Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday tanka.

Pancakes from a mix:
I defy any breakfast
to be more wheaty,
more maple-y, quicker
from buttered pan to my plate.

I manicured
just one hand: in my defense,
it was my left hand,
much easier, lacquer-wise.
The other hand went naked.

Subway sandwich, why
are you the easiest out
when it comes down to
negotiating the fast food
lunch, you six-inch peacemaker?

It's Complicated,
a second time, with my aunt:
Santa Barbara,
Meryl & Alec: swell. But
we really want her kitchen.

Tomorrow, I will
bake a birthday cake. It will
have raspberries and
whipped cream frosting. Cake is the
force that gives my life meaning.

O Swedish police
procedural: how you bring
the day definite
closure: though I also find
my dreams a bit murderous--

happy birthday! to Scotland daughter, in a land far far away on the blasted heath--

TAGS: poetic, prosaic, birthday

Friday, January 22, 2010

The big chill.

It is Sundance here in the SLC. Have I organized myself to read through the program, select films, buy tickets? No, I have not. Did we go see a slightly stodgy yet nonetheless enjoyable costume drama/biopic about a British monarch and grand imperialist? Yes, we did.

On our way to the movie:

The historian: What did you blog about last night?

Me: Nothing whatsoever. I have not one thing to say to the internet.

The historian: (cannot believe this) You could write about work.

Me: I could write about work, but it'd be tedious. And I don't want to lose my job.

The historian: Oh, we'd be okay. We'd just turn off the heat. That's all.

Speaking of which, did anyone else read this story in yesterday's Times, "Chilled by Choice," about a mixed set of people who decide to live without heat in the wintertime, not precisely because they can't afford it, but because they decide to live in spaces--like, warehouses, or lofts, or old rubblestone buildings with wood slat roofs--that make it so heating is kind of an irrational choice. Like, you really love the light in your space, so you're fine with being chilly. Extra chilly. Like, leave the water dripping so your pipes don't freeze chilly. (Click here for a slideshow of the coldness.)

Once, before running son ran off to parts unknown to evangelize, he worked at a movie theater. The manager got the bright idea to say that everyone had to work on Thanksgiving, and everyone had to work on Christmas, too. It was his way of making everyone share the pain of staffing the holidays. Everyone got to be miserable. A philosophy of management, if you will--if there's unhappiness on the job, let's make sure everyone has some.

Running son worked on Thanksgiving. But he quit before Christmas. He said, "I, Running Son [not his real name] do not work on Christmas." I think you have to respect a principle like that.

Well, just so you know, I, hightouchmegastore (TM) will not live in a house with no heat. So I'd better keep my job. And that's why I'm not blogging about work. Which is also why, the people, this week, I had nothing whatsoever to tell you.

The end.

TAGS: labor relations, work, nothing whatsoever to say

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A few rights you may not know you have.

Guaranteed by the (or "a") Constitution (TM) (of some kind):

1. The right to eat nachos
2. The right to cheat on the New York Times crossword puzzle by looking up clues on the internet, if it is too hard, or if you start to feel a little urgent about it
3. The right to shop online
4. The right to enjoy terrible music that you loved when you heard it on the radio during that one period of your life
5. The right to live within seven minutes of three different Targets
6. The right to buy cookies at ten p.m. at night because there is a dearth of cookies in your house
7. The right to read a novel with your dog
8. The right to procrastinate
9. The right to skip the boring parts of anything you are reading
10. The right to bake an aspirational cake on the weekend for the historian's birthday (this might be a right limited to me, but who's to say? This IS America).

TAGS: Constitutional, rights, implied, America, we the people

Monday, January 18, 2010

Signs that a young person is living at home again.

I asked running son--who came home from the wide, dangerous world just before Christmas, then left to visit his dad in Lousiana for two weeks, but will be coming home again tomorrow for about 6 weeks until he races off again, this time to Beijing--what he wanted me to buy at the store. You know: provisions. Here's what he said:
Nacho Spicier Doritos
Frozen Pizzas
Ham and Cheese supplies
Tortilla Chips
Fruit Snacks
Hot Dog Stuff
Are we out of Ketchup? I think so
Gram Crackers
The Chapelle Show
Apple Juice
or some other exotic Juice

That should be good, thanks for looking out for me
You are totally welcome.

TAGS: provisions, signs, horrible food, food that cannot seriously sustain life, food that 20-something males eat, junk

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Today as I vowed, I took everything out of my study in order to sort and throw and give away. By "everything," I mean, "a lot of stuff" (i.e., and to wit, not everything). And lo, I did sort, and I did find things to give and to throw away. And, in my post-sorting analysis, I identified the following categorical fails in my efforts to tidy up:
  • magazines. Too many of them, kept for too long. They are stacked. They are filed. They are in tidy bags from forever ago when I read them on a road trip.
  • books. So, so, so many of them. By the way, that "shelve your books by their color" idea is stupid. It's pretty, but it is stupid. This idea is not pretty on the inside. No, it is pretty on the outside, but a moron on the inside. Of course, that's only if you want to be able to find your books.
  • arts and crafts miscellanea. Pens, pencils, paints, paper of all sorts, crayons, oil pastels. Ink, in pads and bottles. Stamps. Stickers.
  • notebooks. I have a box of notebooks, labeled "NOTEBOOKS." I don't even know where to start with this, except it feels strange that notebooks should be that meta. But did I throw them away? I could not, except for this one legal pad from when I was taking notes at work like a decade ago. I figured I could let that one go.
  • kid stuff. Well, you can't throw any of it away, because it's, y'know, your kids. And you love them. And it feels like throwing their--and your--life away.
Let us pause to ask ourselves this question: is your life made of your stuff? Before you answer, all high-minded and enlightened like I know you are, let me add this: aren't we stuff? at the cellular and flesh-ular level? I am definitely of the "I am my stuff" camp, though I am trying to be a critical thinker about that. And by "critical thinker," I mean "a person who doesn't hold onto so much stuff."

Any more categorical fails, you ask? Why, yes:
  • technological appendages. Cords and mice.
  • cds. I buy far fewer actual disks these days. But I sure do have a hell of a lot of them.
  • the documentation of my writerly life. Oh. my. God., I have so many rejection letters. I have so many of them, I think it might be the universe telling me, "Stop trying to get your poetry published." Seriously.
Let me pause to ask you: if you had so many rejection letters that it caused you to consider that the universe might be telling you to stop trying to get your poetry published, would you (a) cut them into the shapes of celestial objects and make a mobile out of them? or (b) paint them in a million shades of gray, then make wallpaper for a Room of Doom out of them? or (c) make them into pretty, pretty snowflakes? or (d) build a soul-releasing bonfire out of them? Please fax your replies to the Megastore Hotline: 1.801.WHY.WRTE.
  • boxes. Yes, boxes. Some of them have stuff in them, sort of semi-organized. Some of them don't, as in, some of them are empty. Why not recycle those boxes? I don't know.
  • stuff that really belongs in my office at school. This includes a bulletin board I took home when I was (a) on sabbatical and (b) the roof fell in; a beautiful retablo that I kept there before (a) my sabbatical and (b) the flood; books, journals, student work; textbooks. Except, truth be told, my office is cold, as in, literally, there is not heat. And, the people, in the winter, that means I really, really really hate working in my office. So taking my stuff there seems like a bad move, except then it lives in my at-home study, where there are boxes, rejection letters, books, magazines, technological appendages, notebooks, kid stuff, arts and crafts stuff.
I think that, one day, when I am organized, there will be a perfectly capacious, but perfectly sorted, office. It will be of a temperate temperature. It will be both here and there, at home and away, and there will be a calm and orderly intelligence guiding it. There will be a place for everything, and everything will be in its place.

This kind of sounds like heaven, I think. And you know what that means, the people: I'll be sorted when I'm dead.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Time to rotate the handbag.

The people, there is too much shit in my purse.

As I was explaining to college daughter one day or another this week as we went from midvalley to south-y-south-south valley again, here's how it goes:

1. I have a big purse. Verily, perhaps a giant purse. Large-y McLarge the Purse.
2. I fill the purse full of stuff.
3. One day, when I have dived headfirst into my giant bag of doom ("The Abyss"), trying to find some essential thing or other, I break into a sweat, start to feel itchy, and I think, "damn, I have too much stuff in this purse."
4. But rather than clean it out, precisely, I select a smaller bag. The smaller bag will, without fail, save me from my worst inclinations. It will be impossible to have too much stuff in the smaller bag! It's smaller! Hence, less room for stuff!
5. My petite, much lighter bag, dangles lightly from my wrist for 18-24 hours.
6. After which, my smaller purse is inexplicably overloaded.
7. I carry around the smaller purse for weeks or months.
8. One day, when I have dived headfirst into my petite yet still abyss-like bag searching for some essential thing or other, I get sweaty, itchy, think, "damn, I have too much stuff in this purse."
9. I select a big purse. I have a lot of stuff. It will be much, much easier to keep it organized in a bigger bag.

One morning recently, at breakfast with my daughter and grandson, I could not find my Bakugan in my purse.

What's that? you don't carry around a Bakugan, aka a Dragon-Ball, aka a transformer type deal that turns from a ball into a dragon? You better get you one:

Right, back to my purse perplex: I couldn't find my Bakugan. So I took out a check register ("who uses checks anymore?" "Your mom."), sales receipts, a tiny notebook, a tube of awesome colored pencils, lipstick, a pen, and other assorted nonsense. No Bakugan. Where could it be? Who knows. Maybe Bruiser ate it (which was a slanderous thought: I found it on my kitchen counter today.)?

I began tidying up all the stuff I had excavated from the purse, and started to replace it.

"Oh, by all means, put that back," my daughter said, meaning the sales receipts and other meaningless paper.

Anyway, it's time to move to the bigger bag. I was neck-deep in my purse today, trying to find God knows what. Here's what there actually was:
  • gray gloves
  • a coupon for free popcorn at the Salt Lake Film Society
  • a program from the jazz concert we went to on Monday
  • a General Education Requirements brochure, from when I helped at Student Express on Tuesday
  • a transfer guide to BYU
  • an "inspect these documents" thing from my last check register
  • a sales receipt from Anthropologie
  • a grocery list
  • multiple copies of my poem from my poetry group on Sunday (with annotations)
  • the program from the Jazz-Sixers game (a couple of weeks ago)
  • Target receipt
  • T-Mobile advert from Jazz game
  • programs from two different church services I attended during the holidays
  • a paper with notes for a poem plus my New Year's resolutions
  • a Christmas card (from my daughter)
  • 5 invitations to my son's open house when he left on his mission
  • a check register
  • a bank withdrawal slip
  • a tiny notebook
  • the Jazz ticket stub
  • a post office receipt
  • another grocery list
  • wallet
  • reading glasses
  • sunglasses
  • 4 pens
  • colored pencils
  • keys
  • iPod
  • reuseable shopping bag
  • about a million kinds of lipstick and lipgloss
  • perfume samples
  • ibuprofen
  • hand lotion
and one Bakugan.

TAGS: handbag, abyss

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An open letter to My Proclivity for Complaint.

Dear My Proclivity for Complaint,

It has not even been one whole month since the solstice, but may I just say that it seems like a long, dark winter. And even though, minute by minute at dusk and at dawn, I can sort of see--my circadian self sees--that there is empirically, categorically more light, I can't find it in me to celebrate this fact, because of you, My Proclivity for Complaint.

Yes, I am addressing you, a part of my self, as if I were Yeats writing that poem I parsed when I was an undergraduate. Except in this case, the Self I am writing to is, as it were, My Foul Moodiness, and the Soul I am writing to is you, My Proclivity for Complaint. I hope you see what I'm getting at here. I'm getting no relief. From myself.

Perhaps there is a philosopher who can give me a salutary smack, loosen up some stuck gear, get a little hopeful action happening in my brain and my, what's it called? limbic system. The part that doesn't have to think so much, that isn't required to sort out the horrible from the awful from the irritating, in order to make a Taxonomy of the Rotten.

Also, My Proclivity for Complaint, my dishwasher is really not getting the dishes clean. When I pull a fork out of the dishwasher and it feels a little bit crusty, that occurrence does not really allow me to show you the door, for good, because a crusty fork that is supposed to be clean is the paradigmatic instance of an occasion for complaint. And there you are, my trusty animus, all sour and full of pestilential verve. Yeah, that fork is pretty much the emblem of the demise of all order, all efforts to keep the darkness at bay. The barbarians are at the gate, and by God, they eat off dirty dishes, the ones that were supposed to be clean.

My Proclivity for Complaint, will you take yourself away if I wear pink shoes? if I turn up the radio? if the snow melts or the skies blue? Will you dissolve like dish soap if I start writing again? if I spring clean, even though it's not spring? Will February bring a sudden disappearance of you, what with Valentine's Day? or will March?

Or can I count on you to scintillate, sussurate, seethe and surl in every corner of my being, no matter the weather or circumstance or song or holiday?



Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Like a veritable ton of bricks.

The new year just might have it in for me, at least a little bit. Hear me out:
  • the Chevy, which college daughter has on an extended loan, so she can get herself to the train station or to her job &c., has--and here, I think it must be argued that these are indicative of the new year's attitude--numerous things wrong with it, including a fuel injector that, if it is not fixed, might, and I am quoting the mechanic here, "set your engine on fire." Ergo,
  • college daughter cannot drive the Chevy. Hence,
  • I am driving hither and yon, back and forth, to get her from here to there, from home to job to school and back again, with a stop home in the middle so she doesn't smell like a sandwich at school. And another thing:
  • is or isn't the world coming to an end, with the apocalypse dancing on its grave? because it sure seems like that at my place of employ, what with the budget cuts and the lettings go of employees, and the seismic, volcanic rumblings I keep feeling/hearing. And, just for good measure,
  • the air quality is so horrifying. I hate to take the Bruise for a walk. I feel terrible about the driving hither and yon (be the solution! but how will she get to her job?). And, in a related matter,
  • I tried to find running son's high school diploma so he can apply to the Beijing University of Language and Culture (something like that), and I could not find it! Yet another referendum on the quality of my soul, which is disorganized, cluttered, rife with dust bunnies. And drives too much.
Fine, I will desist.

As usual, I am hoping for a routine to rescue me from all this. So I am praying to the Fixerly God of the Sacred Chevrolet that the car will soon be drivable. And I am taking every single thing out of my study this weekend. Every single thing. New Year, listen up: let the Sorting begin.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


A few posts ago, I said that my favorite concerts of 2009 were
  • Regina Spektor
  • The Pretenders
  • Benny Green (jazz)
but how did I forget my road trip to Vegas with singing son, his wife, his friend, and this guy:

It was sublime. Even in Vegas.

TAGS: of a lifetime

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Check, check, check. And check.

I have written and posted a syllabus that I believe is a model of the genre.

I have put together the week-by-week schedule that, at this juncture, appears to be an impeccable and thoroughly detailed guide to exactly what we'll be doing in the course, moment by moment. It's like, if Lewis and Clark had a map, but the map was so detailed that it had each shrubbery, pebble, rivulet, and bottle cap (they had those back then, right?) on it, so they could not possibly lose their way. Ergo, therefore, and hence (also the name of my legal representatives), my students will never miss an assignment, a discussion post, a reading, nor will they ever fail to understand the gist of the course. At least, that's how it looks to me right now. In this very swinging moment.

I have developed learning modules, which will contain objectives and writing assignments, readings, links to discussions. (The "will contain" there indicates "work yet to be done," of course.)

I have about 65% or maybe 70% done of the presentation I'll be doing tomorrow at 10:10 a.m. on screencasts (with my colleague Jen C.). For me, 65-70% is like being finished. (Jen C., if you're reading this: kidding! it's all ready! no worries!)

So, I just have to find a few more readings, revise the writing assignments, write the objectives for the modules, create the discussion links. Piece of cake. Piece of crumb cake.

In other news, newly returned son last night came home late and pretty much stayed up all night (albeit noiselessly). I got up at 5 a.m. to take him to the airport, but I couldn't go to sleep till almost 1 because . . . he wasn't home yet. See, this is the problem with being the mom. No matter how much you know that it's not your responsibility to be awake when the kids roll home, sometimes your body will not synch up with that bit of logic. Thus, ergo & hence, I am exhausted. Let's call it a preview for a little featurette we'll call "Spring Semester: Return of the Unsleeping."

TAGS: featurette, preview, exhausted, cake

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An alarming story, after the fact.

After my son, freshly returned from adventuring in the wide, dangerous world, downloaded three thousand pictures (let me enumerate: 1, 2, 3000) into iPhoto--approximately 52 of which he sent home whilst out adventuring--I was perusing them, him sitting nearby offering useful, drive-by commentary.

"That's in KL. That's at the monkey refuge. That's Elder Whosits from Australia."

I came upon a photo of him with a banged up, festering-looking elbow. I looked at him. He said, "I didn't tell you about that, did I."

Mothers of America, take note: when your post-adolescent son (and not all THAT post-) goes out adventuring in the wide, dangerous world, and the people reassure you, telling you that he's fine and safe and not to worry, the people are lying bastards, because he is probably out having accidents and medical conditions and stitches, and he isn't telling you about it until 15 months later when you see the pictures.

Analogously, two weeks ago, Bruiser was attacked by a pack of wolves. I mean "wolves" metaphorically, of course. It was really more like a pack of wild dogs. And by "pack," I mean "three," and by "wild," I mean "neighborhood dogs, loose in their yard." But by "attacked," I mean "attacked": he required stitches and staples and drains and an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory and the wearing of the giant ruff to prevent the licking.

I would have told you sooner, but I didn't want you to worry.

When he came home from the dog hospital, where they had sedated him while doing all the cleaning and patching, he was unsteady on his feet. There is not much that is sadder than an otherwise sound dog who is swaying a bit because he's all doped up. Wearing the giant ruff, to prevent the licking. The humiliation.

At first, the ruff was too humiliating to be borne. He carried himself like it was a barrier to sight and sound, and definitively an insurmountable obstacle to eye contact. But after a day or two, he just roared around as he usually does, which was, on the one hand, a heartening sign, but on the other hand, a little bit of nightmare: Dog with giant ruff rushes by the Christmas tree and spins it a quarter turn around. Dog with a giant ruff gets excited about the terrorist (UPS guy) at the door, knocks down a vase. Dog with a giant ruff goes to a Christmas party, smacks all the little kids in the face with the giant ruff. I'm not sure who was more sick of the giant ruff at the end of it all, us or Bruiser.

Tonight we took him to get the last stitches/staples removed. So now, as he lays by us in the evening as we watch television or do the crossword or read a novel, it's just the three of us: no medication to wrap in cheese so he'll take it, no giant plastic ruff, and no more worries about the licking. Well, hardly any worries about the licking.

TAGS: solicitous, licking, Bruiser, ruff, dog-on-dog brutality, analogously

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Today I rather enjoyed . . .

. . . doing preparatory work for the new semester, wearing stylish sweats all day, having a parcel arrive on my porch, taking Bruiser for a walk in the early afternoon, finding an $8 dress--purple! with sparkly stuff!--at Target, eating pancakes for breakfast and leftover jambalaya for lunch, getting an alert from the library's robot that there were detective novels waiting for me at the library, going to the library, watching The Good Wife, fixing sandwiches for the newly returned son, listening to The National while I worked, making soup for dinner, practicing hibernation whilst watching a little television and reading a little V.S. Naipaul before succumbing to crime. One of the detective novels, that is.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Form 1040: An open letter.

Dear Form 1040,

Today, as I was perusing the postal arrivals--a late Christmas card with an amusing letter, a bill or ten, a mass marketing postcard--shuffling through the items, I was . . . how can I put this? horrified? alarmed? shocked? bewildered? by your glowering, heavy, thick, lummox-like presence.

You are veritably huge.

You are like unto a brick.


Form 1040, I hate to be the one who says so, but you are carrying a few extra pounds around your middle.

Form 1040, it is no wonder the people revile you.

Form 1040, you really need to rethink your presentation.

Form 1040, your brand is totally bloated and distasteful.

Form 1040, may I recommend a new stylist?

Form 1040, I cannot say that I welcome your presence.



Sunday, January 03, 2010

On jambalaya.

We had our giant family holiday dinner on New Year's Day. In a nod to my Southern roots (via my mom), we had jambalaya, rice, buttermilk biscuits (and salad and fruit salad, both of which were splendid but not jambalaya, which is the subject of this post). Also, homemade beignets for dessert (also not jambalaya, for anyone who's keeping score).

At various moments in the kitchen, my oldest son and I did impromptu renditions of the excellent song:
Oh jambalaya, crawfish pie and file gumbo
For tonight I'm gonna see my mi chere amio
Dress in style, go hog-wild, me oh my o
Son of a gun, gonna have big fun on the bayou
Who wrote this song? we wondered. My first version was Emmylou Harris's on Elite Hotel. My son thought it was a Hank Williams tune, which it apparently is, although with a slightly murky background--there was a co-author, or maybe Williams bought it from that guy and called it his, which was supposedly a perfectly legit thing to do back in the day. My mom, when I was listening to the Emmylou version back in the 70s, said that the song had been a hit record for Theresa Brewer. Here's Hank:

and here's Emmylou:

What is jambalaya, you ask? Or maybe you already know. I remember eating it on New Year's Day with a friend at this restaurant in Redondo Beach. It had shrimp and tomatoes and peppers, and it was wonderfully spicy and soul-warming. I made two kinds: a shrimp kind and one with chicken and andouille. Our family crowd ate up the chicken-andouille version (as usual, I totally overestimated the amount of food we needed, so we packed up leftovers aplenty and sent them home). It really did seem like just the thing for a cold, end-of-the-holidays holiday.

And what is the etymology of jambalaya? I found several folk etymologies from Creole/Cajun derivations: it's a combination of jambon (ham), a la maniere de (in the style of), ya (African word for rice), thus: jamb + a la + ya. (Easily faulted, this etymology, since ham is not always a part of the dish, and there is no African language in which "ya" is rice.) Could it be a combination of jamon (Spanish for ham) and paella? Probably not. Or how about this:
Late one evening a traveling gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn which had little food remaining from the evening meal. The traveler instructed the cook, "Jean, balayez!" or "Jean, sweep something together!" in the local dialect. The guest pronounced the resulting hodge-podge dish as "Jean balayez."
Wikipedia notes, "this story is believed to be false."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word has a Provencal derivation: there is a Provencal word jambalaia, meaning a jumble or mish mash, and also a pilaf.

And it was jambalaya that brought to an end our jumbled, chaotic but very happy holidays. After that, it was all leftovers and dishes. Cheers!

TAGS: derivations, etymologies, southern, hodgepodge, jumble, chaos, holiday


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