Archive for July, 2008

“How many dwarves can fit in a hobbit hole?”

G’night everybody….

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Thunder rolls….

….and magically, mercifully, the screaming children from the daycare center are herded inside.

In more charitable news, the lantana I purchased last Friday has indeed succeeded in attracting the local hummingbird. Yay!

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Yes, this is going to be a kvetchy post. The “in my day, there was one payphone and one on-campus phone per hall and we all managed to survive” kind of post. If this seems too alien, go play at Target for the next few minutes…they will have more than enough STUFF to make the first semester of college more about consuming objects than about acquiring knowledge and learning to self-actualize.

Here’s what got packed on a typical late August day when I was in college:

Clothing, shoes, bedding, books, pens, pencils, ink, a few gewgaws, some weather-appropriate outerwear…..a back pillow, an extra lamp, a 32K Tandy 100 laptop, miniature disk drive and a dot-matrix printer.

Oh, and an indestructible philodendron known as “That Damn Plant”.

That was it. I didn’t think this way of living was especially spartan. Most of the time, my heart was in the classrooms, not my dorm room.

One year, I did share a room with someone who liked color coordination in general and the color lavender in particular, so we had a rug, pretty curtains, and a few other niceties. Another year I shared a room with someone who was very fond of movie posters, which meant that occasionally Harrison Ford would detach from the wall and fall on me. I just found that irritating and inconvenient; I realize many other women would have had a different opinion; some have told me so at length.

By the time I got to graduate school, where I lived in a small attic apartment, I’d acquired a few more things to put on walls [mostly free posters from library conferences], and several dozen yards of Christmas lights to brighten the low ceiling. Friends would send bits of shiny wrapping paper, and that would go up on the walls, too.

Apparently, left to my own devices, I create a small jackdaw’s nest of paperwork, writing implements, and small sparkly objects. [ I’m very lucky to have found a similarly inclined spouse.]

I don’t know what my current students do, left to their own devices. But I hope that they can focus on the essentials, and not on the decor — many of them, I know, are working multiple jobs in order to get themselves through school. They shouldn’t be burdened with “needing” the perfect objects in order to impress complete strangers.

Then again, how many of us preferred the frosting to the cake when we were younger?

Musical cue: “Back to College”, Act II, Avenue Q

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Anger and Beauty

If you happen to be in one of the neighborhoods with a Lebanese Taverna, you probably already know that you should go eat there.  If you haven’t yet, please do so.  Yum!

Yesterday, in between thunderstorms in DC, I took several trains to meet Angry, D, and WordT for dinner.  I didn’t get to go up to a complete stranger to ask “Excuse me, are you Angry?”, but there was plenty of wordplay to go around.

One of the unexpected delights, though, was comparing neighborhoods — turns out we’ve got some shared geography, so we could discuss what we knew of cities, rural areas, and weather patterns.  When you meet people online, you have no absolute idea of where they are, where they’ve been, what they value.  Certainly you see what they put on display for public consumption, but that leaves how much of an iceberg beneath the waterline?  And is it even the same iceberg?  [I’m thinking of some high-profile blog highjacking that I’ve seen recounted recently]

Most of the people with whom I correspond I’ve known for more than 10 years, and many of them I’ve met in person, but not all.  The moment when you meet someone in person you’ve known only online is a special one — when I finally met MDragon after years of emails, I was fitting together all sorts of stories together with a person I might have easily passed on the street and not given much thought to at all.

Except, of course, I had those stories; I knew a lot about where he’d been, and the places he hoped to go in life.  And he knew a lot about mine, so I wasn’t just another person walking through Jackson Square, either.

Last night I got to add two new people to my world. And great new food.*

In celebration, let me share some atmospheric wonders:  Look!  Up in the Sky!

*And yes, I’m using an additive sentence structure, but we’re on the web so supposedly that’s okay. [sigh]

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If you are going to bother posting the chapter titles of your books, could they maybe match the chapter titles visible in the Table of Contents facsimile posted at Amazon?  Thanks ever so much….

Speaking of the environment, the giant rudbeckia is in full bloom now, delighting local pollinators and tempting the goldfinches, who eagerly anticipate the arrival of seeds in the next few weeks.

Us, we’re anticipating the ripening of the figs.  Last year we feasted on figs for about two months and had more than enough for friends, church receptions, and random parties.

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Leia hates thunderstorms.  It is the one time she comes downstairs and actually gets close to people.  She takes up residence in the lower “house” section of the cat tree in the hallway, or she runs up to Malkin and rubs against him, sometimes crying.  Tonight I happened to be petting Malkin when she ran up to him, and so I almost got rubbed against, too.  She backed away from my at the last moment, but the fact that she wants to be near other mammals during times of stress is better than cowering under the bed in my office.

But I went upstairs to close windows, and she’s decided to be on the bottom step.  So I’m in the crook of the staircase, typing on my laptop, humming old Beatles’ tunes…..

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But here she is anyway:  Leia! 

A few days ago, when we came downstairs to give the cats their evening meal, there she was, very much the Princess, blocking access to the food [it’s in the low cabinet she’s sitting on]. I didn’t dare use a flash; we’re trying to convince her that people are not evil, and that being seen isn’t going to lead to unpleasant consequences.

With luck, there will be better pictures of her in the future. But for now I can at least prove that there is a Himmie in the house.

As I was typing this at my desk, which faces the window, away from the bed beneath which she hides, I heard crunching behind me — she’d come out to eat some kibble.  Then she moved into the doorway, and then out into the hall, to wash. This effectively “traps” me in my office, and my Beloved in the bedroom.  Some of you out there have already realized this means that whether or not we think we are making progress in domesticating this cat, she is finding ways to control the household just fine on her own!

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The first time I saw a picture of Meryl Streep, she was looking uncertainly back at me from the cover of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was the required reading for my freshman English class. Now I see her on my television, flouncing down the dock in overalls on some fabulous Greek isle that is certainly not Lesbos. Oy vey….

Although ABBA isn’t what I’d call the height of Swedish culture, I do like infectious melodies, especially ones that give me a variety of lines to choose my notes from. The other very handy thing about ABBA is how easily you can fit other lyrics to the music.

Handy, of course, does not mean this is a universally good thing, but it’s fun. It’s especially fun when you have friends around who also like playing with language. You hear a phrase or a concept, sometimes with a rhythm that fits a tune you both know, and it’s off to the races — who gets the next line first? Who can make the next rhyme? How quickly does everything go horrendously blue or otherwise socially unacceptable?

Here’s an example — a serious abuse of “Dancing Queen”. I don’t recall which lyric came first, and I also know full well that the predicament described isn’t realistic. As we used to say at Tech, “all flames to /dev/null“:

See the clash
See the stares
How does she pick what she wears?
What a shame
What a scream
Digging the color-blind queen!

Driving with her is awful slow
Doesn’t see when to stop or go.
When it comes to high fashion
Color-matching’s a passion
How could Fate be so mean?
She could have looked so keen!

She is the color-blind queen:
Red and green
Simply can’t be seen
Color-blind queen:
Only safe on the silver screen, oh yeah!
See the clash

See the stares
As she breaks rules unawares
What a shame
What a scream
Diggin’ the color-blind queen!

Ran into her the other day
One pump was brown, the other grey
Feather boa was fuschia
Dress was olive and blue —
I had to turn away
What on earth could I say?

She is the color-blind queen:
Red and green
Simply can’t be seen!
Color-blind queen:
Only safe on the silver screen, oh yeah!
People laugh
People gibe
It’s happened all of her life!
Watch those gaffes
Steal the scene
Pity the color-blind queen!

So if you hear me humming, you may want to check what my brain is up to. Possibly no good at all….

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As evening fades into night, and the stoner cockroach calliope summons the neighborhood children to buy ice cream, I take a moment to remember the drying overhead projector sheets on the lawn.

[I then take a different moment to think whether I would have caught merry hell for the above sentence in my college creative writing class ;-)]


Despite the fact that being lefthanded makes operating an overhead projector an exercise in masochism [for those of you wondering why, just recall that the fan on many overhead projectors blows to the right of the machine, or, from a lefthander’s perspective, directly into ones left side as one writes], I really love working a classroom this way. I can look at the students; I can write; I can draw in different colors.  I might get a bit overheated, but that’s in some ways easier to work through than the fumes from dry-erase markers.  Also, unlike using the whiteboard, I can take a record of what was discussed home with me.

Do I ever type these ‘records’ up?  Not too often.  Once, when I had a secretary, I tried having her type them up for me, but her word processing skills were not quite adequate for this task. [This was 10 years ago, and we weren’t able to pay much.].  Now I keep just about everything til the end of the term, and then just keep the sheets that have genuine long-term interest. The rest get washed off….

Thus, the multitude of acetate sheets lying out in the gloaming.

This set of cleaning went very quickly, thanks to a deep tray of water, left over from the weekend’s siberian iris planting.  I could put the plastic sheet, writing side down, in the water, and then agitate it side-to-side a few times.

I could see my words melting into the water — first the letters fuzzed around the edges, then they seemed to detach from the plastic, existing briefly as colored shapes in the water, still recognizable as reversed words……then as I agitated the plastic, they blurred into liquid ink and disappeared. Even as the water got darker from the accumulated ink, for each page there was a moment when the words were visible as words, but weren’t attached to the plastic.  It was as if they were going to be carried in the water the way they had been carried in the air when I was lecturing — and maybe they had just as much lingering impact then as now?

I poured the inky water out onto the siberian irises.  There might be more life in those words yet.

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There’s a tagline used at the end of a short radio spot about classical music that goes something like “reminding you that all music was once new”. I appreciate the thought, but that doesn’t change my preference for harmony over dissonance, and for tunes I might want to hum or whistle in the future. So I was heartily amused by this:

During a radio interview between acts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a famous singer recently said she could not understand why audiences were so reluctant to listen to new music, given that they were more than ready to attend sporting events whose outcome was uncertain. It was a daft analogy. Having spent most of the last century writing music few people were expected to understand, much less enjoy, the high priests of music were now portrayed as innocent victims of the public’s lack of imagination. If they don’t know in advance whether Nadal or Federer is going to win, but still love Wimbledon, why don’t they enjoy it when an enraged percussionist plays a series of brutal, fragmented chords on his electric marimba? What’s wrong with them? The reason the sports analogy fails is because when Spain plays Germany, everyone knows that the game will be played with one ball, not eight; and that the final score will be 1-0 or 3-2 or even 8-1 – but definitely not 1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana. The public may not know in advance what the score will be, but it at least understands the rules of the game. — Joe Queenan

Anyone else remember Steve Martin’s old suggestion that when you were around young children, you should always speak strangely? “Just imagine — the kid goes to kindergarten and the teacher says ‘And what’s your name?’, and the kid says “Mamu dogface to the banana patch!”. And the teacher goes ‘Give this kid the special test….'”

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