Friday, July 31, 2009
Also, this is my 500th post! Cool.
The move went very well yesterday. If you are moving somewhere in this area, I highly recommend Rockwell's Moving and Storage. They sent over a four man crew who got everything packed and unpacked in less than two hours. Amazing. (Of course, I probably helped a bit by knocking off a decent chunk of time with my own full-car trips the day before.)
After they were gone, it was back to the old apartment to pick up the boys, who were locked in the bathroom. First, I did about 90 minutes worth of cleaning there. Then back to the house with cats in tow. I let them out to explore--which they did very slowly and tentatively at first--as I ate a quick lunch.
Then back to the apartment again to finish cleaning. I had to shampoo the carpets, wash the vinyl floors, etc. At this point I was already so tired (having slept less than 2 hours on Wednesday night after spending all that day loading and unloading my car) that it took every ounce of strength to haul that Rug Doctor up and down the stairs. I considered coming back today (Friday) to finish it all up, since I had until 5:00 today to get out. I didn't want to do that, since I had a 9:30 meeting with my department chair today and the cable guy coming between 2 and 5 (love those 3-hour windows), but I just didn't think I could get everything done before the landlady left at 5:00 on Thursday.
But then I saw that my landlady was (for some reason) staying in the office later than she usually does and I used that as motivation to get it all done. So I did. I was like Popeye full of spinach, if Popeye full of spinach was also a whiny, bitchy, tired girl who was basically crawling up the stairs as she vacuumed them. I don't even want to think about what I looked like (a sweaty mess) when I finally stumbled into her office to hand in the keys. Here's a hint, though: she said, "How's it going over there? About as much fun as a funeral, right?"
I also look like I am a beating victim--bruises all over my arms and legs from boxes and whatever. Lovely stuff. I can't help it: moving is like a full-contact sport for me.
But...it's all worth it because A) I am officially done with the old apartment and B) now comes the really fun part: unpacking. (And I mean that--I like unpacking.)
Oh, and Bing and Wesley are doing great. Right now they are kind of like little stalkers, following me from room to room (or at least floor to floor), but they are also having fun--chasing each other around, playing, sleeping, eating, etc. It's like they are their regular old selves, but just a bit excited and hyper-aware. But I think they love their new house already.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Anyway, the movers come tomorrow morning to do the rest--all the furniture and heavy lifting (books, etc). But already, I've made progress settling in and making the place feel like home.
Tonight, one last night in the old apartment. And then on we go! Thanks for all your well-wishes. I've got awesome friends.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Wesley (complete with laser eyes) high on a stack of boxes. (Photo made more dramatic by me holding the camera on the floor.)
To tell you the truth, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, but excited. I am not sure if I'll be able to sleep at all tonight. Maybe I should take lessons from Wes.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Well, look here: it's the latest edition of Studies in American Humor. Cool! Let's have a look at what's inside. Hmmm...an issue edited by my good friend, Gretchen (whose book you should read and buy, by the way)? Cool!
And what's this? It certainly looks interesting! But let's get a closer look...
Yeah, baby! That's me!
Anyway, the other night, I had some leftover chicken that I didn't want to save and that the boys didn't want to eat (they aren't that big on people-food), so I broke one of my own rules and put it out for the strays. The way I figured it, it would be a bit of a good-bye feast from us to them. Plus, Bing and Wes would get some enjoyment out of the visit.
In the time it took me to load the dishwasher, two of our more frequent guests had arrived and were happily chowing down: one of the tortie-colored females who go ga-ga over Wesley (I call them his girlfriends) and an orange tabby that I call, for lack of a better name, "Less Attractive Bing." And yes, I've gotten a lot of grief for this nickname. Over the winter, he was the one cat I fed kind of consistently, since he huddled up against the front wall of the apartment and looked kind of sad, sickly, and cold. But despite all my care, he never let me get that close to him. Vogel once suggested that it was because I called him "Less Attractive Bing." I protested that I never called him that to his face. She said, "It doesn't matter. He knows." Oh well.
So here's some video of the Good-Bye Feast.
It was actually pretty cute--both the tortie and "L.A.B." would take little eating breaks to come up the window to visit with the boys. (I should add that them getting that close does make me just a bit nervous, but my cats are up to date on their shots and their flea preventatives...but still...)
After they left, the boys kept waiting for them to come back...
That was both sweet and sad. Poor strays...they really do break my heart sometimes.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
2) Vanity Fair's executive literary editor, copy editors, and research department take on Sarah Palin's resignation speech. This is all kinds of awesome and I kind of wish they would do it for other political speeches--from both parties, because this kind of poor writing is definitely a bipartisan problem.
3) Les Lye, who played Barth and just about every other adult male character on You Can't Do That on Television, just died. This show was a favorite for my little sister and I when we were kids.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Moreover, it's been so very quiet these last couple of weeks. That's good and bad, I suppose. I like the time I've had to get work done--reading, writing, taking notes, working on my article and conference paper. Being able to do those tasks uninterrupted (without even classes to teach)and realizing that it is my actual job to do these things is, of course, quite wonderful.
And yet sometimes it gets lonely--loneliness exasperated by that lack of teaching I mentioned above and the day-to-day busy-ness of the semester. I find myself missing lots of people and wondering where in the world the summer has gone. Classes start in less than a month, which is (yes, you guessed it) good and bad. I thought I'd have a chance to do more and to see more people. It's hard to shut my brain off at night--I just lay there thinking and planning and worrying and thinking and...well, you get the point.
Anyway, all of this is a long set-up for an (admittedly somewhat pedantic) point about the poems below and poetry in general: when I found them (on the "Poem of the Day" podcast), for a moment, they kind of lifted me away from all of that stuff I've listed above but then dropped me back in that world feeling somewhat better, or at least, somewhat different. And that's very cool.
1) "Pumpernickel" by Philip Schultz. This one goes a place I didn't really see coming--takes us from bread-making to poetry writing and reminds us what both arts do--and why we do them. That last line is just amazing. Oh, and it inspired me to bake some bread this afternoon.
Monday mornings Grandma rose an hour early to make rye,
onion & challah, but it was pumpernickel she broke her hand for,
pumpernickel that demanded cornmeal, ripe caraway, mashed potatoes
& several Old Testament stories about patience & fortitude & for
which she cursed in five languages if it didn't pop out fat
as an apple-cheeked peasant bride. But bread, after all,
is only bread & who has time to fuss all day & end up
with a dead heart if it flops? Why bother? I'll tell you why.
For the moment when the steam curls off the black crust like a strip
of pure sunlight & the hard oily flesh breaks open like a poem
pulling out of its own stubborn complexity a single glistening truth
& who can help but wonder at the mystery of the human heart when you
hold a slice up to the light in all its absurd splendor & I tell you
we must risk everything for the raw recipe of our passion.
2) "Tree" by Jane Hirshfield. Perhaps I related to this one because of the upcoming move and packing up (and thinking a lot about) my own "clutter of soup pots and books." Things that, even as I carefully wrap them in paper and bubblewrap, seem so minor, so unsubstantial, when "immensity taps at your life."
It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
Even in this
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
...and because I don't want folks to say I favor one cat over the other.
By the way, he isn't looking at me when he turns from the window. He's looking at Bing (in his box) who was shifting around a bit anxiously when he saw me paying too much attention to Wes.
Lately, of course, I am obsessed with boxes--finding them, stacking them, getting the most out of every inch of them. I've got them stashed strategically around the apartment. There's a fairly decent sized stack upstairs in the bedroom and I headed up there today to get one for some kitchen stuff (a few odd bowls, some mugs, etc.) I needed one that wasn't too small, wasn't too big, one that was nice and sturdy. And I knew just the perfect one...only one problem...
It was occupied. Lately, this box in particular has been Bing's spot. He sleeps there all the time. Originally, it was actually sitting with its opening on top and he would jump in that way. I almost jumped across the room the first time I found him in there. Somehow, he flipped it and has been sitting, like a "Bing Diarama" ever since. (They've always loved moving boxes for this reason.)
It's worth noting that this box is the highest box on the highest stack of boxes in the room. (This would have been more obvious earlier in the week, before the rest of the boxes started getting used.) And of course it is--this cat enjoys looking down on the rest of us.
The big question, of course, is how long I continue to let Bing occupy such a desirable and useful box. I've asked a couple of friends who are firmly in the "don't you take his box away from him!" camp.
I tried to talk the matter over with him today...and you can see how quickly I crumbled.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Shannon, Cameron, and Allison. Matthew (Allison's son) and Greg (Allison's fiance) were there, too, but they both kind of disappeared after dinner.
Cameron on her scooter, with Mini-Jane riding along. Right about this time, Cameron started asking me, "Can I keep her?" I had to be the bad guy and say no.
Real Jane, over in Azerbaijan, has instituted the 11th of the month club, which you can read about here. Mini-Jane and I were sure to celebrate in the time she spent with me. The gist of it: each 11th of the month, you have a drink (or more) to mark one less month until Real Jane comes home on 9/11/09.)
May. (It was a rough month, okay?)
Mini-Jane with a stack of final exams.
Collapsing on a stack of papers. I guess she doesn't know that you aren't supposed to grade in red. It's bad for students' self-esteem or something...
But it's not all bad! Sometimes we get to dress up! Here she is with me on graduation day.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
"Tante Heidi? It's Olivia. I have to tell you something."
"There are these Sketchers called Heidi Hi-Tops. You need to get them."
"And there's a song. You need them."
Apparently, my five year-old niece and nephew got very excited when they saw the commercial below and insisted that they call me to tell me all about it.
One question: how in the world did the people behind this commercial recreate my high school experience so perfectly?
Monday, July 13, 2009
It goes without saying that there’s been a lot of reading going on here this summer. In terms of “work reading,” I’ve been thoroughly immersed in him and her. And then there was my Summer I class. But all work and no play gives Heidi a dull summer, so I’ve been doing lots of “fun reading,” too. Here are some highlights:
1) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. Everyone’s been talking about this book for awhile now, and for good reason. I picked it up in January, plowed through the first 100 pages or so, then had to put it down as the semester got really crazy. For me, it just wasn’t the kind of book I could read the way I read for fun during the semester—30 or 60 minute clips before bed or longer blocks over weekends. Once May hit, though, I turned back to it and read it in long and indulgent sittings. And it’s amazing—what a book! It might sound cheesy, but it’s almost like the book is alive in your hands. That’s just the way Diaz writes—the prose is so alive, so vibrant, so rich. And the characters are unforgettable.
2) When You are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris. I am cheating a bit by calling this “Summer reading,” since I bought this book over a year ago when I was apartment hunting with Vogel in Philadelphia. (The receipt is still in the book and served quite well as a bookmark.) But, after I read the first few essays, I let it get buried in a stack of books by my bed, only really picking it up again in May, once the last exam was graded. If you liked David Sedaris’ earlier books, you’ll like this one, too. All the things I love about Sedaris—his funny observations about language, his unashamed revelations about his own character, and the way he sometimes slips sentiment into his cynicism—all of that’s in here, too. I always read with a pencil nearby. I have a habit of making little smiles in the margins when something makes me laugh. At some point, I realized how pointless these marks are in a book like When You are Engulfed in Flames. It’s like pointing out ants at a picnic or something.
3) Butterflies Dance in the Dark, by Beatrice MacNeil. My parents picked this book up for me last summer when they took a cruise up North and stopped in Cape Breton. MacNeil was signing copies of her book in a little shop. My dad says he read the back, thought it looked interested, and picked up a copy for me—complete with inscription from the author. (“To Dr. Heidi,” it reads. My parents never miss out on the chance to tell people that I have a PhD. If I did it, it would seem obnoxious. When they do it, it’s kind of cute, I think.) Anyway, the book is enjoyable and not at all what I was expecting. Mari-Jen is unlike any first person narrator I’ve encountered before: she’s intelligent and creative, but also suffers from a learning disability and, later in the book, something quite like mental illness or at least severe emotional disturbance. At times, I found myself tired of her and her reticence. But MacNeil renders her with rich detail and real skill. What is also accomplished quite well, I think, is a vivid depiction of the region. I am also quite fond of Alfred and Albert, the main character’s twin brothers. They might be my favorite thing about this book.
4) Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpha Lahiri. This book had been on my radar for years and I’d already read three of the short stories in this collection—and loved each one (“This Blessed House,” “Sexy,” and the title story). I’ve blogged about Lahiri before here. Not much to say except that each story in this collection is amazing. Considering only the stories that were new to me, “A Temporary Matter” stands out for its absolutely devastating conclusion. Lahiri is absolutely one my favorite writers still working today. Part of me can’t wait to dive into Unaccustomed Earth, her new collection. But there is also a part of me that wants to put off reading it, since once I am done with it, I’ll have to wait who knows how long for another Lahiri book.
5) The Madhouse Nudes, by Robert Schultz. Schultz teaches at Roanoke (he started there a couple of years after I graduated), and I found out about this book after reading that it had been selected by the newly-formed Lutheran Writers Book Club. I picked up an old library copy online for a couple of bucks. Like the MacNeil book, this one wasn’t what I expected, but if you are interested in how the body is represented in art (especially the female body), Schultz gives you plenty to think about. He’s also a poet—something that shines through again and again in his beautiful prose.
6) Portisville, by Steve Cushman. Steve and I were first-year TAs together at UNCG. We even shared an office at one point. He’s a great guy so it makes me happy to hear he’s found success. Last summer, I picked up a copy of the book at Ed McKay's in Greensboro. Once I began Portisville, I had the distinct memory of hearing Steve read the first chapter at his thesis reading back in 2002—a testimony to the power of that chapter. The reviews of Portisville on the back cover describe it quite well: “lean, cool prose…a story crackling with reality,” “taut, raw, and gritty.” Steve’s got a new collection of short stories out which I might have to pick up.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Some key passages:
"As an aspiring feminist guy, I wanted to speak out about issues of sexism and gender oppression in media but I wanted to do so carefully and intentionally. That’s why I chose to focus my critique on Edward’s patriarchal behavior in Twilight rather than on Bella’s actions. I didn’t feel it was my place to lecture her on desire (even in remix form), especially since her character is already disempowered by the original screenplay to the point of absurdity. So I built each scene around Edward, and then looked for appropriate responses from Buffy. Sorting through seven seasons worth of witty dialog and dramatic footage from Buffy was a lot of fun, and telling the tale through her and her friends’ perspective allows us to understand the messages underlying the mythology of the film and the TV show in a new way – and to enjoy the process. I should note that I am not the first to make this critique of the Twilight series, nor did I invent the process of re-imagining pop culture stories. I was inspired by women who have been creating fan fiction as self-conscious creative communities since before I was born. I was heavily influenced by fannish vidding as well as by feminist critiques of popular culture, especially those of bell hooks, whose writings have helped opened my eyes on issues of race, gender and love."
But I think this is my favorite part:
"In the end the only reasonable response was to have Buffy stake Edward – not because she didn’t find him sexy, not because he was too sensitive or too eager to share his feelings – but simply because he was possessive, manipulative, and stalkery."
We visited Harpers Ferry (both the National Historic Park section and the Historic District) and really enjoyed it. I think you could spend several days there doing all sorts of things. I really like this shot of Colin looking at the geese by the river. I love how he has his hands crossed behind him.
One of my favorite parts of Harpers Ferry was the John Brown Wax Museum (not a part of the National Park). Equal parts educational, campy, horrifying, and funny, you have to see it to believe it. I wish I had audio of my sister trying to explain slavery, abolitionism, and the complicated legacy of someone like John Brown to her kids. Case in point: the first scene represents young John Brown witnessing a slave child being beaten. Then came a scene from "Bleeding Kansas." Quite a challenge for a parent to explain. I must say, though, she did a great job emphasizing the bare bones truths: people should be treated fairly no matter what they look like and violence is rarely the right way to solve a problem.
The kids were mesmerized (and probably permanently scarred) by the body of Heyward Shepherd, the first man killed in John Brown's raid. It lays on the ground and when you hit a button, and as a narrator tells what's going on in the scene, the guy's chest moves up and down in the throes of death. Lovely stuff. It just gets better from there--John Brown on a stretcher during his trial (which is historically accurate, of course), and finally...
...Brown about to meet his doom. I was half expecting his wax figure to turn animatronic and fall through the floor, but thankfully (for the kids, at least) it didn't go that far. Still, even this image is a lot to explain to a couple of 5-year olds.
That same evening we had dinner at my mom's favorite Shepherdstown restaurant, the Bavarian Inn. It was a lovely night--we ate outside (in perfect weather for outdoor dining), the kids were well-behaved, the food was delicious, and as we sat there, the lightening bugs lit up the grounds around the inn.
Colin snapped this picture of my mom at the restaurant. I am struck by how much she looks like my late great-aunt, Tante Lieselotte, in this picture.
One last picture--another one Colin took--of Olivia and I at dinner.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
2) Kate has drawn my attention to My Life is Average. This is one of those A) "it's funny 'cause it's true" and B) "it's funny 'cause I can relate" blogs that threatens (because of A and B) to become kind of sad.
3) This year's Bulwer-Lytton winners. A couple of my favorites:
"The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor--the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn't use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride."
"On a fine summer morning during the days of the Puritans, the prison door in the small New England town of B----n opened to release a convicted adulteress, the Scarlet Letter A embroidered on her dress, along with the Scarlet Letters B through J, a veritable McGuffey's Reader of Scarlet Letters, one for each little tyke waiting for her at the gate."
4) From insidehighered.com: "Dear Plagiarist..."
5) Also, there's this. The music is the best part.
1) Homer standing out at work because of his pink shirt: A great little statement on conformity that would make Emerson proud. And we also hear Mr. Burns say, "Simpson, eh?" Seriously, when is the last time we heard that? Or even saw that much of Homer at the power plant?
2) Lisa's poem reflecting on her birthday which begins, "I had a cat named Snowball. She died! She died!"
3) The "insane" stamp on Homer's hand that he can't wash off.
4) The town's reaction to "Michael Jackson's arrival": "He's 300 pounds!" "He's white!" "He's dressed without flair!"
5) The fantastic "Happy Birthday, Lisa" song. (And Bart's first attempt at a song makes me chuckle, too.)
This is "The Simpsons" at its best: funny and wonderfully satiric, but also with a heart. So much of this is absent in the new episodes which seem driven by one or two jokes with no real purpose beyond them. (There are recent exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.) I'll continue watching new episodes, but I really wish they could make episodes like they did back then.
Anyway, you might find the Wikipedia entry on this episode interesting, as it explains just how MJ's guest appearance came together.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Take for example, this little font he designed. (Again, very hard to read unless you click on it--sorry about that.)
It's not tough enough to be any kind of code, but he did write several notes in it.
Then consider this sweet little drawing of us driving off into (well, away from, actually) the sunset.
Finally, lots of the notes had little drawings on them, like this one which features a "You may kiss the bride" illustration on top.
Transcription: "Dear Heidi, How was your Easter? Mine was great! Why don't you ever write back? I feel like I just waste paper. Oh, I finally got my new glasses. I look like a nerd. There a little tinted, but the guy who made them tinted them too much. That's why I think anyway. Love Mike."
So just how tinted should a fourth-grader's glasses be? That's not an easy question for a kid living on Long Island in the mid-80s, I guess.
Some pictures from that day:
Check out the red hair and blue eyes. What a cutie she is! And she was so sweet and friendly. Within minutes of meeting her, I was carrying her all over the store and listening to her baby talk (which was mostly laughter and squeals of delight).
Mommy and baby. Mikey (aka "Daddy") was there, too, but I didn't get any pictures of him. Sorry, dude.
Yet another baby-napping in progress? It was hard to let her go and say good-bye to her, Rita, and Mikey again. I need to get myself up to MA for a nice, long visit.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
EDIT: I originally had a clip embedded here of the "$240 Worth of Pudding" sketch, but the clip wouldn't load properly, so you can just click here to see it.
Anyway, here's a poem that seems sort of appropriate for today. I found it (you guessed it) on the "Poem of the Day" podcast not too long ago. There's also a great audio version here.
by Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
(Yes--that's a long list, but what can I say?)
Anyway, just the other day I listened to another fabulous story, one of my favorites so far, "Dog Heaven," by Stephanie Vaughn, read by Tobias Wolff. But just as much as I enjoyed the story, so too did I love the post-reading discussion between Wolff and Deborah Treisman. I found myself stopping the podcast and going to back to replay Wolff's lovely description of fiction--and what he finds so appealing about Vaughn's story:
“In fact, we’re always living next door to worlds that we don’t suspect and the best fiction suddenly illuminates that thing that’s been beside us all along and makes us see it for the first time and makes us enter another world.”
That's great stuff, right?
"Due to bat infestation, the top floor of Knutti Hall will be unavailable July 1st through July 13th. If you need assistance with classes, or other services connected with the top floor of Knutti Hall please contact your dean or my office and we will assist you."
So many questions...
Where did the bats come from? I was last in the building on Sunday and didn't see or hear any, which, in retrospect, is actually much creepier than having seen them.
Also, what in the heck are they going to do to get rid of them? And why will it take three weeks?
Just how many bats constitute an "infestation"? (And yes, I realize I probably don't want to know the answer to this question and the previous two.)
Right now, my office is in the basement of this building, which is "safe," I guess, but I should limit my deep cleansing breaths.