All I Wanted Was a Pale Ale...

[Added from journal notes on the road, but published with the appropriate date]

So this weekend was the last of the summer trips I'd planned before my roommate launched the bombshell that he might be moving any possible day now, taking all the furniture and pleasant budgetary savings in his wake. If I could have gotten out of it without eating a $60 concert ticket, I would have because the $150 in travel costs was more than I wanted to spend right now. But the trip was largely good, except for east coast townies who were too lazy to excuse themselves to the bathroom in the middle of the concert. There was also my friend's burning need to make every fun exercise into a positive health moment. You know you're in trouble when the pub crawl involves two pubs that only appear at the end of a six mile hike through the hood.

One of the things that happened though was that - in the midst of the six mile hike to the pub on day so hot, humid, and still you'd think it came out of a chapter Faulkner threw out - I had a bit of a think about where I want to be.

My good friend T. (who, if you're reading this, I keep meaning to call and then the night slips away from me, and I wind up feeling like a complete heel for not managing my time better: I promise I'm going to call you. Promise!) often encourages me to take time out and imagine what I want out of life. She may have spent too much time in a commune for a story, but she knows what works. And since this trip, however accidentally, provided some clarity on that, here's a shout-out to you.

Part of what got me thinking was watching my relatively newly married friend, leading the march, and his wife interact. They're a lovely couple, but, I'm sad to say, they may not be one of those couples I'm drawn to. Their marriage works for them in a "let's have this argument in whispers in the bedroom" sort of way. It works in a "death march to the pub" sort of way. They want to have to have kids, and I've no doubt their children will be bright. But they'll be regimented in a way that scares me, even from afar (in the same way that people raising their hands and swaying in unison at the concert briefly unnerved me).

That sounds really catty. They're good people and great hosts, and I think they're good for each other in ways my brief interactions with them haven't fully revealed to me. And it completely misses the point I'm trying to make which is that they're just not the couple I want to be.

The job stuff aside - I think it's pretty well established in this blog that I like teaching and would like to continue with it but haven't drank the kool-aid to the point that I'd put that one thing over all the other ways I might be happy - there are things I'd like. A good, long relationship with someone who gets my quirks and brings out the good ones in me would be a start. I think I'm about ready to be done traveling alone. But I'm not done traveling.

But I don't know if I want kids. Some days I do; some days, not so much. One of the reasons I brought the ill-fated example of my friends' relationship into this was an alcohol-fueled conversation about their quest and worries about having children which naturally led to a brief unpacking of my own baggage about the possibility of being a baby-daddy. I don't know if I want kids because I come from a pretty odd and unknowable genetic mishmash, and I don't know that I want to risk those things for my kids. I don't know if I want to have kids because I'm not getting younger, and the sort of relationship I want to be possible takes time.

And there's the part about a place of my own - not having to rent or deal with landlords or loud neighbors pounding down the hallways. A yard for my dog. A room with books. Pictures I took on the walls. A hammock. A porch. A little garden; a big kitchen. Room and time for friends to come over and stay awhile. Space.

I'm ready for mischief again and for days where I don't know quite what's coming. I'm bored with planning and sticking to plans and inching forward. I think, soon, a leap must be in order.

Stupid Driver Games

[Added from journal notes on the road, but published with the appropriate date]

Being from Texas, maybe I'm a bit more used to long drives than some. I find myself laughing a bit here, as when I was in graduate school, when people would complain that a 90 minute drive was a long one. Drives home from school used to be three hours at least, and drives around where I grew up could run 30 to 45 minutes on a good day.

One of the thing that happens when you get used to driving - and I love road trips - is that you start to develop little games to help the time pass. I guess we do that - or I do - with any task that drags on.

This last drive, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I'd leave clues for loved ones to find me if I had to disappear. You know, if I were a spy and had to flee the area. I spend more than a little time with stupid James Bond-esque thoughts when I'm driving. Or wishing I had some sort of violent telekinesis so I could explode bad drivers out of my way. But that only happens sometimes. Mostly.

Anyway, the point is - as much as there is one - is the extent we go to for distraction.

When I was in banking, I used to find myself planning all the ways I could steal from the bank. Probably everyone has thoughts like that who worked there; some people even tried it. It seemed like their concern was always how much they could get away with. But it always seemed to me they were focused on the wrong thing. That's why they got caught - because they were focused on what they could get and not on how it would work. The secret, I figured, wasn't not getting caught, but in using the time till you get caught most effectively.

So on the road, thinking about who I'd contact - and how - if I suddenly had to disappear. Just like with the bank scenario, thinking about disappearing means thinking about what the real problem might be.

Assuming you wanted to disappear, but you wanted to be found, the trick isn't getting people to look, it would be getting them to look at the right time. So I'd try to pick one thing I loved that they'd have no interest in - probably a book or an album - and leave the clues there. And from there it would just be a scavenger hunt, right? Then the trick is just deciding where you'd want them to find you.

I'm thinking a beach in Thailand.

Campfire Tales

I was supposed to go camping this weekend.

I'm a little bummed about it, as I haven't been camping in a couple of years, and I sort of miss that "getting away from it all" feeling. And ignoring your e-mail and voice mail just doesn't get you to the same point. Trust me, I've been trying it for weeks now. I'm not sure that the camping here is much to my liking, honestly, but it seemed worth a try. Near where I live, it's mostly reclaimed marsh, and the weather has done its best to keep the mosquitoes happy. East of here, it's mostly hills and farmland. I'm not sure how that'll go since I got used to the scenery of the West and Northwest for camping.

Actually, I had two camping offers; one that I'd committed to and one that was much more appealing. The one I was committed to came attached to a concert - the last of the pre-summer-catastrophe commitments - but the camping part fell through. So now the weekend is just a concert (just a concert, he says, as though that's somehow a punishment).

I never much liked camping growing up, which may be because my family never went. Or maybe it was the other way around: correlation and causality again. I can recall going camping maybe three times, with the families of some friends. This was in middle school. The first time, we drove straight to the beach and fished and camped and played cards. On the first night, the father of one friend waded hip deep into the cool waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and promptly realized he'd left his keys in the pocket of his swim trunks. No one's got stickier fingers than Poseidon, I suppose, because somewhere out there are the keys to a family station wagon. The fathers and all but one adult piled into the lone remaining unlockable vehicle and enjoyed a three and a half hour drive back to San Antonio to get the replacement set of keys. Later in the trip, we caught the same friend's mother eating raw bait shrimp out of the bucket, looking like she'd discovered the key to Fort Knox.

After that, there were a couple of trips to the property owned by one friend's family or other, but take me word for it, when you're in middle school and you've no interest in hunting, hanging out in the central Texas scrub for a weekend in August is pretty far down the list of favorite times.

It wasn't until graduate school that I ever really enjoyed the notion of camping. Maybe it was because in graduate school, all my other favorite things began to - however briefly - feel like a chore. Want to a read a book? Grad school will let you. Want to begin to question why you liked reading so much? Grad school can do that, too. So sometime in my first year of graduate school when one of my new grad school friends proposed packing it up and heading out into Bigfoot country for the weekend with a cooler full of beer and nothing work related, how could I pass it up?

Wait - maybe the beer is why I began to like camping.

The first trip, though, was only fun until it was time to head to bed. It was maybe late April, and though the weather had turned towards summer, it was taking the scenic route to get there. And since I didn't particularly enjoy camping, I didn't actually own a tent or a sleeping bag. And so after a night of playing cards and imbibing just a bit too much, I tucked myself in to a couple of blankets and dozed off to sleep.

I remember waking up bright and early, itself already a bad sign. My camping cohort, warm in the back of his truck camper, was still asleep. I, however, was shivering violently as I checked my watch. This feeling confirmed for me, yet again, that 5:30 a.m. is only to approached one way. You don't want to wake up at 5:30; you want to see it coming. My lips may have been blue. I know I couldn't hold breakfast on the way back (though, eventually that little restaurant on the 199 became one of my favorite spots ever to stop and grab a snack). I spent two days in bed recovering once we got back. And yet, it had still been one of the most fun weekends I could remember.

At various times in grad school, we got different people out camping. And everyone had their own style. One friend could only go places where there was mountain biking. Another had to be near water (but wouldn't go in it). Some people pack enough fixings for S'mores to feed an army.

If you find one of those people, hang on to them. You want those people camping with you.

Other people turn up with generators and RV's and live just like they would at home, except loudly and usually right next to someone who just wanted two days of peace and quiet. Odds are good they'll play "Freebird" before they go to bed. Don't ask why; it may well be genetic.

The best camping trip I ever took was a solo road trip through several of the national parks out west. I spent a couple of weeks tooling around the West in summertime. Yellowstone is amazing, and I often think I'd like to go back with someone. It's not got the romance of Paris, but still, it's one of those spots for me. Yosemite was nice, but overrun with tourists. Arches was only overrun with photographers, but how can you blame them? I was supposed to stop and see a friend in Colorado on that trip, but it didn't work out. Instead, I wound up camping in the mountains outside Gunnison. When I woke up the first morning, my tent had a thin sheet of ice on it, and it glistened in the sun. One shouldn't find their own tent gorgeous to behold, but it was.

I'd been hoping to have some little moment like that this summer - where the beauty and the silence of things around me surprise me. The summer's young, after all.

Reflecting on George Carlin and Comedy in the Classroom

I seem to find myself writing a lot of posts and then deleting them lately before anyone sees.

I'd wanted to write something about George Carlin passing, but I just couldn't get it right. I was trying to remember when I first heard Carlin, and I think it was probably sixth grade or so. Most of us boys had been captivated with Eddy Murphy at the time, having caught him on an HBO special or two. We'd sneak watching them when someone's parents weren't home. And one friend, whose parents didn't pay much attention, managed to get his parents to buy him one of Eddy's albums.

Whenever it was, Carlin was something different, though. He loved words and poking sticks at things, and I loved that, even then. I do remember some airman at the military library I went to then recommending a couple of Carlin albums to me. He probably thought I'd get in trouble - either at the circulation desk or when my parents heard. But it was a great recommendation, and I didn't get in trouble, so it was a win/win, really. Carlin, as you may have read, made it in comedy for roughly fifty years. So you know he'll be missed.

One of the best experiences I ever had was doing Improv in college. I was never the funniest guy on stage - once I was referred to by a member of the audience as "the guy in the middle" - but it may have been the best preparation for teaching I ever had. I'd always wanted to be funny, and often was, but having to try and be entertaining while making sense to a large group of people took some effort. The first lecture of a course still feels like stepping on stage for me. Eventually the nerves go a bit, but for those first few minutes, everything races a bit. I can't quite imagine how it would work if I hadn't done Improv.

The two things most important things I learned from Improv (at least in terms of teaching - there's a lesson about what to do when paid in free drinks that is probably a bit less relevant here) were this:
  • listen closely
  • work with what you're given
One of the key rules in Improv was that you couldn't deny what happened on stage beforehand - or what someone else set you up with. And you have to take what the audience gives you. That's often the case in class, too: you've got to start where your students are, and run from there. One of the faculty I worked with as a grad student went out of his way to listen to what students told him; students always come in with an idea of what things are about and how they work. Why wouldn't you want to start there? Often times it's a ridiculous place to start, but it can take you to surprising places.

For Carlin, there were a lot of contradictions in the world, and that's often what I think teaching is about: getting people to recognize those contradictions in order to better navigate them. Yeah, he was funny, but he was also trying to teach us a little bit about ourselves. And that's really why he'll be missed.

Another Music Meme -

You know it must be summer time when working out is what I'm turning up to complain about (either that, or you'll recognize that my book simply isn't coming along as quickly as expected). And since dissertation rules are in effect over the book ("don't ask about it unless I talk about it first"), it'll have to be other things.

Thankfully Belle has stepped in to save the blog from itself. She's tagged us with a new and simple music meme that just might serve to move the plot along a little bit better than it has been (were you all really hoping to chat about exercise highs after all? I think not). And, as it applies to blogging, music memes are my kryptonite (probably red kryptonite, since they tend to bring out strange things in me - as in transformations in the old school Superman way, not the emo strange that happens on Smallville).

Anyway, for anyone still with me after that last paragraph, here are the rules of the meme:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now, shaping your spring summer. Post these instructions in your blog along with the your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they're listening to.

And so, without further adieu or explanation, here are my seven songs, in no particular order (you should check them out):
  • "Money (You Don't Have Enough)" - The Faceless Werewolves
  • "Modern Day Emma Goldman" - Pretty Girls Make Graves
  • "Jackie Chan" - The Dollyrots
  • "Departure" - R.E.M.
  • "On The Darkside" - John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
  • "The Road Goes On Forever" - Robert Earl Keen
  • "23" - Blonde Redhead
Remember, I stopped tagging people for memes, preferring to let you sign up for them yourselves. If you caught it here and you want to give it a try, drop me a comment, and I'll at least link to you. Enjoy.

Curmudgeon Vs. The Gym

So, I've been going back to the gym for a few weeks now. I'm sore and tired. And though I'm sure there are plenty of compelling reasons why I should go and why I should like it, I don't.

I grew up with a body image issue or two. Not the usual sort. I've got scars from multiple surgeries that stuck out in gym. And I've got a couple of apparent ticks that, particularly growing up, made life a bit difficult. Going to the gym wasn't going to help with any of those things; nothing was. But those things did, as many things do, made me stubborn in unpredictable ways. I decided fairly early on that I wasn't going to worry too much about how I appeared (beyond being clean and well-kept, that is). And for awhile that worked.

Fact is, I'm a big guy. I've been a big guy ever since puberty started to kick my butt around. I went from being the scrawny kid who could run sprints to the guy that the shot put coach (had any of the schools I attended had one) would've been courting. And I'm mostly okay with it. But the thing of it is, I'm just insecure enough that I'm doing something I don't like in hopes it'll make some small bit of difference in the social realm.

This last weekend, as I was out enjoying concerts and such, I spent a bit of time with a good friend, who is a bit of a health nut. He's well-meaning, but he couldn't imagine that I didn't enjoy going to the gym. So, even though I'm going, here's why I don't like the gym.

First: I do not believe in exercise highs.

I know there are people who love it. I've heard all the stories of endorphin highs and how much better you feel after you work out. It's crap, as near as I can tell. I had been going to the gym for about a year, plus regular attempts at swimming for a year before that (meaning that I went in the water and enjoyed myself in spite of my inability to do anything but a crooked backstroke). I went biking and hiking back in the day. I ran track when I was younger. And I have never once felt that high.

I can only assume that people who feel that high - and I've no doubt they do - are also the same people who sway their hands at concerts or feel the Holy Spirit or something. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just not one of you.

Second: Whether they're having fun or not, gym people are creepy.

It doesn't take long, once you're at the gym, to realize that exercise equipment brings out in a significant number of people the inner weirdos. There's the guy who grunts even when on the slowest speed on the treadmill. There are the people who look everyone up and down. There are the people who don't actually sweat. And if you go to a snazzy membership sort of gym - you know, the sort of place where the employees all wear break-away, identical exercise uniforms - odds are, at least three of the employees are hanging over the edge of some hot person's equipment trying to chat them up.

Third: I don't particularly believe that living longer is better.

A colleague once tried to explain to me that we all have a set number of heartbeats that our hearts are capable of. This was, to their mind, some undeniable proof that we should exercise. I, however, think it proves that we should relax as much as possible. If their notion is correct, exercise seems like it would only use up those heartbeats.

But that aside, I've watched what happens to at least a few people as they get older - and I know a bit of my own family's history - and honestly, who are you kidding? Joint pain, back and body aches, heart problems, slow driving, bland food. And no one mentions how going to the gym is an excellent way of simulating all of that.

A note on fathers

[Added from journal notes on the road, but published with the appropriate date]

To his credit, my father didn't blink once that I'd spent the entirety of Father's Day on the road, out of touch, calling at the very last second to wish him a good one. He's never been one for the holiday. Or birthdays. Or gifts. So that I sent him a card with a short note was probably more than he was comfortable with, though he was obviously happy about it.

It took years for me to get close to my father. Not because he was distant or cruel or differed so fundamentally from me. Growing up, my father worked a lot. And when he wasn't working, I was often doing my own thing, having had wanderlust from an early age (and back then, you could be eight years old and vanish down the street for hours). Sometimes he worked two jobs; often he worked evenings or nights. When I was really young, he spent some time overseas in the military. He didn't like "things," but we all did, and he made sure we had what we needed and a lot of what we wanted.

Though he grew to hate it, my father read the same book to me every night for ages, if I wanted to hear it. When I got my dog when I was 32, he asked what I'd named him. And when I told him "Max," he groaned a little (but there was a laugh buried in it) and said, 'That damn book. 'The night when Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind...'."

He doesn't remember doing it, but I do.

He doesn't remember most of the good advice he gave me, but he gave me a lot of it. He once told me, "When there's a problem, you can try to get the other person to change or you can think about whether there is some way you can. Which one seems more likely?" He was barbecuing me a hamburger at the time (the only thing I'd eat at that age) and looking over the car he wanted to fix up. The words "effortlessly wise" pop to mind thinking about it now.

So maybe it is no surprise that when I did come in the door and pick up the phone to call, he wasn't worried about Father's Day. He wanted to know how the trip was, and how the show went. He wanted to know about the drive and my car and whether I'd watched the Celtics beat up on Kobe. He wanted to know, but was decent enough not to pry, about the girl I like. He was, as always, patient and happy with what he had.

I aspire to that.

Happy Father's Day.

Music Will Provide the Light You Cannot Resist

[Added from journal notes on the road, but published with the appropriate date]

Spent the evening watching The National, Modest Mouse, and R.E.M. A good evening for music. Modest Mouse was more rock in concert than I expected. R.E.M. gave a stand out show, and one of the real highlights was their stage design which was one of the most stand-out I've seen at a concert. I wish the picture could convey it, but then, you'll just have to trust me. It was an awesome show, with lots of old favorites thrown in (check out the set list if you don't believe me). And since the night had a few extra guests including Scott McCaughey (of the Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus Five) and Johnny Marr (of the Smiths).

If you get a chance to check 'em out, by all means do. It even made sitting in the parking lot for an hour worthwhile.

Hyah, mule!

So today as I was sitting in my office, taking advantage of the A/C on a post-gym visit, my department chair stopped in. We talked about cell phones, student registration patterns, upcoming events, writing the posting for our new line, and it was all very cursory. And then, the bomb was dropped.

"How would you like to chair the search for our new line?" he asked.

Without blinking or laughing, I replied, "Not a bit." And this seemed to stun him. There was a long awkward pause.

"I thought it would look good on your C.V."

Now this, my friends, is such a load (and loaded) moment in Senior/Junior faculty relations. This particular bit gets spread so thickly and regularly, you'd think they were trying to grow prize roses. It's code, though, and it can be roughly translated to "I don't want to do this. You do it, sucker."

"I'm not hurting for service," I said. "I advise 40 students; I manage our website. I'm still on the college's strategic planning committee, and I'm going to be helping with the honor society this year. And that's just the stuff I'm doing on campus."

More stunned silence, then "I just thought you'd be good at it."

"I probably would be. But do you really want me potentially talking to someone about salary? Or about tenure requirements when I haven't gone through the full process? Do you really think I should be in charge of all the contact with them, particularly when I'm going to be on an overload one of the terms? Doesn't this seem like a Senior Faculty sort of thing?"

There was no response. And that isn't surprising, really, because it's been a very rare moment that I've said no to anything. But by year four, I think it's a word that needs to get some exercise in my vocabulary. And part of why I'm so irritated is that often times these missions I get sent on wind up being enormous wastes of my time, and this request came hot on the heels of an e-mail from another colleague about the conference I was drafted into helping with, that handily dismissed all but one word of the work I'd been asked to come up with.

I guess perhaps my chair didn't recall me explaining a few weeks ago about the conference - which he's not helping with - that I felt like I'd been chained to a plow, blinders on, and been set to work doing the tedious stuff, never mind what I thought about it.

And that's probably not going to change, as his parting words out the door were, "Well, think about it ,and get back to me."

Setting the Record Straight

Just a few things that are worth noting for future reference. If you're guilty of any of these or know someone who is, please stop them now and have them read this. Because I'm going to start carrying my bat when I go out. You have been warned.

First, yes, Texans are used to dealing with heat, but not in the way people up north constantly seem to suggest. We air condition everything, shade everything, and drink cold drinks. We go to pools that are shaded. We dress appropriately. None of this un-air conditioned, cut down the trees, sipping hot coffee and complain. Yankees, at least in this, we're more sensible than you, so stop saying we're used to it like we've evolved into non-sweating, solar-powered versions of you. We just understand that if you live in a climate with bad weather, if you don't use the tools at hand to deal with it, you shouldn't bitch about it.

Second, if you're going to bring children into public, show some common sense. Two year olds don't get logical proofs. They do, however, recognize that if you say you're going to spank them the next time and then don't, that they own your sorry ass. Now if you don't believe in spanking, cool on for you, don't threaten it. If you do, when you do threaten it, then you'd better dish it out as promised. Telling a kid there are consequences and then not giving them any is going to explain why they're destined to steal your car in ten years.

A good rule of thumb it seems to me for these moments is if the kid is fidgety and anxious, they've got too much energy. Try taking them outside and letting them use some of it. And you know what? Too much energy is normal for a kid. What isn't normal is having a two year old out-think you and expecting the rest of the world to have to listen to it. And while we're on the subject, it's not the kid's fault he's cranky if you bring him out to an appointment with several of your slow relatives and then expect the child to wait quietly till the bitter end for their turn. Show some sense.

Third, if you wait to get your hair done until an hour before you're "due in the limo," then you'd better be prepared to suck it up and take your hair how it turns out. No calling back, fifteen minutes to Cosmos in the car time to yell at the manager because you got home and didn't like what you saw in the mirror. As a side-note, going to Super Cuts for this sort of thing might be the first step in the problem.

Fourth, don't use the express lane if you have to pay with change. In fact, unless you're on a pension, homeless, or just broke your piggy bank to buy a Hot Wheels, don't pay in change. Go to the service counter and get real cash. Or the bank. Or a line where it's expected you're going to slow the world down. And if you must pay in change, learn to count. In the U.S. dimes are ten cents, nickels are five cents, pennies are one cent, and quarters are twenty-five cents. That should take care of most of the difficulty.


Why'd You Put Your Quarter Down On Me?

The universe loves irony. I know this because after venting my dislike for James Taylor along with a complaint about basketball, the start of the NBA Finals tonight featured James Taylor singing the national anthem. It was, if I may say, awful. It sounded like what I imagine a rehearsal in James Taylor's garage might: off-key, a lot of loose plucking of strings, no cheering. And it was acoustic and mellow which is, of course, exactly what you want to pump up the crowd before a game.

As I commented on it, my roommate noted that he was named for a James Taylor song. So there's that irony, too.

It's getting ready to storm here.

This may be because I'm considering getting a cell phone which would be one of the bigger shocks in the world. The main reason I'm thinking about one is that I'm planning on doing a little (a very little) traveling, and having an easy way to be in touch with folks when I'm on the road might be nice (though to be honest, I only call people before bed when I'm traveling) .

It's funny to me because an off-hand remark on another online site I frequent about this consideration has earned me more responses than anything else I've done there. People, it would seem, feel very strongly about the need to have cellphones. It's a bit like the way married couples - most at least - feel the need to hound you like the Furies if you're single (hm, both are weird sorts of long term contracts...). Of course, none of my cellular-enabled friends has yet tried to fix me up with a phone or a carrier or anything like that, but I think the comparison is apt.

I've never had a desire to have a cell phone before. I like being out of touch when I want to be. Yes, I know you can turn them off, but you all know that once you have a cell phone people react differently when you don't take a phone call. I like that when I make a plan to be somewhere, sometime, that plan is more likely to be stuck to because no one can call me and tell me they're going to be late. I like that I'm not one of those people who thinks that whatever I'm thinking at a particular moment is so important that I must speak about it in the car or the grocery store or the bathroom.

I love that people with cell phones all think they can react just as fast when they're talking in the car as someone who's just driving in spite of a ton of studies that show it isn't the case. I think people should be offered a choice: you can use a cellphone in your car or you can use a gun. I'd love to be able to take a shot at someone who cuts me off because they're too busy talking about what they bought at the store to actually check the lane next to them. But I'm from Texas, and this may be some sort of genetic condition that requires me to want to shoot at someone sometime.

And anyway, cell plans are ridiculous. A two year commitment? Honestly, you cell users stand for this? Does your cable provider demand a commitment that long? And how do you figure out how many minutes you need during the day for a month? It seems to me like that's dependent on whether your friends and family feel like they can reach you any time of day.

But still, the part of me that loves to press buttons is intrigued by this. I love me some Internet searches (I served as a sort of unofficial reference librarian in my shared grad student office because I could find good information more quickly than anyone else - or maybe it was just because I was a sucker who liked playing on the Internet enough that he didn't mind being taken a little advantage of). How could I not be intrigued at the possibility of doing those things unobtrusively in a boring faculty meeting?

And did I mention that I really, really love to press buttons? Once, when I was in second grade, I managed to get my parents to let me leave the sermon in church to go to the bathroom. On the way back - the long, long way back - I found a hidden light switch at church. Now I knew the fact that this was hidden probably meant I shouldn't touch it, but honestly, could you resist? Interestingly - and I think this was a design flaw on someone's part that totally absolves me - the light switched activated the fire alarm.

But I probably didn't have to turn it on a second time.

Anyway, the storm's starting, but that's no indication that I've come to a decision on this whole cell phone issue.

RBOC: Make Up Your Own Category for This

There's probably a lot to say here. But instead, you'll get bullets.
  • Saw my the first student while I was working out. To make matters worse, the little monster took the Elliptical I was planning on working on. It was great because twice as awkward is twice as much fun. But I'll remember it come reference letter time. Oh, yes!
  • Just flipped past a PBS commercial for some James Taylor special. As if James Taylor wasn't bad enough, there was a quick edit of someone getting into the James Taylor groove. There's nothing sadder than the site of someone finding rhythm to James Taylor.
  • Received a cranky e-mail from the university president noting I've not yet attended my sexual harassment seminar and informing me the next seminar is in a few weeks. Would it be impolite to reply that I'm on a nine month contract? Would it make matters worse if I gave them my hourly contracting rate?
  • Worse than my Spurs losing to my roommate's Lakers, the university department he loathes the most has vanished, taken over by the one I loathe most. This is like when my friend beat me in Risk last year after I forced him all the way back to Irkutsk on the longest streak of rolling sixes I've ever seen.
  • just received the Paris rejection, where I - without ever hearing about it - evidently made it onto the "long short list." Ah, well. On the bright side, the first viable job for me to apply for this next year has turned up. The job search is dead. Long live the job search.
And that's the news.

Who Do You Love?

Musical legend Bo Diddley died today. If you've not heard him, you've been missing out. His style of play was both original and fun, and became a major influence on modern rock. As the New York Times article on his death mentions, he carried a sense of humor with nearly everything he did. But his influence went well beyond rock and blues. Like a song where there's name checking? Bo knows. Like artists who strut their stuff and keep the competition in place? Bo knows.

You've heard the beat before. You'll heart it again. But no one played it like he did.

I first stumbled across Bo Diddley on a blues compilation I picked up the summer before I went to college. I could tell the man had a booming voice, even though the recording itself was pretty weak. And that beat. I'd heard some of his songs before, I'm sure, but it was the range and the wit - the way he played while he was playing that was such a draw to me. How can you not love the wordplay in "Who Do You Love"? How could you not grin just a little at a line like "When Bo Diddley comes to town the streets go empty and the sun goes down."?

So with that in mind, here's a link to one of my favorite Bo Diddley tracks, a simple little number with pianist Otis Spann (maybe most famous for his work with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and other staples of the Chicago blues scene).

Click here to hear: Signifying Blues (xtended Version) - Bo Diddley

Thoughts from a "Lost" newbie

So, I'm sitting here watching the first part of the pilot to "Lost." I've not seen the show before, I'm not convinced I'll like it, and I'll fuck you up if you reveal anything about the plot to me because I'm not one of those people who is okay knowing the details of shows/movies/plays/books that I might be interested in seeing. This is directly contradictory to the story I told my best friend years ago about always reading the end of a book as soon as I get it so that if I die, I'll at least not have missed the ending.

Believe it or not, it was the only way to get him to stop telling me crucial plot details. He's my best friend: it was lie or kill him. Besides, he should have known better. I'm a fast reader, and if the book's good enough, there's no way I wouldn't finish it, death or no.

But that is all beside the point.

Having managed to avoid anything "Lost" related for ages, it occurs to me that the big mystery to it must be that it'll all be a dream in which someone copes with their fears of flying following September 11. I know. That's all so "Bobby Ewing" (for you kids, that's an old TV reference: go look it up - it'll be useful pop cultural knowledge for relating to your aging superiors and will help you understand why they distrust anything that smacks of dream sequences. Take your time. We'll wait.) .

Back? Good.

It seems to me that the mystery at the heart of the last twenty years of "big reveal" media is this: at the end of it, it's all about how there's something we distrust within ourselves. For ages, our stories were about how we battled nature. Or how we battled each other. Or how the things we created made us vulnerable. And, of course, us versus ourselves isn't new. It's the pervasiveness that fascinates me. So how do you make a disaster show a mystery if you don't make it about trust in ourselves? In the case of "Lost," what I find interesting is the start where we're thrown into the story immediately. And we're instantly confronted with a broken airplane, flames, screams, disaster. And disaster is a word that's taken on a different definition, a different meaning for most of us in the last seven years.

In the show now, there's a noise - maybe music, maybe something creepy in the forest in the dark. No one's sure what they saw. It sounds like a howl. Were I the sort to talk to the characters and offer them advise, I'd remind them that we always confront ourselves when we walk into the forest.

I like that in this show - as in "Heroes" - they've taken a chance and had characters speaking in a different language, that we're forced to grapple with another language. One of the things that was so compelling about "Heroes" to me was the brave choice to try and make us identify with people - by making us follow their story lines - who don't speak our language. Sure, eventually they gave in and had them learn the language, but they held out for awhile in the first season. And Season two, whatever else was wrong with it, made us grapple with multiple languages. That's worth commending, particularly when we can still read reviews that suggest it's laughable that contact with other cultures might make us smarter (it's true - check out the (admittedly out of full context) review from Cynthia Fuchs on Rotten of the movie "The Visitor" (a movie that is well worth checking out).


A colleague of mine commented that most of his students don't have the visual fluency to view a movie with subtitles because they can't keep up with reading and watching at the same time. He claims - and I've no real reason not to believe him other than hope - that most of the students in his class have never seen a foreign film. But beyond providing some additional skills to students, I like the use of multiple languages because it makes things a bit more like the world I live in. Now if we could just get subtitles for all those accents I don't understand plus all those languages, TV might be awesome. Even better when there are scenes with no subtitles - just language and intent and the need to muddle through it.

So anyway, what I think is this: you start a show with an unexplained plane crash, survivors are left to make sense of it, there's not only a looming threat but there are people you're not sure you can communicate with who your survival may well rely on. How is this not a microcosm for the world we live in now? How could America not deal with its fears but through media?

I ventured a theory in high school, in the midst of a short story we had to write, after reading "1984" and "Brave New World" that asked us to venture our own utopia/dystopia for the future (awesome assignment, Mrs. Hall!) and what I wanted to write about - and maybe I did, though I remember thinking that I couldn't pull it off then - was about a future world where all America could do was produce entertainment. It was all amusement parks and studio backlots; it's what we did best and what we valued most. And now I think it's where we think things through. This is why I'm so distressed by reality TV and "American Idol." If media is where we think things through, then reality TV represents our worst "what were they thinking" moments.

Anyway, I'm assuming members of the group must betray each other. That they'll have to turn on each other. If my metaphor will hold, then the lesson becomes not just that the Others (yes, I've heard much about the show) must be wrestled with and made familiar and understandable, but that we must as well.

Anyway, I should really pay attention to the show. This pilot episode - part I - is long. But I suppose thought provoking.