Saturday, August 28, 2004

Bump in the Night

A pair of unwelcome sounds. That's been the story of our weekend so far.

As in: Is it just me? Or do you hear something in this wall?

And: What was that?! Was that a yelp?

And then: Where are the cats?

It's been a weekend of invaders seething beneath skin. Details to come, once it's clear the danger has passed.

A Big To-Do

Write syllabus for new course
Finish tweaking last year’s syllabus for two sections of second course
Photocopy second syllabus before Monday a.m.
• Send packet of rec letter info to four former advisers
• Draft job market letter
• Draft new teaching philosophy
• Revise article and send to journal
• Hit Sept. 30th submission deadline
Telephone colleague/friend rumored to be ill
• Write three letters to friends who recently wrote
• Write six seven emails to friends who recently emailed
(including one old friend who googled to find me, ending both 8-year friendship hiatus and mystery of his whereabouts)
• Learn Spanish
• Write novel in honor of my father’s 60th birthday
• Learn to crack an egg with just one hand
• Travel to New Zealand and Brazil
• Learn to sew own clothes
• Apprentice self to master carpenter
• Find new cello teacher
• Convert to Episcopalian(?)
• Read directions for our digital camera
• Get more sleep

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Garage Sale, pt. 2

Our "garage sale" was supposed to be an outdoor affair. But an August monsoon kept us prisoners of the garage. At 7:30 a.m., a pair of early birds tramped across one of the folding tables we were still struggling to erect. Jane and I raised eyebrows, but didn't begrudge their rudeness. True, these folks had belittled Jane’s knitting machine and sulked over the lawn mower that wasn't for sale. But they also had come to our stupid garage sale on a morning when most rational people were busy building arks. For the privilege of scoping our junk, they had just about swum up our street.

By 8 a.m., even amphibious creatures had had enough of the wet. A fat bullfrog came slapping up the driveway and into the garage, begging for mercy. He hopped out again, disdainful, when a woman joked that she would buy him for a quarter.

I’ve told you that I hate selling, but that I don’t mind garage sales. That’s because the latter occupy a category all their own, one better suited to the proclivities of a humanities major. People shop garage sales for bargains, sure. But, in my experience, they also shop for stories. If you have enough good ones, your garage sale is apt to be a success.

“No way,” Jane said. “That might have worked for you back in Lake Wobegone, but people in this town don’t go in for that shit.”

Was she right? Jane almost always is. For a while, we had too few people to test. It didn’t help that I will gladly slash prices on stuff that I never expected to sell. Why not? The person leaves happy, and I make a little cash on an item that it didn’t seem anyone else could love. (I told you I had no instinct for sales.)

Then came an opening. A man carried up a framed print and asked what me what I thought of it. This was my cue.

I did not invent. I did not embellish. I just picked up the print and free-associated. “This was a lithograph made by my great-aunt. Funny – she numbered it, even though this is only print number six of eight. The image has become seriously warped, and so it needs to removed from the frame and flattened. The date says 1982, and the title is “Trust.” If I remember right, this was a gift to my parents for their tenth anniversary. (Pause.) I’m frankly kind of surprised that they handed it over to sell at this garage sale.”

I looked up, embarrassed at the last statement. But the man reached out and took the print again. Staring at it fondly, he asked me if my great-aunt were still living.

“Oh, yes. She lives in New Jersey. Monmouth.”

“And is she still an artist?”

“Digital photography is more her thing these days.”

“Really?” The man was beaming now. And still talking to the print, rather than to me. He reached for his wallet. “How can I not buy a piece that has such a lovely story behind it?”

Was the story all that lovely? It was blatantly unsentimental, really. My parents decided to get rid of a work of art that was supposed to represent their love. My aunt has abandoned charcoal drawing for digital photography, largely because the latter was easier for her after her mastectomy. (Note that I didn’t introduce that maudlin detail.) But a few scraps of association were enough to make the man go ape over a damaged picture.

The same was true with other items. People like board games that were originally purchased for my students. They favor hats acquired at Philadelphia street fairs. And, although you might not expect it, they adore stuff that once belonged to my ex-husband. They get downright conspiratorial over that stuff, and may even offer backslaps and high-fives as they walk off with it. It’s unsettling, but I do thank them for helping to erase the material traces of my ex.

Meanwhile, the man with the "Trust" print found its story lovely. In fact, it left him craving more stories, which he got. He left with some Christmas ornaments, a set of napkin rings, two trays, many books, and a glass cardinal.

For the glass cardinal, I honestly had no story. I told the man so, and he laughed.

“I just like him because he’s red and chubby,” said the man.

“Me, too,” I smiled. And I handed him a second framed print. On the house.

Monday, August 23, 2004


ALIVE: the hungry cats who greeted our return, late last night.
BLUE: the eerie glow emanating from the darkness of our kitchen.
OMELETTE: the breakfast I'd cooked for our houseguest that morning.
ELEVEN: the hours the gas flame had burned in our absence.
UNSCARRED: the frying pan, now completely free of oil.
MIRACLE: the house that's still standing.

Thank you, God.


Friends often ask me, "YelloCello, if you were classic work of literature, which one would it be?" Funny they should ask...

Virginia Woolf: Orlando. You are a challenge, for
outer events, the outside world, the time etc.
play no importance to you. Your focus is in
writing, in gender issues, and inside your own
head. Self-analysis and exploration of yourself
as well as the outer world hold great
importance to you.

Which literature classic are you?
by Quizilla

Hmmm, isn't the above a little contradicted? ("The outside world means nothing to you. No, wait! The outer world holds great importance to you.") Gee, and Quizilla is typically such a precise tool. No matter. I like the choice of book.

For the record, I also really like Tilda Swinton. Yet I've never seen the film version of Orlando (1992) in which she stars. Putting that on the Netflix queue now.

(Update: Alas, Netflix only has the Orlando by "Virginia Wolf.")

Thursday, August 19, 2004

New Accelerators

Here's something to like: Finding in my drawer a square of chocolate that I'd forgotten was there. O perfect and satisfying delight!

• Here's something to ponder: Oliver Sacks' fascinating New Yorker article ("Speed," 8/20/04 issue) on time perception and personal clocks. My sleep-strategy for more productive writing is now officially grounded in science—oh, and also in studies of mescaline and hashish. (Where can I get some L-Dopa, by the way, to complete a summer's worth of writing goals within the next week?)

Here's something to celebrate: I had a really, really good talk with one of my former advisers last night. Reflecting on the conversation afterwards, I was stunned by how articulate and clear I'd been. That may sound arrogant, until you know what a tongue-tied dork I've sometimes been in previous interactions with this person. Yesterday, though, we bantered and joked like old friends. I found myself relating entertaining (and thankfully relevant!) anecdotes that made her laugh. For her part, she was generous with advice and affirmations. (And the latter do not fall easily from this lady's lips.) The pleasant minutes passed in no time at all. But, for all its velocity, the conversational parry also felt as manageable as a slow-motion ping-pong game. For once, nothing got past my mental paddle. Afterward, I glowed as if I'd just aced an important job interview.

Why was the conversation so easy this time? Maybe it's because I'm so much happier now than I was this time last year. Happiness feeds confidence, right? Or is it the other way around? All I know is that a well-timed dose of chocolate nourishes them both.

Garage Sale, pt. 1

My first real job was in retail. I sold woman's suits. Never mind that, at age 16, I didn't own a single a suit myself. Or that I wanted to apologize for every poorly stitched jacket and frumpalicious skirt that I sold. We were providing an important product for a new generation of working women, or so my boss told me. And, dammit, those women relied on me to "professionalize" their new suits with enamel earrings and polyester scarves.

This was 1988, so my employer couldn't have been the first to welcome a "new generation." In fact, I wondered if he was trying to discourage them right out of the workforce. The store, which originally sold only men's business attire, had grudgingly ceded one small corner for the "feminine wear" that was my domain. I presided over eight racks of drab pink, teal, and grey, an island of folderol in the somber ocean of charcoal and black. No matter how empty the store remained, I wasn't allowed to pick up a book. Woozy on the fumes of the Cinnabon next door, the only way to pass the time was by straightening and re-straightening rows of shoulderpads.

This isn't a posting about gender and work attire, although it could be. It's a post about selling, and how I've never had the heart or talent for it. Remember Lloyd Dobler's "I don't want to sell anything bought or processed" speech in Say Anything? I was nearly brought to tears by it. After the retail job, I only took jobs in journalism and catering. (And, in a stint as a PR person, catering journalism.)

So why am I so excited by the prospect of our garage sale this weekend? The answer might surprise you. More on that soon. For now, fingers crossed that the weekend isn't as soggy as the forecast predicts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Don't call them tape recorders

While hanging out with my parents this week, I was reminded of how much I'd like to start making family recordings. Audio, that is. Ideally, I would record them in a digital format that could be uploaded to my laptop. Using some sort of Mac-compatible program, I would then edit the voice recordings and, in some places, put music and other ambient sound under them.

The problem is that I can't find a suitable audio recorder. For digital recording, most places sell only the hand-held, memo-to-self, personal recorders. Someone gave me one as a gift and I rarely use it. The sound quality is awful. (My to-do lists and eurekas end up scrawled on post-its, anyway.)

I've made casual inquiries about sound equipment with acquaintances who know a lot about technology. All these people have urged me to buy a videocamera. But I want to work exclusively with sound first. Surely this is still possible, right? Digital movie-making I've experimented with before. For now, a stylish radio-style recording is what I'm aspiring to create.

I once had a few of my more dedicated students craft "This American Life"-style radio essays. Back then, we had the benefit of a friend at a local community radio station, one that kindly gave us access to its sound equipment. Do I need to start befriending radio DJs in my new town? Or is there another way?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Stick People

Adding to the week's surprises, my parents called today with the news that they are coming for a visit. TOMORROW.

Is tomorrow okay?

I made a mental calculation of this week's deadlines, about to be missed. Of the hours it would take to render my study, a.k.a. "the guest bedroom," suitable for guests.

Of course. Tomorrow is great.

Once the phone was back in its cradle, we sprang into action. We swept, we scrubbed, we vacuumed, we mowed, we dusted, we laundered, we pruned. Hell, Adam even did some mulching and stone-bordering of the now-defunct wildflower patch.

When we are in a groove, Adam and I can work together like a pair of synchronized swimmers (minus the crazy gelatin-updos). But when it came to the magnet, he was the trampolinist to my shot-putter.

What's wrong with that? Why are you taking it down?

It's just not something I want my parents to see, that's all.

We were talking about the "How Stick People Went Extinct" magnet that we bought a month ago in a novelty shop. It's a three-panel cartoon that shows two little stick people getting amorous, starting to have sex, and then bursting into flame as a result of the friction. Adam and I had both stared at it for a second before we both burst out laughing. Now the magnet holds up our calendar on the fridge.

But not, apparently, when my parents visit.

Adam finds my "self-censorship" childish and extreme.

We're all adults here. They'd probably think it's funny.

A beat. Here it comes.

Is this some sort of Catholic thing?

Gosh, I dunno. Is it? Stick people, yay or no? Who thinks they should remain on the fridge, and who thinks I was right to bury them under my bras?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Advice Taken, pt. 2

I loved Mel's advice about spreading calm in the academic workplace. (See her 7/23 entry, "thoughts from the mat.") Instead of offering any of the typical, self-flagellating responses to the "How was your summer?" question, Mel urged a more merciful, human response.

Last Monday, Z. was the first person I saw in our department. And, predictably, she demanded that I evaluate the break. I took a breath, ready to spread the zen. “It was very relaxing,” I said.

Z’s brow furrowed. The blue vein by the side of her nose began to throb. “That’s great for you,” she said sarcastically. “Some of us didn’t have a summer.”

(Note to self: The theory behind the “relaxing” line is good, but best tried on someone other than the cranky department secretary. And best avoided altogether with the justifiably cranky department secretary who, since the abrupt departure of her colleague back in June, has been saddled with the labor of two.)

Brain was screaming “Mayday! Mayday!” I had to do something to right this conversational nosedive.

“I know it’s been just crazy here, Z. But everybody has a summer, right?” (Mental forehead smack. What kind of doofus logic was that?)

Z. seemed shocked. “Well, yeah. I had a summer."

Then it was my turn to be shocked, as Z. broke into a huge grin. "And you’re right. It was actually pretty nice. Good for you for reminding me of that."

(Snaps to you, Mel, darling. But that was a close one.)

Advice Taken, pt. 1

Emboldened by the recent discussion of mentors over at New Kid's, I sent emails to two of my former advisers today. Rather than bowing and scraping on email as I have in the past, I made a direct request for an updated dossier letter and (gulp) a telephone conversation in which we would discuss both job hunting strategies and the state of my manuscript. (Am tossing down a gauntlet. Or, at least, tossing off the mantle of the trailing spouse.)

I figured I'd have at least until the end of the month before I had to prepare for these phone conversations. And, indeed, within seconds, from the more elusive of these advisers came an automated email reply, one which indicated that she couldn't be reached until the beginning of October.

Then, just a few hours later, a real email popped up from the same woman. It was a warm note, offering about thirteen different ways to get in touch with her during her travels with family. She also offered to phone me — tomorrow, if necessary.

Eep. Ask and ye shall receive. I thought for sure that I'd have until the end of this month to prepare. This should serve as a real kick in the arse.

Fallow Ground

Adam graciously calls it my technique. Sometimes I worry that it's actually a form of literary narcolepsy. When I get stuck with my writing, I will fall asleep for an hour. (Yep, an hour. I'm not one of those efficient types for whom the recommended 22-minute, daytime naps ever did any good.) I'll fall asleep and right into a gully of sprawling, technicolor dreams. Or, rather, dream. Because a dozen dream fragments, so obviously derivative of things recently read or seen, will arrange themselves into what seems at the time a coherent narrative.

Inevitably, the dream-narrative grows anxious, yanking me back into wakefulness. I pad back to my computer agitated, but unburdened. And then—and here’s the trick— if I’m disciplined to sit still while the dream sequence un-spools itself, the writing un-blocks itself and words come.

I finished an article this week, one that (big shock!) took way longer than anticipated to complete. The end product was good, I think. But the aftermath was unnerving, because the stream of words in my head abruptly dried up. As if to compensate, I started dreaming too much. Took a sleeping pill to try to block them out, but that only made things worse. Was pinned beneath sleep for eleven hours — ten of which were held hostage to REM sleep and a Russian novel’s worth of characters and plots. I woke up exhausted and with zero will to sit at the computer. The unconscious might have wanted to help the writing, but the writer’s body wasn’t having it.

Instead, I sat limply in front of Ruby in Paradise, willing myself to at least take notes on what un-spooled on the television screen. Found myself growing intrigued by the irregular fly-buzz over the otherwise nearly mute scene in which Ashley Judd’s character has sex with her boss’s scumbag son. “Fly buzzing gets louder as she finds be-ribboned radios in Ricky’s drawer. And as she shoplifts. Unsettling effect. Indicating sickness, decay?”

Mystery solved: The “fly buzz” on the film’s soundtrack was the whirring of my VCR.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Strindberg and Helium


Watch the dramas.
(The last three are the funniest. I think my favorite is "At Home with the Kids.")

Second Looks

According to a new study by the American Library Assocation, Alice Walker's The Color Purple ranks among the fiction most commonly reread. Other books likely to inspire a rereading include J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Shakespeare's plays, and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (Confession: I've never given the latter even a first reading.)

The ALA's ad hoc committee of librarians and editors (from Library Journal and Booklist) also put on its frequently-revisted-titles list: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (yep, read it twice), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (read it two, maybe three, times), Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie (read 'em 'til the covers fell off) and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (that's a seasonal phenomenon, right?).

Committee head Neal Wyatt speculated that "books that get reread have characters or scenes or lessons that people want to go back to again and again. Some books need repetitive readings just to feel like you got it. And sometimes it's not even fair to say the books are reread because you are a different person each time you read them."* Naturally. And to that I would add that some books are keepers of our histories. In the same way that a particular scent can send us hurtling back in time, certain books let us peek through the eys of a younger person, experiencing the world as she was right then, at the time of the first reading. It reconnects us to the apirations, inexperience, and innocence of a nearly forgotten self.

Lately, life feels too short for much rereading of for-pleasure fiction. At first, I thought I hadn't reread that many books. But then my list of exceptions started to expand. Exceptions: Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and Sinclair Lewis' Main Street and It Can't Happen Here. (I miss the old cover art on all these.)

In childhood, I reread some of my Judy Blume books ("Why does that kid in Then Again Maybe I Won't? keep wetting the bed?") and other pre-teen fiction, including Katerine Pateron's Jacob I Have Loved (about sibling rivalry, but also what it meant to be a girl who couldn't win at "girly" games).

Hmmm... but that list of rereads doesn't reveal anything about me, does it?

I'd be curious to know what books other people have reread. (By choice, that is. I reread Wordworth's The Prelude, but did so for two different college courses, so that doesn't count.) Were those re-readings formative, nostalgia-driven, or accidental?

Try as I might, I can't locate the ALA's official list of books frequently reread. Nor can I find any concrete explanation as to how the committee devised that list. Can any of my librarian friends help me out with this one?

(*Quote from Hillel Italie's 8/9/04 Associated Press article.)

Don't do as I say...

August: month of shortening days and tempers. On the way home from an otherwise pleasant trip the farmer’s market, Adam and I managed to get in a major fight. Or rather, we had a “discussion” that I “escalated” into something bigger than it needed to be. Yes, I did. But sometimes escalation is the only rational response. Especially to the partner who, in such "discussions," arrogantly regards himself as participant and umpire.

Who knows more about keeping a marriage healthy? The gal who’s had two of them? Or the guy who grew up watching his parents’ marriage sicken, bleed, and turn gangrenous?

For all his chilly reserve, Adam has the emotional fortitude of a Rolo. Which is why I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. “I think you’d just better stay far away from me for the rest of the day.”

I didn’t mean it literally. Frustrated to the point of craziness, I was calling for an end. In previous fights, Adam and I have retreated to our corners and come out hugging, tearful apologies on both sides.

But Adam got on his bike and rode to school. And he didn’t come home for twelve hours.

Too stubborn to phone him, but also too starving to wait dinner any longer, I finally drove to the grocery store at nine. When I returned home, he was in bed.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Deep Thoughts, pt. 2 (Product Placement)

Why does our grocery store display the Silly Putty amid the school supplies?

Let’s see: crayons, straight edge, Silly Putty, pencils… Grab that Sponge Bob notebook, Brittany, and you’re all set for September!

Second Reaction

Allison Kaplan Summer described her favorite blogs as the ones that help us “get a feel for what it is like to be someone else, living a different life and opening ourselves to their experience.” Yes, blogs might do that. And so do cars, apparently.

The haircut place is packed, so I’d had plenty of time to socialize with the stylist who never seems to have any clients and with the women not isolated under blow dryers. (Very Steel Magnolias, this salon. Or maybe the scene is chatty because the magazines are so lame.) Just before I leave, the 17-year-old who had been complaining to me about summer school goes outside to take a cell phone call. She is standing in the doorway as I climb into my vehicle—a blue Volvo with a baby seat in back. And suddenly I see myself as this kid might see me. Or — because I don't flatter myself to think that the kid is all that interested — as some other, oddly observant stranger might read me.

If anyone cared to study my car that day, that person could have deduced that I’m a professor of conservation science who works at Prestigious University several towns away. (See the parking pass? See the bumper sticker about not treating our soil like dirt?) My husband, the doctor, works in Prestigious University’s Hospital trauma unit. (See the i.d. card and printed lanyard on the keychain?) Our infant daughter, Sienna (see the personalized baby pillow?), shares the backseat with our three enormous dogs (See the bars of the doggy divider? See how those pooches have shed?)

This isn’t my life, of course. This is the life of a woman whom we’ve only recently met – a woman whose car we are temporarily garaging so the she didn’t have to leave it at the airport all month. This is her car that I’ve elected to drive only this once (despite her assurance that we could use it anytime), on a day of the haircut, in a week that our own car is on loan to someone else.

It’s possible she’ll become a friend someday. For now, we’re barely acquaintances — affable strangers whose intersection derives exclusively from the friend we have in common. But today I sit in the woman’s car and think about all the tiny artifacts (the Argentine flag on the dashboard, the soccer cleats on the floor of the back seat). These point to a life decidedly not mine, but today encountered in intimate, imaginary close-up.

I pull up alongside our food co-op, where a mother with two children applauds my Veterans for Peace bumper sticker. I smile and glance downward, catching notice of the solitary item in the driver’s-side-door pocket: a dilapidated nail file, more cardboard than grit. A rush of tenderness for this emblem of anxiety or impulse. Of pensive moments snatched from the noisy day.

Mine? Or maybe his? Something we use on the dogs?

I shake my head and got out of the car.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Gretchen Worden

Gretchen Worden, longtime curator and director of Philadelphia's Mutter Museum, died (too young!) this week. What a loss. And what a life.

(To skip the Phila. Inquirer registration, enter "" as your email and "dailykos" as the password. Courtesy Bugmenot.)

Worden's book: Mutter Museum. Some photographic excerpts.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Blogs Cure Cancer!

In her musing on Personal v. Political blogging, Laura from 11D links to Scribbling Woman's April '04 comments on how "Domestic Blogs" have been maligned and misunderstood. Laura also highlights Allison Kaplan Sommer's 7/22 observation that:

"..the very best blogs aren't the ones spouting political opinions regarding the news of the day 24/7; they are the ones that help us really get a feel for what it is like to be someone else, living a different life and opening ourselves to their experience."

I had two reactions to this statement. On the one hand, I felt reassured, just because my own blogging tendencies this summer have revealed how very much in-my-own-head I can be in this space. While I definitely enjoy rehashing news and politics with RT friends (or via other people's blogs), rarely do I find myself writing about those topics here. As a result of that tendency — and as a result of now having traveled more widely in the cacaphonous blogging universe — I've worried that YelloCello’s “small scale” stories have revealed me (to myself, even) as myopic or self-centered.

Although I’m a champion worrier, that particular worry didn’t stick.

I started this blog in a deep funk last fall, back when neither career nor life in our new city seemed to hold any promise. (And — it cannot be underestimated — back when I was still acclimating to the Rust Belt's sunless "days".) Blogging helped me feel like a writer again, in a period when it seemed all I did (or would ever do) was teach for peanuts and deal with the mundane details of getting settled into a new place. These were details that never seemed to register on my husband's Absent-Minded Professor’s radar, and so that (and the fact that I'm the trailing spouse) made it easy for me to regard his work as more important than my own. (Weirdly, even Adam’s honest inability to multitask starting looking like a virtue. Unlike me, he would never feel compelled to write 50 wedding-gift thank you notes before he could begin work on an article.) In short, I felt reduced. New-Ph.Delirious. Teetering on the brink of self-loathing, even. Writing about daily life turned out to be an antidote to self-destructive (and spouse-destructive!) thoughts. While internet communication still takes a lot of heat for threatening marriages, I can honestly say that it has improved mine, even as it restored hope for my own vocation.

Thanks to blogging (and Benedict, who introduced me to it), the pleasure of writing has returned in a way that I haven’t experienced it since grad school. That part of my professional life have become easier. It’s also become easier to wear the mantle of a professional academic now that, via the blog neighborhood, I know there are so many more human(e) academics out there. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, a connection is "born at the moment when one person says [or posts] to another, 'What?! You too! Thought I was the only one.'" So it has been with the discovery of myriad other folks out there who worry about getting enough work done, how they appear to their colleagues, and whether they belong in academia at all. Their own "small stories" have been hugely important to me.

But enough of my sentimental testimonials. I said I had two reactions to Allison Kaplan Sommer's praise of personal blogs. Will post on the second reaction tomorrow.

What am I doing wrong?

Everytime I try to click my link to visit Bitch Ph.D., my web browser gets stuck, and I have to re-start my computer. I can't actually see her site. Instead, my computer's cursor does its frictionless rainbow pinwheel routine (yes, I'm working on a Mac) for as many as 30 minutes before I give up and re-boot. Can anyone tell me what I might be doing wrong here? I've checked the source code and all appears normal there. Any tips from folks more knowledgable about this stuff than I?

BTW, this is not to defame Professor B's site (which I stubbornly keep trying to read, despite inevitable results), as I suspect I may be the only one having problems accessing it. But it is a mystery to me - especially since Prof. B and I inhabit the same Blogger universe.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

From Prom Queens to Lost Pets

• My mother, who has voted Republican since the Reagan era, has become so dismayed by U.S. actions in Iraq that she wants to move to another country. Were she not caring for her elderly father at the moment, she says she would honestly relocate overseas. (Ireland is where she now imagines her exile.) Normally intolerant of criticism of the States, Mom has herself deemed the U.S. "a former prom queen who never got over herself."

• I had a dream in which Billy Crystal and I were on a road trip. He was an amiable traveling companion, but never, ever cracked a joke. I concealed from him my condescension toward his treacly new book on the joys of becoming a grandfather. I also hoped, again, that my father might start taking better care of his health if Adam and I were to make him a grandfather. (Nothing doing on that front, btw.)

• Our little farmhouse was totally transformed by its recent paint job. Three days ago, the place looked like Popeye's shack, given the mildewy discoloration of its cedar shingles. Today, the top part of the house is a warm brownish-red. (Totally satisfying to a person like myself, who thinks the best part of a hotel stay is having access to cable television's HGTV.) And the painters were so considerate - painting under and around one small cluster of morning glories, rather than ripping them off the porch post. True, the stems and leaves were spattered with cream-colored paint. But the purple trumpet-blooms remain.

• Our friendly neighbor across the street came over to compliment the new paint job. (Good thing he likes it, since he'll have to look at it more than we will.) While chatting with him, our entirely indoor cat — the cat I brought to this marriage and the one to whom I'm even more ridiculously devoted than I am to all three of our animals — managed to slip off the porch and disappear. I spent 20 minute looking for him before resigning myself to awaiting his return. (And kicking myself for having removed his collar with i.d. tag.) For a while, I tensely washed dishes, accidentally shattering Adam's beloved french press in the process. But Adam was completely cool about it. Not only did he sweep up the glass shards, he also went out and, in ten minutes time, found the darned cat. It was one of those days when Adam is my hero, and I told him so. Accepting my kisses, he said, "Please remember this the next time I screw up."

No Doubt They'll Want Me as Godmother

A friend of the family just named their new daughter after this saint. Pretty name. But what is the kid supposed to learn from this tale?

I'm not taking pot shots at the Catholic church. But, for so many reasons, I grew anxious when reading the above-linked websites, which the parents sent out with their birth announcement. I'm uneasy with statements about how "The American Indians need a patron saint." And it doesn't take a degree in critical race theory to see what's behind the claim that Kateri's face, once "so disfigured and so swarthy," became "so beautiful and so fair" after her (still-virginal!) body had died.

Frankly, I wished for a subversive backstory to accompany the biographical entry about Kateri having been "falsely accused of sinful relations with a hunter."

And, I'm curious — are there any stories out there about stoically virginal male saints?

Monday, August 02, 2004

Red All Over

Because I'm a child of the 80s, my first thought was, "Didn't something like this happen in ET?" About to strip naked and jump into the shower, I jumped instead at the abrupt appearance of a giant man floating outside the second story window. Darting back into my study, I encountered yet another man, this one waving a giant butcher knife...

...or, okay, maybe it wasn't it knife, but a giant roll of butcher paper, with which he swiftly mummified the study window. Back in the bedroom, a third man slapped paper over the two remaining windows, blotting out the sun and me. Scooping up our cat as if he were Drew Barrymore, I raced downstairs in terror, shrieking to discover each of the doors blocked by men in spooky white uniforms.

The house painters are here.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Audiobooks and Graphic Novels

Lucky the person who can read in a moving vehicle without throwing up. I can't, which is why I've become devoted to audiobooks. We've listened to several on our roadtrips of the last year, but three are standouts.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.
I'd read this one before listening, but found Kingsolver's writing even more beautiful when spoken aloud. (The dyslexic Ada chapters were also easier to follow for having read the book first.) We listened all 12 tapes while driving cross country last summer.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
I finished this one on my way to an academic conference that I feared I wouldn't reach in time for my presentation. Nothing like a little post-apocalyptic fiction to soothe one's nerves, right? The actor Scott Campbell did an outstanding job narrating this one. So outstanding, in fact, that I extolled his talent when I met Atwood later in the year. She gave me an annoyed glance, which, too late, made clear my faux pas. Note to self: Never admit to an author that, technically, you haven't read her book, or that your enjoyment of it came from anything other than her own skill.

Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem
We're less than halfway through the 18.5 hours of tapes on this one, but, so far, we adore it. The New Yorker last year published a memorable short story version of Fortress, which prompted us to look for the book. Instead, we stumbled across the tapes, which our local library was offering unabridged. (Anything abridged is no good.) A few reviews indicate that the book loses some of its skill in the second half, but, for now, Lethem has definitely joined the ranks of my writerly heroes. (Pencil him on the list that includes Kingsolver, Pam Houston, Alice Munroe, Rick Bass, Tobias Wolff, Anne Fadiman, and Cheryl Strayed.)

Does my fondness for audiobooks help hasten our post-literate society? I'll come clean with the other ways that I'm doing my part. Yesterday, I also signed up for a Netflix account (coming soon: Altman's The Company and the original Manchurian Candidate!) and read a graphic novel. The latter is Brian K. Vaughan's Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, Book 1), a meditation on what would happen if a mysterious plague suddenly wiped out all the male organisms on earth save for Yorick Brown, a quippy English major and minor magician. Both Adam and I ripped through it. And then we promptly emailed interlibrary loan to request for the next two installments of the series. Can't wait...for books 2 and 3, and also for the series' conclusion, due out in December.