..in which Curmudgeon Rocks a Deadline

I feel like I should take a bow , leave the stage, and never blog again after "The Maltese Futon" post.

But I won't. Because I have other things to babble about in this post.

Because my book is done. At least done enough that I can send it on to my editor, and pretend it isn't my problem for a bit. Let me also note - because everyone around here seemed to think it would be heretical for an academic to do so - that it is done and available to be sent on-time.

But it won't because when I e-mailed my editor the list of questions I'd been compiling about the process and things I didn't know about how they wanted this draft to appear, I received a reply telling me they wouldn't even be looking at it until maybe early September and so to hold off a little bit as they'd be out of town anyway, and also the bibliographic formatting had been changed.

For those of you who care, it came out to 251 pages, though that's with the charts and such pulled out (and there are a lot of 'em, my friends). My longest sentence is still 70 words (though I do hold out hope there might be some easy way to find that sentence so I can take it down a notch).

But it is (more or less) done.

The Maltese Futon

Driving along this evening, I passed a store that, on the quickest glance, was called "Raymond Chandler Furniture."

This set off the whole set of thoughts that only come when driving, like what would it be like to work there? I imagine a store populated with down-on-their-luck salesmen with names like Mickey and Jack, who could make a sale but always wound up paying for it. They'd be grim, straight talkers, with an angled hats and suits that hadn't been crisp since they'd had their first drink twenty years before. Real hard luck cases. Masters of the hard sell because they'd seen it from both ends.

It seems like the sort of store you could go into and say "I want a table with legs so long, you'd have to have two dinners to give them the full once over."

Oh, sure, you'd have to get a little roughed up to get your purchase home with you, and there'd be customers wandering through who looked like they'd seen the business end of the hard-luck stick. But it'd be worth it just to sit on a couch so comfortable you'd tell it your secrets and say thanks when it stole your remote.

The only problem was I don't know if I need furniture.

Frag(ments), Son of Scraps

The deadline is coming, and I hope I am Chicken Little about it falling on my head. Still no time for a real post, I think, so random thoughts have been collecting here for days. So read it, because suffering is good for the soul.


Even in the office on weekends, I can't work here. The printers here don't like my word processor. I'm pretty computer savvy, and I've done the tweaks and surfed the help forums (fori? is forum its own plural? fuck it. but remember to do a search and replace in the manuscript.) Really, it's probably another configuration problem on the part of the network, the way my e-mail client can no longer access the mail server here, forcing me to use Microsoft Exchange.


I'm sick of hearing people explain why the Barack Obama cover is fine. I get it.

What I want to know is why haven't we heard from the comedians, explaining why we can say for sure it isn't funny. Anybody who has ever been on stage can tell you there's a simple way to tell if something is funny: check if the people you intended to are laughing.

You can call it satire, and dress it up in First Amendment considerations, and whatever you like. But at the end of the day, if you made a joke and your audience didn't laugh, it was a bad decision. But for the record, if you want to satire a group's view, you need to reference the group in your satire, not just their bogus view.

Of course, maybe it is our mistake, though not the way it's being spun. Perhaps the New Yorker cover is a signal about just who the magazine is targeted to. Let me admit up front that I've done my time with New Yorker subscriptions. They have some great writing and some great insights. But at the same time, I can say definitively that the New Yorker isn't a magazine for whom I'm the key demographic. And in fact, academics and liberals, let me suggest that most of us aren't. Look at how much of the magazine is given over to things that will never have relevance to your life even if you actually lived in NYC. And I don't just mean ads, though these are a pretty big hint in and of themselves. Bulova watches? Nights at the Met?

If you, like me, didn't like the cover and found it questionable at best and poor taste at worst, let me offer up a new thought. Maybe the cover isn't funny because it's not meant to be funny to us.

I'm just sayin'.


Incidentally, I'm also sick to death of anything to do with Brett Favre. I don't know why, particularly since I don't pay attention to the NFL or MLB or much of any sport that isn't basketball, why I keep hearing stories about this. But they need to stop.


Neighbors: putting your trash in the hall to take out "later" is not a good solution. I'm tired, full of cabin fever, and if you keep it up, I might let the air out of your tires.


Getting set for Season 2 of "Mad Men" and Season 3 of "Lost." For those of you considering either, here's my big thought.

"Lost" and 'Mad Men" are nice contrasts. "Lost" is so awash in daddy issues (and notice that, particularly in the first season, the only characters who get real relationship oriented bask stories are the males) that Freud would have to invent a new complex for it. In contrast, while "Mad Men"'s lead character is a male, some of the most interesting stories in it have to do with sexual/office politics for women.

"Lost" still frustrates me in some ways. I feel like there were a few moments in Season 2 where the writers completely forgot how they'd written characters just an episode or two back. And there is a constant character as deus ex machina shtick that will wear completely through shortly if it hasn't already. But for all of that, there are a couple of the lesser characters who I enjoy enough to continue.

"Mad Men" was a little slow for me initially, but one of the things I liked about it is that even when I knew something was coming, it always was used in a way that surprised me. I'm a big fan of anything that can take something that's nearing cliche and make me think "well, that was new!"


It was an interesting moment when I realized, as I was advising incoming freshmen, that every moment I have to do something that is institutionally supportive (helping with incoming freshmen, strategic planning, etc) that I'm looking for ways to game the system. Not for my benefit exactly, but to find a way around some imagined and inevitable poor planning by someone above me.

Maybe worse, maybe not, I found myself explaining the visible portion of that iceberg to the incoming freshmen as part of their orientation.

It's going to be a good year, for real.

Half-asleep Musical Rambling

Technically, I'm probably due for a nap.

But I've been sitting/laying here, waiting for my campus e-mail account to start working again so I can send a couple of notes off before I go mid-afternoon jammies. But instead of grumbling, I've been surfing the Internet looking at music stuff. This is rarely a good thing, financially, as I have a bit of a problem with compulsively buying music.

And so when Pandora - which I love and must plug again because it is the best way to find cool, new music since that cute, slightly nerdy girl at the record store - showed me that a band (Slow Runner) whose debut album ("No Disassemble") I loved had a new album out ("Mermaids") with a song that I couldn't get enough of on it ("The Stakes Have Been Raised"), I had to go looking. It was, as the quote goes, a moral imperative. As it turns out, they have two new albums, and they may have been bumped from their label, which intrigues me because their album was that good that there's no way they should have been dropped. Still, it wouldn't be the first time the business didn't recognize greatness.

And so, off I went, in part because it's a long way to payday and two albums might be a bad move (since I just got a few including a long sought after copy of Howlin' Wolf's "London Sessions" that is as good as I'd hope). And what did I find was all sorts of news with lots of potential.

First, Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has some nice recordings in a much more mellow vein up for listening on MySpace under the name "Native Korean Rock." They're different from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs by miles, but worth a listen.

Second, I stumbled on a new album by Paul Westerberg that's available for download for $.49. That's right: 49 cents. Westerberg, considered by some to be one of the greatest living song writers around, made his bones in college/alternative radio underachievers The Replacements. And though I came to 'em late, I love 'em. So when the mastermind behind one of the original lo-fi, garage production rock bands of all time put out an album that cheap, I had to get it. I mean, when is the last time you paid 49 cents for anything? Be warned, the album is a bit of a scratchpad, but it's a good one (and again: 49 cents!).

And so now, not just because I can't get to my e-mail, the dog and I are dozing on the carpet in front of the stereo listening.

And here's part of what I like about it: the album is one track. You've got to listen to it all or fast forward yourself, and I like that album feeling. One of the things I think that's gotten lost in the age of quick downloaded mp3s is the joy of a well put-together album. Maybe that's why I've been listening to so much older stuff lately: because there can be a very different aesthetic to putting together something that long musically. Maybe I'm thinking about this because I'm starting to think beyond the book to upcoming projects, and one of the things I'm thinking about is how we pull action and thought from older historical practices onto modern ones. Or maybe it's because I'm curious at this creation as an example of an alternative to current modes of production?

By setting it up this way and charging what he is, Westerberg is not only going against the stream in the same way I was thinking maybe Slow Runner was (or in a way similar to bands releasing their own digital bootlegs of shows a la Pearl Jam or even Joseph Arthur who, for awhile at least, was recording his shows on the spot and selling them to the audience right there), he's paying a little homage to those earlier forms. There's something pretty amazing, after all, about picking an album that hangs together - let's say "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis - and taking the afternoon off to just listen to the whole thing to see how it flows and carries you with it. Not many artists do that these days, honestly.

And so, sitting here waiting for IT to get it together, even though I'm tired, I'm having a pretty good time.


It's weird to think about what can make a difference in someone's life.

I was talking with a friend the other evening about hearing from one of my students, and I expressed a bit of cynicism (I know! Shocking, right?) about the student's reasons for contacting me. My friend, though, was a bit more optimistic, and suggested that perhaps I'd made a difference I didn't even realize. And as we talked about it, I realized that it was often the smallest things that made a difference for me, so maybe I had done something for this student and not even known it. I certainly tried, but you just never know.

I've been trying to think about specific moments that made a difference in my life. Most of them are small things. One that comes to mind is my undergraduate adviser rightly calling me on crappy work and expressing his distress that I wasn't doing better and wanting to know what would snap me out of it. There wasn't anything at the time that would have pulled me out of that particular nosedive. I was working too much, my family life was nuts, I was in the midst of breaking off an engagement. Getting out of school was a skin of the teeth affair for me. And if you'd suggested even one more hour in a classroom the day I finished, I'd have socked you in the teeth. But if he hadn't suggested that there was a higher level for me, I'd likely never have thought about going back to school when corporate America was doing its level-best to burn a hole through my head and stomach.

Or I find myself thinking about my best friend's mom, gladly letting me spend every day of practically every weekend of a long childhood at their house because as she once tried to tell me, sometimes a break was needed from trying to keep my family's wheels on the road.

What's funny to me is that I didn't really pick up on those lessons until long after they were both offered. But eventually I did. And I could certainly list more. There are a lot of big and little moments where people near and dear and even a few who weren't quite so close did something worth being proud of. I do wonder whether they know the difference they made.

...and day not long enough.

Skylark sings all
day, and day
not long enough.
I want to write something.

But nothing is coming. I'm tired in that senseless, not likely to lead to sleep sort of way. I've been worn down and sick, but neither in any useful way.

But I'm trying to focus on the bits that are good: the sound, beyond static and telephony, of dear voices; the friendly smile of my dog, hot in his chair, looking for a touch on the head; the moment when the humidity will break and stop feeling like Louisiana minus the Cajun food and cold drinks.

I'm tired, but I do not want to sleep.


Too long to be random bullets, and besides, they're really just only half-imagined things anyway...


If you believe the counter in my word processor, I'm sitting at about 41,000 words between the two projects. The smaller one is done, more or less, and should be off to the editors in the next day or so. The larger one could be done by the end of next week.

As a writer - and let me say I'm using that term loosely - I'm drawn to the sentence level of construction. When I read books, sometimes I'm stopped by a particular sentence that seems so perfect and clear. In the book I'm reading now - The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano - a sentence stopped me tonight. It read: "I spent the rest of the day with Maria and chasing Maria." I'm not sure why it stopped me. The most perfect sentence I've ever read was also translated. I won't tell you what it was, because I found it, and it is probably only perfect to me.

According to that same counter, the larger project has just under 3,000 sentences in it. They average 11 words long, but the longest is 67. Not a single one of them has that sort of simple perfection. I don't think I've written one like that yet, in any format.

A boy can dream.


Tonight, driving in the car, I didn't have my .mp3 player, and the car cd player had nothing like what I wanted to hear. Rounding a corner, I tried to remember what five discs I played in my room the first night I appeared in grad school to make the tiny, tripped out closet that was my room in the co-op seem a little more like home. I could only recall one was Lyle Lovett and another the Gipsy Kings.

I was frustrated because I'm not sure anything even on my .mp3 player would have been what I wanted for that particular moment in the car. If only I had my entire music collection everywhere I go

And that's when that creepy cyborg future hit me that we're probably only a few years off from having something like that. Some little chip or hard drive that holds who knows how much information stuck in some flap under the skin.

The drive wasn't the same after that.


I'd taken the drive to go to the post office and the grocery store, and also to tease out why it is that distance adds significance to everything. For example, though I had things in my apartment to eat, there was nothing there I wanted, and the only things I wanted were far away. It seemed to me that something sweet that I had to go get must surely taste sweeter than something actually in my apartment.

But distance does that to most things, right? Silence seems more intense when distance is involved. Longing, too. Or so I've heard. And probably other things. Irony sometimes works better with time, so why not distance?

Distance is a lens for too many things, I thought.

And then, the wind picking up, the thought escaped me. Or I escaped it.

What a Fuck Up, What a Fighter

This morning I woke up with a growing sense of panic about upcoming deadlines. I've been making what I think counts as outstanding progress on the book - averaging between 2,000 and 4,000 words revised a day. This, in spite of the fact that I got no support towards research this summer and the research support I received in the Spring largely went to freeing me from a class so I could be shackled to extra University service moments.

But still, all day today I have had a growing sense of dread.

It wasn't the usual sort of dread that so many of us have about finally reaching the moment where our great con job of making the world believe we're 10,000 times smarter than we really are will be revealed. I've pretty much learned to let that feeling just ride shotgun wherever this ride is taking me. No, this has been a different sort of dread all together.

I am, what one friend once described best, a calamity writer. Like so many academics, I tend to put off my work until near the 11th hour. I'm one of those people who has been known to say "I work best under pressure." And this is true, though it doesn't particularly account for the fact that I make sure that's really the only way that I work. I'm sure someone somewhere talked about how we reproduce the conditions of our own downfalls. I incline towards chaos and looming disaster, and maybe this is because it's a little like how I learned to get homework done as a kid: loud noises, looming deadlines, a little sound and fury the significance of which was always yet to be determined.

As I rode out to do my errands today - checking apartment possibilities for our new hire, a trip to the grocery store and the post office, a run to print new sources - I realized that I'd unwittingly repeated a moment from years ago.

Back in the Master's days, the date of my defense was assumed. There wasn't any real question about going over or defending late. The flexibility that went with the Ph.D. program - that same flexibility that often hung students (at other times, it was the hands-off until time to say no approach of advisers) - didn't exist for me. There was a date to defend by, and I had to make it. And so, in the midst of revisions, I fell into a rough final week of writing and general slovenliness. If you ever saw "Mr. Mom," you might remember that period where Michael Keaton begins to grow a beard and wears the same shirt all the time? That was the final weeks of my thesis, though to my credit, it wasn't a flannel shirt I was wearing. Instead, I hung out in my favorite t-shirt of the time: a comfortable white Thelonious Monk t-shirt. It was only one of a few comfort moments I had for the thesis. Most of it was written to one of two albums: "London Calling" by the Clash and "Straight, No Chaser" by Monk. I'm sure I probably ate the same thing for days, too, but then again, I'm a bachelor and that might just be how I am.Today, as it did in the traveling moments of my doctoral defense, I found myself instinctively putting that same t-shirt on as I headed out.

What worries me, of course, is not the repetition of the pattern in clothing. The Monk shirt is awesome, after all. It's that sooner or later, the law of averages says that I won't be able to pull the miracle off. I'm smart enough to know this, the same way I'm smart enough to know that if I could just grade a few papers every night, I could have things back to students sooner probably and not have to undergo the usual 18 hour Caning of Bad Writing that I face under the current system.

But that, evidently, that just isn't how it works for me. Evidently, there's got to be that bit of fear and the deadlined precipice. But I guess at least I've not let the beard grow yet.

Tuesday (It is Tuesday, right?) Afternoon Office Blues

I'm up at the office today after a very productive weekend and an evening out at a baseball that reminded me just how little I care about baseball. What I'm really wondering though is why is it that as soon as I walk in my office, that list of things I had in mind to do here fly out the window? It's a problem, right, that I can't be productive in my office?

It's funny to me because I remember in grad school the continuing quest to get to a smaller office. I started out (and ended) my grad career in a well-cubicled bullpen office. At one point there were twenty or so of us crowded in, using two computers and nine desks. When they put the cubicles in, I remember the grad director telling me how they thought it would make us feel important. I tried to explain that I left cubicles to return to grad school, and that no one feels important with a cloth-covered cork half-wall. Try stopping the Mongul hordes with that, I wanted to say, but didn't. I needed their approval for travel funding, after all.

Once, I briefly got to share a small, closet like office in the back of the building with two other graduate students. There was elation: at long last, I would be able to work undistracted (and I am oh-so-easily distractable when I want to be - and in grad school, I almost always was up for distraction). But the office was taken away from us, a couple of months in, to give to the department's new hire in charge of the alumni newsletter. But I'd never really unpacked. That sort of reward never really lasted there - only adjuncts might have been at the wrong end of the rope like grad students.

Really, though, there was a lot of joy in the large office. Pranks to be played - like hanging someone's prize action figure by paper clips from the ceiling - and fun to be had - like bourbon smoothies from the back computer desk/ad hoc bar. You hear interesting things in a bunker office. People have breakdowns. Hell, people cause breakdowns. People have epiphanies. That level of interest almost never happens in your closet-like single office. Oh, I suppose the nun-next-door had a breakdown when I played music of a certain persuasion, but it wasn't the same as the great collapse of '02 where a good friend was driven right 'round the bend by that action figure incident I mentioned, finding the need to take it up with the grad director and refrain for two weeks worth of Thursday night drinks. And no one ever stops in to cheer here because they've just made the critical turn on what they've spent a term trying to wrap their head around.

The office - my office - is supposed to have some element of status to it. But I've got plywood shelves on the wall. I don't get to control my own thermostat (though they gave me a fake one to play with). I have to store stuff for the department in here - old journals, mostly, and copies of the Chronicle. Last summer I came in to discover that the school had decided to take some of my furniture and replace it with other stuff. It was also seen as a status move, but it was interesting that "new furniture" was a rather loose signifier - lots of wiggle room and no consulting the person whose status it was supposed to bolster (or at least reflect). What did I get? A new chair for visitors and a hand-me-down lateral filing cabinet that I didn't really have room for to begin with.

Still, I'm left with the problem that once I open the door, all the things I planned to do run off around the corner and down the stairs to parts unknown. If you see my things-to-do playing stickball or joining the circus or whatever, tell them I miss them. Tell them I can't get along with them. Tell them I'm sorry that I neglected them, and I'll try to be better.

Ah, screw it. Tell them to have fun and to send a postcard now and then. But no cryptic hints. Those would only drive me crazy.

Things I've Accomplished Today That Weren't Related to my Book

So I realize now that tomorrow is the Fourth of July. That's made today require a bit of hurry up and go because tomorrow is not only mother #2 and my sister's birthday (and I didn't get either of their cards in the mail), but it also means that, in spite of virtually everyone I know here being out of town, tomorrow must be given over to barbecue.

The thing I like about summer holidays is that they are social events in a way winter holidays can never be. No one ever gathers up their friends, packs a cooler and runs off to the beach for some sun and fun in January (at least not here in the forsaken lands). And let's be honest, as much as I love Thanksgiving, I can't think of anyone who has the same level of fear that their family or friends are going to unload every ounce of drama over the meal the way they do at winter holidays (unless you've reason to always be afraid your family is going to do that, in which case summer holidays would be better because it's easier to get away when it isn't likely to be snowy).

Of course, at least part of the theory is that if I'm going to have to spend hours on the phone tomorrow in the "apologetic son/brother" role, I might as well at least be well-fed.

And so today's been less focused on work than other days (and those of you who know me know just how little focus that means). Instead, I've been accomplishing things for the barbecue I am throwing for myself. It's all prep time, baby.
  1. Pico de Gallo. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that the cilantro I bought seems to have vanished. The pico de gallo may be the most important part here because it can be used for ages - pico de gallo goes great in an omelette, for example.
  2. Lemon Poppy Seed Bread. Well, technically, I could still screw that up by forgetting to take it out of the oven, but honestly, if it reaches that point, I'll have bigger fish to fry. This is also a bit about set up. The bread'll be good, I hope, but I'm intending it to go with some specially prepared strawberries and whipped cream. If it works, it'll be grand. If it doesn't, it'll be the worst clash of flavors since the great Dr. Pepper/Crunch Berry Experiment of '93.
  3. Fajitas. Technically, they're marinating still, but that is at least as important as the application of heat. There are also peppers and onions marinating, but this is an experiment.
  4. A load of laundry. Because you can always rustle up a load of laundry, and doing one always feels like an accomplishment.
  5. finished "Spook Country" by William Gibson. Eyed "Drown" by Junot Diaz. Recommended books to others. Sharing is important.
  6. Brushed the dog. Also played extensively with dyno-mutt, as this is a significant portion of why we keep each other around.
Notice how much of this is justification about how doubly-useful this form of procrastination might be? Don't mention that. I noticed it first, and anyway, you don't want me coming to your blog to point out your defense mechanisms.

So anyway, it's an odd thing that today I feel like cooking for friends which would necessitate inviting people to my apartment. I never feel like that. Ever. But I'm pining for grad school in loads of ways - most of the people I want to invite over cross my path first there (but not all). There's actually, likely, a post coming up on how grad school pining may be part of what's leading to the desire for the Big Leap.

And now, I must make dinner and do some book work. Happy 4th to the lot of you.

Visual blogging

Inspired by Belle's Summer So Far (because God knows this blog could use a little visual stimulation).

Notes on the Start of July

Today didn't go as planned. Not in a bad way, mind you. It was just long. Every errand - and there were a few - took twice as long as they should. In part, this was due to the shoddy driving that happens in these parts.

A word to drivers: first, when you get in the car, before you ever turn the key, think about where you're going and how you're going to get there. Keep this goal in mind when deciding when to change lanes, etc. It's always better to be in the lane you want sooner than later. Second it helps if you start to cut the wheel about a third of the way out of a parking space. If you back straight out all the way, and then start trying to turn, it just holds everyone up. And that makes you both a slow driver and a jackass. Third, it's okay to drive slow. Just do it in the proper lane, and don't get upset if someone starts to pass you. It isn't a statement on your man- or womanhood if they do.

Losing time to errands is frustrating because I'm on the clock for a few things. My book deadline is coming up, and while I'm making progress, it is slower than I'd like. I've realized it is because it feels a bit like busy work. The book is essentially an updated version of my dissertation. But as I've been updating, I've found myself uncomfortable with the idea of leaving ideas in the same way I expressed them in the dissertation. But in a lot of cases - in my background chapter, for example - I was very satisfied with how that came out, so rewording things seems like more work for no good reason. But it seems a bit like plagiarism not to reword them, though I do wonder whether that's the sort of act one can do to one's self.

Wow, I just made plagiarism seem even dirtier. Sweet.

And now I've got an additional writing deadline coming up because I've got an article accepted for an edited collection, but the deadline hits around the same time as the book deadline. So things are hopping here, and that's forcing me to rethink little distractions - like my newly acquired love for the video game "God of War" or my attempts to juggle episodic television shows like "Lost," which I still haven't made it through the first season of. And I've been slowly struggling through the latest by William Gibson, though it isn't because the book isn't good. I'm just not in that zone right now, I suppose. And that's a shame because I did manage a stop at the bookstore where I found three new books to try and get to: Junot Diaz' Drown, Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, and Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible. Thank goodness for faculty discounts and gift cards.

I'm also pretty taken with silicon bakeware; I've been slowly experimenting with baking things with fresh fruit in them (if you do it late enough at night, it's not so bad to have the oven at 400). Nothing truly spectacular yet, but it's been nice to have something sweet to snack on as the days have run.

I did not, however, find a birthday gift for Mom #2. This is because, or so it seems to me, that in spite of all the years and lectures and advice, I know nothing about except that she likes pansies. And I'm pretty sure I've run out of crap with pansies on them to buy for her. And so, the day's at an impasse on that score, and her gift - whatever it is - is going to be late fore sure as she's one of a few folks hanging from the branches of the family tree who has a July 4th birthday.

But, of course, the time I spent putting this up could have been spent re-writing a sentence I wrote three years ago. And so now, I must away.