Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another way to waste my precious time.

Middlebrow taught me how to check the searches that lead people to my blog, and I thought you'd be glad to know that
  • awesome kung fu moves
  • greatest kung fu signature
  • "the simpsons" "keep your mouth shut"

all were searches on google that got people to my site. I'm still mulling over the significance of this. Perhaps, though, as this book I'm reading says, Everything is Miscellaneous, and there is in fact "power in the new digital disorder." Kung Fu Power.

In other news, I'm about halfway through half of my portfolios. And, I healed my internet at home by the laying on of hands, otherwise known as rebooting the modem and router (rebooting is just one of my awesome kung fu moves).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bulletin #346.2 or so: the indeterminate space between reading and nonreading.

1. Say hello to Mr. Puffy, who had his wisdom teeth out last week. This, in preparation for submitting his LDS mission papers. Yesterday was the first time he ate food that needed to be chewed (a pepperoni pizza, which isn't really food, it's medicine! it will help you get better from oral surgery!).

2. Say hello to the Fluffy Chicken, which is what young Deacon is going to be for Halloween.

3. The French are so dang smart! To wit, this brief interview Deborah Solomon conducted with Pierre Bayard in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine:

Q: As a professor of French literature at the University of Paris, you’re offering rather subversive advice in your 12th book, “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read,” which is about to be published in this country. Do you think it will fare as well here as it has done in Europe?

A: I have no idea. It was a best seller in France. People bought it without reading it — they followed my advice. It was a best seller in Germany, too, because there are many nonreaders in Germany, and they want to see their rights defended.

Q: Naturally, I read your book in preparation for this interview. Do you think I made a mistake in doing so?

A: What do you mean when you say, “I read it”? One of the purposes of my book is to show that it is not so easy to say that you have read a book.

Q: What’s wrong with the traditional method of starting a book on the first page and reading through to the end?

A: It’s important to know how to read from the first line to the last line, but there are also other ways of reading. You can skim books, you can just have heard about them, you can have read them and forgotten them.

Q: You write in your book about Montaigne, who confessed to having a poor memory and to forgetting about books he himself had written. Which leads you to ask: If we read a book and forget that we read it, is that the same as never having read it?

A: I think between reading and nonreading there is an indeterminate space that is quite important, a space where you have books you have skimmed, books you have heard about and books you have forgotten. You don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Q: But what about those of us who read to feel things — to experience pleasure, an end to loneliness?

A: Of course I read in order to feel something. And to feel an end to my loneliness, of course, just as you.

Q: Then why are you so willing to devalue the experience of close reading in favor of skimming? You seem to believe that knowing a little bit about 100 literary classics is preferable to knowing one book intimately.

A: I think a great reader is able to read from the first line to the last line; if you want to do that with some books, it’s necessary to skim other books. If you want to fall in love with someone, it’s necessary to meet many people. You see what I mean?

Q:You suggest in your book that schools destroy a love of literature, in part because they don’t allow skimming.

A: Yes. Sometimes I help my son write book reports. Guillaume — he’s 14. It’s terrible. The questions are so specific about the names of characters, dates and towns where the heroes went that I am unable to answer the questions. It is the model of reading in France. A kind of scientific reading, which prevents people from inventing another kind of reading, which should be a form of wandering, as in a garden.

Q: Wouldn’t your son be better off if you let him do his homework by himself?

A: He thinks he wastes his time with book reports, and I agree with him.

I love this guy.

4. The Chinese have nicknames for NBA players! In this wonderful profile of Steve Nash, found in the sports version of the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, the writer reports that the Chinese account for a third of the hits on, and have nicknames for a bunch of NBA players, including "Sweet Melon" for Carmelo Anthony, and "Stone Buddha" for Tim Duncan. Alas, they are correct about Duncan, aka The Nemesis.

And speaking of nemeses, I must read and respond to portfolios, aka the Stone Buddhas of my own personal game, which I am not on, actually, at the moment.

Friday, October 26, 2007

School is for suckers.

I think it must be the mid-to-late semester funk, but almost everything about the entire higher educational apparatus seems absurd, bogus, and fraudulent to me--everything except for summer vacation. Let me enumerate the reasons why this cannot be true:
  • people everywhere, women especially, actually have their lives improved when they are more educated--more economic power, more familial power, etc.
  • the signifier of the college degree still matters--it confers cultural capital, gets people in the door for their first jobs, gets them pay raises, etc.
  • a place in the capitalist world that isn't, at least not for the very moment, about making money, that is about creating what might be called a "life of the mind," is valuable.
  • education changes--can change--how you look at things, analyze problems, act in the world, for the better. Can change.

And yet . . . as the historian and I tried to engage with students on the basis of three texts we were all supposed to have prepared to discuss--the Preface to the original edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves, a piece from Susan Brownmiller's "The Enemy Within," and a piece by Frances M. Beal, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female”--the miasma of uselessness set in. It's so easy to believe that no one gives a rat's ass about any of it when the students appear to be waiting you out, waiting for the time to be up. To be fair: they're preparing writing portfolios, they're writing a midterm essay, they work, they have lives, they have other classes . . . and yet the life of the mind seemed like a happy happy dream in that classroom yesterday. Although, and again to be fair, they had spent a noisy and productive half hour prior to that conversation developing the ideas for their collaborative proposals.

A possibly soul-sapping non-discussion like that can make you extrapolate that sense of uselessness to all your other academic endeavors. That piece you're writing with a colleague that you'd like to transform into a webtext and submit to KAIROS? Why bother? Who will read it anyway, and what will it matter? The ways you know you'd like to improve your online courses? Are those students even bothering to click on the links? Who can tell? The policy committees (note the plural! how did this happen? HOW?) you're on, the labor you've expended in writing stuff like that, policies and procedures that are just going to turn into more bureaucratic practices that everyone's going to hate--why did you choose to spend your precious breath on that?

In class yesterday, I asked why the women's movements in America all included a substantial amount of advocacy for women's health issues. One student, a cosmetology student, raised her hand and said, "Because taking care of your health makes you feel more confident." She seemed a little sheepish, but she had in fact read, and had, in fact, understood a major point that the Boston Women's Health Collective made:

For us, body education is core education. Our bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world; ignorance, uncertainty — even, at worst, shame — about our physical selves create in us an alienation from ourselves that keeps us from being the whole people that we could be. . . . Learning to understand, accept, and be responsible for our physical selves, we are freed of some of these preoccupations and can start to use our untapped energies. Our image of ourselves is on a firmer base, we can be better friends and better lovers, better people, more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger and more whole.

It's what I'm holding onto today--that students don't always reveal what they're thinking or learning, that talking or trying to talk about whatever--how writing works in the world, what Our Bodies, Our Selves meant to me when I was a young woman, what is the radical potential of texts--might actually mean something to someone. Might make a difference. How I do my job might possibly make a difference to someone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What you've been waiting for.

Okay, maybe not really, but here's my annual premature Best of 2007: The Movies list (which should really be titled "Best of 2007: The Movies I Saw" list, but never mind).

Best foreign film: The Aura, from Argentine director Fabien Bielinsky. Beautiful, cinematic, mesmerizing.

Best 2006 films I saw in 2007: Volver, Children of Men, Venus, The Lives of Others, Little Children.

Best song: the Pearl Jam cover of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." Runner up: "Good Morning Baltimore" (Hairspray), which I defy any living person not to smile at.

Best actor in a recurring role: Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in the newest Harry Potter. The film role (as opposed to the role in the novels) was small-ish, but he's great.

Best adaptation: Away from Her, from Alice Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain."

Best bit of a film: The Alexander Payne-directed last vignette called "14ème Arrondissement" in Paris je t'aime, starring the great Margo Martindale. Runner up: the Gerard Depardieu-directed vignette immediately preceding the Payne one, called "Quartier Latin," starring Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara.

Best film revolving around music: Once. It just cannot be topped. Passionate, immediate, moving. Runner up: Hairspray--I cannot deny that I had a swell time at this movie.

Movie with the best palette: The Namesake. It's Mira Nair's thing, isn't it?

Funniest movie: (three way tie): Knocked Up, Superbad, and Hot Fuzz. Is it an accident that the first two share some genetic material (Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan) and the third is part of what we can only hope will be a franchise of Simon Pegg/Nick Frost?

Best documentary: No contest--The King of Kong. There were worthy others, such as No End in Sight.

Best big movie: I think it might be Into the Wild. It was flawed, but it was huge.

Best Hollywood: A bunch of thoroughly enjoyable Hollywood dramas, such as Fracture (Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins face off with gullets full of scenery and also ham), The Hoax (why was Richard Gere acting like Howard Hughes? but still terribly entertaining), 3:10 to Yuma (really, there was nothing bad about this, unless you want to get picky about the last little bit). We saw In the Valley of Elah last night, despite the not-very-good Crash (as you all know, same writer/director), and it was first of all a powerful movie and second of all, a powerhouse performance by Tommy Lee Jones, really unbelievably good. But my best Hollywood movie of the last year so far is Michael Clayton, which was beautifully written, shot, and acted. George Clooney rules.

Best animated: Ratatouille, without a doubt. Does anyone get that the girl chef was voiced by Janeane Garofolo?

Favorite indie acting: Reece Thompson and Vincent Piazza as the brothers Hefner in Rocket Science, along with Nicholas d'Agosto as the champion debater who had an existential crisis. [See! This! Movie!] Also, Parker Posey in Broken English. Also, Meg Ryan, despite the cosmetic botchery of her lips, in In the Land of Women.

Real good movie that I bet almost none of my friends have seen: The Lookout, starring two of my favorite actors--Joseph Gordon Levitt and Jeff Daniels. It's a beauty. Don't miss it, you netflixing maniacs.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Several things that would make my life more inspiring than it currently is.

1. The semester could be closer to over.
2. I could feel more motivated in the meantime.
3. I could win a prize of some kind. Any prize, really.
4. My kitchen could be cleaner.
5. There could be fewer puffs of dust and dog hair in the corners and under things.
6. I could have a sparkling social life.
7. There could be a new (or new-to-us) sofa to facilitate #6.

I took a new poem to my writing group a couple of weeks ago. One of my fellow poets summarized the argument of the poem this way: "I read this poem as saying what a lot of Lisa's poems say--'I'm so lazy.'" Uh, ouch! And so sadly true. So:

8. I could write a poem that isn't about feeling lazy and unmotivated. Or I could write this:

Open Letter to the Rest of the Semester:

Rest of the semester, why do you seem so long to me, at this darkening part of the year? Is it because you are constructed of type, words, electronic bits, compilations of documents stacked, physically or digitally, against my doorjambs? Is it because, though the days are shorter, the nights are longer? Is it because I must now bundle up to withstand your cold, slow breath on my neck?

Rest of the semester, I am sick of how you recur, every October and every March. I could blame myself for how dragged out I feel--shouldn't I be self-actualized? Shouldn't I be better at doing my job? Shouldn't I buck up and get to work? But I'd rather blame you, Rest of the semester, because you are a big, hulking Representative of Institutional Learning, with your files and clips, your endless requests for feedback, your constant evidence that I haven't done enough and will never do enough. It is all your fault.

Rest of the semester, I would rather go to sleep and dream of a preposition-correcting-algorithm, as I did last week, than face you. I would rather clean up my kitchen and do my laundry. I would rather be a housewife with the "problem that has no name" than a community college teacher facing you, my problem with a name, Rest of the semester. Rest of the semester, take your action somewhere else. What is your damage, Rest of the semester? Rest of the semester, give it a rest. I really, really mean it.

Sincerely, lisab.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Meet the new me, same as the old me.

Question: Does a vacation really help?

Answer: No. But it's fun while it lasts.

Actually, that answer may be too categorical. I actually, despite feeling achy, dehydrated, and whiny last night (the night we got home from Montana, the McDreamy of states, although I don't really know what that means since I've never watched Grey's Anatomy), have accomplished quite a bit this morning in the way of responding to student posts in my online classes and answering work-y e-mail.

That said, let me account for myself and my vacation. We drove to Pocatello where we (a) ate at Applebee's (motto: Let's add just one more incongruous ingredient to this plate!), because it was right next door to our motel, and (b) watched Dirty Sexy Money which seems to be panning out, in my opinion. Also, (c) delivered temperate but possibly slightly on-edge helpful suggestion to the desk clerk about the fact that they list Bravo as one of their cable channels but don't in fact have it. Feedback is useful, right? We all want to use feedback to improve our performance, right? Oh well, the final episode of Top Chef is in fact dvr'd so I can watch it whenever.

We got up the next morning and drove to Bozeman, stopping in Island Park to visit Big Springs. We like it best when there aren't lots of people around. In fact, we kind of feel like other people are downright obnoxious and intruding on our Springs when they're there. But they cleared out soon enough. That kind of quiet is intoxicating.

Bozeman is kind of a great town, worth a trip up there for its own merits. The town was having its fourth annual HATCHfest, a small film-and-media festival. It was housed largely at The Emerson, a turn-of-the-century elementary school that's now a home for all kinds of arts/cultural events and organizations. It's a wonderful space--the historian and I roamed around the galleries and peeked into studios for several hours. We also attended a panel on "Convergence Media" that was pretty interesting--a filmmaker (also an erstwhile marketing guy), a "trend-hunter," and a design guy (who's also a snowboarding photographer). I'm not exactly sure what convergence media are, or how or where they converge . . . but the panel was interesting in helping me think about the literacies people need to flourish in marketing-saturated world. They showed reels from their work that were unbelievably creative. Too bad I minored in French and learned to scan poetry. What a loser.

But my overall loserishness was cool in Bozeman, because there are a lot of analog types who live there, as well. Plain old buy your oats at the co-op types. Hang out on the street while it's snowing because there's a homecoming parade (that's right my people, we were in Bozeman on the weekend of MSU's homecoming). So we hung out at the fest for awhile, we went to the brand spanking new and gorgeous Bozeman Public Library (it's very green, architecture-wise). We had tacos at La Tinga, the taqueria with Main Street digs--cheap and delicious. I watched the historian try on jackets at a vintage store (this was a big event, both the trying on and my watching it). I didn't bring my laptop and I wore sensible shoes. We had a fine time, and I'm thinking about moving there. Buying a herd of cattle, some acreage, and moving there.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Montana, mon amour.

We're heading on up north tomorrow because of the big fall break. Betty's on the mend, and college daughter and running son will be around because they're either working or doing other useful stuff in and about town. So the historian and I are loading up the Camry with ourselves and our gear, possibly reading material, possibly the laptop, and going up to Bozeman.

A couple of years ago we went up there for just a part of a day, from West Yellowstone where we were staying. We enjoyed it so much that we thought we'd spend some more time up there. The world in Montana is very beautiful. Even though it was kind of a drizzly day in Bozeman, it was still gorgeous, and the drives there and back (we went a different way each direction) were unbelievable. It was like living in a Western, but in a car. That sounds not as wonderful as it actually was.

I have a meaty list of stuff to complete before I go. Hope that works out for me. Sometimes you just have to leave, but I hope I can leave with clean clothes, a mostly clean house, clean counters, and a clean conscience. I hope.

For more of what I hope to accomplish on this trip, see my new post on twit.


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