked out right, and I'm very thankful. There aren't many things I don't tell my spouse, but this is one of them, because it's been, I think, harder on him than on me, and I don't want to rub it in that I may well have gotten exactly what I wanted...when he probably didn't.

More brutal summary: finally made a new hire in my field, and it's made all the difference to workload. I've had several weekends and a lot of evenings off this semester, and got a couple of articles out this summer, so it seems like I might finally be creeping up on the professorial life as advertised, at least if I can make tenure next year. (I've been working on the document this week, and it fairly curdles my blood. For some reason I just loathe this document.) It's still Professorial Life for the New Millenium, which is nothing like it was in the seventies. I look at the guys hired then, now retiring, and just wonder what it could have been like--to get hired ABD, to get tenure for finishing the diss, to have full-time spouses at home raising your kids and washing your pants, to have administrative work done by, you know, administrators, and think it's beneath you becaue you were made for purer things, research and writing and, as a supreme concession, teaching via lecture. Different world. Wouldn't have it back, especially its one-eyed focus on the good old Y chromosome, but sometimes I think of the leisure and the slower pace and just wonder what those guys did. Wrote their books in a year or two, maybe.

Anyway: we're among the lucky--solvent, healthy, getting a little time to play now, not likely to be cut due to economic downturn. And so pleased I can hardly describe it that Obama's in. No lie, I cried, I shrieked, I dropped to my knees at eleven o'clock when Virginia came in. I have a friend who's chosen to focus on the fearful side; she's sure he'll be assassinated. And while I'd cry a long time over that, that side is not for me, baby: if he is assassinated, the nutjobs still can't put this one back in the box. The country went by a landslide--even white Christians--for a thoughtful, intelligent, articulate candidate, a black candidate with a name that's not, as they say locally, from around here, a guy who can say "our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters" in front of the whole country. Who would've given us credit for being able to do it?

So that's November '08: pretty good, indeed more than pretty good. Very hopeful, despite Proposition 8. Hoping the same for you all.
Thursday, August 2nd, 2007
10:10 pm
I used to think I some of the 'blogs I read had the slowest authors in the world; now I know that title is mine and mine alone. Mea culpa. Still having trouble talking, though in the (long) interval I've seen probably two-thirds of the people I know, as well as coming out of various kinds of closets to my mother and my brother and a couple of closer-by friends, which surely ought to be a start. But mea culpa anyway.

There are developments in RL, and in writing, and such, but today they're all swept away by the Jena 6 latest, which, if you can believe it, I actually would not have caught if it hadn't been for LJ (thank you, LJ, and thank you, Melymbrosia!) I caught a scrap of it on NPR, assumed that it was business-as-usual racism, and wouldn't've known more without the blogs. Now, of course, I've been flaming news networks, spreading the word locally, and making donations to the legal defense fund, but I'm still appalled that this is not headline news for the big media players. CNN.com gives Britney Spears news its own tab, but they did not cover the Jena 6 travesty of justice at all. And if it's archived in the NYT site, I haven't found it yet. The worst thing is that this probably is business-as-usual racism, and I mostly just don't see it.

Happy Lammas to all, belatedly. May your bread be warm, tender and leavened with justice and hope.

Current Mood: drained
Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
9:09 am
Armchair activism, anyone?
As I'm sure you all have seen, the media's nod to the terrible plight of bees this week has been the postulated connection of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) to cell phone use. This is based on a study at a German university (2003, actually--I'm not sure why it's just come up now) showing that when cell phone handsets were put into hives, the bees would not return to those hives: maybe because bees in the hive vibrate and dance at certain frequencies, which the cell phone can change, maybe because the radiation affects them in other ways.

My thoughts about this newest theory are mixed. On the one hand, I have no trouble believing that cell phones have dangers we haven't begun to understand, and whatever it is clearly does affect navigational function in bees. On the other, I'm not sure cell radiation, even if it does interfere with bees' magnetic navigational capabilities, accounts for the fact that opportunistic predators don't then eat the honey of the abandoned hives (physical or chemical contaminant?); or for the that the few worker bees still found in and around the hives are hideously infected with half a dozen different bee viruses (something affecting immune system function?); or for the fact that this thing has blown up in one hell of a hurry (since last fall, basically, and with individual hives dying inside of a week); or for the fact that it's currently happening in 26 states but not in 48, or in Germany and the UK but not in, say, France, or Switzerland. Does cell phone use differ from state to state and country to country? I wouldn't think so. The beekeeper in Pennsylvania who brought this to national attention suspects new nicotine-based pesticides, and I'd like very much for that to be the answer: it would not only account for bad-tasting honey, for interference with navigational function, and for immune-system compromise, but it would be something farmers really could change if it were clear that their crops depended on it (unlike, I fear, our national addiction to the cell phone.)

The thing is, no one knows yet. And with a couple of exceptions, no studies are being funded. If any of you have any kind of time, could you maybe dash off a letter to your state and federal representatives asking for funding for serious, coordinated studies of Colony Collapse Disorder? We won't know squat until we have real data, and we won't have data until we have studies in a real range of the affected areas trying to isolate a common factor. And meanwhile the bees are dying, and if the bees go, as I may have mentioned, we're looking at national and global famine (to say nothing of the end of beekeeping as a career, which is minor in the grand scheme but hugely important to the people who do it.) Please write! Thank you!
Saturday, April 7th, 2007
8:58 am
Dogwood winter
Good morning again. I am no longer ready to explode my head over the bees. Instead, I am ready to keep working on Big Honking Report's Big Honking Rejoinder ('cause my accrediting body just didn't like it enough), to (maybe) get in a little grading ('cause what else is Saturday morning for?), to write my congresspeople about the issue with the bees, couching it all in terms of money because what else do they understand ('cause you have to think globally) and, finally, to consider attending my region's beekeeping meeting this coming Thursday night ('cause you also have to act locally...and 'cause the only antidote to despair seems to be action.) My spouse is worried about whether we'd lose our shirts if a single child was stung by a single honeybee that might possibly be ours; I'm worried about whether our shady, wooded area has anything like enough food for bees. Maybe if we plant white clover. So there: where I am now. Among no bees at the moment, because dogwood winter has predictably hit (global warming, anyone?) and is blighting all the dogwood blossoms, the remaining magnolia blossoms, and probably every other blossom. The bees just didn't have enough problems, apparently.

Current Mood: busy
Sunday, April 1st, 2007
7:47 am
The cruelest month
Well, hello again--another Sunday morning, another whirlwind tour of another month in insane-labor land. I'll spare you the gory details, but something I spent a year on last year has just been rejected by the accrediting body in question, so that, as I try to juggle eleven interns, three classes, and a massive literary event, prepare for next semester's program review, and, oh, I don't know, maybe actually get some research done, or sleep occasionally, or something, the last-year's-work is back on my desk covered with red ink and scowly faces. The timing really couldn't've been a whole lot worse. April ephemeral wildflowers, I don't guess we'll meet this year. Migratory warblers, those of you who come into my yard will see me sitting on the balcony with computer and stacks of essays; those who don't, I hope you make it till next year. Saturdays, I still love you even though you're just another workday (and working evening.)

However, I'd just about worked my way around to feeling philosophical about all that when, in stealing a few online minutes this morning, I read about the mysterious disappearance of the bee populations, with really horrifying percentage numbers. I'd noticed it already, as our cherry trees on campus bloomed (early, thank you, global warming) this week: last year they were a kind white and singing tower of bees and other pollinators. I could hear the humming many yards away. This year, not so much. I'm sure you all know this, but the loss of bee populations (aside from being a blasphemy against the earth) could kill us all, from famine, faster than global warming, George Bush, and a good nuke put together. And it gives me to ponder, for the several-thousandth time, why on earth we take this stuff--drinkable water, pollination of our crops and wild plants, the energy a tree stores from the sun--for granted: presumably because we don't pay for it in money, which is why the Forest Service can declare a "profit" at selling public lands to the timber industry for a dollar an acre. But we'll be paying for it in money soon enough, looks like. We just don't have the resources to do for any money what bees do for us for free...and one researcher complained that the government wasn't interested, wouldn't fund his one minimalist study of what's killing these bees. Varroa mites? habitat and food loss? genetically modified plants? fungus? No one knows, and, it appears, no one with the funding is even asking.

But I guess it comes down to bad education: nearly everyone I meet thinks bees are bad, scary, slightly gross little "bugs." My mortgage actually has a clause in it demanding that I exterminate carpenter bees if we get them in our house, even though they do absolutely minimal damage and provide quite a lot of pollination, and this is for some reason legal, acceptable, and commonplace. I have friends who LIKE that clause, because it gives them an excuse to do what they want to do anyway: wipe out the unfamiliar (like the mortgage company's ever going to come check.) Back in grad school, I lived with a woman who wanted to pick the flowers off our communal tomato plants, "so they'd grow bigger." This works with basil, of course, where the harvest is the leaf, and I guess that's where she got the idea; but she didn't seem to make the old flowers-fruit connection with the tomatoes. Ph.D., too: terminal degree in her field. If we can't educate her, or my perfectly lovely friends who hemorrhage wasted electricity from every socket in their house, what hope is there for the mortgage company, or the averge ten-year old? It makes me, I kid you not, want to crawl under the covers with the pistol and take a big bite before I have to watch the only world we know of die around me. (Not a serious suicide threat, just a measure of despair.) April, you've done it again.

Current Mood: distressed
Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
10:51 pm
March sucks rather less
Spring break at Great Northern. Great Northern itself: many hundred miles away, though it grabs me in its teeth, growling, every evening when I check e-mail. Department politics: have not come out well (oh, next week's gonna be a freaking blast.) Readings coming up: don't know yet. Will hope for the best. Bitter bonebreak cold: feh. It was spring last week; where is spring? Mais ou sont les printemps d'antan? Disappointing development with book: probably inevitable, but strangely unexpected nonetheless.

Family visit: sometimes fraught, mostly wonderful. House and land where I grew up: nearly unequivocally wonderful (though, as others have noted more eloquently, it can be a lot easier to love places than people.) Sleeping straight through the night in the room that's been mine, and my center place, since I was roughly three, and waking up actually relaxed: indescribable.

Depression that comes back at intervals anyway: still icky. I swear to you, whatever's going on in the Seventy-Hour Job, whatever its costs to my personal life, some of this has still just got to be brain chemistry. Sometimes it's like God, or whoever, just leans out of a cloud and clocks me a good one with a two-by-four. WHAM: suddenly, for no particular reason, there's nothing to live for, the heart of life is a big black hole, and I'm quoting "The Snow Man" to myself (this is not an exaggeration. Wallace Stevens' appearance in the inner world is not a good sign.)

Still, March is not February, and I'm confident that once the opportunity to walk in the woods, play in the sloughs, and tramp the ancestral acres is done with, spring itself cannot be far off. Things generally feel a lot better in the spring, or so my previous depressive history suggests. Hence current mood as (cautiously) hopeful.

Current Mood: hopeful
Sunday, February 18th, 2007
9:05 am
February sucks
Everyone knows, of course, that February sucks, but I just felt compelled to reiterate it. It particularly sucks in a global-warming world that has January highs of sixty-plus degrees Fahrenheit, thus coaxing the winter honeysuckle and the cherry trees and the magnolia sulangea to believe in spring, take off the little fur coats that protect their buds, and go sunbathing only to be brutally nipped in February's proper cold.

This particular February sucks because

1) there was a urinary tract infection. Nabbed promptly, treated promptly, symptoms gone promptly, but still. Maybe because there are so many nerve endings in the legs of the clitoris (surrounding the urethra) for better purposes, peeing was a lot like a kind of evil orgasm of pain--hairs on the arms stood up, finger bones hurt, and so on.

2) there was then a sinus infection, in the week following the UTI. Again, nabbed promptly, treated promptly, apparently getting better. But still.

3) there are changing-chairs departmental politics at work. We're by and large a civil and peaceable department with no more than the usual quirks and brief feuds, but right now I don't even want to be there (which is unfortunate considering that I spend an average of ten hours a day there.) Not that anyone's feuding in public even now; it's the unsaid stuff, ambient tension and subtext everywhere.

4) I know it will eventually be spring, and then summer, but right now that's like knowing--as some people do seem to know, though I'm not one of them--that on the night of your death you'll be gathered to Jesus and feast in heaven. Far away, difficult to imagine, and ultimately hypothetical in nature.

5) On Thursday I took my seventeen-year-old cat to the vet, for the last time. This sucked in all the usual ways, and was okay in the usual ways--definitely the right time, a heartrending and futile effort to let him die at home (with subcutaneous fluids twice a day), all that. What surprises me, given how impatient I often was with his neuroses (like cat, like person), is how much I miss him. We got on each other's nerves, we fussed at each other like a couple of old people living together in grudging coexistence, but it's been fifteen years since I made a plan that didn't include provision for him, or closed our bedroom door, or stretched out my feet in bed all the way without looking to see if I was going to kick him. It still seems as if he didn't belong out there under the rock in the garden, but in here where it's warm, with us. He liked it warm.

This also gives me to think about how hard it seems to be to die. He was sick, he hadn't eaten in a week, it was clearly time, and yet it seemed as if he just couldn't; the trip to the vet for the coup de grace was occasioned by a strangely direct look, for a cat, and a terrible, slow mew which, sentimentally and anthropocentrically, I read as, "Look, I'm doing the best I can here, but you're the human and I need some help." It seemed to be kind of like waiting to throw up: you don't want to, and you know you have to, and yet you can't quite, even when it's gotten so bad that you do want to. And when you do, it's a terrible convulsion, against a resistance you can't seem to stop yourself from giving. Tell you what, I am NOT looking forward to this, especially when it seems so unlikely that anyone will be able to do for me what we do for our animals. My grandfather shot himself, when he was slowly dying and his docs wouldn't give him what he wanted, which was enough dope to let him drowse away his final weeks. And he was right, but most of us tend to miss our opportunities in this regard, out of that helpless desire to live even a little longer. Doesn't it seem like we could arrange things better than this?

February, you are one crappy month.
Saturday, January 27th, 2007
9:17 pm
The scent of heather
Hi... me again. I wish to speak of heather. You all know heather, right? That iconic representation of blissful summer-afternoon British solitude, the hill with a view of the sea, the moors and the mist, all things ineffably Celtic? Probably forty-five percent of all books I have read and enjoyed since I was a small child have made some reference to heather. If you just include the fantasy novels, that number jumps to maybe sixty percent. Heather is Scotland, and England, and the downs, and Haworth Parsonage, and they are it.

Now I have never travelled to the British isles, and so I have not encountered the ubiquitous heather. But I have always assumed that when I did, I would like it. Very likely, I thought, I would know it instantly when I saw it; my one-quarter Scots blood would rise up in a cry of recognition and love, and then the little people would come out from behind the rocks and crown me with a garland of heather.

Plane fares and work schedules being what they are, though, it'll be at least 2008 before I do travel to Scotland and meet the heather on the hoof. But our local supermarket, in a fit of Celtishness, recently got in a swarm of tiny little pots of blooming heather. Heather! I said to myself (and my long-suffering spouse.) I must have a pot of heather for my office windowsill! And so I did, for six dollars and eighteen cents, and the heather is quite pretty, with prickly little dark-green needles, and flowers like pink and dark-pink closed-off bells, and strange little dark tips. And I put down my nose to the heather and waited to smell the sea, and the moors, and the hares springing away on the northern slopes of Narnia.

Alas! I am here to tell you that the smell of heather is not as advertised. It does, in fact, verge on the unpleasant: something like dry tea, but the kind of tea that has no noticeable tea smell, being more reminiscent of a rather fungal haymow. Something like chamomile, which I've tried for years to like in tribute to Beatrix Potter but still don't. Grassy, but not in a good way; needly; green-tea-ish, if the green tea has sat for longer than is advisable; but also (oh, Clive Staples, how you have failed me) slightly but discernably...fishy. While I have no prior experience with heather, I have in my day been around a whole lot of fish well past their due dates, and that smell was this smell. No wonder the Bronte siblings all succumbed one by one.

World travelers among you, how did you bear it? My illusions are shattered.
Thursday, January 18th, 2007
6:10 am
Looking in
It's funny how my favorite blogs are all about the specific, the day, the right-now, and how I love that, but can't resist the urge to tedious summary in my own. Tedious summary:

We're back, it's January, the semester's fairly roaring along already, and by and large that's pretty good, even though it's going to be another nose-grinder.

Lyme disease is probably dead, but nobody knows for sure. Arthritis, however, is not dead. I'm treating it with regular exercise, the occasional ibuprofen, and vile curses.

I'm listening to poetry on CD in the car as I make my supervisory rounds, and isn't that the greatest! even if you want to punch Yeats in the jaw before he singsongs one more Irish-inflected word, and Auden sounds so damn upper-class complacent you're thankful you never heard his living voice before, and Rukeyser makes you check your watch and wonder if she couldn't've found a more ruthless editor to give her some feedback (I think she had an affair with May Sarton, or at least a friendship, but of course that wouldn't've helped much.) If you all like such things, I highly recommend it as a way to make your job time about your own stuff.

I've finally pulled loose from a service commitment I've been trying to get out of for six months, one that took up a disproportionate amount of time and feeling without making me feel one bit good. I ought to feel guilty about this, since the organization and the animals need help so badly; and I do, a bit; but mostly I feel thankful that I'm going to get my Saturday afternoons back for work or play.

And, from right now, it's just past six, my spouse has a cold (which means he's unlikely to be up anytime soon), and I wish I could do this or the equivalent on a lot more mornings: coffee, computer, book, the thin edge of dawn coming when I look out the east window, and a profound unlikelihood that the phone will ring or a student walk in demanding something. When I can manage it, this is a great time of day: less for exercise (though sometimes I do that, especially in warmer weather) than for being by myself doing my stuff. I do miss that.
Monday, December 25th, 2006
7:59 pm
That next big commercial holiday
Not too much to add to the usual sorts of Christmas postings. Christmas with the family is about over, and by and large it's been good. Ups and downs, of course--let's not talk about the it-is-to-be-hoped-temporary weight gain, the probably-not-so-temporary credit card bills, the stomach flu, or the MLA still to be survived, but basically good (and some of you all out there are really making me count my blessings about that. Thanks, I guess.) Lots of walks in the woods, lots of oysters (who knows, perhaps too many?), lots of changes locally, but mercifully a fair number of change-resistant features as well. Also, several great opportunities for exposure to giardia and cryptosporidium (one of my presents was a portable water filter for hiking!) Let's hope I've missed them.

I've also rolled about among the still-active-thanks-to-global-warming ticks, on the premise of what are they going to do, give me Lyme disease? One of my first January activities will be a return to the doc to see if my Lyme status can be ascertained, as I've just finished two months of nuke-'em-all antibiotics.
Friday, November 24th, 2006
11:07 am
So, you know...I like Thanksgiving. Even knowing about the smallpox-infected blankets, and the fact that it didn't become a national holiday until Lincoln, and only then for very political reasons, even so, I like the idea of a holiday dedicated to giving thanks rather than getting stuff. I like the food, especially dark meat with gravy. I like the fact that it's always been kind of an outdoor celebration for my family; sure, at nightfall we all come in and it becomes another night festival, all candles and fire and food (okay, and a whole Empire State Building of dishes, in my family home which has no dishwasher other than the youngest people there), but all day we generally walked in the woods, cleaned out sheds, smoked various pieces of game or roadkill (sometimes with carbonized results) in homemade smokers, drank beer or whatever, played guitar, sang, shucked oysters, hung around outside. (Was this done somewhat at my mother's expense? In fact, yes. I know that now. I didn't see it then.) Some particularly nice memories include, relatively recently, eating ourselves into a stupor over dinner, doing the ten thousand dishes, and then going for a walk in the starry dark with an old friend. It was, like I said, dark, but it was lovely to find that I knew those fields and woods and roads well enough that it just didn't matter.

So I like Thanksgiving. I even liked the first half of this Thanksgiving, a day on which I did no academic work (not the case for the other four Days of Thanksgiving), got my lovely spouse to hike into the mountains with me, and saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a brown creeper, and a mystery warbler while lying on a rock by a running whitewater creek. Very nice, though the subsequent dinner with friends wasn't all that and kind of wore me down.

But today I do not like. I don't like the hangover feeling of too much food, too much indulgence, and (temporarily, I hope) too-tight pants. I don't like having to come back into the office and get to it again, though, to be fair, I'd feel just as bad in my mind if I were still lying in bed reading trashy novels. I want to be back in the woods looking at birds, I want to write something that's not for work, I want back the life that I got a glimpse of yesterday morning. I feel bad, sad, mad all over. This is why I don't like to break the overwork routine: it reminds me that there's another life and that I don't really want to work all the time.

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006
3:59 pm
Oh, you know, the election and stuff
2000: Well, we all know how THAT went. Up half the night, called for Gore, went to bed saying oh-thank-God-even-if-it's-just-the-lesser-of-two-evils. Woke up to madness. Madness lasted until end of year. Verdict was...what it was. Scars were burned into many cerebra which may never heal.

2002: lost Evil Senator of Death AND relatively-less-evil Senator of Nominal Moderation. Replaced both with Republicans with awful, awful names. Scabbed-over scars were freshened with lit cigarettes.

2004: election may or may not have been stolen. Didn't really matter. Stayed up all night; when, haggard and hagridden, encountered acquaintances in coffeeshop, also hagridden and unwashed, we nodded and averted our eyes.

2006: While the 2000 scars remain, is this the first time that any balm has been offered them? In fact, it is. Is the balm sweet, sweet, sweet? At the moment, it is. Sweet like wine drunk from a hip flask while standing in a salted field. Sweet like a s'more toasted over a campfire built of constitutional amendments guaranteeing civil liberties. It's not healing, it's not necessarily any real change, and it's certainly not Obama 2008, but I'll take it. I'll SO take it. And it is sweet.
Saturday, October 21st, 2006
11:45 am
Pewter linings
Thursday night I got some kind of Stomach Thing. Not-too-painful-just-dehydrating diarrhea accompanied by much-more-painful not-quite-woofing nausea, weakness, shivers, whatever...many possible culprits, including the antibiotics for the ever-delightful Lyme. Friday, yesterday, it being fall break at Great Northern, I stayed mostly in bed (okay, I drove over to Great Northern to pick up some stuff to work on, which I did. But I did it In Bed. The stuff, not the driving.) In the afternoon, when I felt particularly crummy, I took the grading off the bed and took a real live nap.

My hope for fall break was to have all the epic grading done by Wednesday, when break began, take Wednesday to buy and put in some plants for my slope's bald spots (this we actually did get done late Wednesday night), and start in Thursday on a three-day siege of Last Big Honking Program Report, which I have had literally no time to do this semester and a first draft of which is due December 8. (The smaller version, which I did this summer, took at least a month of pretty steady work when I wasn't teaching or supervising a thousand student teachers. Brrr.)

As we can see, that didn't happen. I finished my grading last night right about the time House came on (any other evil-doctor fans out there?) and now, at ten minutes to noon on Saturday, I am beginning the would-be three-day siege. Clearly, not a lot's going to get done and my dreams of being All Caught Up the end of break were delusions. This is unfortunate.

However...you can't believe, you just can't freaking believe, how lovely it is to get all the sleep you want, sleep in on Saturday morning, and spend a day or two in and around the house (by and large I feel as though I never see the house by daylight, which is also unfortunate since it's a hell of a nice place to be.) When you feel bad enough, you can justify things which otherwise would crush you with guilt and pressure: lying in bed, taking naps, reading novels (Lee Smith's new one) during the bits which are so uncomfortable that there's no point even trying to work (you know it's bad when you have your novel ready in the bathroom for the twenty-minute onslaughts.) And updating LJ, which otherwise wasn't even on the radar, alas. There are silver linings, or anyway pewter linings, even to nausea, it turns out. I won't go so far as to say "yay, nausea" or anything crazy like that, because I'm simply delighted not to be nauseated anymore, but there is in fact something to be said for having the body short-circuit the brain for a while.
Sunday, October 1st, 2006
8:15 am
Lyme and such
No-surprise updates:

1) It really IS Lyme. D'uh. However, I can't start taking antibiotics for another couple of weeks because we have to wait for my period to start, on the statistically unlikely but remotely possible chance that I might be pregnant. I do not like this disease. However, I still like it better than lupus, the other option.

2) Tarot tell you what you already know. Also d'uh. I know there are some readers out there who get definitive yes-or-no answers to will-it-happen-or-won't-it, but I haven't tried much of that stuff. When I have, the answers are indeed what I already know but am slow, for whatever reason, acknowledge. Embarrassing.

3) Work's ass-kicking has been somewhat moderated this week: I got to take...Saturday...off! How about THAT? I went shopping with my spouse, who's lost scads of weight and needs clothes; I went to our local harvest festival; I bought Christmas presents; I went to a reading and bought a book. And today, before I start in working on Humongous God-Awful Report, I'm going to make some pesto, because one of these nights soon my basil will be frosted; and make a quiche, because we'll need food for the week; and make a soup, because I think I'm catching my spouse's cold despite obsessive hand-washing. But I'm actually in a pretty good place regarding work right now, or at least I think I am, so if I am getting the cold, I may be able to sleep in a couple of mornings and/or come home early on days I'm not teaching night courses. It'll be back to bite me in the ass if I do, of course, but at least it'll be possible.

4) I got a bonus at said work for exceptional service to students (this means advising, not sex...if anybody was wondering.) This was cool not only because someone actually noticed (well, okay, after I got a friend to nominate me because nobody did notice) but because the bonus is base salary adjustment: it'll be with me for the rest of my career with Great Northern University. Yay me! And we got annual raises, and mine was a good one. It's mind-blowing to have anyone actually notice (well, again, after having it pointed out) that I work all the time and do a good job. Double yay me! Things look good around here, except for the incipient cold, that torture debate that's actually a debate, the new Lowe's in Smallville, and the recent legislation in the House.

Off to heat turkey broth and mutilate harmless basil leaves.

Current Mood: accomplished
Thursday, September 14th, 2006
1:17 pm
How flotsam differs from jetsam I have forgotten, if ever I knew. However, here's some of one of them, anyway.

1) Work is kicking my ass from here to forever and back. Sundays, evenings, early mornings, you name it. In theory this should settle down about March, after Big Honking Accreditation Report goes in, but in practice I have nine interns now and will have eleven then, so...it may never settle down. No one'll be hearing a great deal from me until then, I suspect.

2) When work isn't, my own fool-ness is. For instance, there's the Humane Society, which I passionately want to quit but can't while I still have two foster cats to place, and very possibly can't quit at all, given the need there and given the complex social interactions which dragged me into it in the first place. And there's a student who's been around forever, a returning student, who really wants to graduate, but who's had a hell of a life and whose poverty is just appalling. And she's had problems getting her financial aid, with which I've helped her; and her car broke down, with which, in various ways, I've helped her; and the short version is that we've helped her enough that now she calls on us as soon as she needs help, which is good--if she graduates I'm going to go back to believing we can all make a difference in the world and lots of other sweet things like that--but which is also convincing me that, indeed, no good deed does go unpunished. Because when she needs help, it's never a half-hour fix, oh, no.

3) My favorite doctor is running (in layman's terms) just about an annual deductable's worth of tests for Lyme (my bet), lupus, and various degenerative diseases because (wait for it) my knees are getting arthritic. Don't you love that? Imagine that, being a lazy person prone to depression, you slough off and lie around and waste time (physically speaking) until you turn, say, thirty-two, and realize that this can't go on. You start exercising (which in your hilly, steep, mountainous region can be achieved simply by walking the length of your yard, but if that's not enough there are always the actual roads.) Along about thirty-six you realize fitness isn't enough and shed twenty of your thyroid-disease, sedentary-lifestyle pounds; at thirty-eight when your cholesterol starts looking a little dicy you drop another twenty and smack that cholesterol right back where it came from. At almost-forty you're in considerably better shape by any measure than you were at twenty-five...and your knees, apparently annoyed that you've taken all this stress off them and been exercising them so regularly for the past seven years, choose this moment to start in. It's not overexercise, either, because overexercise is not something I ever, ever do. Sigh. Maybe it's Lyme. They can cure Lyme. And the Lyme ticks and I go way back.

4) Ever-contrary, this September actually is rather textbook-Septemberish--cool nights, some bright days following a week of much-needed rains, goldenrod and ironweed, six or eight leaves per tree changing at such a rate that there's time to enjoy it. If I had time to enjoy it, that is, but I appreciate the effort anyway.

5) I'm learning to read tarot. 'Cause I just didn't have enough to do, so I added a hobby about which I can't tell most of my mainstream friends and about which my own feelings are, at best, mixed. Actually, I belong to an "alternative" religion which is simply chock full of folks who read tarot, but they think it's based on (pardon the phrase) psychic ability, which kind of leaves me out in the cold. I believe in psychic ability about every fourth Tuesday for half an hour, and even then I can't delude myself that I have any. So why do tarot? I don't know. Maybe the tarot will tell me. Maybe because I need something utterly useless, personal, and nonreferential that can be turned to no good account whatsoever, if only to balance the way-too-many useful things that clutter every other waking moment. Something that's not job, not marriage, not exercise (it's pretty sad when the only time you get outside in a beautiful fall is to fucking exercise), not whoring the book, not doing anything for anybody. And, go figure, there's a card for that (I've forgotten which--it's one of the numbered wands--about taking on other people's stuff and letting it drag you down. Story of my life this year, believe me. Maybe I'll adopt that card and make a pet of it.)

That's not all my flotsam, by a long way, but it's plenty to be going on with. Are you all okay out there? It's been awfully quiet.
Saturday, August 12th, 2006
9:20 pm
The academy at work
Well, here comes that time of year again; the meetings began this week, they'll really ramp up this coming week, and the week after, classes begin. Dilemma of the week: start finally skipping the obligatory university-wide blatherfests in the interests of actually getting done some of the piles of administrative stuff still to be done (despite a productive summer) or attend said blatherfests to network, get brownie points, and demonstrate to the occasional cute colleague that I'm looking all right after my summer? (As all right as I get, anyway. But lowest weight in fifteen years plus nominal suntan is good work for me.)

In other news, the book comes out in September. Still haven't done anything about publicizing it to speak of. This is partly being busy, and partly being lazy, and probably partly a lingering streak of self-destructiveness left over from the Bad Years, but also, I think, a perverse and futile desire, after striving to get this thing out there all these years, to keep something uncommercialized, unsold, unmarketed, unnetworked, unadvertised, and unwhored. You know..."I will not be pushed, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. I am not a number, I am a free man!" (And then the intercom laughter begins.) I wanted, and want, the poems published; I wanted, and want, what I've got, the respectable press, the nice blurbs from good poets, the readings, the whole banana. But I also want to hole up on a rock island and actually write the stuff and let someone else take care of making sure it gets read (it's five years since I've managed a workshop or retreat.) Which'd be nice work if anyone on earth but me cared about getting it read. I feel so damn tired this last couple of days, and for no real good reason.

But considering Beirut, and Baghdad, and that while I was volunteering with the humane society today (a use of my Saturday afternoons which I entirely loathe) an old, demented man came up with no teeth, and no eye, maybe I'll just stop whining about the rigors of gainful employment, publication, and the rudiments of what the world styles success. Maybe I'll just shut the fuck up, in fact. So here's me, shutting up. Been enjoying y'all's entries, though.
Thursday, July 27th, 2006
3:32 pm
For a change nothing remotely political!
I went to Montana. I saw my first raven, up in a high place. I think it was busy creating a world.

Saw my first pica, or pika, or rock rabbit, or whatever. Possibly as an audition for its part in an Animal Planet special, it was cutting grasses for winter food and bed, scurrying with them to its den, and scurrying back to cut more grasses. Did I fail my saving throw vs. "cute"? Indeed.

Saw several hundred chipmunks, possibly a different variety than the local (more stripes.) They thrive on loose scree slopes at twenty-foot intervals. Saving throw once again a natural 1.

Made the acquaintance of the violet-green swallow and the Oregon variant of the dark-eyed junco. Yay! Less cute but still very cool.

Paid $70 for a networking dinner which so totally wasn't worth it. Have you all noticed that the pricier and more elitistly pretentious the restaurant, the more invariable is the fact that the service will be mediocre, the food less than hot, and the menu selections all full of things you don't particularly want? Wished I'd spent it on earrings for my mother and had crackers in the room instead. Bonus points, though, for the decor, which included the mounting, as in taxidermy, of three mountain goats high up on the stone walls and chimney. Not that the goats didn't deserve a better fate, but they did look very cool toeing it along the chimney ledges and they were, in fact, the only goats I saw while there.

There are no pictures because I never take pictures and because no picture I take will be as good as the postcard, but there were no postcards of picas, alas. And if I'd known what it would be like out there, I'd've taken the spouse despite the $900 flight and arranged a couple of extra days to see Yellowstone. Regrets, regrets. But it was beautiful beyond even the postcards' ability to construct.
Tuesday, July 18th, 2006
10:45 pm
International Blog Against Racism Week
For what good it may do, I'm following the lovely and literate Melymbrosia (whom I do not know personally but whose writings I love, except for the stuff about manga, a genre which I do not love.) In accordance with her steps, I'm officially announcing the International Blog Against Racism Week here (the whole three of you who actually see it, and who undoubtedly don't need the announcement, thank you for reading anyway.) I'm going to make every effort to switch my icon to one of oyceter's, though I don't know if I actually have the capability to do that (if it doesn't work out, talking_sock, your usual words of LJ advice are as usual welcome. Without sweet Dreamweaver at my side, I haven't even figured out how to hyperlink in this environment to the 'blogs I've just cited, and I do know how pathetic that is. I'll keep working on it.) And (step 3) I'm going to post about racism.

The recent-ongoing flame war--er, discussion--was spurred by Pirates of the Caribbean II, which I have to confess I haven't yet seen. It's pretty cheap to say I "know" it's racist when I haven't seen it, and I expect I'll hear about it...but I am going to say it. Did the black pirates stupidly die while the white pirates lived? Did the Carib Indians get portrayed as gabbling cannibals whose humor lay in their unintelligibility and slapstick? Did the one cool black female character of Movie I spend all her limited screen time helping the white folks, and was the new black female character a Wise Old Mystical Negro? If these things happened, then the racist judgment needs no more justification. If they didn't, I apologize and will go see Pirates II posthaste.

I'll also make that sweeping statement about what I know about racism because of what I have seen. I have seen JarJar Binks in the abomination which is the recent Star Wars trilogy. I have seen the nameless donkey played by Eddie Murphy in Shrek (I mean, nameless? It's not enough that the black sidekick has to be cowardly, lazy, stupid, and a DONKEY, he has to be NAMELESS?) I have seen Danny be Mel's sidekick something like fifty times, and even when it's a nice relationship, the black character is always already the sidekick. I have seen several hundred movies all verifying the fact that unless a writer and a director (and the actors) go out of their way to avoid it, mainstream movies perpetuate dominant stereotypes about gender, sexuality, race, religion, and lots of other things. They just do. And until enough people understand that, they always will.

Some disclaimers for the relatively rare reader who disagrees:

No, this is not an accusation of racist plotting against your favorite director. That's not how racism works: the privileged mostly don't plot. They don't have to plot. Dominant ideology is what happens when no one works to avoid it, the default position. And it's the thing that makes the dominant position and its stereotypes look normal to everybody except the people being pilloried. If you are uncomfortable with discussions of racism, that does not prove that those discussions are silly and pointles (whether we have had them a thousand times or not.) It suggests just the opposite.

No, I do not and will never believe that because you did not see racism or gender stereotypes or whatever, they aren't there. Even if you are a member of a racial minority, what you did not see is not the last word. It's one word in an ongoing discussion.

No, I do not and will never believe that discussing racism perpetuates racism in any way. Earthworms thrive in the dirt; stereotypes and lies thrive in silence and blind acceptance; and that sentence is in no way meant as a slur against earthworms, which are really pretty cool little annelid guys. And not to wax all anecdotal here, but I've never, ever had a student who was a member of a racial or cultural minority and thought discussing this stuff in class led to more racism. The only people who thought that were, no surprise, white. Like me. I had to learn to see this stuff, and talk about this stuff, and I promise you, it's worth the effort. (If nothing else, it makes your viewing life much more interesting.)

No, I do not and will never believe that sharing unquestioned racist stereotypes in text, film or virtual blogs is a) some kind of cool, ironic, postmodern, post-PC commentary or b) some kind of directorial passion for historical accuracy. Those stereotypes are old and boring and depressing, not new and original, and portraying Carib Indians as savage, unintelligible, but somehow funny cannibals is not historically accurate.

Finally, as I've mentioned elsewhere (I'd link if I could! really!) PORTRAYING racism, which is done in Beloved and Huckleberry Finn and Light in August and The Tempest, can perpetuate racism, or question it and struggle with it, or illuminate its workings. I'd argue that these iconic works do all three, at different times. But enacting or performing those stereotypes without questioning them can only do one of these things: the first one. Pirates is no Huckleberry Finn, which, whether you think it wins or loses, at least grapples with racism instead of giving it a medal of honor. Comparing the two is remarkably insulting to Twain.

So I think that'll cover my High Points on Racism for today, except that I'll tell you a joke about My People.

Question: How many academics does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: CHANGE?!?!

That's a stereotype; keeping it from being true is something of a struggle. We're lucky to have people to remind us to keep struggling. Here's a shout-out to the ones doing it now.
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