Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009.

Of course it's a partial list, I know that!

Technology: What technology made my heart sing this year? I'm so glad you asked:

  • my new iMac, which is ineffable.
  • Mac Book Pro: it's better than bad, it's good!
  • Various software and freeware: Final Cut Express and Screenr, Spezify. Fun for everyone.

Live Music: My most memorable live shows included

  • Regina Spektor
  • The Pretenders
  • Benny Green (jazz)
Los Angeles: Part one of the Los Angeles Project took place, formally, this past October. Highlights included:

  • Mulholland Drive, the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains, Topanga Canyon
  • The fishermen: at Royal Palms beach on a choppy, brilliant Sunday; off the Hermosa Beach pier on a Saturday night
  • The Getty. Creamy and delicious.

The West: Most of our trips this year were in the west (the rest of the west, aside from California). Each of these trips was splendid in its very own way:

  • Wyoming: South Pass, sunny both ways, and the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone and environs.
  • Montana: Bozeman and Red Lodge (or Red Cloud Lodge, as I like to call it)
  • Seattle, to visit the historian's daughter, partner, and new baby boy.
  • Idaho: of course. For all the reasons, and more.

Retreats: Leaving one's home, in order to retrench, renew, recuperate, refresh, which I/we did par excellence in

  • Idaho, all summer, practically. I hope we get to do it again.

Reading: This year, I read--aside from the never-ending pile of detective novels and police procedurals--and loved:

  • The City & the City, China Mieville
  • To the Lighthouse, V. Woolf
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Movies: I already named some of my favorite movies of the year in my annual premature list:

  • The Hurt Locker
  • Bright Star
  • Eternal Moments
  • Summer Hours
  • A Serious Man. To the above, I add
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is fantastic.

Fashion: this year I am enjoying wearing

  • raw-edged ruffles, with a little
  • sparkle, preferably all in
  • gray.

Triumphs: things we conquered this year included

  • the mice (a provisional victory)
  • last semester (a definitive victory. I've recently decided this.)

Perhaps it goes without saying that the first eight months of 2009, during which I was on sabbatical or it was summer, were peerless: I wrote, I read, I made movies. I don't know if these months were, taken as a whole, the best of the best. But they were amazing. They were excellent.

Forecasts for 2010:

  • In 2010, I plan to take better care of myself.
  • I will make more music, and
  • I will make more video essays.
  • I will enjoy all my beloveds--family and friends--because they are my beloveds.
  • In 2010, I will write more poems, and
  • I will invite more people over.
Most of all, I want to remember 2009 as a year in which I loved and spent time with my family, loved and spent time with my friends, made many and varied verbal and visual artifacts, traveled, and cherished the lucky life I have. My life is full of blessings, and you, dear readers, are a part of that. Here's to you in the new year, happy, healthy, and full of sass. Bless.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

September yada yada yada the darkest part of the year.

OR: The Year in Pictures, la troisième partie.


We had a last Labor Day hurrah in Idaho. Hurrah!


Tiger RIP.


Ain't nothing but a beach thing. Hermosa Beach.

Possibly the raison d'etre for the L.A. Project: finding the Bartlett Motel, where my family stayed for six weeks when we moved there. I was fourteen. This motel had no swimming pool. We told the time by daytime game shows, sitcoms, and soaps, and we were damn good at it. Lomita holla!


Risked the Continental Divide and also Rock Springs, WY, where many a better man's (and woman's) dreams have gone to die, to visit our friends George and Maureen in Clark. 'Twas swell.

I am thankful for my sisters and brother (sister E here, representing).

I am thankful for my aunts and uncles (darling Aunt Sal, also representing).

I am thankful for my whole family in all its nooks, crannies, and permutations, actually.


Events of all stripes--dutiful (finishing the semester, grading, fretting about grading), infelicitous (the sick), felicitous (I won an XBox!), and festive (tree, present-buying and -making, craftacular)--all culminated in the arrival home of this young man:

and we just couldn't be happier for him to hang up his suit and stick around for awhile.

Tomorrow: the Best of 2009. As promised.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The year in pictures (part 2)

[In which we carry on with a scintillating retrospective of my life me me me me me in the months of May, June, July, and August. Attentive and regular readers of this blog will supply a counterpoint to these blithe narratives about the impending end of the sabbatical. WOE.]


There were a lot of grandchild birthdays. A LOT.

Eden's, for instance.

And Deacon's.

And Alex's!


In June, we were in Idaho, first with my folks to refresh our memory about opening for the season; then with my oldest dear friend. Nothing like it.


We were in Idaho. Wildflowers, rivers, birds. Sun moon rain. I wrote, slept, read. There were bats. The filth and the fury! It was Miriam's birthday, in Scotland, her fifth.


We went to Seattle to visit the historian's daughter, and it was beautiful and amazing as ever in that excellent town.

I had a birthday. Jenna and Rachel had a birthday (where are these pictures? Inquiring minds want to know!)

I had to go to work again. No, let me try that again: in times like these, I was pleased to find that I had a job still waiting for me. With students! and grading! and, more to the point, commitments I
had made when blithely still overestimating my enthusiasm
and/or capacity for extra commitments. No, let me try that again:
Back to school! Pencils, notebooks, my colleagues. WORK, hence

TAGS: retrospective, photos, Seattle

Monday, December 28, 2009

The year in pictures.

(HTMS: still ripping ideas off shamelessly [thanks, c jane]).

[Full disclosure: for those of you fact-checking, I acknowledge that the events described in the text and/or the images may or may not have "occurred" in the actual "months" indicated. But why are you "fact-checking"? Stop it!]


I was still on my sabbatical, hence had time to take moody pictures in my kitchen of stuff like this. It was cold, I think we can all agree upon that.


It was our anniversary, the 10th. We went to Carmel and tore it up, quaint beach town-style.


Dear Mr. Weather, Although this snow on the blossoms was poetic, I think that you failed to consider the fruit. Sincerely, htms

[also, Carter's birthday!]


I hung out with grandchildren, started making movies, panicked about my manuscript, doubted my worth in the great scheme of things, etc. &c. However, I also obtained the iMac of Power. So that was pretty good.

More months to come, in days to come. Also: The Best of 2009. Before 2009 is over, and that's a "promise."

"TAGS": months, calendar, retrospective, promises

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An ache in it.

Starting out the month of December with a week of sick--yes, I'm still whining about that--means that the rest of it is all compressed. All the festive, the baked, the decorative, the get-together-ness. Not to mention the grading.

This December has had and will have some big events in it. My son is coming home from Singapore, for instance, in just three days. In just three days, two years of his remote presence will be concluded, and he will be here to laugh with us, to eat meals, to see movies, listen to music, sleep with the dog. Last week, his older brother defended his master's thesis. We attended the defense and listened to the evidence of his accomplishment, his learning, his scholarship.

And then there are projects: my daughter raised a bunch of money with some of her friends to renovate and redecorate a room at the Ronald McDonald house. Another daughter finished up a successful semester at school, while working really hard to earn not quite enough money. And the transitions: another son just got a new job and is moving to Virginia. And Scotland daughter is very far away with her two beautiful daughters, and her husband who just got made the bishop of their ward.

I don't write very directly so often here about my kids and grandkids. I love them all so much. I am so proud of all of them. That--all that feeling, how powerful it is--that could be everything there is for me. It sometimes feels like my heart could break, over and over again, with the hugeness of it.

This week the mother of a son's good friend died in her sleep. She was only a little older than I am. I read her obituary today and saw the picture of her when she was a little younger. She was beautiful. She was a knockout. The story of her life--what she did, her accomplishments, what and who she leaves behind--I feel overwhelmed by these thoughts right now.

What is life for, except to live it? What is life for, if not to be overtaken by these loves?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Give me a G! Give me an R! Give me another R!

What's that spell? Grrrrr . . . . ading.

I like to have a method for everything, the people, and I know you like me to have a method too, so I can blog about it. Here's this semester's method:

1. Make a grid, with the students' names, the various categories for which there are possible points, a column for total points and a column for the grade. This is what's known as a "gradebook." They make them in both print and electronic versions. I like to make my own.

2. Put points in the grid that I should have been tracking all along, but why? when I can do it now?

3. Lie to myself in a grandiose, extravagant, and not-remotely-attached-to-reality fashion about how long it will take me, viz., "Oh yes! It will be done by Friday" (posted on Tuesday).

4. Buy a Christmas tree. Decorate it.

5. Add many new blogs to my Google Reader. My old blogs were getting a little sparse, a little threadbare (yes I'm talking to you if you don't post very much I hate you Facebook).

6. Define milestones. For instance, grade a whole set of this. Then rest. Then grade a whole set of that. Then go to a movie. Why rush? There's no need to rush. Christmas is, like, next week. That's days and days away.

7. Check the Facebook updates of people who are finished grading. Curse them. And love them, but: curse them!

8. Have a small crisis of self-worth. It goes like this: why did they (the students) do (pick your disappointing student behavior--fail to turn in X, scatter their group project documents hither and yon, fail to complete crucial, culminating project Y, etc.)? I am a terrible teacher. Their failings are my fault.

9. Regroup. Strategies for regrouping: toast. Cookies. Mid-grading blogging. Repeat step 8/step 9 sequence as necessary until all milestones (see step 6) are completed.

And yet, having completed a milestone, I am feeling rawther cheerful about the grading. Hello, I must be going to a movie. More grading later. Ta ta.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fa la la la la la la la la.

1. Crafts extravaganza.

In which the first seasonal episode (surely the last!) of egregious overspending at the craft store leads to a swell morning with grandchildren.

Retro buttons, dressmaker pins with pearly heads, styrofoam cones. Five grandchildren, ranging from age 2 to 6. That's right, sharp objects and small children. Four children and two adults made button trees, which are, I think we can all agree, damned cute and very merry.

Cloves, oranges, a nail for pre-poking the holes for the cloves, tea light candles. That's right, another craft including poking. The kids mainly vetoed this, the pomander craft. They wanted to move on to the cookies. And really, who can blame them.

Sugar cookies (Dr. Write's recipe, thank you very much as it worked beautifully and tasted great), icing in three colors (white, red, green), and about a dozen different kinds of sprinkles. Can you really have too many sprinkles? I don't think so. Each kid decorated about six sugar cookie trees, with optional icing-sprinkles-icing-more sprinkles layering. Also, intermittent cookie eating.

Lunch: paninis or peanut butter and honey or peanut butter and jam, or all three. Carrots, chips, grapes, oranges. Root beer. This was a big hit.

2. I really should be grading.

In which I yet again procrastinate moving from pre-grading (organizing scores, seeing what I have and what I don't, and yet again sending the "did you forget . . .?" e-mails which I swear swear swear to myself I'm going to stop doing) to the grading, and buy a Christmas tree.

It is beautiful, I only had to discard two strands of lights after having first tested them to see if they worked, and they worked, and then I put them on the tree and they didn't work. But that only made me a little sweaty. And now it is gorgeous. My grading will occur in a much more festive atmosphere. And it will be finished by Friday. Oh yes! It will be finished by Friday.

See for yourself:

TAGS: crafty, overspendy, festive, O tannenbaum, pre-grading

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vive la difference.


As I was washing my face before bed, I noticed that there was lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of cold water. Which was not getting warm. And thus, a house-capade which led us to the inescapable conclusion that our hot water heater was not working. A pilot light had gone out, which we--and by "we," I obviously mean "the historian"--could not get lit. Thus, a call to a plumber, but not until morning, because on the water heater, it says, and I quote, "If you cannot light the pilot light, call your pilot light lighting professional. But not until morning."

And thus, a slow fume on my part about turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world &c &c. Not to mention the toilet in the hall bathroom needs a whole new mechanism thingie. Not to mention we need weatherstripping everywhere and probably new windows. Not to mention the mice.

And thus, a conversation in the dark, 12:30-ish a.m.

Me: So, you're saying that you don't think the house is just f***ing with us. You're saying, stuff sometimes breaks, so then you just fix it. And that's just how it is.

The historian: Yes. The latter.

TAGS: chaos theory, second law of thermodynamics

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some awesome things.

20 beautiful libraries from around the world. (via go fug yourself, a continual fount of awesomeness)

A plethora of end-of-the-decade lists. (on kottke)

The above awesome things have inspired the following thoughts:

1. The Main Library in Salt Lake City is also beautiful. But it definitely has some competition.

2. Oh how I love lists. If I weren't occupied with other things, like buying buttons, pins, and styrofoam cones for the upcoming grandchildren craft extravaganza, and also about $100 worth of other stuff at the craft store that I totally needed, I would be making end-of-the-decade lists, too. Maybe I still will. I will add it to my "Shit I need to get done" list.

3. I won an XBox in a contest!!!!!!.

TAGS: win, beautiful, lists, buttons, craft store, $100

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My agenda is full.

Still to do:
  1. Grade everything. Literally. I'll be grading you, in fact. I hope you've turned everything in.
  2. Bake. Everything. Literally.
  3. Buy metric ton of butter for #2. Ditto sugar and flour. And sprinkles.
  4. Buy styrofoam cones and colorful buttons and dressmaker pins for button tree project (craft morning with grandchildren).
  5. Decorate.
  6. Transform home into welcoming place for returning missionary son. Wash his sheets, for instance.
  7. Make sure home is mouse-free for returning &c.
  8. Read desperately jargon-y theory book for theory book group.
  9. Propose possible new mission statement for theory book group: "Read more detective novels!"
  10. Get rid of nagging cough.
  11. Candy making.
  12. Make many, many homemade Christmas gifts.
  13. Execute grand schemes of homemade Christmas food gifts for friends and neighbors.
  14. Go to library for something good to read.
Well, I really don't have time to be blogging, even, what with all the above to do. I can't imagine why I feel kind of cheerful, despite all that. Last day of classes? Perhaps.

TAGS: end of semester, awful but cheerful, the goose is getting fat, crafts, butter, buttons

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I don't know if anyone noticed this at all, but today it was very cold outside. Also, super snowy. I noticed this from all the windows in my house whence I checked out conditions whilst waiting for it to be safe for me to drive, or for the approaching hour of my first meeting, whichever came first.

Meanwhile, a mouse ran up and down the corridor, considering with apparent interest the humane mousetrap with a fresh peanut butter-coated saltine in it, without ever actually crossing the threshold of it. Without becoming "trapped," as it were. Running up and down the corridor, in plain view. All, "I love this corridor with its fresh scent of peanut butter and saltine. So much better than that cold-ass field out back!"

Meanwhile, I checked all the humane mousetraps every twenty minutes or so. I have so much faith in them! And so many mice to trap!

I'm still getting used to going outside again, after my long confinement in the House of Contagion. Very cold, for one. Snow-packed. Disorientingly bright. I need a pair of those Victorian sunglasses, the kind that protect your illness-addled brain from The Brightness.

Meeting, meeting, and the drive home. I came home to find that we had caught the (a?) mouse. I made dinner for the second night in a row, so that's something. We ate the very last one of the Chad-procured tomatoes. I let it sit quietly nestled in its bag for days and days, which turned out to be the optimal condition for it ripening to absolute perfection. We ate it with our baked penne and it was a last lucky hit of summer. The ne plus ultra of tomato, in December, on a snowy night.

Meanwhile, another mouse has been running up and down the corridor, disdaining the humane mousetrap while admiring its fragrance, congratulating itself on its excellent taste in shelter.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Alive, but only just.

Part one. This week I have dragged myself out of bed to

1. shower twice
2. make tea
3. open and close the door for Bruiser
4. go to one long, long long long long long long day at work
5. go to one short meeting the next day
6. fetch the remote.

Part 2. The last several mornings I awoke and thought, I think I might feel better. Then, sometimes just five minutes later, I thought, nope. Sometimes I actually got out of bed and made my cup of tea before this second thought came to me.

Part 3. DayQuil has not vanquished this insidious ailment. To get Biblical, which only seems appropriate for this affliction, DayQuil is as grass before the wrath of it. The affliction, I mean, not the Bible.

Part 4. I look horrible. I feel horrible, but the people, I really look horrible, and that just doubles down the whole demoralizing deal.

Part 5. Here are the things I have cooked this week: toast. tea. canned soup. leftovers. I'm not sure how you get better on a diet of that.

Part 6. Sometimes I thought Bruiser was taking care of me by laying with me, but then I realized he was mainly laying with me in the afternoon when the sun was streaming in the window. In other words, he could care less about me and my illness. He only cares about himself and his sun needs.

Part 7. And do my sinuses still ache? and do I feel dehydrated and congested? and did I sleep like I was dead this afternoon? and do I have meetings I should probably rouse myself to attend tomorrow?

And do I have faith that I will get better anytime soon?

TAGS: the lurgy, advanced whinging, no end in sight, symptoms, the people cry out for justice

Monday, November 30, 2009

The sick.

Given a requisite amount of contagion and proximity to it, you might find yourself sick in bed on a Monday after the long weekend. Sick, as in, maybe I'll catch up on the last of the grading, but no. Sick as in, maybe a shower would make me feel better, but no. Sick as in, I might need to go out for a couple of minutes to mail my manuscript times six, but that made my eyes, teeth, ears and skin hurt.

Sick as in, where's the justice, the people?

In case you are planning a bout of this type of illness, here's a handy guide to the things you can do while sick, and some things you can't:

1. you can read 25 pages of a novel
2. you cannot read 2 paragraphs of a theory book
3. you can heat soup in a microwave
4. you can toast bread
5. you can make a cup of tea
6. you cannot chop anything
7. you can lay in bed with the dog
8. you cannot take the dog for a walk
9. you can watch television, but your eyes will hurt
10. you can assist your beloved with the crossword with your eyes closed
11. you cannot grade
12. you can remember when it is time to take the DayQuil Severe Cold and Flu again.

In conclusion, it is time for me to lie down again. Good night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A little different.

Yesterday, our friends from Wyoming were in town--the ones we visited a couple of weeks ago--and they came over for dinner. The historian has had a cold/cough/ache thing going on NONE DARE CALL IT FLU and so my preferred conditions* for dealing with my portion of the mess--which, I confess it, is a big portion--were not to be.
*[Conditions for dealing with my portion of the mess: a house empty of all save me and my portion of the mess, the better to wrestle with my demons and call upon deity for aid and comfort and make vows to whatever powers that be that I will never ever no never let it get this bad again.]
No, the historian, ill and in need of rest, needed to be able to lie down. So, the people, my portion of the mess got worse. Or, if not worse, it began to glower at me. To call me names and to insinuate things about my character. In the cold light of day--November light, hence, quite cold--the loomingness of my portion of the mess seemed ever more looming. My character ever more flawed. It was pretty bad. Very bad.

I kept thinking, how can we have people over? There's this mess, and it's looming. And I am a flawed, flawed person! This house! The squalor! Etcetera &c &c.

I had to do it in stages: first, sort my portion of the mess into smaller portions (sweaters, tee shirts, skirts, trousers, fashion magazines, The New Yorker, catalogs, old crossword puzzles, scarves). Then, go through them to see if there are obvious giveaway candidates. Then, on D-Day (dinner day), put things away and throw things away. Meanwhile, I also cooked. Meanwhile, the historian did other cleaning and sorting maneuvers.

And, the people, I felt so much better. About everything.

Our friends came over and of course what they responded to in our home wasn't anyone's portion of the mess. Rather, they loved the colors of our walls, the paintings, the candlelight, the dinner itself. We had a wonderful time and I was able to see again--it is a little surprising to me how long it has been since I've seen it--how lovely and wonderful our home is to live in, how much we've made it our own, how vivid and lively and lovely it is. That's hard to see when all you can see is your own flaws.

There are resultant resolutions and plans aplenty, which I will spare you. But mainly, it was very good to be reminded about how to enjoy our own space--our own lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How tomorrow will be different from today: a brief study.

Last night, I could not sleep because, in my brain, there were to-do lists all deconstructed, floating around, atomized, items separated from their bullet points, bullet points separated from their backbone, the backbone disconnected from the neck bone.

Tomorrow will be different from that.

Today, I coasted into my workplace at the appointed hour--but did that rather important staff member possibly glance at me askance? because my hair was still damp and maybe she'd already been there for two hours? So what? I was working when I should have been sleeping last night, okay? Or possibly there was no askance at all. Probably. Still: back off!

Tomorrow, I will chill out.

Today, I kept thinking, isn't there a day in between now and Thanksgiving, a day when I can hang up my clothes and do the laundry and put things away in general and sit with the dog while drinking a warm beverage? and take a nap and listen to music? and read?

Nope, no such day. But at least it will be Thanksgiving, and that's good.

Tomorrow there will be: a pie to bake. A lovely salad to concoct. A walk with the dog. Music and newspaper reading. Possible sleeping in, a little. And then the drive down to the next valley, and the whole whirl of family and food and everything good that goes with that. That's the Thanksgiving metric.

TAGS: thanksgiving, metric, comparative study, indicators

Monday, November 23, 2009

The gratitude abecedarian.

My daughter's most recent blog post is a gratitude ABC--so in the spirit of the season, here goes mine:
A . . . algorithms, because they make stuff like Google work. People who
know how to work with algorithms. People who know what algorithms are.
B . . . Bruiser, of course. and my brother. my shiny red bicycle. with a basket. breakfast. my bed. this blog and the blogs of my friends and compatriots.
C . . . the family cabin. California. my beloved the computer.
D . . . daughters--and my dad. detective fiction. dinner. dusk.
E . . . an education. (thanks, all the people who were involved in my
education, starting with my mom and dad)
F . . . friends, old and new. the farmer's market.
G . . . grandchildren! they are glorious! glimmer and gleam. also glitter.
H . . . the splendid historian.
I . . . Idaho. my iPod. inspiration--whatever it is that makes me want to do or make something new.
J . . . jets, like the ones that took us to Dublin, me to Massachusetts, and us to Los Angeles.
K . . . kitchen, where I spend some of my happiest hours.
L . . . laughing--I love to laugh. the library.
M . . . my mom, and the movies. music. the moon.
N . . . naps. they are so choice. my nieces and nephews.
O . . . orange, both the color and fruit--a guaranteed dose of happy.
P . . . poetry, yeah poetry. and pancakes.
Q . . . quadriceps and other leg muscles, which allow me to walk. Basically, all muscles.
R . . . rivers. Places full of rivers.
S . . . sons, and my sisters, sparkle, shimmer, shine. sight. the sky.
T . . . Target. duh. Travel and trips.
U . . . unhurry--times when things flow and I am not stressed and everything feels good.
V . . . video chat. video essays.
W . . . work--glad to have a job, glad to have a job that means something to me. And writing. And the World Wide Web.
X . . . -ray vision. Which I have, but I use sparingly. And in secret.
Y . . . yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Z . . . zillions of other things that are possibly too frivolous to name as things I am grateful for even though I truly am, such as: ribbon, cute shoes, lipstick, television shows, my neighborhood, the yellow berries on the trees, burning bush, birds of all stripes, vistas of all kinds, road trips, staying up late, potato chips, winter mornings, summer evenings, the hilarious things my students say/write, the color yellow, and all sorts of pizzazz.

TAGS: thankful, grateful, big & little, what can be named

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In medias babka.

Don't you find babka a wonderful word? Winsome. Adorable. And, paradoxically, Slavic, so perhaps a little brooding, melancholic, and dark?

 Like many shiksas across America, I first heard of babka on Seinfeld. Recently the idea of babka bubbled up to my consciousness, who knows why? but upon said word surfacing into full cognitive view so that all I could think about was babka, I did what all enterprising cooks do: Googled it, and came up with this recipe. It has so much butter and chocolate in it, I had to buy the butter and chocolate in two shifts. Not that I couldn't have purchased it in one. I just couldn't admit to myself that I was going to bake something with that much butter and chocolate in it. I smuggled my intentions past myself. As it were.

At the moment, the silken, buttery, eggy dough is rising. The chocolate has been finely chopped, all two and half pounds of it, and mixed with the cinnamon and sugar and extra butter. I am optimistic.

Listen, if anyone wants a piece, you just let me know. This recipe makes a lot of babka.

Babka babka babka. Chocolate babka.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vampire movie: an acrostic.

Now listen, vampire movie,
Either you're
Worth seeing or you're not, I really don't give a damn, but O

MG, it was extra annoying to go to the
Oversized megaplex,
Only to find it crowded by
New Moonies who, as

It turned out, had overflowed into the movie I wanted to see,

And that,
My dear vampire movie, kind of pis-

Sed me off.
Of all the

Movie theaters in
All the world, you had to overcrowd mine.
Driving across the valley to catch another showing

@ 7:45 p.m. was the frosting on my bitterness.

Yes, I know, bitterness doesn't need frosting,
O Smartypants Vampires and your theater-clogging Fans: I took
Umbrage, I was Wrathful, I'm full of Unabridged Fume.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ode to my sweaters.

You are of so many colors,
though occasionally you tumble
from your shelf and incite slightly

rude remarks but I thank you
anyway, my sweaters,
for how you are so warm in your variegated

ways: the way of the cardigan,
the way of the v-neck
and the way, even,

of the plain pullover:

for the argyle is geometric,
and the cableknit is like the code
of life, twisty and mind-bending,

if you are the type
whose mind is apt to be bent
by sweaters,

and lo, when the weather is cold
and sometimes even
when it is not, I am that very type:

you, mind-bending pink sweater,
inexplicably meant for men,
which is why

I bought you marked down
to $9.99 at Target: it is almost the day
when I will find you again,

and think, you, pink sweater,
today is just the day
for a pink sweater: etcetera

etcetera &c,
for each sweater there is
just the day: it is my happy genius

to find that day in its full
representing in a statement of knit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things I am thinking of doing for which I apparently have no time.

  1. pressing my clothes before I wear them.
  2. writing a poem.
  3. making a video essay.
  4. cleaning up my house.
  5. finishing all the books I've started but not finished in the last six months.
  6. watching the second season of The Wire.
  7. making a chocolate babka.
  8. spending hours dreaming out the window.
  9. writing a book about movies or music or clothes.
  10. starting a new blog called Act Your Age!
  11. planning my courses for next semester.
  12. framing my poster of Francis Bacon's studio.
  13. sorting through and getting rid of 30% of my clothes.
  14. making music of some kind. Any kind.
  15. having my house magically sort itself.
  16. live in France for awhile.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What the world needs now is transformational leadership. Or maybe strategic. Wait, no: tactical.

I have been thinking about leadership lately, a word I have come near to loathing. Yet it transfixes me. What is it? Do you have it simply by saying so? Googling around recently, I found a title for a guest lecture given at a well-known graduate program for higher education administrators, entitled "Transformational Leadership at X College." I would like to see the PowerPoint for that presentation, let me tell you. Oh the indicators! the metrics! the Venn diagrams! I'm just guessing.

We visited friends this weekend, one of whom is the president of a small and promising educational startup company. He says that he provides strategic leadership--he's "the tip of the spear," he says--and frankly, I believe it. Putting things into actual action--"that's tactical," he says. "I have people for that."

This leads me to ask you, the people, why can I not be the tip of the spear? and why do I not have people? I mean, aside from you all. Anyway: I love this version of leadership so much that I have been thinking about more modifiers--many, many more--for the word leadership:
wonderful, bellyful of, salicylic, vegetable, mineral, adorable, supine, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, sockful of, drawerful, pocketful, awful, pitiful, helpful, agglutinable, alienable, biodegradable, circumnavigable, contradictable, curable, decasyllabic, dismountable, aimless armless artless ageless boneless bootless barkless colorless careless cordless cashless deathless eyeless friendless flawless flightless godless heartless harmless jobless joyless legless lawless lifeless loveless luckless mirthless mindless motherless painless
Or, to put it another way:

Please tell me what kind of leadership you think the world needs now: volitional? uncanny? astigmatic? parabolic? ontological? ludic? cakelike?

TAGS: modifiers, suffixes, words that rhyme with "mead or whip"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I have had an all-day headache and it better not be the swine flu.

Otherwise known as: the Premature List of Notable Films of 2010.

Who knows if I will ever finish the movie reviews themselves, but here is the list of awards I would bestow if I had an awards show, which I don't, but seriously, maybe I should:

Best movies that are like jeweled artifacts: Duplicity and A Serious Man. These movies, because of their formal ingenuity and deft, crafty plotting, are entirely pleasurable, whether or not they are meaningful or important. Although, as it happens, I think that A Serious Man is both.

Best movies that are like a perfect day: Bright Star, Eternal Moments, Summer Hours. As it turns out, each of these films has a quality of pathos as well, but they are all full of life and what would ordinarily be unobserved moments, making them feel open and unforced and utterly beautiful.

Best movies that include covers of Cheap Trick songs: Rudo y Cursi. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the moment when Gael Garcia Bernal sings "I Want You to Want Me" in his video-within-the-movie is perfection. But there are other covers of the song, most of them in Spanish, and the movie, which sometimes seems a little facile, hits an unexpected emotional note as it ends. It's a movie about love and it is lovely. Not quite as amazing as Y Tu Mama Tambien, but worthy nonetheless.

Best movies that have the suffix -land in the title: Adventureland, Zombieland. Fortunately for movielovers everywhere, both films feature Jesse Eisenberg, with his chemistry with Woody Harrelson in the latter a joy forever (see also: thing of beauty). Zombieland isn't quite Shaun of the Dead, but it is in the same class, which is a very good class indeed.

Best character studies: Goodbye Solo, Sugar, Big Fan. Goodbye Solo is about an African immigrant living in Winston-Salem; Sugar is about a Dominican baseball player who comes to the U.S.; Big Fan is about a guy who's a rabid New York Giants fan. Each is closely observed and surprising and absorbing. Of the three, I think Goodbye Solo is the most haunting, but all of them are worth your time.

Best voiceover: The Informant! I thought that Matt Damon was very good in this, an odd and not entirely satisfying film, but I thought he was especially good in the very well-written voiceovers. To me, they were the best thing in the movie. Except Scott Bakula, who was also brilliant, frankly.

Best little performance: Jason Bateman in State of Play. This movie also underwhelmed while simultaneously being quite entertaining--it just should have been better, is all, given Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren and whatsername, Rachel MacAdams and Robin Wright Penn and even Ben Affleck. You kept catching a little glimpse of--is that Jason Bateman? you'd ask yourself, as the movie tried to reconstruct the ins and outs of the twisty-wannabe plot. But when you finally get to have the awesome scene, and you confirm that it is indeed Jason Bateman, you are in for a treat. A treat and a half. Too bad the scene's so short, but maybe that's part of why it's so good. (and speaking of underwhelming, and Jason Bateman--two terms I have never linked, and hope never again to link--why was Extract not more wonderful? Why?)

Best animation: Ponyo, mainly for the underwater life. Also, Up, for everything. Maybe the two should be reversed? (Also, Coraline--just like "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah"--spooky! scary!)

Quietest movie: Wendy and Lucy. This movie was so minimal it was on the verge of hardly being a movie. But it stayed on the good side of that verge.

Movies that shook me up, shook me down, spun me all around: Sin Nombre, Hurt Locker. Sin Nombre is much more straightforward, narratively speaking, more workmanlike than brilliant--but its representation of its subject matter, the conditions under which Central Americans come north to the U.S., was brutal and frank and, for me, unforgettable. Hurt Locker is really quite unbelievably good. It is brainy, emotional, and kinetic. One of the very best things I have seen this year, and maybe in any year.

Most romantic and tragic at the same time: Two Lovers, Bright Star. Are "tragic" and "romantic" redundant terms? I will leave that to the literary critics among you to discuss. Each was close to perfect.

Funny: The Hangover, Zombieland. All I ask of a comedy is that it make me laugh. I prefer it if it doesn't also make me feel bad about myself for having laughed. I can't really say, truthfully, that the latter criterion can be said to describe The Hangover, but reader, I did laugh, boy howdy how I laughed.

Best movie with George Clooney in it so far this year: The Men Who Stare at Goats. Somehow, I feel it is my responsibility to defend George Clooney against all comers, because you know, a handsome guy like that, with piles of money, who's worked with a ton of good directors and has enough industry clout to direct and produce, and who's won an Oscar--a guy like that just doesn't get enough respect. Haters, desist! George Clooney was good in this sort-of-a-trifle of a movie, and still to come are Up in the Air, not to mention The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In conclusion, George Clooney is a very good actor. Also, handsome. The end.

Movies that wasted my precious, precious time: The Time Traveler's Wife, The Ugly Truth, He's Just Not That Into You, Easy Virtue. Go ahead, see these movies, but don't say I didn't warn you. (Not to say that I didn't enjoy seeing these with, respectively, my daughters, my daughter, Dr. Write, and the historian.)

Best music movie: It Might Get Loud. Kind of a modest thing, but I found it deeply pleasurable and also moving.

Best dance movie: I am sorry to report that there is no best dance movie, at least not so far, in 2009. My daughter and I saw Fame, and I won't say that there wasn't some enjoyment there, and popcorn, but dancing? not really.

Best movies overall: Bright Star, Eternal Moments, Summer Hours, Hurt Locker, A Serious Man. You will not go wrong with any one of these.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mouse club.

Proposition 1: a house without its cat is more likely to have a mouse situation than a house with its cat.

Proposition 2: a house bordered along its back fence by a deep field is more likely to have a mouse situation than a house sans such a field.

Let me see if I can represent this in the form of an equation:

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Open letter to this past week.

Dear This Past Week,

You and I sat down and had a conversation awhile ago, wherein we planned that you would be completely wall-to-wall, and we both agreed that it would be fine: sometimes immersion in a task is just the thing, a task like conferring with students about their midterm portfolios, and in fact, it could be transformative, changing the tenor of the student-teacher relationship, what with the individual attention and the reams of comments. We actually planned on transformation, This Past Week. It was on our agenda.

However, This Past Week, things didn't exactly follow as we had envisioned them. When we announced to the students that their portfolios needed to be posted by midnight Monday, we thought they would comply. Writing these words--"we thought they would comply"--how absurd they sound! How many years have I been teaching? Couldn't you have reminded me, This Past Week, that such an expectation would be naive? in the extreme? You could have at least laughed at me, affectionately or even derisorily. It would have saved us both a lot of grief.

Only you know, This Past Week, how I died just a little when the students did not show at their appointed hour. Just a little, but still. I'm middle-aged, This Past Week. I can't afford to be dying all the time.

If we were doing this again, This Past Week, how would we correct for this risible failure to envision the world as it really is--that students, even having written things down, forget, or postpone, or don't think of you the writing teacher as the sun (with them the writing students as the moon, like Juliet and Romeo) and thus blow you off like a bad date? What would we do differently? Punishment? threats?

And now, This Past Week, you are spilling into the new week, because I have had to reschedule appointments like mad. I have always been the apostle of "Just One More Chance," which, frankly, I should find a new religion, because Just One More Chance basically doubles my labor and makes me feel a little bad and a little mad. Also, there's that whole dying a little thing, which, let's face it, does no one any favors.


lisa b.

TAGS: gospel, dying by degrees, expectations, teaching, plan

Monday, November 02, 2009


This week, I have many, many appointments with important people. Also known as "my students." We will be discussing their work at this preliminary interval in the semester, the interval known as "OMG will it never end?" My services as a consultant include
  • revealing to the client (aka "student"), in a persuasive way, the extent to which s/he has or has not measured up to the nebulous standards of the course (also known as "outcomes").
  • encouragement, strict talk, and the smackdown.
  • foregoing lunch to speak to him/her at his/her convenience.
  • gradually developing office stench (acquired from hours on end in an office chair--atmosphere is part of any good consultation).
  • written comments! some of which are delivered in the outcomes grid!
I'm getting so dang good at the consultations that I thought I might offer a fuller menu of consultations, such as
  • assessing whether you're working too hard (you almost certainly are).
  • doing a paper audit of your life to see if you need to take a day off (you totally deserve it!).
  • evaluating whether you need to go back to the store to buy that one sweater you saw yesterday (yes).
  • measuring your joke against my impeccable criteria to see if it's funny (usually, it is [metric: did I laugh?]).
  • assessing whether you need a cookie (you almost certainly do).
I'll be happy to give you a written estimate for any of your consultation requirements.

TAGS: consultation, assessment, measures, grid, evaluation, audit

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The truth, dear readers,

is that the weeks since mid-August (let's see . . . what happened then? was it . . . right, coming back to work) have been a challenge to my inner resources. Which, like everything else around here, are kind of in an uproar. Sometimes I'm not quite sure where I've put them. When we had the last dinner party, did I stuff them under the bed? up in the closet? did I shove them haphazardly on the shelves? did they fall behind the books? At the moment, my inner resources are a little difficult upon which to lay hands.

Back in the summer, when I was contemplating this moment, I thought of several consolations: when I got back to work, I would be glad to see my colleagues more. Once I got started teaching, I'd quickly hit a rhythm and would enjoy it. I would enjoy seeing my colleagues more (did I already say that?). And as it turns out, I do enjoy seeing my colleagues, but I don't see them all that much more, at least it doesn't feel like I do. I feel just as lonely--when I feel pressed, flustered by anxious work, cut off from the work that is closest to what's most important to me--as I ever did last year when my work wasn't going well. As for that teaching rhythm--well, it has taken longer than I would have predicted for it to arrive.

Moreover, I find myself asking: whence my burnished afternoons, the ones that found me writing, editing, bringing some project to a new level? my sense of the spaciousness of time? the sense of my own powers ready to turn to some new act of making? The answer is, to each of these questions: evaporated, disappeared, gone.

But here are some indicators that lead me to believe that things might be turning around:
  • I read a big pile of student drafts Thursday morning, and they were, frankly, pretty good. So maybe I haven't been doing quite as bad a job of teaching as I had feared/suspected.
  • I had a lively, good class Thursday afternoon.
  • I've had some excellent conferences with my creative writing students.
  • I am sending my manuscript(s) off again (God bless 'em).
  • I am cooking a really good dinner tomorrow for the family.
  • I heard "Lawyers, Guns and Money" while I was doing my errands this morning.
  • today we sat out in the back yard, absorbing the drift happening in the sky, the bird flying straight under the patio shelter, the wind stirring the dying leaves.
  • we caught and released a fat little mouse.
Tonight we will visit all the local grandchildren and see them in their Halloween splendor. And before that, we will see Where the Wild Things Are. I am staring autumn, and soon, winter, right into its yellow eyes, without blinking once. This is the new real, and the new good, or good enough.

TAGS: consolatio, good or good enough, wild, flow, drift, yellow, mourning & melancholia

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cold = hibernate.

For is not the very metaphor for the love of God for mankind a cradle? aka, a bed? and is there anything at all wrong with just chilling out/checking out for an evening or so, when the weather is cold and it's also, and not uncoincidentally, dark?


Where is my motivation?

[side note: the historian thinks
that Carmelo A. is a punk.]

And on that note, I will leave you with this, from a book that arrived today. I ordered it because I no longer remember why, way back awhile ago when somewhere I ran across it and had to have it but it wasn't quite printed yet, a book called L'Usage du Monde, trans. The Way of the World. It is written by Nicolas Bouvier, and it is about the year and half (1953-54) in which he and his friend Thierry drove in their old Fiat from Geneva to the Khyber Pass:
Travelling outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you--or unmaking you.

Young Nicolas.

And this is where they went. Although sometimes they stopped for a bit, to linger, slouch around, perhaps . . . to hibernate? Reading on . . .

TAGS: Afghanistan, Iran, travel, hibernate

Monday, October 26, 2009

Funk'll getcha.

I have given a lot of thought to this question, and now I think I know what the internet is for: so I can be presented with the opportunity to watch this, which I have seen maybe just once, while I am grading:

TAGS: walk without rhythm

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My book group, a five paragraph essay.

What a great idea! A book group composed of my friends and friends of friends. Let's choose wonderful books and read them! and discuss them! with friends! (thesis statement:) A reading group with friends, with wonderful books, to read and discuss--there could not be a better idea.

Sometimes we all come, sometimes we don't. (examples, details, &c. & c.)

Sometimes our ideas of what are great books look different when we read the actual books.

Sometimes we finish the books, sometimes we don't. (we are all busy people, sometimes we actually start reading the book the morning of the meeting day, and by "we" I mean "I," and possible others.)

(bonus paragraph:) Are we possibly too busy for a book group? How can that possibly be? We're educated, literate people, who read, and who like to talk. And eat--let's not forget eat, because there are always snacks, and often cake. Perhaps it is just important to commit to being a part of the group, as a way of committing to reading books? and to constructing parts of our mutual friendships around this commitment to read and discuss books, and eat cake? I think so.

In conclusion, for our book group today, we read and discussed To the Lighthouse, a book I had never read and, moreover, had put off as a part of an eventual "Read Virginia Woolf" project, for which I had always believed the appropriate time, though not precisely now, would arrive and lo, it did, in the form of an e-book, which I checked out from my library after paying my fines, because all the non-e copies of To the Lighthouse--also known as "books"--were either already with library patrons, or in transit, or at libraries scattered hither and yon about the valley but not in my neighborhood: so, and ergo, today I curled up with my laptop (making today much like every other day of my regular life, in effect, although the experience of reading a novel on the laptop was a little different than reading, say, The Huffington Post or The Sartorialist--less clicky, for one thing--), and the people, I am here to tell you that To the Lighthouse is a beautiful and lovely thing, which I'm sure you already knew, but hey, it just happened to me. In an e-book. And it was great to talk about it, with my friends.

(AND: there was cake. The end.)

TAGS: book group, e-, commitment, hither and yon, clicky

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some things you don't know about me.

And frankly, probably don't need to know:

1. My favorite flavor of gum drops is white, black, green and purple.
2. When I plan a menu, I always make at least one thing too many, and usually more than that.
3. I don't care about "fancy," but I tend toward "lots."
4. I have the most gray clothes of anyone in America. (Data source: private survey of my closet)
5. We have just reset our humane mousetraps because apparently, it's Party-time for Mice at our house.
6. I am behind in my work, and I will be behind in my work until December, when the semester is over.
7. I owe some library fines. Sadly.
8. I fight with myself not to go to Target everyday.
9. Reading The Divine Comedy when I was 22 was, in the realm of reading experiences, a big one.
10. We have two new dogs that live next door and while the jury is still out, they might be annoying. A little bit. At six in the morning when they are let out and start barking.
11. Two words: eat soup.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rue is the national herb of Lithuania, and other facts.

I meant to prune my grape vines, plant the seeds I bought late in the winter, clean out all my closets. Now that the harvest is in, the time is clearly ripe for regretting. Or not. I think: not. In mythology, even a basilisk, the breath of which could wilt plants and crack stones, could not destroy rue. Weasels bitten by basilisks could eat rue to recover and return to fight. Perhaps my tendency to regret is a talisman, but for now, I am trying not to let even a single thing in this autumn pass my notice. A couple of weeks ago, I washed the quilt that I will be using all winter, substantial, a little heavy, on our bed at night, to curl up in when doing the crossword, to wrap around me when I'm working here during the day. I am loving the light of autumn, of walking around the neighborhood with Bruiser and seeing, just seeing, the brilliance of everything--leaves tree bush flower stem berry--blazing and burning. It seems to me that the whole valley is, sometimes, glowing, not just with color but with an equinoctial slant to the light. What's the point of regret? Bruiser loves the colder air in the morning and at night. We take a bike ride around the neighborhood at dusk and it is all beautiful. All of it.

TAGS: comfort me with apples, harvest, grapes & roses

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Movie movie movie.

1. Zombieland. I read a review that said Zombieland might actually kick Shaun of the Dead's ass. I wouldn't go that far, but it was dang enjoyable. It starts with a zombie-on-human montage, with Metallica in the background, and it just gets better from there. Baby, I am getting into the Halloween spirit. I have a pumpkin on my porch, I have seen a zombie movie, and maybe I will wear my raven shirt come the last week of October. Right, back to the movie: if you're interested, there's interview with the director Ruben Fleischer, a first-timer. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are kind of perfection together. In conclusion, zombies! in L.A.!

2. It Might Get Loud. This documentary was quite wonderful, I thought, featuring Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White, each talking about his relationship with the electric guitar, his influences, his history in music. Walking in, I probably had the easiest relationship with U2's music, and the Edge comes across as an unprepossessing, intelligent, modest guy. So I was surprised by two things: I thought Jimmy Page was just great, both in the affect he projected and the love of music he evinced, but also I guess I had no sense, really, of his career history. I kind of thought it started with the Yardbirds, but he was an accomplished session musician for quite awhile before that. And Jack White, who, despite all the critical praise, had in the past seemed to me a little bit of a poser? Awesome. Truly. He was awesome. The moment when Page played the riff from "Whole Lotta Love" was pretty much priceless. I loved this movie. I loved seeing Page, who is 66 years old, clearly still a master.

3. Capitalism: A Love Story. Has the pluses and the minuses of the usual Michael Moore efforts. Maybe more pluses than minuses though--it provokes thought and debate. It hits a nerve. As Dana Stevens of Slate says, "There's something touching, even a little bit noble, about Moore's eternal willingness to serve as our nation's shame-free populist gadfly." And, despite the inevitable logical flaws and the cringe factor, I'm still glad to have seen it and glad he keeps doing this thing he does.

TAGS: cringe factor, gadfly, poser, master, zombies

Friday, October 16, 2009

I have three things to say about this.

A. Wow.

2. This is one of THE greatest pop songs ever, bar none, including all of the Beatles.

and thirdly, why does this never happen at my place of employment? Why?

(via the Fug Girls, who, I thank deity every day! that they are alive and blogging.)

TAGS: shenanigans, BSB

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From the chronicles.

The Soup Chronicles, that is:

And verily, she did arise from her bed of affliction: and lo, there were squashes and onions, peppers and garlic galore on the tops of the counters. And she found it was Wednesday, yea, the Wednesday of pulses, and thus she must soak the remainder of the Yellow Nightfall beans in the water that ran from the tap, yea, the water that ran clear as rain.

And the chopping of the peppers, onions, and garlic was terrible to behold, but greater still was the immensity of the hellfire, aka the sauteing, though the medium was the purest of olive oil, yea, the olive oil which is called "Extra Virgin."

And suddenly, there was with the cook a multitude of the heavenly host, saying: Glory, there is soup!

IN OTHER WORDS, the people, it is again Souptopia at the Megastore, one day after another. Chili, then roasted butternut squash soup, and tonight, carrot soup with red lentils and basil.

And lo, her refrigerator yieldeth all for the good of the soup.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold, cold, or cold medicine?

After a packed-full teaching and other faculty-work work week, after writing and delivering a paper, after seeing Bright Star, after taking a particularly emotional poem to my writing group and getting what felt to me like a small amount of gratuitous snark, I fell prey to what seems like my by-now-familiar stress-ailment--something very like a cold, with sneezing, a little fever, hot eyes, tendency to fall apart. But yesterday and today, I had no commitments, aside from some online chat appointments with students, so I was able to stay home, and found myself prone to resting. Actually prone. As in, horizontal, for much of both days.

Is it an actual illness? Is it the fact that it's a little bit cold in my house and, for that matter, outside? Or is it the generic cold medicine I took? I don't know for a fact, but the fact is, I slept a lot. And when I wasn't sleeping, I actually did a fair amount of my work lying in bed. Like, I don't know, Proust. Or Milton, or Swift; or Voltaire, Trollope, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Colette, and Winston Churchill.

I'm investigating as of this moment the feasibility of an academic discipline called Bed Studies. You study the cultural significance of beds and bed-related artifacts. In Advanced Bed Studies, you take classes and teach from bed. I am the founder of this discipline, though I give the nod to my forbears. I rest on the featherbeds of giants.


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