Archive for July, 2008

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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From: “Rent nears its final performance, but its ragtag New York faded away years ago”:

“Rent” is about New York, far more than, say, “Chicago” is about Chicago. I have tried to think up a title that could tap as deeply into New York’s consciousness — “Car Alarm, Car Alarm,” “There’s a Very Angry Woman on the Subway,” “Class Envy!” — but nothing comes close. This is a city whose founding mythology involves not a magic spring or a she-wolf but a sweet real estate deal, one in which it’s still unclear who was bamboozling whom, making it all the more touchingly New York.

Elsinore’s of course, would be “Copter, Copter!” At 1am, there was one wheeling outside my bedroom window, rattling the glass panes and scanning the ground for I-have-no-idea-what.

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I dearly miss Philadelphia.  It was the city I wanted to live near when I completed graduate school; it was the city I wanted to teach and work near as a professional.  What I am doing in Elsinore is fine, and I love working in the new garden, but this place isn’t going to have the comfortable feeling you get from 17-odd years around a particular urb. Not for quite a while….

So last night I was visiting friends in South Philly, and this morning I was waking up to one ear’s worth of garbage collection noises [the other ear had an earplug in it].  My brain knew that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about, and that I didn’t have to be awake yet… so I settled back down, repositioning the pillows to better block the sound.  It’s a nice couch.  These are terrific people who are lending me said couch for the night.  How long have I known them…?

Hmmmn.  My brain isn’t coming up with a year. It provides images of walking through the Italian Market, looking at booths selling carved candles, bonsai trees, expensive coffee, stained glass…. No, that doesn’t give me a year either.  The Italian Market Festival now comes around every summer.  “Well,” says my brain, “I think you met them in between the publication of the first two Yarn Harlot books.  So you’ve known them for about 3-and-a-half Yarn Harlot books.

My brain is very pleased with this calculation.  I am, well, somewhat bemused, since while I know these people because of fine Philly Fiber community, I am not a knitter. My brain has, therefore, given me a metric that my friends will find delightful, and it _still_ will not be informative to me until after I locate some reference material.

[Those of you familiar with Laurie Anderson‘s song, “BabyDoll”, can just laugh harder right now…]

However, I did once snap a photo of Stephanie-the-Yarn-Harlot with some reference material, so at while I’ve just displayed how fractured things can be on the inside of my head, at least this post is nicely unified.

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The NY Times reports that the pharmaceutical marketing group, PhRMA, will be announcing voluntary guidelines which would prohibit that magical distribution of pens, pads, mugs, and other tchotchkes that so many of us rely on for our office supplies.

Voluntary….prohibit….? Yeah, that’ll work. They are going to have to put some teeth in it somehow, or otherwise the lobbying from the tchotchke maufacturers will be truly pathetic to see. It would be interesting to find out how much of the average company’s sales came from pharma-land.

Granted, I have my favorite items — the Prilosec toy truck and truck-stop style mugs, the Lexapro pen, the ridiculous Truvada jumpdrive [that was so packed with Truvada literature, there was no room for other files until you worked out how to delete them, and no, it wasn’t Mac compatible].

I wonder if this will impact animal health practitioners as well? An awful lot of freebies in veterinarian offices these days….

Topic shift: It tells you a lot about the overall lack of distinction among literature readers, grammar handbooks, and other teaching tools that no one seems to care if faculty get tchotchkes, fancy dessert buffets, or other blandishments from publishers.  The exception might be items that would be used in the education systems of big states like Texas or California – there the stakes are so high for major book purchases that maybe someone might be concerned about ‘inappropriate’ influence on decision-makers.

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Player #1, Xeno, age 11, long haired, black, polydactyl male

Player #2, Malkie, age 7, long haired, grey tabby with peach underfur, male

Player #3, Leia, age 4 or 5; recently adopted, Himalayan female

Scene:  Narrow upstairs hallway, 5:30am.  From my vantage point in the bedroom, cats could possibly be seen

  • in one of two bedroom windows
  • in the hall space between the bedroom doorway and the decending staircase
  • in the hall space between the staircase and the entrance to the bathroom
  • in the hall space between the entrance to the bathroom and the entrance to my office

Notes: Malkin is the most outgoing. Xeno does not care as long as he is brushed regularly and can lounge on window ledges. Leia has not yet forgiven the Universe for the upheavals in her life, and probably has not forgiven me for dragging her into a cat carrier for a vet appointment.  She spends most of her time under the bed in my office.

Two weeks ago or so, Leia began venturing out of my office at night.  This meant that in the odd, indiglo blue light of the hallway I could see a little dark face surrounded by ghostly pale fur….and if my eyes adjusted to the dim light before she scurried away, I could see her looking back at me, cross-eyed.  Malkie would sometimes join her in the hallway, and there didn’t seem to be any hissing.  Once she started yowling at him — an odd sound, more like a woman singing an alto part for the old Star Trek theme than like a cat, but that was only once I think.

This is NOT Leia.  It's Percy, courtesy of Wikipedia's entry on Himalayan cats

This is NOT Leia. It's Percy, courtesy of Wikipedia's entry on Himalayan cats

One particular morning, I think she had ventured in to the bedroom a few paces, and then backed out because Malkie had come forward from the far end of the hallway. I could see him walk forward, sit down, get up, and walk into the bathroom, where there’s a water dish.  Malkie squeaks when he drinks. I don’t know why.  [Now that I think about it, that sound is very like the squeaking of this new MacBook keyboard…]  He comes out of the bathroom and sits on the threshold.

Leia is sitting in the hallway, looking at him.

This continues for a while.

Xeno, who has been asleep in the window behind me, decides he might like to get a drink.  Has he been paying attention?  No.  Does he think anything was in need of supervising?  No.

How can I tell?

Because when he walks nonchalantly into the hallway, there is an explosion: three cats simultaneously leap up and backwards [Salvatore Dali would have loved it] , fur bristling, and land several inches behind where they originally started.

They then try to pretend absolutely nothing happened.

Xeno decides he wasn’t thirsty and goes back to the other bedroom window.

Lather, rinse, repeat…..

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