Monday, March 31, 2008

Suspense, Spoilers, Veronica Mars, and Lost...

Take a look at this really smart take on why people still enjoy suspenseful shows like Lost and Veronica Mars even when they know what's going to happen. A key section:

" seems that the elements that trigger suspense are found less in a narrative’s story, the series of events within the fictional world, but more in its telling (or what narratologists often call discourse), the expressive cues that elicit emotional reactions (such as music, camera angles, facial expressions, etc.). This is why a potentially suspenseful series of events can be narrated in a way that undermines suspense (as in most chase cartoons), and a seemingly non-suspenseful set of events can be told to create suspense (the red herring moments of many horror films) - such emotional reactions stem more from how a story is told, rather than what actually happens in the story. Both Viewer A and B experience the narrative discourse for the first time, even if Viewer B has confidence in what events will occur. Thus both spoiled and unspoiled viewers share the same uncertainty in how the events will be narrated and what cues will be presented, experiencing suspense from these cues in mostly similar ways."

Technically, I should save this for Science Friday...

...but I'll be out of town on Friday, and this clip is just too groovy to put off posting any longer. It's long, but so worth it: educational and awesome. Burt should get his students to do something like this.


If you are a TV-lover like myself, then you were probably wishing you were at Paleyfest even once over the last couple of weeks--if only for the amazing Buffy Reunion. Other presentations I would have paid a lot of money to attend: The X-Files, Friday Night Lights, Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Damages, and even Gossip Girl. Anyway, here's a link to some video from the event.

What it feels like to have Asperger's Syndrome

Apparently, April 2 is World Autism Day, which explains why autism news has been everywhere lately. I was particularly struck by this story, about a 48-year-old woman who just learned she has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

A few years ago, I taught my first Asperger's student and was fascinated by the way his mind worked: how he excelled in some areas and seemed so limited in others. I felt challenged to change some of my teaching methods and strategies to reach him--and that challenge isn't always a bad thing. It keeps a teacher fresh and on her toes--at least it did for me that semester. (I'm not talking about major changes here--just different ways of presenting assignments or information.) I also remember what the Director of Disability Services told me then: that colleges and universities were just beginning to see these students marticulate, but that the numbers were expected to continue to grow.

Three links about books and reading...

1) John Freeman asks, "How much reading about books is enough? Is there such a thing as too much?" It's a short and kind of interesting post, if only for the questions it brings up. I do know that I have an entire folder filled with reviews of books I don't own yet, but might just pick up someday--in addition to, like so many other folks, stacks of books I actually own and haven't read yet.

2) Interestingly, this leads me to post yet another link, this time to an article about the debate over just what you display on your bookshelves.

3) Finally, here's a fun story Amber sent me from the NY Times. As these folks have already pointed out, the comments are probably the best part.

Sounds like a good idea to me...

If there ever was a site that needed some "a pre-emptive approach" to ghost problems, it would be an old ayslum, right? What I can't get my mind around, though, is that somehow, public officials have signed off on the ghost-busting services. Sounds like the makings of a cool movie, one that my siblings and I would enjoy, perhaps on Christmas morning.

Migraine Art

I've been meaning to link to this story for a couple of weeks now*: an article about artwork done by migraine sufferers. I've never had a migraine before, but these paintings actually help me understand a bit more what it must be like to be so unlucky.

*A theme of the evening, as I reward myself for finishing my 4Cs paper by posting a bunch of stuff I've been meaning to post.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Robert Frost Lectures

A NPR story about some recently discovered Robert Frost lectures, delivered at Dartmouth College in 1947. We've just discussed Frost in ENG 204 last week, so he's been on my mind. Here's the gem that opens the piece: "As near as you want to come to saying what you mean, that's what poetry is."

Teller breaks his silence...

...because of ZOMBIES! My siblings and I are big fans of zombie movies (and horror films in general), so this clip cracked me up.

Odd book titles...

In the spirit of trying to keep it light around here, a funny story about odd book titles.

My favorite? Cheese Problems Solved, of course.

A brief explanation...

It's been serious around here lately, I suppose. Even the laughing baby post was more about lightening the mood. As many of you know, there's an actual reason for my mood: a health crisis involving a family member. I won't say too much specifically about that now, except to say that your prayers are appreciated more than you can know.

Adding to the stressful environment? Two conferences in three weekends. Last week (March 20-21), I was at PAC, presenting my paper on "The Black Cat." It went well, but unfortunately, I had to leave early to drive from Asheville, NC to Martinsburg, WV, to meet my sister the next morning so we could drive up to New York. If you're into numbers and schedules (and really, who isn't?), I'll run some by you:

  • 9:00 a.m. on Thursday: Head to Asheville (via Greensboro, to pick up a friend)
  • 5:00 p.m. on Thursday: Arrive in Asheville to present my paper on Friday morning.
  • 7:00 p.m. on Friday: Get the call from NY saying, "Yeah, you should come home" and hop in the car.
  • 2:00 a.m. on Saturday: Arrive in Martinsburg, WV, repack my bag, attempt (unsuccessfully) to sleep for a few hours.
  • 7:30 a.m. on Saturday: Meet sister, who's driven in from about an hour away, and head up to NY.
  • 12:30 a.m. on Saturday: Arrive at my parent's house in NY. Spend the next 27 hours or so visiting the hospital, babysitting, running errands, and attending church on Easter Sunday. (In retrospect, I am so glad for that last item--it really made a world of difference.)
  • 3:30 p.m. on Sunday: With the moment-of-crisis having passed us by, we feel okay enough to leave and head back to WV.
  • 9:00 p.m. on Sunday: Arrive back in Martinsburg
  • 9:00 a.m. on Monday: Back on campus. "Good morning, class. How was my Spring Break, you ask?"

Incidentally, the un-official hero of the weekend was my car, which carried me over some 1600 miles in four days, not bad for a 1996 Maxima with over 180,000 miles.

Next up on the schedule: 4Cs in New Orleans. I've spent all weekend finishing my paper and am just about done (thus, having the time to post this message). My hope is that a week from now, I'll have both conferences successfully under my belt (a weird expression, right?) and some good news from home. I'll try to keep you all posted regardless.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Two words have been on my mind these past couple of days: hope and grace. Such powerful, life-changing words. I'm a bit too tired to be too articulate about them at this point in time, so I'll let others do the talking--about hope, at least.

First, Emily Dickinson:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all-

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Next, a clip from one of my favorite movies:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Laughing baby...

A totally random youtube clip guaranteed to cheer you up no matter what. Why? Because sometimes we need to see laughing babies...

Henry Ward Beecher

"It is not what we read, but what we remember that makes us
learned. It is not what we intend but what we do that makes
us useful. And, it is not a few faint wishes but a lifelong
struggle that makes us valiant."

Henry Ward Beecher (Preacher, Orator, and Writer, 1813-1887)

I've blogged about Beecher before here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter in a single photo...

Check out this post from Andrew Sullivan.

Things are a bit overwhelming in my life right now, but stories like this bring amazing comfort.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tenure, the movie

Call me crazy, but this sounds like a lame movie.

"Surrounded by an aura of doom"

Poets tend to die young, or so says a researcher from California State University at San Bernadino. I heard other studies come to the same conclusion as this article, but it's interesting enough to read through.

Gotta love this conclusion:

"Kaufman's study ends, as do the lives of many poets, on a sad note. He writes: 'The fact that a Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton may die young does not necessarily mean an introduction to poetry class should carry a warning that poems may be hazardous to one's health. Yet this study may reinforce the idea of poets being surrounded by an aura of doom, even compared with others who may pick up a pen and paper for other purposes. It is hoped that the data presented here will help poets and mental-health professionals find ways to lessen what appears to be a sometimes negative impact of writing poetry on mortality and mental health.'"

I think I'll leave that off my next intro to literature syllabus.

Huckleberry Update

I got an email yesterday from Josie, the woman who adopted the stray cat I took in and named "Huckleberry." He continues to thrive in his new home and now enjoys the name "Sock Monkey," which is kind of cute. Here's a picture she sent of him:

Super cute, right?

Monday, March 17, 2008

How I spent my brother's sixth birthday...

By Wesley...

"Look at me! Aren't I cute, too? Huh?"

How I spent my sixth birthday... Bing

Conversations with my nephew...

Something occured to me last night when I spoke with my three-year-old nephew: listening to Colin is akin to reading James Joyce. Allow me to demonstrate with a loose transcription:

"We went to a birthday party for Isabelle I sat on Elmo's lap there was a huge Elmo and I sat on his lap I ate cake My daddy flies on airplanes he works and works and works I got a tattoo on my hand Mommy might go to work she'll be at work all the time I have a fire truck I am going to take a bath bye love you!"

"It says I've got a knish in the oven."

Check out the trailer for Jewno.

A favorite line (among many): "The best thing you can do is find a person who makes us happy."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sore throat? Stop kissing your pets!

I am currently hard at work on a paper about Poe's "The Black Cat." Part of my research has me digging through old periodicals to find nineteenth-century articles about pets and pet care. Fortunately, many of these periodicals are available online through the Making of America sites hosted by Michigan and Cornell.

Periodical research like this is actually a lot of fun--okay, a lot of fun for a history buff/dork like myself. Occasionally, you find real gems, some of which I'll be posting about in the coming days. Let's start, though, with this one, from an 1879 issue of The Manufacturer and Builder. The page came up in my search because of the short article linking sore throats to pet kissing, but what really caught my eye was the funny engraving of the guy in the tub. Classic.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Love in space...

Take a look at this pretty funny article (from a Russian publication) about making babies in space. (You might want to send the kiddies out of the room.) My favorite excerpt is below. Is it just me, or it is simultaneously poetic and ultra technical? I guess that's a result of translation...

"'The biggest problem is how to conceive, because liquid cannot be spilt under the condition of weightlessness,' he added. 'But they do not need a bed in space. They can love each other in the air. And what will come out of that? As soon as he touches her, she will fly away in the opposite direction. A bed or at least some fastening device on a wall is more likely to be used.'"

Dickinson's Library

There's a cool and ambitious project going on at the Emily Dickinson Museum: the curators are attempting to refill the bookshelves of the both Dickinson's home and the home of her brother and sister-in-law so that they look like they looked when the Dickinsons lived there.

Here's an excerpt from the project's description:

"The Dickinsons were readers! Books were vital - a source of pride, pleasure, discussion, and even competitiveness – among family members. Through the three decades that Emily Dickinson wrote her poetry, ample, eclectic libraries stood open to her perusal in the Homestead and The Evergreens. Today the shelves of both dwellings are bare.

A preponderance of the Homestead’s books, along with Evergreens titles having close association with the poet, became the gifted property of Harvard University in 1950. Housed at the Houghton Library, the Dickinson collection is restricted even to scholars because of its fragile condition. The remainder of the libraries of both houses was transferred in the early 1990s to the John Hay Library at Brown University, under terms of the will of Mary Hampson, legatee and last resident of The Evergreens.

Harvard owns some 560 Dickinson library titles, and Brown nearly 2000. Included in the latter group are books belonging to Samuel Fowler Dickinson, the poet’s grandfather, from the time he was a student at Dartmouth in the class of 1795, and the books of six other family members, ranging from law books through histories to hymnals. At Brown is the “lonely, rigorous” reading of Edward Dickinson, the romantic boyhood books of Austin (all of Scott, Washington Irving), the poetry, novels, and intellectually stimulating acquisitions of Sue, and popular classics read by Sue and Austin’s children.

As the Museum looks ahead to refurnishing the Dickinson homes in keeping with what records indicate were their 19th century contents, we dream of restoring the books, those treasures the poet called “The strongest Friends of the Soul.” Efforts to replenish the library shelves will rely upon the substantial record of what was there, and rely as well on the generosity of many friends of Emily Dickinson, some of whom themselves appreciate the pleasures of finding and purchasing the books that inspired her genius."

All those phony memoirs...

The New Criterion has a short article (more a summary than anything else) about those fake or embellished memoirs that have been in the news so much lately. I was struck, though, by the last couple of paragraphs, specifically about Margaret B. Jones' (aka Margaret Seltzer) Love and Consequences*:

"Ms Seltzer, along with her partners in literary crime, deserves some credit at least for crafting a hoax that she must have known would appeal to the sentimental sensibility about the poor and downtrodden that is pervasive among reviewers at publications like the Times. It is more than a little interesting that contemporary novelists, when they stoop to such fabrications, invariably come up with harrowing stories about addiction, mental illness, sexual abuse, family dysfunction, prostitution, gang wars, and life on the run or among the down and out. On rarely hears of fabrications from the poor (or even by the rich) about life in the suburbs, boardrooms, or country clubs. Our novelists, even when they lie or especially when they lie, reveal what sells among publishers, reviewers, and contemporary readers.

It is sometimes said that what artists esteem is a sign of what is valued in a society. If that is so, then we may be more trouble than we think."

*More info about that here--including how her sister turned her in! It's also interesting to look at this Amazon page--filled with angry and disappointed responses from readers.


I found this link on Andrew Sullivan's website and found it strangely interesting. Sullivan called it "zen-like" and that seems like a good description to me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nightmare material...

This is almost certainly a big old hoax, but I will still admit that the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I watched the video. Gnomes creep me out...

Adventures in grading...

In response to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," my student writes: "John is so caught up in work and his own life that in the end when Jane goose saccadic he faints because he is in such shock since he never seen it coming."

My best guess? "Goose saccadic" should read "goes psychotic." I have no comment on how John "never seen it coming."

Baby Care 101

Don't ask me to explain this site--I couldn't if I tried. But it does have some great visuals. Here are a couple of my favorites:

If you have a chance to look them over, I'd love to know which ones are your favorites.

Science fair fun...

If I have the time today, I am going to catch up on some things I've been meaning to post, like this hilarious collection of science fair projects--and the students who made them...

Well, duh...

Scientists say our brains are programmed to eat donuts. As Hamlet would say, "We need no ghost come from the grave to tell us this, Horatio."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Happy Women's Day!

Check out this awesome post over at my friend Jane's blog. In fact, check out all of her posts. Before Jane left for Azerbaijan, I knew she was smart, funny, witty and all that, but I had no idea she was such a good writer. What a treat it has been to discover that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Best "Lost" YouTube Ever...

While we're continuing the Lost love, here's one I meant to post weeks ago, showing a synchronized view of the events leading up to the crash, the crash itself, and its immediate aftermath. Whoever put this together is awesome.

Sawyer's Nicknames

A fun youtube clip of all (almost) the names Sawyer's used in the first three seasons of Lost. Excellent.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"There is a green light beyond the green light."

One last catch-up post for today, on yet another article I've been meaning to link to. This one is on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and its continuing influence on high school students.

Some key passages...

From a teacher reflecting on why her students respond to the book:
“'They all understand what it is to strive for something,” said Susan Moran, who is the director of the English program at Boston Latin and who has been teaching “Gatsby” for 32 years, starting at South Boston High School, “to want to be someone you’re not, to want to achieve something that’s just beyond reach, whether it’s professional success or wealth or idealized love — or a 4.0 or admission to Harvard.'”

Okay--this one just made me laugh. From a student comparing the character of Daisy to a modern-day celebrity:
"As for Daisy, in Vimin’s view: 'She’s turned into an empty person. Like Paris Hilton.'”

From a recent immigrant to the United States, who realizes the difficulty of actually achieving the American dream:
“'The journey toward the dream is the most important thing,' she said. And, she added, 'There is a green light beyond the green light.'”

Sounds like a smart student, right?

Maybe I should teach Gatsby in ENG 204 one of these semesters. It's certainly short enough (a unfortunate but important consideration for this course). Plus, "The American Dream" is one of the themes I frequently emphasize in my American lit. survey classes. Of course, most students have read it in high school, so it might not be the best choice.

In praise of the semicolon...

I've been meaning to link to this little article about a much-abused bit of punctuation: the semicolon.

Here's a weird little paragraph worth singling out just because of its weirdness--and the wittiness of the final line (the one in parentheses):

"One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)"

What is it about this time of the semester that gets me thinking about punctuation so much more than usual? Ah yes--midterm week, complete with piles of questionably-punctuated papers to grade.

John Adams

"Let us dare to read, think, speak and write."

John Adams (President and statesman, 1735-1826)

I found this awesome quotation on the bottom of my receipt from the post office, along with a link to I love it when I find cool little gems like this one in unexpected places.