Friday, September 29, 2006
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Remember in high school when you dreaded having to write essays longer than 500 words? Now the prospect of writing anything shorter than that fills me with dread. I swear that the hardest part of my thesis was at the very end of it all when I had to sum up almost three hundred pages in the page-long abstract that goes at the very beginning. And right now, trying to make some sense of the snowdrifts of notes and research I did this summer and synopsize it is like trying to ram a basketball through a funnel.
But I'm almost there. So of course I'm writing a blog entry ... though I find often that a few words on the blog at the beginning of the day can be a bit like stretching before a run. Some times it is genuine procrastination and avoidance, but sometimes it's a little like my morning coffee -- a warm and comfortable start to the day.
I'm not sure what it is today.
My project, by the way, in case anyone is interested (if you're not, now's the time to skip to the bottom and see if anyone has posted a comment) is a book-length study on the Cold War as a recurring theme in contemporary American literature. Or more specifically, it's the way in which certain novels re-imagine the formative Cold War years (i.e. the 1950s) in terms of a betrayed or absent masculinity. I'm tentatively titling it "Spectral Fathers: The Cold War and Postmodern Memory." (Say what you will about the quality of my scholarship otherwise, but I have a damn good knack for titles -- and never mind that my subtitle is sort of stolen from Paul Fussell. It's not stolen, it's an homage, dammit).
I was reflecting this morning on the weird way in which I've arrived at this topic. Not too weird, I guess ... in the course of writing my thesis I encountered a lot of the issues and questions I'm now pursuing, so I guess there is a causal line here. It is odd though insofar as my literary and scholarly obsessions are so often antithetical to my personality. I've never had anxieties about masculinity, mine or anyone else's (well, except for the usual teenage angst), yet here it is as a central theme in what will preoccupy me for the next few years. I'm utterly un-paranoid, yet my thesis was about conspiracy theory. I am fascinated with military history, yet know that not only would I be a lousy soldier, but that actually participating in a battle would leave some unpleasant stains in my pants; as a sub-topic of military history, I went through a phase when I was fascinated with submarine warfare, though I am pretty damn claustrophobic. I have read extensively about terrorism in Ireland, to the point of publishing a paper on it, though I cannot conceive of what would lead an individual to that sort of extreme of violence.
And so on. I guess in the end one of the things that motivates me is a fascination with states of mind and preoccupations that fall entirely outside my range of empathy. Which, I guess, is sort of the point of literature in general ...
OK, this has ceased to be a warmup for the day and is now officially procrastination. Once more into the breach ...
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Who, I want to know, decided that it would be a GOOD idea to have such deadlines right at the beginning of the school year?
Monday, September 25, 2006
This morning, I introduced my second-year class to Lacanian theory. That was fun.
For several days running I have forgotten to take home my travel mug from my office. I am now scared to open its lid.
Keith Olbermann is my new hero.
I discovered the other day that the Left Behind series of evangelical novels, about which I have ranted previously on this blog, have now been used as the basis for a computer game -- one in which you go around trying to save people's souls for Jesus after the Rapture, while thwarting the forces of the Antichrist.
I have "Ghost Riders in the Sky" stuck in my head, which would not be particularly annoying, except for the fact that I keep hearing it as "ghost writers in disguise."
We've started doing The Sun Also Rises in my 20th-century American novel class, which means I am developing an inordinate desire for carafes of cold white wine.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Studio 60 is pure Sorkin gold ... fast-paced, smart dialogue, complex characters, and a rhythm to the action, the movement and the script that is symphonic. If I sound like I'm overstating the case here, I am -- the show is still a bit shaky, and needs to sort itself out over this season, but television writing and directing on this level is like oxygen. Sorkin's continued success and popularity gives me hope in a world saturated with the various There-But-For-The-Grace-Of-God phenomenon that is reality TV.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
He is named for the character Clarence in Richard III. I got him the summer I directed that particular play, and was determined to name him after one of the characters. I had narrowed it down to Ratcliff, Catesby, or Clarence. My friend Erin, who played Catesby, has never forgiven me for my choice. My friend Jeremy, who played Clarence, feels a certain kinship because of it. My friend Mike, who played Ratcliff, I'm fairly sure doesn't care one way or the other.
He is afraid of apple cores. When I eat an apple and don't throw it away immediately but put it on the coffee table as I read or watch TV, he approaches it as if it were something dangerous. dropping himself as low to the ground (or table) as he can, he slinks up, then feints at it with his paw four or five time before actually striking it ... at which point he leap backward as if he has received a shock, only to repeat the process.
He loves the hallway in my building, and when let out will gallop up and down several times before he lets me bring him back inside. When he runs, his hindquarters start to overtake him, so he ends up looking sort of lopsided.
He likes being patted from head to tail in unbroken strokes. As you do this, he pulls himself along the carpet sideways with his claws so that you have to stagger along with him.
He was a runt when I got him. He was impossibly tiny, whiny, and sucky. Within two months he had transformed himself into Hunter-Killer-Beast, and was determinedly attacking the feet of any guests I had. No one has been able to explain this change in his personality.
He practices psychological warfare. He seems to dislike alpha-male types in particular, my brother and Sean Mulligan being his principal targets. He begins by launching a terrifyingly aggressive campaign of stalk & attack for several weeks, but after that will just sit placidly at the feet of his quarry, staring at them impassively, until they crumple into a paranoid fetal position.
Friday, September 22, 2006
And in case anyone's wondering in the future, it is precisely at this moment that I started to forget all about the little people who got me to this point ...
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated "It is well known that the cut-flower industry in Iraq was completely under the thumb of Saddam Hussein. We now believe he confiscated all the flowers in Iraq to prevent them being thrown at the feet of victorious American soldiers. It's odd we didn't consider this possibility before, really."
With no flowers at hand, the official speculated, the only other welcome gifts they had access to were the weapons and explosives in the various ammo dumps scattered around the countryside.
Haliburton, in an effort to rectify the situation, has bought a controlling interest in FTD Florists.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Seriously. Where did this come from? And why oh why did it have to fall on a day when I'm not teaching? That would have been too much fun.
But in lieu of plundering and pillaging my father's favourite pirate jokes to inflict on my students, I give you instead my top five sword fights in movies.
5. Romeo and Juliet. (Leonard Whiting, John McEnery, Michael York). Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of the play is beautiful to watch, and never more so than when Michael York as the gleefully psychotic Tybalt is on the screen. The extended fight sequence between Tybalt and Mercutio, and then Tybalt and Romeo, is brutally exquisite, running (it seems) from one end of Verona's dusty streets to the other.
4. Rob Roy. (Liam Neeson, Tim Roth). As much as I love Liam Neeson, this is really all about Tim Roth. In a movie otherwise only worth watching for the Scottish landscape, Roth's lazy, foppish, ice-cold and deadly assassin is chilling to watch. The climactic sword fight between Roth and Neeson's Rob Roy is so entirely a one-sided affair, with Roth toying with his opponent like a haughty cat, that it almost doesn't qualify as a fight.
3. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. (Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Ray Parks). If only Rob Roy had some of Qui-Gon Jinn's jedi skills, he would have made much shorter work of Tim Roth. Seriously: I hated this film, and I consider it the best of the prequels. But the one sequence that almost made it worth the price of admission was the fight between Darth Maul and the two jedis -- largely because George Lucas, with no sweet ninja skills of his own, had to hand over the choreography to Parks. This is a lesson he should have learned, and handed over the writing to someone with talent, but that's a rant for another day. If I ever find The Phantom Menace in a discount DVD bin, I'll grab it just so I can watch this sequence.
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi). There are so many unbelievably beautiful fight sequences in this film that it is hard to choose -- almost making the cut here is the initial fight between Li Mu Bai and the Jade Fox, especially for the sublime moment when he trips her up and she falls flat on her face, and Chow-Yun Fat's otherwise placid features betray a ghost of a smile. But really, the fight between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi where Yeoh essentially fights her way through an entire arsenal of weapons is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and jaw-dropping sequences anywhere.
1. The Princess Bride. (Cary Elwes, Mandy Pantinkin). Can there be any other in the number one slot? Inconceivable!
Runners-up: the fight between Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Mask of Zorro; the sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring where Aragorn sends Frodo off on his own, then turns to fight an army of orcs single-handedly; the beautifully absurd and protracted fight between Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and (former) Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean 2; the climactic fight between Robin Hood and the Sherriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, less for the actual fight than for Alan Rickman's frothing and mugging; Hamlet and Laertes in Zeffirelli's Hamlet; all the classic Errol Flynn bits in his Robin Hood.
And I also want to reserve a special mention for my friend Sean Mulligan, who to the best of my knowledge has not yet choreographed any film sword fights, but has done some pretty spectacular work on the UWO stage -- the best of which was when he played Banquo for me in Macbeth, and choreographed his own death scene. A spectacular bit of theatre that I can claim absolutely no credit for.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Well, it’s that time of year again where I ask you for money, and you say no. But this year I suggest a novel idea: instead of not giving me money? Give me money! I think you’ll find that to be much more rewarding. Besides which, I have done my research and now know your addresses. So if you’d like to have a case of scotch show up on your doorstep as opposed to something far less pleasant (if you get my drift), then you’ll want to give serious consideration to funding my research project.
Synopsis of My Project
And what am I working on, you ask? Well frankly, I have no fricking clue. But that really shouldn’t prevent you from giving me money. There is an awful lot of well-funded research in the humanities that no one understands, so let me get mine too, eh?
Don’t worry: I do have a seriously kick-ass title. “Delving into Derogation: Antimonies of Desire in the Post-Freudian Landscape.” Isn’t that great? Don’t worry if you don’t know what it means … I can promise you I don’t either. No one will. That’s the beauty!
I will need at least two research assistants, one to get me coffee and do my filing, and the other to clean my apartment on a weekly basis. The scholarly process, I find, is better facilitated in a clean apartment, but because I am such a busy professor, I rarely find time to do it myself. Ideally, I would also hire a third to regrout my bathroom floor, but in my experience, graduate students who can perform such manual labour tend to be scarce.
As much of my thinking is done in pubs, bars and strip clubs, I will need several thousand dollars to fund my time there. Also, an alcohol allowance for the liquor and wine I keep at home is necessary (along with a secure locker in which to put it—I don’t trust the grad student cleaning the place to keep out of the booze): at least a few thousand dollars, more should my mental processes prove to require single-malt. (Also, the aforementioned case of scotch on your doorsteps will be coming out of whatever money you give me, so be certain to factor that cost in as well).
I am intending to attend numerous conferences over the next few years in Hawaii, Australia, Acapulco, Florida and Cancun. I have no idea what the subject matter being considered at these conferences will be, but I’m sure I can come up with suitable titles for my papers.
The committee should be aware that I am extremely well-published, having two books to my name, both of which have received critical acclaim. The first, “The Hungry Duckie,” is an existential exploration of desire and loss. It did not receive as great acclaim as it deserved however, as Mrs. Dibblethorpe, my Grade Two teacher, did not understand that the spelling “mistakes” in my book were deliberate critiques of normative discursive practices. Quoting James Joyce, I informed her that a man of genius makes no mistakes, but that his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. She proceeded to give me a cookie and milk and made me take a nap.
My mother thought that the book was very nice, however. She said that it was sad that the duckie was always so hungry, but that the pictures were “very cute.”
My second book, “Bitter Longing (for Elaine),” was a poetic discourse on love, jealousy and heartbreak. The titular Elaine did not offer a critique, but returned my manuscript with a restraining order stapled to the title page. Her opinion should not be considered one way or another however, given her closeness to the project. Mr. Steinberg, my Grade Nine English teacher, was sophisticated enough to refuse to assign “Bitter Longing (for Elaine)” a grade, as simple numerical evaluation has no place in the creation of great literature. This at least was what I gleaned from his sole cryptic comment, “Fifteen-year-olds shouldn’t write,” which was scrawled in the column on page forty-two.
My mother thought that “Bitter Longing (for Elaine)” was a very nice poem, and she further added that Elaine was obviously a silly girl who didn’t know a good thing when she saw it, that I was a handsome boy and that there are more fish in the sea.
Given my mother’s previous work evaluating my past scholarship, I will grant that she might not be an appropriate assessor for my present project. The committee should feel free however to contact any of my aunts on either side of my family, as well as my parents’ next door neighbours for whom I used to babysit.
You may also contact my cousins on my mother’s side, though their assistance would be best facilitated with a case of Canadian Club and several bottle of Coke.
I hope the committee sees fit to fund my current project, and I remind you that I have you addresses and access to various combustibles.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Exactly half the time I see myself, I kind of like the look; the other half I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Usually that's entirely dependent on what kind of light I find myself in. The hair above my temples is somwhat thinner than on the rest of my head -- give it another couple of years and I'll have a pretty good widow's peak happening -- but as a result, under certain lights at certain angles, the hair forward of the crown of my head seems to disappear, and so sometimes I catch jarring glimpses of a person who looks like me but is bald from the forehead to the crown.
Someone posting anonymously said "The new buzz makes you look less intimidating and gives you a softening effect." I'm thankful for the sentiment, but I honestly don't see it. I find quite the opposite effect -- I look tougher and harsher, and look for crude self-administered tattoos. On the other hand, the comparison to the older brother on Prison Break was quite flattering.
You can't see it in this picture, but there is a visible line in my hair that runs between my temples over the crown of my head like a flightplan over the Arctic. This disturbs me. It's as if, seeing the thinning over my temples, the rest of my hair has dug a fire trench to forestall further losses.
Coming soon -- Hair Watch Day 28!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
It's as if he felt we didn't have enough reasons to ridicule him.
But my question is this: will he wear the bow tie?
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I used to go out dancing on a pretty regular basis, all through undergrad and when I lived in TO, then for the first few years when I was in London. Retro nights were always a favourite, and Call the Office has a great sunday night for that, as Londoners will attest. Then however came the day when I realized I was about ten years older, on average, than pretty much everyone at the club. And wow had that crept up on me. And while I was by no means alone in this respect, I also very keenly did not want to turn into -- or be perceived as -- the creepy older guy haunting the periphery of the dance floor. Ick.
This is one of the problems with living in a university town ... in TO it would never be quite as much of an issue, as there tends to be a much great age range at the average club, to say nothing of the places that overtly cater to the late-twenties, early-thirties set (of course, I could probably not afford the cover charge and/or drink prices at such places, but that's another aggravation for another day). I started feeling old in London clubs pretty much as soon as I arrived in the city.
Then there's the problem of running into students ... not in itself a problem so much as long as you recognize your students on sight. Then at least you're aware, and can flip the switch in your head to the setting "Student Present: Do Not Make Ass of Self." The final nail in my clubbing coffin came when I taught a class of 250 for the first time -- the problem here being that, with a class that large, I wouldn't necessarily recognize my students in the wide world. One begins to understand the principle of the Panopticon pretty keenly at the point.
At any rate, the long and short of it is that I haven't been out dancing in a long while, and I do miss it. There are still those songs however that require a pretty powerful force of will to keep me in my seat, and they are as follows:
(5) Rage Against the Machine, "Killing in the Name"
(4) Human League, "Don't You Want Me"
(3) AC/DC, "Shook Me All Night Long"
(2) KMFDM, "Juke-Joint Jezebel"
(1) Boney M, "Rasputin"
What can I say? A legacy of growing up in the 80s, coming of age in the early 90s, and having a signficant number of gay friends. And I can at least say that there aren't any wedding-reception staples here. Well, except for number one. And three. And occasionally four, I imagine. At least I kept the Village People off the list ...
Monday, September 11, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
She's walking now. My mom was telling me it's taking all her concentration -- Morgan was very talkative, starting to form words and generally babbling happily all the time, but when she started walking the words ceased as her face took on a look of intense concentration every time she let go of whatever she was supporting herself with.
God help my brother and sister-in-law ... she could motor like noone's business when she was crawling. Now that she's walking, nothing is safe.
This picture I love -- this chair was a gift from my cousin Jeff and his wife Christine. Kind of looks like she's holding court, doesn't she?
And I'll be going home for Thanksgiving, so I get to see her again! Huzzah!
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Keep in mind that this list is quite distinct from the category of guilty pleasures -- a list with entirely different criteria. Plus, if you do in fact adore Maid in Manhattan, I'm not calling you an idiot, if for no other reason than that I probably don't lack for people to do that for me.
One important rule here: for the sake of keeping things relatively simple, I'm excluding classics from this categorization, for the reason that they open a whole new can of worms. Start including Casablanca or His Girl Friday, and the field just gets too big -- to the point where you could make a Top 5 Bogart Date Films (which, incidentally, would be Casablanca, African Queen, To Have and Have Not, The Maltese Falcon and Sabrina) or Top 5 Cary Grant Date Films (which would be His Girl Friday, Nortorious, North By Northwest, The Philidelphia Story, and Arsenic and Old Lace).
So, in descending order this time:
5. Intolerable Cruelty. This one didn't do as well by the critics as Cohn Brothers' films usually, which is a crying shame, because it's such a wonderfully sharp satire on romantic comedies while still being a romantic comedy. It is, as a friend of mine once observed, the anti-Hugh Grant movie. George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones have this amazing chemistry, which makes me fear for the possibility that they may one day get together, in which case I think their uber-children might be poised to take over the world.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I include this for several reasons: one, I simply love this film; two, I think anyone who doesn't get swept up in the grand, epic romantic sweep of the story and enraptured by the visuals Ang Lee offers us quite simply has no soul and might well not cast a reflection. Which is something that can be used as a litmus test for potential mates, as I should have been more aware of when I took a certain ex to see it, and she informed me that it wasn't bad -- but that it totally ripped off The Matrix.
3. Moulin Rouge. I imagine this is a choice that will be contested, as in my experience you either love this film or loathe it. As far as smart films go, however -- I've now taught it three times, and beyond its beautiful bombast and sheer absurdity, it is a truly brilliant piece of filmmaking. That is, in my not-so-humble opnion.
2. Much Ado About Nothing. The original romantic comedy, the one that perfected the genre long before we had the notion that pictures could move. Like pretty much all of Kenneth Branagh's films after Henry V, a deeply flawed endeavour -- let's try and ignore Robert Sean Leonard's incredible wooden performance as Claudio, and the less said about Keanu as the villain the better -- but all is redeemed by the extraordinary interplay between Branagh and Emma Thompson as Bennedick and Beatrice, by the heartbreakingly beautiful Tuscan landscape, by the beautifully dignified and yet mischievous performance by Denzel Washington as Don Pedro (it makes me wish he'd do more Shakespeare), and by Michael Keaton's fabulous Beetlejuice ... I mean, Dogberry.
1. Shakespeare in Love. My favourite story about this film is that it started as a whimsical project by Tom Stoppard, who conceived of it with the thought that Shakespeare would have had to deal with more or less the same ringamarole as a Hollywood screenwriter ... and it then passed through the hands of various studio execs, each of whom ordered the script modified, until it made it into production in barely recognizable form. That is, until the actors realized that Stoppard had been the original writer, at which point they demanded to see the original version. And the rest is history.
Runners-up: Annie Hall (though this might qualify as a classic), Big Fish, Shaun of the Dead, Chicago, An Ideal Husband, Truly Madly Deeply, Sense and Sensibility, High Fidelity, Three Days of the Condor, Out of Sight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ... and I'm forgetting a bunch.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Well, once more we're at the outset of it all: tomorrow the sluice gates open and students come rushing back onto campus like a loud, goofily clad torrent (some seem to have trickled through a day early -- as I write, one of the classrooms down the hall has been taken over by some sort of orientation group who seem to need to shout very loudly in unison every ten minutes). My lovely quiet campus again becomes what it was designed to be: a big raucous rumpus room, and even while my nascent claustrophobia makes itself known in the sudden press of the crowds, I still do really rather love the energy of it all. My year follows the rhythms of the school year, as it has done since I first went off to kindergarten. Today is New Year's Eve, though my personal celebrations have less to do with champagne than with a massive shopping spree at Staples.
It always makes me think of the opening of Don DeLillo's novel White Noise, which contains about the best description of students' return to university that I've ever read:
I've witnessed this spectacle every September for twenty-one years. It is a brilliant event, invariably. The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans. The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a sense of renewal, of communal recognition. The women crisp and alert, in diet trim, knowing people's names. Their husbands content to measure out the time, distant but ungrudging, accomplished in parenthood, something about them suggesting massive insurance coverage. This assembly of station wagons, as much as anything they might do in the course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws,, tells the parents they are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually akin, a people, a nation.
It's good to be back. I've been spending today getting all my ducks in a row for the next few weeks, prepping some lectures and just getting into the classroom head space. Having waded through my first year here, I feel on somewhat more solid footing -- I know now better what to expect, I've made a slew of mistakes that I can now correct (along with making a slew of new ones, undoubtedly), and I'm less harried and more settle. So once more into the breach, indeed.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Well, I've been annoyed with my hair all week, and on thursday night one glass of wine too many led to the thought that it was a GOOD idea to self-administer a haircut, with the following result:
I look at that picture and feel as though I should be holding an M-16 or something. Just call me jarhead.
This is the shortest my hair has ever been. I didn't mean for it to get THAT short, but I wasn't paying attention to the fact that the length setting on my clippers, which is adjustable, was sliding down under the pressure I was applying to my head. And at that point, there was nothing else for it but to make the whole thing even.
On the bright side, I now know that I have a reasonably nicely-shaped head, and should I ever actually lose my hair it won't be too tragic.