Monday, October 31, 2005

The exhausting excitement of Halloween

Well, my lovely niece Morgan was apparently all set for Halloween, costume and all, but the excitement of it all overwhelmed her ... and this little piggy? Just went to sleep.

Well, I've had Halloweens that have been like that ... except that I was in my 20s, I wasn't wearing a piglet costume, and there was a lot of beer involved. And I didn't look nearly as cute when I was passed out.

But it was really almost exactly the same.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A wyrd-ass lawsuit

Or perhaps I should say a stupid-ass lawsuit. A Winnipeg-based folk group called "The Wyrd Sisters" is attempting to get an injunction that would prevent the distribution of the fourth Harry Potter film Goblet of Fire. Their dispute is over the fact that at the Hogwarts' Yule Ball, the band playing for the students' benefit is also called the Wyrd Sisters.

Now: I'm fairly ignorant of most matters litigious or legal, especially when it comes to this specific issue. Given the historical and literary significance of the phrase "Wyrd Sisters," to say nothing of its proliferation both in common use (and the fact that Terry Pratchett wrote a novel with that very title), wouldn't we be on fairly shaky ground here in laying claim to exclusive rights over that phrase? Doesn't fair use laws cover this? I mean, in the end, the one party that might have a claim would be the estate of William Shakespeare, if it still existed (or possibly Sir Henry Neville, if that recent book is to be believed) for the original use of the phrase in Macbeth.

One way or another: I wouldn't want to be this Winnipeg group if the lawsuit ends up being successful and the film is prevented from being distributed in Canada. Legions of spurned Harry Potter fans would probably not be a pretty sight.

Besides which, the collection of musicians they've got to be the Wyrd Sisters in the film is pretty cool: Jarvis Cocker, formerly of Pulp, and Radiohead guys Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A freezer full of chicken

I'm going through a food aversion right now that I really hope is temporary, because boneless & skinless chicken breasts are pretty much my protein staple -- simple, quick to prepare, and relatively inexpensive, to say nothing of generally healthy (ignoring the steroids they feed them, the filthy conditions in which they're kept, and that pesky little influenza thing running around now ... but then, that's sort of situation normal for any non-organic meat, and I'm thinking the organic stuff will only become affordable for me once I make full professor. It's best not to think of it).

I'm wondering if I've just reached boneless-skinless-chicken-breast critical mass. This sort of thing has happened before -- it happened, for example, with pasta. Like every single other person who has ever had occasion to move out of his parents' house, I pretty much lived on pasta for a few years, until it finally got so that I could barely look at it any more. I still eat it on occasion, but only if it's a special recipe and really good, and I hardly ever eat it in restaurants any more.

So perhaps this is my issue. One of the problems of course is that, as far as protein sources go, boneless/skinless chicken breasts are about the blandest of meats in existence -- they're really only a few rungs above tofu. The trick is finding ways to dress them up. And I think I'm at the end of my rope. The following are my standard tricks:

  1. Marinate in basalmic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sear in an extremely hot cast iron skillet, then continue to cook in a 400 degree oven until done. This version is particularly good when shredded and served as part of a salad.
  2. Cut into nuggets or strips, dust with flour, and cook in a skillet or wok until golden. Drizzle on soy sauce, cook until soy has carmelized on chicken.
  3. Same procedure as above, except instead of the soy sauce, toss in a mixture of equal portions ketchup, Frank's Red Hot, and red wine vinegar. Sort of like boneless wings.
  4. Fried, for when you say to hell with the arteries, and don't mind the extra work: dust with flour, dip in egg wash, and battered (beer, flour, whipped egg whites).
  5. Crispy chicken fingers: flour, egg wash, then roll in pulverized nachos (blue corn, preferably).
And then I have a few others not as interesting or involved for when you simply can't be bothered, which I won't enumerate. Suffice it to say, I've had my fill of boneless-skinless-chicken-breasts.

The problem is, they're such a staple that of course I always make a point of buying a mega-package of them whenever I do a serious food shopping trip, which I then freeze and slowly deplete over about two weeks. Except in the last week or so, I've been eating anything but ... all exacerbated by the fact that any produce I buy here has a shelf life of about 48 hours. Which is to say, any veggies I buy on monday, if they're not eaten by wednesday, they're liquid. So I tend to make a lot of food runs on my way home from work, stopping off to pick up salad makings.

Of course, me being me, I'm never quite (a) awake enough or (b) organized enough to take one of said chicken breasts out of the freezer in the morning to thaw before leaving in the morning. I do have an ingenious and quick method of thawing which involves ziploc bags and warm water, but lately I'm too exhausted and hungry at the end of the day to wait even that long. So I usually end up grabbing an unfrozen chicken breast at the grocery store, along with my vegetables ... and then, I'll spot something that would be ever so much better and more interesting to eat that tasteless-boneless-skinless-chicken breasts.

The result is that I cook something not-chicken-breast, and toss the new chicken breasts in the freezer. It's getting kind of crowded in there.

So while filling my freezer with sadly neglected chicken breasts this past week and a half or so, I have instead eaten:

  1. perogies
  2. pizza
  3. ribs
  4. refried-bean burritos
  5. chicken wings (yes, it's really just the boneless-skinless breasts I'm bored of)
  6. steak
  7. cheese and crackers
  8. soup
  9. an omelette
I do want to point out that, while this partially reads like a list of instant frozen food or take-out, only the perogies and the pizza fit that category. I was particularly pleased with the chicken wings -- I've figured out an ideal recipe that avoids the necessity of frying them. More on that in a future post.

Still, not the healthiest round-up. Maybe it's time to explore tofu.

No, strike that. That's when I know I'm ready for the soylent-green world.

And for Eano (and Paige now, too): "Work is the curse of the drinking classes." Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Of ducks, creepy guys in cars, and the party that was

So I'm ambivalent about the whole Halloween thing this year -- there are, from what I've gleaned, a few parties happening, but I'm suffering from a lack of inspiration costume-wise. No possibilities have struck me beyond recycled ideas. I suppose I could always do the one I've been keeping in my back pocket and be Postmodernism Man -- the superhero who fights for Pastiche, Schizophrenia and Incredulity To Metanarratives everywhere, but I'm not entirely sure what form that would take. I could also do my old Satan costume (vaguely appropriate, given that I'm teaching Paradise Lost right now), which has the advantage at least of being stylish ... a black suit, black shirt, red tie, Matrix-style sunglasses and a stick-on name tag that reads "HELLO ... my name is The Adversary, Devourer of Worlds, Beast that is Called Dragon, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Destroyer of Kings, Father of Lies, Lord of Darkness."

You have to write really small on the name tag. Anyway, suggestions are welcome.

More ducks today. I turned into the parking lot at campus this morning and had to slam on the brakes as the two cars in front of me did the same. I sat there for a few seconds wondering "WTF?" and thinking about blowing my horn, and then saw a line of four ducks in a line emerge from in front of the first car, mildly ambling along, taking no note of the fact that they were holding up traffic.

Sure is getting crowded around here.

And THEN, as I left my car and walked up toward my office, I passed a guy sitting in his driver's seat, smoking a cigar, with his laptop propped up on his steering wheel, blithely cycling through porn. I ask you -- at eight in the morning? Never mind the porn, cigars are disgusting before dusk. Fortunately the day levelled out at that point and did not persist in being weird. Too bad, in a way.

About a week and a half ago, Lauramas was celebrated in London ... I regret not being able to be there for the festivities, but at least my part of my and Kristen's gift made it ... apparently it was quite the night. I did call and speak to everyone there, which was nice, if a bit sad for me. Ah, the old gang. I miss you guys.

As you can see, my half of the gift here was some homegrown t-shirt wit. I kind of figured that, being from PEI, Laura would appreciate this kind of Atlantic Canada separatism. You actually see a fair number of these shirts around about town here, but I figured that they'd be scarce in Ontario -- hence satisfying Laura's rather visceral need for tight-fitting t-shirts with kooky slogans.

I'll always remembered her glee when she received the shirt she'd ordered with the saying "Save the Drama for Your Mama." Or her abject jealousy at seeing an acquaintance wearing a shirt she wished she could have bought first -- depicting a map of Idaho with the slogan "Idaho? No -- You da ho!"

Yeah. If Oscar Wilde was alive today, he'd be making pots of cash writing copy for t-shirts. And quite possibly running the swankiest gay club in London. But the t-shirts would have been what funded the club.

And on that note, yet another gratuitous Wilde quip for Eano: "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."

You know, I think that one is my favourite, now that I think of it.

Ah Patterson, you sexy beast. What woman could ever resist your seductive charms? Give us a haiku, baby.

Friday, October 21, 2005

An evening with the delightful Mr. Manguel

Yesterday evening MUN's English department hosted a reading by Canadian/ Argentinian novelist, poet, athologist, raconteur and generally freakishly-well-read guy Alberto Manguel. He read from his latest book, A Reader's Diary, which has a pretty cool concept: he took a year to re-read twelve of his favourite books, one for each month, and keep a diary of his reading experience.

I had been asked beforehand to be one of the faculty members to accompany him out for drinks afterward, which of course I agreed to readily (the chair said he wanted "young and energetic" faculty to entertain our distinguished guest; to which I responded, "Well, I'm young ..."). And I have to say: Mr. Manguel (Alberto to his friends) is charming, gracious, and utterly unpretentious -- something rather unusual in the CanLit world, in my experience. This is doubly impressive when one considers his credentials: a speaker of something in the area of five languages, vastly well-read, author of numerous essays, novels, scholarly books, and a noted anthologist. Also, he spent two years as the personal secretary of Jorge Luis Borges! I have now achieved one degree of separation from the master. Conversation with him was akin to what I imagine meeting Umberto Eco would be like, only without the terror and crippling sense of intellectual inferiority. To speak to Alberto Manguel was to be in awe of his erudition, but he is so gracious, and so interested in what everyone else has to say, that one feels very comfortable and at home with him.

(An aside, to my Alternative Realities students: I mentioned that class to him apropos of the Borges we studied, and he ended up grilling me for about fifteen minutes about the material on that course. As it turns out, he's quite the fan of Dark City).

I told him, as we sat down to our drinks at the Fairmont hotel bar (Mom, Dad -- our server was Georgina!), that throughout his reading I kept making lists in my mindof what my twelve books would be ... he responded that he wished I'd mentioned them in the question period -- that he'd been hoping the audience would share their own life-changing reads. It was at this point that I realized I was in the presence of a pretty singular guy: never in my encounters with various Canadian literatti have I met someone so interested to hear what other people thought on a subject. So we went around the table for a while as everyone shared their own selections.

And so once again in this blog we come back to reading lists. This morning as I had my coffee, I tried to make my definitive list, insofar as that's possible. My criteria weren't quite the same as Mr. Manguel's -- his reader's diary looks back over a life of reading; I don't feel I have nearly the experience to do the same. I settled on twelve books that have changed my life in one capacity or the other. And as before, I look forward to reading other people's lists in the comments, in whole or in part ...

And unlike previous lists, these are in order -- chronological, that is.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  2. Homer, The Illiad
  3. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  4. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  5. Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Stories
  6. Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism
  7. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
  8. Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  9. W.B. Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer
  10. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
  11. Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions
  12. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers
Understand, these are books that, at the time, made a huge impact ... not all of them still have the same effect today (for example, Joyce's Portrait was, appropriately, an epiphany when I read it ... now Stephen Dedalus just pisses me off). But for the most part, they are books that still resonate for me.

And in closing: gratuitous Wilde quotation for Eano! "But what is the difference between literature and journalism? ... Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read. That is all."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

John Donne: the Meatloaf of his age

So I do this thing when teaching poetry and my students just aren't getting it: I paraphrase it for them, usually trying to make it funny. As teaching techniques go, it isn't bad ... it relaxes the class, gives them a sense of the poem's big picture, and lets them know that the material isn't merely arcane code designed to frustrate them.

But then there are times when I wonder if I don't perhaps take it beyond the point of usefulness. Yesterday, for example.

We're doing John Donne's poetry this week, which is a joy to teach: it's beautiful, striking, and all about sex. What's not to like? Anyway, we started with "The Flea," in which Donne addresses his would-be lover, who is presumably refusing his advances -- or at least not letting him get to home plate. But look, says Donne, this flea that just bit me has bitten you (eww--bathe much?). Our two bloods have mingled in this little guy! It's like we're married already! Can we get busy now?

Or something like that. I think the nadir of my paraphrasing came when I compared "The Flea" to those torturous arguments made in the back seats of cars by teenage boys to their dates. "You might say," I continued in a rhetorical flourish that I'm glad I didn't make during my thesis examination, "that 'The Flea' is the 'Paradise by the Dashboard Lights' of Jacobean poetry."

Yup. I said that. It's the kind of thing that would probably give Harold Bloom a massive coronary, but I have to imagine it's got its negative aspects too.

On the other hand, there might be something to this Meatloaf-John Donne connection. One could certainly explore it in a scholarly article, especially in terms of Donne's lesser-read poem "Bat Fleeing Hades":

Like the black-wingèd bat that flieth swift
From the darkling halls of infernal Dís,
So I soon from thy lap will flee, upon
The early tremblings of rosy-cheek’d dawn.

Or we could look at Meatloaf's "Elegy on his Mistress Tripping Out." Or Donne's unpublished mansucript Ballades of Powere (Occasioned by the Great Tavernne Fyre).

Truly, a fruitful area for literary research.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I'm turning into my mother ....

... which is a bit of a concern, considering that, given the jokes she posted in response to my ducks post, I think my mother is turning into my father.

I'm not sure what my father is turning into, but then he's always been a trailblazer.

Why am I turning into my mother? Because I'm starting to keep her kind of hours. I seem to remember blogging way back about how I lost my ability to do work in the wee hours during the trauma of studying for comps, and that early morning became my most productive part of the day. Well, that hasn't changed, and in the pressures of everything I need to be on top of, I've been finding there isn't enough time in the day. I've been trying to work evenings, but it doesn't work for me unless my back's really against the wall.

So this week I've been getting to the office for 7am, give or take ten minutes. Ack.

This is my mom's schtick: she's the early riser, no matter where, no matter what the situation, always up before everyone else (except for one memorable occasion I heard about when my parents were sailing in the Thousand Islands, and fellow boaters brought over Goldschlager one night, a liqueur my mom had never experienced ... suffice it to say my father had the anchor up and the boat well under way when mom stirred). Letting her book a flight for me is hazardous, because I can usually be guaranteed to need to be at the airport sometime around 5am. As long as I can remember, mom's been stirring before dawn.

Not that I'm entirely transforming into this early-bird sort of paragon: getting up that early is extremely painful for me. It's a cruel twist: my best and most productive hours are early in the morning, but it takes a herculean effort for me to actually get up. So I guess I'm turning into my mom with baby steps ... though anyone who knows the family will tell you I tend to take after her anyway, in terms of personality and character traits. Though I do seem to be channelling that dreaded father humour these days, and I've certainly inherited dad's taste for fine whiskeys ...

At any rate, I kind of like taking after my mother, if for no other reason than that it puts me on the right side of Oscar Wilde's comments on the subject: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."


Monday, October 17, 2005

I love research funds ...

Well, it was almost a crappy day.

In an attempt to get myself on (a) a better sleep regime and (b) a more productive work schedule, I made a point of getting to campus extra early today, and hope to make this the norm. I find I just get so much more work done in my office than at home, and the last three weeks or so were difficult, with my office computer in the loving embrace of IT. However, last friday I found my old computer, given up for lost, sitting in my office again and apparently in shipshape again. This cheered me to no end, and I girded myself this morning for a productive week.

Not that it could ever be that easy -- the trusty but crusty old machine, after its brief return to life on friday, went into the light this morning. At which point I had one of my now-patented kick-the-desk-and-let-loose-with-an-expletive. Fortunately, I was the first person into the department this morning and no one heard me this time.

But then, when all seemed lost -- a package awaited me in the mail room. My new laptop, purchased with my startup research funds, had arrived! Ain't she purty?

Ah, to again be computerized and mobile ... a lovely thing indeed. Which is, in fact, why I dedicated research $$$ to it -- to have a computer I can travel with to conferences &c. And also to watch DVDs on airplanes. Let's not forget that! Four episodes of The West Wing will fit almost exactly into my travel time between St. John's and TO ...

This is one of those things I'm still trying to adjust to. Having spent so long as a grad student and part-time instructor, I feel almost guilty being given money for research. Not that I'm not going to take it, mind you ... you just get so inured to being given so little and being kept on such thin ice when part-timing it that anything even slightly beyond that feels positively decadent.

And I have a research assistant, too. I realized when I had the RA assigned to me that I didn't even know where to begin -- never having been one myself, I didn't know what RAs did! So far I've kept mine busy making runs to the library, and slowly realizing why I never saw full-time profs in the stacks while I was a grad student.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Canada's greatest crimefighting, nazi-busting hero ever

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (1996 Toronto), I played a very very small role in a production of Julius Caesar. How I got involved in the show isn't important -- the usual sort of actress-lives-upstairs-introduces-you-to-friends routine, coupled with a drunken offer to take a role while at a party. What is important is that it got me back into theatre, which I pursued with gusto once I got to Western.

What is also important is that out of its rather large cast and crew, I made one friendship that endured. I didn't quite appreciate at the time what a bad show it was (merely being excited to be back on the stage), or for that matter how exploitive a four-week run with two matinees a week was of upaid actors (while I was doing my MA, no less) ... but it was a positive experience if for no other reason than I made friends with a guy named Gregg Taylor, with whom I've kept in sporadic but generally consistent contact over the past nine years.

Gregg is one of those guys who can actually write with wit, humour and intelligence, and to my mind his greatest invention has been a radio-play titled The Adventures of the Red Panda--a six-episode series in the tradition of The Shadow whose hero is the titular Red Panda: Canada's greatest crime-fighter from the 1930s who has been drafted into the military as an uber-secret agent.

The brilliance of the series lies in taking the typical American war-movie perspective--i.e. that the US was the only country who actually fought WWII--and doing it from the Canadian perspective, where we Canucks are the vanguard in the fight against the Nazis and other allies mere hapless hangers-on. The series features such memorable characters as Baboon McSmoothy, the Red Panda's Austrailian sidekick; Prime Minister Mackenzie King, reduced to gibbering infantilism by a German Insanity Ray; his dog Sparky Fitzking, now the actual leader of Canada's war effort; Baguette of the French Resistance; and a host of wonderfully villainous Nazis.

Leaping into the 21st Century, Gregg and his group, Decoder Ring Theatre, are now offering the Red Panda as MP3 downloads and podcasts. I highly recommend a listen ... I first heard then five years ago after they were first recorded, on a couple of cassette tapes Gregg gave me which I circulated as widely among friends. And at long last there's been a new episode produced, though it is not (to my mild disappointment) a continuation of the WWII storyline, but an adventure from the Red Panda's prior career as a wealthy gadabout with a secret crime-fighting identity. Still: very funny.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Campus ducks

I was walking yesterday morning from my car to my office when I realized I was being accompanied by a pair of ducks. They had emerged from some underbrush beside the walkway, and our paths converged on the stairs leading up from the parking lot. Quacking amiably, they walked up the stairs beside me. At the top of the stairs, our paths diverged again.

What is this special affinity ducks have for university campuses? Every university I've ever spent any length of time at has had its share of campus ducks, who seem to like to hang out on expanses of concrete, unperturbed by the press of humans around them. Indeed, they are often like pushy New Yorkers, quacking irritably if you get in their way. In the aftermath of a rain storm, they can be found hanging out in the many puddles that dot the concrete, in spite of the fact that -- as was the case at York and is the case here at MUN -- there's a perfectly good pond right on campus. But they'd apparently hang out in the public areas of campus. I wouldn't be at all surprised to one day see a gaggle of them wearing Roots or the Gap, sitting on the steps of the student center smoking and reading.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wednesday is the new Monday ...

... which unfortunately makes Friday the new Wednesday. Of course, that's not so bad when you figure that the new Wednesday simply becomes the regular Friday, and then your week is over on hump-day.

Or something.

Though I can't really claim a four-day weekend per se, as I did spend the better part of it grading ^%$#$# essays. I was tempted to do a blog last night titled "I H8 grading," starting along the lines of "Remember that touchy-feely shit I pulled two posts ago about giving thanks? Well, fuck that. My life is miserable as long as I have essays to mark ..." etc etc etc. I refrained from writing it though, as it would have become far too tempting to write out a list of student malapropisms and circuitous sentences, and I probably shouldn't be that impolitic in my blog.

ANYWAY ... one way or another, I went to bed early last night in an attempt to get a good night's sleep, and had one of those nights where you're never sure where tossing and turning ends and sleep begins, because you never get far enough into sleep to know for certain that you are actually asleep. And this is not a good thing for me, as I have a tendency to sleepwalk and have waking dreams--usually which consist of getting freaked out over something in the room, leaping out of bed, turning on all the lights in the apartment, and standing in the middle of the living room in a mild panic until I slowly come back to myself. Of course, there are the milder versions too, where I reprogram the alarm clock in my sleep (this happened recently) or something along those lines.

Last night was a winner. I vaguely remember getting freaked out ... not enough to leap out of bed in a panic, but enough to get dressed in a heavy sweater, my jeans and my socks, just so I would be ready should I need to make a dash for the outdoors. I woke up an indeterminate amount of time later, sweating madly under my duvet, wondering why the hell I was fully dressed?

I also had a West Wing dream at some point in which either (1) my cat was playing the character of Will Bailey, or (b) Will Bailey had become my cat. I'm not entirely certain what was the case.

Do you see a resemblance here? 'Cause I sure don't.

Oh, and I also became convinced at one point that a swarm of tiny red midge-like insects was coming out of a hole in my wall. I didn't leap out of bed and turn on the lights, though. It's entirely possible that Will/Clarence saved the day by doing something presidential.

It was enough that I took my temperature this morning to make sure these weren't fever dreams. And no, they weren't ... just my own imminent psychic rupture, I imagine.

I do think that this was all partially due to the wind. We've had some windy days here lately in St. John's, we have. Today there was a sustained wind speed of 45km/hr, with gusts up to 60, which the Beaufort Scale classifies as a "near gale." Hmmm. A "near" gale. My ass that's a "near" gale! It sounded like there was a banshee howling outside my window all last night, and it continued throughout today. In fact, it was so windy this afternoon that, in a further exhibition of my imminent psychic rupture, I grabbed my camera and drove up to the top of Signal Hill to get some pictures of the turbulent sea, and realized that I really need to buy some good gloves soon.

Important lesson: whatever the windspeed is on the ground in St. John's, it's substantially higher atop Signal Hill. I think I'm going to mount a small windvane on the hood of my car, so that in the future I can park into the wind. When I opened the door, with the wind coming from behind, the door was ripped out of my hand with enough force to make me momentarily fear it was going to be ripped right off.

And then I stepped out of the car and discovered that gale force winds make it hard to zip up a coat not already zipped. Good times.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The cat came back: part four, or The Joyful Reunion With the Favourite Toy

So I was woken up this morning by a paw tapping my nose insistently. When he saw my eyes were open, he hopped down from the bed and sat in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder at me and miaowing. As I hauled myself groggily out of bed, he trotted a few steps on and paused again, looking back, miaowing again. At this point I assumed he wanted food, but then I saw his bowl was still full. Still doing the pausing, looking back, miaowing thing, he hung a left and led me into the living room. And sat down expectantly on his favourite toy. At which point I realized it had happened -- I'd been manipulated by my cat.

He had played this little trick on Kristen once or twice, but I hadn't yet fallen for it. Until today, that is.

What was this little game all about? He wanted to play with his favourite toy, and needed his dancing monkey to help him do so. It's a plastic rod with a string and a fluffy thing at the end, which he goes slightly insane chasing while you flick it around. It's very entertaining, too ... for a few minutes. After doing his manic leaps after the fluffy thing that apparently taunts him like a mocking Frenchman, he then goes into hunting mode -- hiding behind the endtable, under chairs, around the couch, etc. like a tiger in the foliage. At which point I'm expected to keep this toy almost motionless, twitching it slightly every few minutes ... until he comes bounding out of whatever hiding place he's in and pounces.

This toy, it's like crack to him. He will sit beside it and miaow mournfully at me, every few seconds giving it a tentative, sad little prod with his paw. It had been sitting in the trunk of my car since I moved here. I was reluctant to reintroduce the drug to the addict as it were, but he'd been going a little snakey these last few days. And now we're back to our old routine. Sigh.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Giving thanks

I got an email from my mom yesterday, saying she was feeling nostalgic -- and that this was my first Thanksgiving I would not be spending with family, which made her a little sad. She's not the only one ... I've been kind of down all week, partly of it because of the run-up to Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, this is not my first Thanksgiving sans family; I have on occasion not made the trip home when I've been snowed under with other things, but there's a big difference between being just a two-hour drive down the 401, and being a three and a half hour flight away. So even when I haven't gone home for turkey day, there was comfort in knowing that I could be there quickly should I change my mind.

So I'm a bit sad ... I've been missing Ontario somewhat, missing Kristen, missing friends and family, missing the dinner that's happening at my parents' house this evening, a Thanksgiving made all the more special by the presence of little Morgan. It's hard to know I won't be there for her first Thanksgiving.

I've also felt a bit overwhelmed by work these last few days, and not just a little daunted by what I have to do over the next year or five. Impostor syndrome never goes away: that feeling all grad students get during their MA that someone is going to show up and say "I'm sorry, we've made a mistake -- you're not actually smart enough to be here" does in fact persist into full-time life.

So I took a long, contemplative walk downtown today and rolled all this over in my mind, and ended up doing what I always do when I feel this way -- reminding myself that 99% of the world has it way worse than me. I think this is why Thanksgiving has always had a poignancy for me. I have so very much to be thankful for:
  • I'm thankful for my family, who have never been anything but supportive and loving. I know so many people for whom this is otherwise that I realize, quite painfully, how much in the minority I am.
  • I am thankful that I have such a wonderful and beautiful girlfriend, with whom I am deeply in love.
  • I am thankful that I have the friends I do, in Ontario and abroad.
  • I am thankful for the new friends I have been making in Newfoundland.
  • I am thankful that I have been able to pursue a career with reasonable success that is consistent with my principles and values, and that I have had to sacrifice nothing of what I believe to do so.
  • I am thankful that I have found a career that lets me pursue my passions in teaching, research, and writing.
  • I am thankful that I have never wanted for anything--that I was born into prosperity, and raised to never take it for granted.
  • I am thankful that I was born in Canada, and grew up and continue to live in the best country in the world.
This is only a partial list ... but you get the idea. It's hard to wallow in one's petty discontents when you write out a categorical list of the positive things in your life. If I have one ever-present anxiety, it's that I won't do this life I have justice.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The countdown begins (or continues, I suppose) ...

Wow, I just realized I went four days without a blog entry -- a new record for me.

And I am remiss in my duties, as the seven days of Lauramas began this past thursday. So I hope everyone has been observing their Stations of the Laura? Thursday, the first day of Lauramas, is the day we sit motionless on the couch through eight hours of CSI. Yesterday was the day to attempt the 20-minute pilates video and instead go for a drink on the pation of the Runt Club or the APK. Today is coffee at Williams, and tomorrow at Starbucks.

(I am in a state of theological angst because of my great distance from some of these locations. And I could only find seven hours of CSI. I pray for forgiveness).

So in tribute, I offer some images of The Laura ... and an object lesson in what happens when you let her and Patterson get their hands on your digital camera after they've gotten nicely juiced at your thesis party.

For the best effect, scroll down very quickly.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

We have a winner!

This just came from my mom over email:

Forget the nuclear family, we have here the epitome of the hockey family. Matt's a hockey fanatic, but Michelle eclipses even him, having been playing since she was three years old. Seriously--three years old. I've seen her play, and it's a pretty awesome sight, especially when she's on the ice with my brother and his friends who have really only been playing for a few years, and who are (in at least one case) still figuring out how to skate.

Looks like the torch is getting passed from mother to daughter.

I just hope she doesn't grow up to be a Canadiens fan. Matt would need to undergo some serious therapy.


My parents just emailed me a bunch of recent pictures of my niece Morgan, which is as good an excuse as any to play proud uncle and post some pictures of the most beautiful little girl in the world ...

One of my favourites!


My sister-in-law Michelle with the girl of the hour ...

She's alert now, and aware of her environment ... according to my parents, she is infinitely curious, wanting to see everything that's going on. Looking right now like she'll be quite the handful once she's ambulatory -- but then, that's no surprise given who her parents are. :-)

This is one of the difficult things about my move ... I can only experience my niece's growing-up virtually.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Who's our Henry?

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

My favourite professor ever, Arthur Haberman at York (no, that's not a picture of him), was fond of saying that someone someday needs to write a magical history of Canada.

Not the typical boring high school textbook history, or a shocked and dismayed postcolonial revisitation of our national sins (which is, granted, at least somewhat more interesting than my Grade Nine textbook), nor even a CBC-friendly celebration of our multicultural nation (we're back in boring platitudes again), but a history that will focus on some of the truly bizarre events and characters that constitute our nation's damatis personae.

Like PM Mackenzie King, who made some of the most crucial decisions in Canada's history during WWII ... after conducting seances to consult the spirits of his dead mother, Louis Pasteur, Leonardo Da Vinci, or his dog Sparky.

Or our offensive in the War of 1812 that took us all the way to the White House, where Dolly Madison had, hearing of the coming soldiers, evacuated her forty guests just before they could sit and eat. Upon finding the table groaning with food, our soldiers had dinner before burning down the White House.

Or Sir John A. himself, who was a bigger drunkard than Winston Churchill and Shane McGowan combined.

Or Sam Hughes, the bombastic egoist who commanded our armed forces at the outset of WWI ... whose bizarre, nepotistic, and self-indulgent excesses were comparable to a spoiled Roman emperor.

And on and on. We're such a self-effacing nation, we rarely take note of the eccentricities we produce.

And yet, we have no mythic figures. This is on my mind because this week we start Henry V in my survey course, a play I am inordinately excited to teach again. I was trying to convey to my students the iconic quality Henry would have had in the minds of Shakespeare's audiences -- the kind of historical hero-worship that would have had the groundlings ready to cheer at the key moments before the player came out on the stage. I said, "Henry had the same qualities for Shakespeare's time as ...", thinking to mention someone who would be comparable for us. But came up with a blank.

Who is our Henry? It's not like we lack iconic figures, but they're just as likely to elicit boos as cheers -- Trudeau, for example. I started to say, "OK then, Joey Smallwood ..." but saw half my class wince instinctively. Believe me when I say that Newfoundland seperatism is experiencing a renaissance at the moment ... the man responsible for bringing the Rock into confederation is no unproblematic hero.

So who's our Henry? I don't think we have one ... certainly not in the way that Henry V worked and works for England, or Washington and Jefferson work for the States. And truth be told, I'm not too chuffed about that. We suffer on some fronts for not having enduring legends and myths as a nation, for not having figures that effectively elicit the same emotional response as "Go Leafs Go" does in the ACC ... but at the same time there's a certain freedom that emerges from that lack. I like the fact that our truly iconic figures, i.e. the ones that elicit genuine emotions (I mean, the mention of Sir John A. doesn't tend to piss people off, but it also doesn't inspire hope or joy beyond realizing that you have a ten dollar bill in your pocket) are pretty universally contoversial. As a nation, we're ambivalent. While this tends to lead to a lot of waffling and apologizing, I do think it's one of our strengths.

And the fact is, we have had our Henrys ... but being Canadian, they've been understated. Any nation that manages to produce generals like Lewis Mackenzie or Romeo Dallaire has to be doing something right ...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Boy, those Germans have a word for everything!

I just read an article about a book that I must get--called The Meaning of Tingo, it lists words in other languages that have no direct equivalent in English. My three faves are all German. Drachenfutter means a sexually indiscreet husband who buys an expensive gift for his wife out of guilt. The literal translation is almost as good: "dragon fodder."

Then there's the term for overeating because of depression: kummerspeck, or literally, "grief bacon." But the best is backpfeifengesicht, which refers to a face that really needs to be punched (literally, "baking whistling face).

Speaking of backpfeifengesichts, I've really been enjoying my schadenfreude over the last few days as I've been avidly following Tom DeLay's discomfiture. I especially love his oft-repeated accustion that this whole indictment is a baseless accusation concocted by a conspiracy of Democrats out of sheer spite.

First of all: based on what's emerged from this prelimary beating of the bushes, "baseless" is not an adjective likely to get far. And as so many editorials have observed, this is a man whose entire career has essentially been about pushing the ethical envelope, no matter what hypocrisies occur along the way (for example, his ceaseless bashing of Democrat policies as the intrusions of "big government" in the lives of citizens didn't seem to be an issue to him when he spearheaded the attempt to get government intercession in the Terry Schiavo case); if nothing else, these investigations are finally making people ask whether or not his political tactics aren't unethical in and of themselves.

Secondly: I don't quite get how the conservative press is so surprised at appalled at the thought that a group of Democrats might have been in contact with each other over this issue. Said DeLay accusingly, (I'm paraphrasing) if you were to check Ronnie Earle's email and phone record, you would probably find a ton of calls and messages to and from leading house Democrats. Well, duh. Earle is a democrat himself -- why would we be surprised he would speak to members of his own party? Why is the conservative press shocked that Democrats would want to take DeLay down?

(Because Republicans would never do such a thing. If I recall correctly, the impeachment hearings for Clinton proceeded haphazardly, with no collusion whatsoever amongst leading Republicans).

Finally, yes this is a spiteful proceeding, yes there is intense dislike for DeLay, and yes Democrats (and a number of Republicans) want to see a bullying, arrogant, hypocritical and unethical political thug taken down a few pegs. Newt Gingrich--yes, Newt Gingrich--recently said that "DeLay's problem isn't with the Democrats. DeLay's problem is with the country."

Never thought I'd ever agree with the Newt, but here we are. So I'm now going to enjoy a sunny St. John's day, have a late lunch on Water Street, and savour my schadenfreude. It is so much fun to watch a self-righteous ultraconservative running scared, no?