Friday, February 21, 2014

Lurid excess.

Wednesday night on my way home from a very very long day, I heard a rebroadcast of Q's interview of Baz Luhrmann. The interview was originally broadcast last August when plenty of professional reviews of The Great Gatsby had already come in of the film in the United States (perhaps it was only at that point opening in Canada?). Sample review from David Denby (also cited in the interview):
Luhrmann’s vulgarity is designed to win over the young audience, and it suggests that he’s less a filmmaker than a music-video director with endless resources and a stunning absence of taste.
I saw the film two times, once last May right after the semester had ended, with friends, once with my oldest friend in Northern California a month later. In between, I read the novel on the plane back to America, in one sitting. It was beautiful.

In the case of both screenings, I liked the film a lot more than almost everyone I saw it with. I have not had a special attachment to the novel, although I was very glad to read it again, and admired it very much. Its narrative delicacy in contradistinction to what its narrator witnesses is the source of its great beauty. I loved the vividness of the film, its sense of a life careening out of control, the material greed that was almost an innocence as enacted by the eponymous hero, the way it horrifies and enthralls, how appalling and how tragic. I did not mind that the film took liberties with the book, perhaps egregious liberties. I appreciated, really, that the film was not the book, that as an adaptation it was aggressively its own thing, bad taste or not (Stephanie Zacharek: "The Great Gatsby is both too much and what Luhrmann wants, less a movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel than a movie version of Jay Gatsby himself. It's an expressionist work, a story reinvented to the point of total self-invention, polished to a handsome sheen and possessing no class or taste beyond the kind you can buy. And those are the reasons to love it.")

Because the lead of both films is Leonardo diCaprio--apt, no possible better lead in my opinion--there's an almost eerie connection between TGG and The Wolf of Wall Street, another film that is excessive in so many ways it's almost impossible to enumerate them. (Daughter, to me: Are you going to see TWoWS? Me: Yes, probably. Daughter: I don't know, mom. Do you want to see Leonardo diCaprio snort cocaine from a hooker's ***? Me: [laughs] Daughter: No, literally, mom, that's like the first shot of the movie: Leonardo diCaprio snorting cocaine right out of a hooker's ***.)

(Let me state parenthetically that I occasionally find myself demurring at the prospect of film-as-ordeal: the kind of film that has the overt, explicit design of putting you through the wringer. This includes most war films, action films of all stripes, horror films, and very, very long films. Sometimes I think, yeah! I want that and the fact that there is more of it makes it even better! bring it! And other times, I think, NO. And that is all.
The historian and I had many a brief conversation over a period of weeks about TWoWS:
"What do you think?"
"Well, don't you want to see it?"
"Yes, I do, but what about you?"
"I want to see it if you want to see it."
... "but maybe you should read some reviews, just to be sure."
(I will leave it to you to guess who played which role in this short little documentary film entitled TWoWS: To See or Not to See.))


We did, finallly, see TWoWS. It was approximately 30 minutes too long. If Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker had wanted to take to time to sit down with me, I would have helped them figure out which 30 minutes to cut (suggestions: cut that dumb, so-called "hilarious" Quaalude scene, about 30% less cocaine/hooker scenes, approximately 25% less insane shouting, particularly that which occurs either poolside and/or on boats. Also, and it pains me to say it, maybe 15% less Jonah Hill.).

But that said, the film gets something a little terrifying right about America, about hyper-capitalism, about who we are. Today, I read this in an article in Esquire:
We have been pagans since the sixties at least. We revel in the force of ourselves and the forces of nature. The mysteries we worship are the mysteries of science. We're obsessed with football and UFC--sports in which men undergo pain and encounter the reality of death in order to amuse us. Our feasts are elaborate, undertaken with extreme seriousness and a willingness to scour the globe for the most extreme ingredients, including an exciting powder, taken through the nose, that tens of thousands die to supply. We consider total sexual promiscuity a basic human right. One of the most common mistakes in American intellectual life is the idea that the country is in the middle of a culture war, with Christian traditionalists on one side and atheist socialists on the other. The soul of America is up for grabs! Except the soul of America belongs to neither side of that highfalutin intellectual debate. We live in a world of flesh and numbers, pain and tolerance, a world of might--all of us. (Stephen Marche, "Finally, We Pagans Get a New Pope," Esquire March 2014).
Yes, that about sums it up.

These may not be fully great films, or completely finished works of art. But I am thinking that they are both necessary. Or at least completely of our moment. They are both talking to us, right now, and telling something like the truth.

[update: see this essay (by A.O. Scott) on diCaprio in the Sunday Feb. 23, 2014 NYTimes.]

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Today in metaphors.

To friends:

Me: I feel like one of those intermittent geysers at Yellowstone. You know, just popping off at random intervals.

Friends: [courtesy laugh]

Me: (continuing with metaphor, or conceit, if you like) Like, the pressure builds up and [geyser spouting off gesture]. And then it builds up again and [geyser spouting off gesture].


Here are a few things I felt like doing instead of what I was already doing:
  1. buying candy for my sweetheart
  2. baking cookies
  3. watching Veronica Mars (again) with my sweetheart (NB: are you watching it? why aren't you watching it? you need to be prepared for the Veronica Mars movie!)
  4. writing (that's right.)
[NB: are the above metaphors? of what? desire? lawless, ungovernable desire, that would thwart me from accomplishing my appointed tasks?  except not all that lawless, since I did accomplish many of my appointed tasks, if not all, and in any case I did not buy candy nor bake cookies, and I only watched VM at the end of the day when all that was done could be done, except blog, obvs?]


The snow fell 

[NB: I have been thinking of what the snow was like. I sat across the desk from my friend in a second floor office and watched the sky precipitate with no background but sky. "That's Mt. Olympus, right over there," said my friend, as she pointed at the sky which was nothing but gray. "Except you can't see it, because," and she made the gesture of nothing to see but a cloudy sky, precipitating.]


I drove downtown to a Nepalese restaurant. Drank glasses of ice water and ate pakoras. Drove to the board meeting. Drove home. At home, there were two packages: a book, a yellow dress. Soon we will walk with the dog. The threads of this do not knit into a theme except long day. Long, long, long day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The things she carries.

The people, let me introduce to you the contents of my bag:
  • new textbook from a publisher, The Bedford Book of Genres
  • other new textbook from a publisher, writer/designer
  • old textbook, currently in use, the one I use in my class
  • lovely bound book in which I write occasional notes to myself, or sketch out ideas, or, apparently, in which I stick random pieces of paper and so forth and so on--postcards, etc.
  • folder with the manuscript of a work in progress
  • sheaf of draft poems from my class (if you measure this in symbolic weight, it is the heaviest thing in my bag)
  • book that came in the mail yesterday, Contingency, Immanence, and the Subject of Rhetoric
  • other book that came in the mail yesterday, Mics, Cameras, and Symbolic Action: Audio-Visual Composition for Writing Teachers
  • my lunch
  • my mug
  • an empty water bottle.
The people, let me introduce to you the contents of my other bag:
  • MacBook Pro
  • power cord for my MacBook Pro
  • other manuscript of a work in progress
  • adaptors and whatnot
--and to the bag itself, which is
  • elegant, but made of a kind of heavy tan leather.
And also, meet my purse, which has in it
  • three dry-erase markers
  • two pens
  • checkbook
  • wallet with tons of
  • coins that add up to about $2.03, in the smallest denominations possible (i.e.: pennies)
  • four lipsticks
The other day, as I bent down to lift up my bag, then my other bag, then my purse, and probably some  additional random item or two, and brandishing my keys in my free hand, whichever that hand might have been, I said to the guy in the Publication Center, "Gotta gather all my bags," with a little smile, because I am aware that it is ridiculous. 

And he replied, in all seriousness, "You do carry a lot of stuff." 

I had to parse that for a minute. Was he generalizing from this very specific set of particulars--that is, "Today, htms, you seem have a lot of stuff to carry"? Or was this, like, an observation from, say, as long as he has known me? As in, "Your natural state of being seems to be that of a carrier of stuff"?

Why do I need to carry around four random books, books that I know in my heart I will not be able to take the time to peruse or skim or even open? In my heart, I know this, but in another part of my heart (big heart), I also happen to believe that days are inherently capacious and surprising, and that I might, at any moment, need to consider immanence and rhetoric, or enumerate the genres, or whip out a mic or a camera (note to self: need field recorder stat)

I carry the books because they symbolize the possibility that there might be room for something more, something better, something more contemplative and exploratory, instead of just the one thing after another that my days actually are.

Once, another colleague, in observing me and my laptop and a whole bunch of other stuff traveling down the hall, opined that I might need a llama to help me with my burdens.

Sometimes my back hurts, and sometimes my shoulder. 

The people, it is possible that I carry around too much stuff. 

(metaphorical and otherwise.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The megastore recommends just one thing.

1. Lentils. Lentils have many things, nutritional and culinary and historical, to recommend them, but the very first time I succumbed to their charms was in the very very very old school Campbell's Vegetable Bean soup. This was back in the day when children could come home for lunch, which I did. It was so choice, because that meant you could eat the things that you adored, if your mother was inclined to make them for you, which mine was, at least as I remembered it. Anyway: Cambell's Vegetable Bean soup had all the vegetables, Campbell's soup-wise, and all the beans. I loved them, each and every one of the beans, but most of all I loved the lentils, which I did not know, at the time, was their classification. Their bean genre, as it were.

"Aren't these little? and cute?" is what I remember saying to myself.

Also, there is a Biblical element to my adoration of the lentil: when Esau sold his birthright to Isaac for a mess of pottage, which any Bible dictionary, or at least the one in my childhood Bible (white leather binding, tiny cross on the zipper), will tell you is lentils. That's right: Esau was so dang hungry, he sold his birthright for lentils.
my lentils also spill in this super
sexy, seductive fashion.

Today, I had lunch with a friend at a mezze restaurant. She ordered kushari (me: fattoush, of course, and also fries, because they had signature fries, and who doesn't want to try fried potatoes that are so special they are signed?). Kushari is, and I quote, "a traditional Egyptian-Pharoic dish made of rice and brown lentils layered with elbow noodles, carmelized onions, and topped with a tangy mild tomato sauce." I had a taste of it and it was the food of the earth, food that would sustain you through millennia and more.

Ergo, I came home and took all the vegetables out of the vegetable drawer, and also my little stash of green lentils. Green lentils are French lentils. They are, therefore, slightly suave, and luckily they also cook just a little more quickly than brown lentils. The ensuing soup was delicious and sustaining.

"Do you want to know how I made it?" I asked the historian.

His patience is truly epic.

I commenced: "I had one half onion sort of rolling around in the refrigerator. I had some celery. I had some celery root--that was that thing in little slices?" (gesturing in the manner of thin little slices:) "also carrots and a red pepper and a jalapeño. I sautéed all of that in olive oil."

The smell of all of that sautéing in olive oil. Starting with the onions, then the celery, then the celery root, which is a knotted, gnarled little thing, but so lovely sautéed then simmered. Then the carrots and the celery. Then the peppers. I sautéed and then I sweated them. 

"Then I added broth"--which was, to be honest, vegetarian bouillon cubes and water, a culinary shortcut by which I swear--"and about three quarters of a cup of lentils. And then."

--and then it was soup. 

I meant also to chop a little flat-leaf parsley for a garnish, but I forgot. However, on a February night, the lentils were, just as they were when I was ten, little, and cute, and also suave and sustaining. And also delicious, definitely delicious.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Teeny tiny letters.

Dear next to the last packet of really good instant oatmeal,

Thanks for being there in the cupboard. Thanks for being amenable to additions such as currants and chopped almonds. Thanks for being the very signifier of the best way to start the day. Thanks for taking just two and a half minutes, and being, thus, super convenient.

I'm sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but this morning, I really really loved you.

I'm saying LOVE,


Dear Fresh Donut & Deli,

When, a few months ago, my friend told me the story of your doughnuts, I listened, but on the inside I was more,  right, sure, but really, aren't doughnuts just doughnuts? and therefore good? Except for the Seven Eleven ones, which are an insult not only to doughnuts but to the entire category of fried dough. That caveat aside: aren't doughnuts just good? All of them? But I was wrong. Because you, Fresh Donut & Deli, are, as advertised, fresh, and more, you are tender and light and perfectly sweet, and you made my whole office smell so good for a whole hour before the doughnuts were to be eaten as refreshments for a thing.

I wanted to, but I didn't eat one before the appointed hour--before the refreshments for the thing. Because I have self-discipline. But you definitely made it a horse race.

Mmmmm doughnuts,


Well, Friday,

You certainly took your time getting here.

Ah, hell, come on in. Let's go watch TV.

I love you no matter what,


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Open letter to my ride home.

Dear my ride home,

I love you, because you are a space in between. Think of it: I put my laptop into my bag. I gather my coat,  my half-empty water bottle, find my sunglasses, put on my gloves, and in general pull myself together. I walk out into the cold late afternoon, the walks and parking lot beginning to ice again. I put my bag in the back and my purse in the front, start the car, pull out of the parking lot. My ride home, this is where you begin.

On the way, I think of many things. Of what I will do when I get home, of what I will read, watch, eat. Of the dog and his greetings. I think of my children and all the places they are, of their travels and their work. I think about the hour my husband will arrive, of the small interval between when I get home and when he will. Of what I might make for dinner. Of what will arrive in the mail.

Of course there is the hum of the little list I have made of what else must be done. For there are always things that must be done. I think as I drive that I might take my laptop into the warmest room of the house, set up a set of consultations for next week or send an e-mail. Make a poster. Review some drafts. But even there, my ride home, even there, you are the soft, moving space in which I lay hands upon my volition: what I want to do and what I must, and the warm room waiting for me, in which I will make my decisions between them.

My ride home, no day begins without my imagining you at the end of it.


Tuesday, February 04, 2014


Today, I heard a story on NPR that sugar will kill you. Literally. Well, that's what I got out of it, anyway. 

However, in the evening, I always like to have a taste of something sweet in my mouth. Just after dinner. It doesn't have to be much. Well, anyway, whilst we are watching television:

Me: (sitting bolt upright) Did I already eat something sweet? [urgently]

The historian: I don't think so. But you squeezed something sweet.

[Parenthetical note: Right after dinner, I lightly seized the almost empty box of inferior chocolates that we somehow hung onto after polishing off the boxes of superior chocolates (hi Mom!), looked inside, and saw three chocolates that were shaped like creams and not like caramels. So in short order, I quickly squeezed them--one two three chocolates--to discover (a) that I had indeed correctly inferred their fillings from their shapes, and (b) I am now apparently the kind of person who squeezes chocolates to ascertain their fillings. WOW.]

[back to my sweet-hounding:Me: hahahahahahahahaha [Also: WOW. I am a chocolate squeezer. I will henceforth and forever be known as a chocolate squeezer! God help me, my character is shot.]

Moral of the story: inferior chocolate brings out the worst in a person.

Second moral of the story: either we have to get better chocolate or maybe I don't need something sweet in my mouth after dinner. Or maybe we need better chocolate, I'm sticking with that.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Thinking and doing.

Here is the list I made last night, for today, which was a day without meetings or classes, so a real get things done day:

Not too ambitious, am I right? Laundry slides in and around all that other stuff, and it all gets done, and there's still time to make lentil soup.


Or you can actually troubleshoot a problem in your LMS. And answer a bunch of messages from students, who may or may not know how to read a syllabus. (Note to self: add "help those who help themselves" to list.)

Also, pancakes for breakfast should have been on the list. Because there were pancakes.

The ePortfolio portion of the day ("ePortfolio") should have been massively represented by very very very large text. Because it sort of dwarfed the rest of the day, to be honest. It was good to do, but damn. Those drafts ("drafts")  aren't going to read themselves.

A small pinch of postponement can even things up a bit ("genre wikis screencast ??"), and also a small--really, very small--bit of television (Justified) is necessary.

If you take the sheets off the bed, to wash them ("laundry"), then you also have to put sheets back on the bed.

Curt: could you just come over and get your birthday card ("mail Curt's card")? Would that make me a jerk?

Okay, time to walk the dog. Which, in the interests of completeness, should have been on the list. Also: deciding what shoes to wear, remembering to get all the things we needed at the store, and finding the Netflix disks ("mail Netflix off") to mail.


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