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


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