Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The year in theater

It's getting on time for all of those year-in-review posts. There's that little facebook app that makes pretty little graphic out of random status updates, but all it does it tell you that we sold a house, bought one, had a baby, and have been raising him and his older siblings.

With all of that personal stuff going on, it might surprise you to know that it was a fairly eventful year theatre-wise--in terms of spectatorship and scholarship. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that I taught the Theatre Tour class in the spring, followed by and intro drama course in the fall, but I thought I might do a post that gave a little tour of some of the highlights of my theatre going year.

Scholarship: I published my Equus article in the spring, and while it was sort of a one-off--the offshoot of the first theatre tour, it felt good to have it out. It felt like a substantial contribution to the discourse on that once-again-zeitgeist-y play, and at the same time was fun to research and write. I also did a long talk for Nels on pain, performance and performativity which could someday be a full article. In May, I wrote an article on documentary performances surrounding the "war on terror," this for a collection on political theatre post-9/11. After the baby was born, the writing slowed down a bit, but I pecked away at the book manuscript that was once a dissertation, something I'm still working at.

In November, I participated in the fantastic Contemporary Women Playwrights session at ASTR. For that working group, I was required to read several plays, many new to me. Highlights include Judith Thompson's amazing Palace of the End, DebbieTucker Green's gut-wrenching Stoning Mary, Rebecca Lenkiewicz's illuminating her Naked Skin, and Marina Carr's lovely yet harrowing Woman and Scarecrow.

At the moment, I'm procrastinating on revising a draft of my upcoming MLA talk on Eve Ensler, which has to be cut down to 15 minutes, which means i'm having trouble getting to my point more than a page before the time limit is up. I may not have mentioned this, but I'm not a big fan. Come to my MLA talk and you'll hear why.

Plays I saw: several at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars reproduction, including Hamlet and R&G in rep. There's a sort of commonplace about doing those two together, which is that you can't really do both well together. If you cast for an excellent Hamlet there's little chance to get the madcap feeling of R&G, but if you go the comic route for R&G, you get a ridiculous Hamlet. We got the latter, with an only-OK R&G to make up for it. The other Hamlet we saw was a University production that was quite ably done...better than the ASC production by a yard. ASC's biggest success of our experience was an eye-opening production of Middleton's The Changeling which brought what I had always imagined to be a pretty salacious text to very entertaining life.

We also took a trip to DC to see three productions. The most interesting was a vibrant, messy, provocative production of Brecht's Roundheads and Peakheads which turned out to be the last weekend of the final production of Catalyst Theatre, a cutting-edge little theatre venture that was an unfortunate victim of the economic bust. My students didn't love it, but that play, hingeing as it does on an unfortunate parallel with pre-holocaust Germany, getting its predictions quite wrong and risking always a nasty potential anti-semitic echo. This production shifted away from history entirely, which is fine, but removes one of the more compelling angles to even revive the play in the first place.

We also took in Albee's A Delicate Balance at Arena, with a crackerjack cast, including Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America) and Ellen McLaughlin (the actual Angel of Angels in America). It was a beautifully polished production, if a little soulless. It was also the setting for one of the oddest experiences I've ever had as an audience member: I had asked my students to take notes during production so that they would be able to write about them in more detail. This is something I've been doing for years, and I've never gotten so much as a sidelong glance. But several of the students had seats in the front row, right in front of a spot on the apron of the stage that was sort of an imaginary window in the fourth wall, so Chalfant often delivered her lines from this spot, as if delivering them while looking out onto her lawn.

During the second intermission, a tech came out to us, and asked my students to please put away their notebooks: they were "distracting the actors." The two students who were addressed in particular looked baffled, but they complied. And during her first monologue in the third act, sure enough, Chalfant shot a glance downward at us, and seeing that those notebooks had been stashed away, visibly relaxed.

There was, understandably, no theatregoing during the summer, and this fall my options have been limited. The one production I was looking desperately forward to, though, was a campus production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's beautiful The Love of the Nightingale. Wertenbaker, a British playwright, is not a household name in the U.S., but her lyrical body of work is, to my mind, a highlight of feminist theatre's boom in the last three decades of the 20th century (the subject of my book). I've published on this play, and when I was working for a DC theatre company during grad school, it had always been one we'd hoped to do, but cast requirements were too big, and our budget too small. Whenever I interviewed for jobs that had a directing requirement, this play was one I mentioned as a great choice for university stages. So as you can imagine, I already had a pretty clear picture of it in my head.

I required my drama students to read it, and I had gotten some reports on it during rehearsals and such. It was, of course, hardly a perfect production, and the director made some choices that found a different emphasis for the play than I would have chosen to highlight, but seeing students do good plays well always carries a charge, and that the play made an important political statement about women and violence, I was happy enough to have seen it.

So that's the year in theatre. We'll see what next year holds!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Missing Ziggy

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the kidney-failure-that-was-just-fleas...to which I now sadly append -but-was-actually-also-kidney-failure. He hadn't been holding down food lately, and so we took him to the vet, where he was pronounced deeply dehydrated and in kidney failure. While heroic measures might have helped indefinitely, they might not have, might have exacerbated another shadow condition, would have cost hundreds of dollars, and might not have worked for long, we decided (hesitantly) that he had already deteriorated enough, and that letting him go much longer would not be humane. Willow and Junebug went to the vet Thursday afternoon to help him die. In true Ziggy fashion, he was angry about the whole affair (his vet file has already had a big red flag on it).

Ziggy was Willow's cat from before we met. In fact, he was one of the earliest litmus tests for my fitness as Willow's partner. One afternoon soon after we had started seeing each other, I emerged from a classroom (intro to theory as a 1st year MA student) to find Willow holding an enormous grey creature in her lap. "This is Ziggy" she said as she handed him to me. My job was to hold him in my lap as we drove ... somewhere... Ziggy was fine with me, and although he was unusually large (probably about 19 pounds then) I had grown up with large housecats, and we got along quite well. It was only much later that I learned just how protective Ziggy was of Willow, and that he rarely let men over 5' 10" get away without a hiss and a scratch.

After the twins were born, Ziggy was a self-appointed protector of our kids, and our personal gargoyle. He topped out at about 23 muscled pounds (fat, yes, but also a bear of a cat). He was down to about 10 when he died. Every moving shadow I see around the house, I expect to be him, and we're all missing him terribly.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Juggling (plus bonus Junebug update)

The semester is winding down, and this scene of our family juggling act is coming to a close. Every time someone asked me how my semester was going, I was privately bemused: This semester was SO not about the semester. It was about the three days a week that I spent my mornings with Junebug.

When the semester started, Junebug was doing ok, but not wonderfully. He wasn't sleeping wellat all, and more importantly, he wasn't gaining nearly enough weight. At 3 months, he had fallen off of the bottom of the growth charts. There were aspersions cast on Willow's supply of breast milk, whispers about formula (which was fine for the twins, but which we wanted to avoid if we could), allergic reactions to the first few formula types we tried, a LOT of spit-up, and some quite sleepless night. Reflux was discussed, but because he has generally been such a laid-back, happy baby, he wasn't crying in the way that a normally collicky baby would, we weren't really focused on that too badly.

Well, about six weeks ago, we moved him to to prevacid and started him on solid food. Bingo.

He's gaining weight, sleeping a little bit better (though still not what we'd like, honestly). But at six months, he's getting ready to sit up, he's doing the beginnings of an arm-crawl, and he's cutting a tooth. Adorable, so says his dad.

In the meantime, I'm merely trying to keep up with the classes I'm teaching (which has gone, well, fine), while doing a little writing here and there. This particular ratio of work-life balance isn't going to be sustainable for long (after all, my tenure file is due in one year), but for now, it's been the right choice.

Next semester, I'm teaching a new grad course, and I need to have the bulk of this book manuscript in order to get out the door by, say, September. And as I mentioned, the tenure file must be assembled and submitted. So 2010 will look (had better look) a lot different from 2009. That's a good thing, in certain ways, but there will be a lot about this semester that I'll miss, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RBOC: In which a single post is a microcosm of the whole blog

  • The trope of regret, in which I apologize for not having blogged.
  • The trope of political advocacy ex-post facto, in which I am happy that hate crime legislation is finally law
  • The theme of crazy teaching juxtapositions, in which I teach "The Waste Land" and The America Play back-to-back on the same day, not long after I did the same thing with Waiting for Godot and Heart of Darkness.
  • The trend of pondering ethical teaching questions, such as "when does one draw the line between sob story and actual tragedy, between reason and excuse?"
  • The recurring plotline of uncomfortable family moments, in which my mother has an accidental overdose resulting in hallucinations in front of the children, and also in which my father and I negotiate tacitly and ickily about patriarchal responsibility.
  • The typically unusual catblogging about the-kidney-failure-that-is-now-just-fleas.
  • The odd publication news about the collection that Amazon said was due to be released yesterday, but is still only available for pre-order.
  • The familiar adoration of chocolate that would likely show up as a product endorsement for this overpriced, but somehow still worth it merchant.
  • The ethical rumination on masculinity, football, fanhood, concussions, and a month-old post-and-discussion at Tenured Radical.
  • A bit of subtle gloating about getting ready to go to ASTR in two weeks, held this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Which is warmer than it is here.
  • A great deal of doting on a beautiful baby boy who is having trouble gaining weight (like both his siblings, and apparently, once, his father), but is still hitting all of his developmental marks.
  • Some thoughtful response to a book I have recently read for pleasure, such as my positive-but-still-ambivalent thoughts on Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
  • Some fanboyish anticipation of a forthcoming album, like perhaps Hem's musical setting of Twelfth Night as featured in this summer's Shakespeare in the Park.
  • A minor rant about academic politics, probably concerning Outcomes Assessment and a fair amount of work I did last year that was not really even acknowledged when the discussion was taken up again this year.
  • Some rhapsody on nature, such as the beautiful leaves this season that keep making me not want to go to class, and instead take walks around town with the baby boy in the black fleece slig that sometimes lulls him to sleep.
That's what I would post, if I had time to post.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My own personal madeleines

Rambunctious and I went to the farmer's market today, and picked up a bag of Winesap apples: they were locally orchard-grown, and so they didn't look like perfect grocery store apples. I immediately flashed back to a memory of picking small winesaps off of a tree at the farmhouse of a great-aunt and -uncle when I was probably not that much older than Rambunctious.

My father's family is rooted only about 2 hours away. The first ancestors helped settle that foothill town about 200 years ago, and some still farm that land today. In fact, the very first of my clan to settle in the new world put down their first homestead in what is now this very state in the 1780's. If anywhere in the country is "my people's," this is it.
It was brisk morning today, and a bit wet, so Rambo and I were a little shivery when we walked in, and we were immediately met with the warmth of the house, and a smell that made me think "Hunh, I wonder if thinking about those apples made me think of Grandma's house?" But then I realized no, it was something more specific: Willow was slow-roasting pork, my grandmother's favorite dish. That's why it smelled like her house.
It's fall in the foothills: Apples and pork shoulder on a chilly October Saturday.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Why I love October

October is, far and away, my favorite month. April is a distant second, followed by May and then June (especially a temperate one). September not so much, and November is just too cold. Here then, are ten reasons why I love October:

  1. The weather: today it was 65 and sunny. Earlier this week it was 55 and rainy. by the end of the month, we might even have a daily high in the 40s. Who cares? It's temperate, and bit brisk, even, but it's rarely really cold here in October. Perfect day for walking to campus or driving with one window down.
  2. Teaching in October: While it may be the fat part of the semester, when the blush has worn off, and the hustle hasn't yet begun, I find that this is the time when a class really begins to define itself, and some of the best individual lessons happen. Classes are more relaxed, and discussions can be a bit more wide-ranging.
  3. The pumpkin patch, complete with hayride and the maize maze (although I will lament that hayrides apparently no longer feature actual hay. bummer). That makes for a damn good Saturday, with kids or without.
  4. The leaves turn. Here the have just started changing color in earnest, and will peak in about three weeks. We have three beautiful seasons and then winter here. Of the three beautiful ones, fall is the most extraordinary. I've been told that some places in this state technically could be called deciduous rain forests, which doesn't surprise me. And as we know, wet conditions mean more color. It's been a wet spring and summer here, so I'm looking forward to extraordinary foliage.
  5. Pumpkin-spice whatever. Latte, beer, bread, pie, toast, chocolate, meat, water, milk, cardboard. You name it, pumpkin pie spices makes it better. But only in October.
  6. Clothing: The leather jacket comes out, as does my extensive collection of sweaters (many of them in lovely argyle). In the autumn, people start dressing like grown-ups again, and so I can stop pretending I am a teenager in cargo shorts and ill-fitting t-shirts. This is a self-serving thing to love, since my love of nice clothing earns me funny looks in the summer, and no looks at all underneath the bundling of the winter. But the autumn is the time to bring out the best outfits. In fact, I'm feeling a velvet blazer day coming on.
  7. Brunch. I don't know why, but brunches are best in the fall. Since we've moved to the new neighborhood, we've developed a friendship with two other families of new faculty members, both of whom just moved in around the corner within a month of us. We've started having brunch every weekend, and there's really nothing like a brisk morning of strong coffee, bacon, fritatas, and mimosas, with Thistle-and-Shamrock on NPR, or African Jazz on the CD player, or whatever, and sunlight pouring through the windows. And then that full, drowsy, I want-to-get-inside-and-take-a-nap feeling afterwards. Good many times of the year, best in October.
  8. Football: College, Professional, or backyard touch. I love a good football game, despite myself.
  9. The twins' birthday on October 30. I am looking forward to when they're in middle school and high school (really one of the only reasons I am actively looking forward to them being in middle school), and the Claycomb birthday/Halloween party becomes an annual event.
  10. Did I mention Halloween? Since the kids were born, I haven't been able to do much myself, but any holiday involving elaborate and/or creative costuming is going to be a favorite. Some of my past best costumes: The Universe, Route 66, and an illuminated manuscript.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Daddy Time

Willow and Junebug are on the West Coast, halfway through a 6-day excursion, which leaves me home with the twins during a long weekend (half day Thursday and inservice Friday for parent-teacher conferences). Everyone's been saying things like "will you be ok?" and "let us know if you need any help" and things like that, comments that, while of course well-intentioned, also reveal the differing expectations for academic mothers and fathers.

Of course I'll be ok. Rambunctious and Imperia are almost six. They play well together; they are well-behaved (if, well, rambunctious), well-adjusted, and easy to entertain. And if not, they fit nicely into a closet (I joke). So far we've had a fantastic time: playdates, the Children's Museum, soccer practice, Saturday brunch with friends.

But even this afternoon, after all the activities, and the scheduled quiet time, we were great. They played in the back yard, collecting grass clippiings for the nest they were building for the butterflies in the butterfly bush, while I cut the grass and moved some of the summer stuff into the garage.

Then we went in and they colored while I made dinner (pasta, tomatoes, limas, milk, pears), and we cleaned up the kitchen together, and they colored some more while I folded a couple of loads of laundry. Kind of what we do every night. Imperia got a little sad at bed time, missing mommy after a phone call out west, but barring that, this was a pretty average fun Saturday at Chez Horace.

BUT. I've barely thought about my teaching or scholarship since I picked the kids up on Thursday afternoon, and of course this is precisely why these distinctions get made: because so many women are doing that second-shift work, especially since female academic have those flexible schedules that are so easily and blithely carved into. That I am doing the second shift is not uncommon for our household (though admittedly, Willow typically does more of this than I do), but it always makes work-life balance difficult.

I'm in a lucky spot right now. I have almost a full year before my critical year for tenure begins, and I've already met my benchmarks for publishing, have earned a minor teaching award, have a raft of strong evals, and do more service than is good for me. I would be shocked if my tenure case at this institution posed more difficulty than simply the labor of compiling the file (no mean feat, I understand). But I was reading Earnest English, and hearing her talk about the anxietieis of new parenthood coinciding with the new demands of TT faculty life. My comments there were that it can be done and is done often, and that early baby time is the worst time to try to gauge how hard parenting will be. I did it with twins (thoughas a Dad, not a Mom), and am kind of doing it again, and it was hard, but it happened. It would've been much harder were I woman.

All of this makes me a bit more bothered by the questions, not because they assume that I can't do the job, but because so many mothers in the same scenario would not get nearly the same sympathetic concern.

OK, so this post went ina direction I didn't expect, but there it is. And now, since this is my only alone time of the day, I'm off to read for this week. It's Beckett week intro to drama, and so I have to find a way to teach 200-level non-majors how to love the wait for Godot.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Contributed

Milestone

Junebug rolled over today. Next thing you know, he'll be driving my car (or I hope, Rambunctious's car).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Instant Feedback

While I tend to obsess over formal course evaluations (rate me! rate me!) I do often find them of limited use, if no other reason than that they reflect the vagaries of a distinct group of students after I have finished working with that group.

And so, I have begun to put more emphasis on the midterm course evaluation, which has been creeping incrementally forward from midterm, so that I tend to administer them around week 5, when there's been enough get-to-know-you time, but there is still plenty of time to make adjustments that will really affect the workings of the classroom.

The format I use is the stop/start/continue rubric, where students make two columns on the page (one for things I can control, and one for things they can control, individually and collectively). Then they label three rows: Things they'd like to see stop happening (group work, quizzes, classroom chatter), things they'd like to see start happening (candy, more group work, even participation), things they'd like to see continue that are already working (group discussions, paper feedback, tapdancing).

I've taught 9 or 10 sections of this particular course since I've been at BRU so on the one hand, I can anticipate many of the responses (as many students say less group work as ask for more), but that frequency often breeds ossification, and so I really do need to be responsive to trends in the feedback. This semester, for example, students would prefer that we slow down with the material, and make more time for a free-form discussion. This indicates a level of comfort with and respect for their classmates' opnions that--especially with a strong group such as this one--I'm thrilled to oblige. I also picked up a significant, if not overwhelming level of anxiety about the upcoming midterm, which is easy enough to address.

What bugs me, though, and has me even a little rattled, is the response that seeks to debunk the mechanism of the midterm eval itself. I got one response that insisted that the exercise was a joke, and that I was just "getting my jollies" by finding out what class really thought of me, and that I could tell everyone by their handwriting anyway, so it wasn't even anonymous. And while yes, I could correlate handwriting if I were trying, and I do enjoy getting positive feedback, this student is missing the point. Because I will say, I've focused more on hir individual response than any of the "love this course" responses that I get.

The rhetoric of "You're the teacher; stop asking us to do your work for you" is equally troubling, because of course this student is buying into an educational model that is at once passive and at the same time consumerist: "I've paid for your labor; now do the work for me." (The response also mentioned that the close-reading quizzes were little more than bs-ing).

Sigh. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but I can't help focusing on the one or two students who really are not responding to the work. But because the eval responses really are pretty anonymous, I'm not even sure whom to contact to check in with, nor am I sure if such a reaction would even prove worthwhile. So for now, I'll institute the tweaks to my classroom management, and hope that this person finds a way to obtain hir own education the way ze wants.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Responding to Presumption

When I dressed today, I decided I needed to wear some light clothes in bright colors to convey the opposite of the bedraggled state I was in. So when I got out of the shower, I put on a light teal button-down with some light khaki linen pants.

When I went downstairs to pack up my stuff, Willow had graciously set out some food for me to take in for lunch, though instead of the usual small brown shopping bag I often carry (and had accidentally left on campus) the food was placed in a similarly small gift bag, a tiffany-blue thing with an elegant chocolate-brown pattern.

"Hunh." I smiled, "I match my lunch bag."

On the way into campus, I stopped to get a cup of coffee, and the young lady who had just gotten her coffee at the counter, and was on her way out the door, smiled and said, "I like your little handbag."

"Oh my lunchbag? I think I gave my wife some jewelry in this, and we keep recycling it for other things."

"Oh, honey, you don't need to pretend you're married for me!"

.....

I was caught completely off guard by this, and my response as she walked out the door was, "but I really am!" My face was flushed red for the next several minutes.

I'm unnerved by this exchange for any number of reasons. The most knee-jerk response derives from the fact that people often think they can read my sexuality from my clothes and mannerisms, and presume to comment on that reading.

But my own answer to her is equally unnerving to me, because I felt it important, even imperative to disabuse her of her reading? Why had she not read me as straight? This kind of reactionary return to a compulsory heterosexuality should perhaps be more troubling to me as someone who tries to actively work against those notions as the presumption exercised by this young woman. She, at least, wasn't reading me through this compulsory lens, even if her reading was guided by a troubling set of stereotypes.

So as the day was worn on, my embarrassment has shifted from being mistaken as queer to reinforcing a kind of homophobia in my response.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brevity

is an online literary journal focusing on very short form (fewer than 750 words)creative nonfiction. Issue 31 is now available. You should totally go check it out...

Alongside work from Sherman Alexie, Brenda Miller and Ron Arias, you'll find Willow, Rambunctious, and Imperia as characters...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Childcare

Willow and I are each teaching two courses this semester, she on MWF, and me on TR. And we decided that instead of putting Junebug in daycare at 11 weeks, we'd share childcare at home this year.

It's only the third day of classes, but it's clear that this semester will be different from previous ones. So far today, instead of writing, reading, lesson planning, grading, or corrsponding with students, I've taken the twins to daycamp (they start Kindergarten on Tuesday), fed Junebug, rolled around on the floor with him during for some tummy time, gave him a bottle, rocked him to sleep, did some dishes, and folded some laundry.

It's not that I resent doing the work itself--certainly these tasks were in the short term more satisfying to have experienced and accomplished than revising a page or so of a chapter first drafted six years ago--but I am getting paid to work the equivalent of a full-time job, and I wonder about my ability to actually do that job this year. Willow has the same worries, too. the novel she's 200 pages into hasn't gotten much attention since Junebug was born, nor have the short stories she's been pecking away at in the interim.

There's a real push-and-pull here, one no doubt experienced by most dual income households, the negotiation of free time, tiny resentments that might develop over this hourlong span or that, or forgetting that the adults in the house need to spend time with each other, too.

Junebug is napping at the moment, and with some chores done, I've taken a moment to blog, and not to fix the pagination on the collection manuscript, not to prep tomorrow's classes (William Blake followed by Susan Glaspell), not to peck away at that chapter...But what I really want to be doing right now? Napping right alongside the boy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anticipation and its absence

For many years running (like maybe 30), I have looked at the week before school starts in much the same way as kids look at Christmas eve, like the good stuff is just about to begin. That, and I generally hate August, when the heat has worn out its welcome, and the allure of lawn work and summer jobs that dominated May seems unfathomable now.

But it was a cool, wet summer, our lawn at the new house is much smaller and flatter than the old one, and I have just spent the last two months enjoying a new baby, briefly trying to get some momentum on my writing, and then giving in entirely to the quotidian joys of domestic stupor.

So for the first time in as long as I can remember, not only am I not overjoyed and and overprepared for the wave of students moving into town, and the services I shall soon render them, I am approaching next week's new semester with, if not dread, then at least apathy.

Of course, in addition to this lovely summer I've just spent (really, the nicest summer I can remember) there are other reasons to feel less excited: I'm teaching two preps at the 200 level, both of which I've taught several times before, here and elsewhere. And while I'm mixing them up a bit to keep from falling ton too much of a rut, I'm not doing anything really innovative to get the juices flowing. And with a drop off in expected service responsibilities (how did THAT happen?!?), I don't have a truckload of material to sink my novelty-loving teeth into just now.

I couple with this a felicitous confluence of events--some publications coming out, some acceptances falling into place, a really good year of course evaluations, and the successful completion of some really significant service work--all in a department with very humane expectations. And so, hubristic though this may sound, I've stopped worrying about tenure a year before my critical year begins.

So the excitement and anxiety and anticipation and butterflies that usually make the coming weekend one of my favorites of any given year are absent, which wouldn't you know it, makes me a bit sad. Because if I get bored with thing that I do here on this campus, I will stop being any good at it. and being both bored and mediocre at my job is about the worst thing I can imagine for myself.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saying No

let it be here acknowledged that I am terrible at saying no. I am so flattered by the idea of having a say that I have been loathe to say no to ANYTHING, particularly when my own voice might be considered useful to the discussion at hand.

This has occasionally bitten me in terms of service, but I am realizing that it has the potential to become a problem for my research as well.

Over the past few years, I've been solicited to do a few things--talks, reviews, etc.--that have in and of themselves been productive (like the plenary I gave last spring, or the talk for Nels Highberg's series this spring). I could argue that in both of these cases, the single project led to work that might have momentous effects on my future research agenda. I can hardly say i'd rather not have done them.

But the book review on a playwright I'd just discovered, and who is only tangentially related to my work? maybe less so. And that kept me from working on the book for two weeks.

I've just gotten a request to write a response essay for an article. The article is written by someone with whom I've had some small contact, very positive, and who could potentially be an external reviewer for my tenure file. The play she writes about appears in my book, and she directly references the article that was pulled from that manuscript. All of this says, "Go ahead! Do it!"

But...the turnaround is quick, even for only 4000 words, and the journal is a small European publication that I've never heard of. The publication is only a drop in the bucket for my tenure case or my annual review file (minor point, I know). And here's the kicker. Those 4000 words for the response essay are 4000 words not written for the book. And with a bit om momentum generated towards getting back on that horse, I think this just might be precisely the wrong way to be spending my writing time...

So I'm thinking of declining the invitation. What do you think? Am I crazy?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Smaller

There are conceivably so many things to post about: Race in America is on everyone's lips; the semester is a month away with a new president at our university; our nation's president has hit a few speedbumps in his love affair with America; the economy's still bad, but might be getting better; I'm entering my last full year before I put in my tenure file; I received the best course evaluations this year that I've earned in my entire career; even the professional inertia I reported earlier this week has lifted some.

But with all of those big things to write about, I'm finding myself almost constantly focused on a smaller, more focused life these days: sleeping, eating, spending time with my children, with Willow, with our friends who have visited us and our new baby.

Over the past weeks, I've felt a nagging urge to be more productive, to get more done, to accomplish more. But for the most part, I've spent my time in the kitchen, in the back yard, on the sofa: hardly places where one's career is made, where systems of tyranny are dismantled, where change happens.

As a younger man, I really did want to be a Big Deal, and among my worst fears was not to be known, or remembered, or something. I regarded it a failure to be just one of the billions. How silly. The countermanding understanding that our lives are small things in the grand scheme, and that we make of them what we can in the time we have is one that remains hard to swallow at times, but on days like this, it's some consolation indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inertia

I knew at the outset that the summer would not be nearly as productive as I might have otherwise hoped. With the move in May, and Junebug's arrival in June, much of my energy was already spoken for.

I hoped though, that once July got rolling, I'd have time enough and some energy to return to the pursuits that typically mark my summer labors: particularly reading and writing. I have gotten some reading done: a few plays here and there (I was pleased, for example, to be introduced to the work of Irish playwright Marina Carr), and Terry Galloway's memoir, which will end up informing one of the chapters I'm working on soon.

But the writing has stopped altogether. I got that article out at the end of May, to a positive response, and since then, nothing...I've rehashed the first three sentences of chapter 1 a few times, but I haven't even been able to bring myself to read it. And it MUST. BE. REVISED. by the time classes start in a month.

But you know, trips to the grocery, walks with the baby, naps with the baby, Top Chef Masters on TV, convivial visitors, and more naps with the baby have all kept me firmly ensconced in the family room or the bedroom, or some other room than this one, where my computer is kept.

I need a spark to get going, and honestly, I'm not sure where I shall find one...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Farmer's Market

We've got a little Saturday routine going here that we could only take full advantage of because we are now within walking distance of the downtown area. But it's made Saturday mornings, which could get a little hairy around here what with the overflowing kinderenergy clashing with the baby haze...

But here's what a good Saturday looks like...

We leave the house around 8 or 8:15 (ideally, but rarely), Junebug in the stroller, and Rambo and Imp each with their respective canvas bags. a couple of blocks on our way, we run by Craftsman Bakery (not its real name, but named for the adorable little historical home in which it is situated). There, I pick up a cup of coffee, and we grab a few biscotti (for Rambo), a muffin (for Imp), and a loaf of Ciabatta and something else fun (their spinach -feta bread is to die for). after we leave there, we walk across the bridge, and try to get to the market at its 8:30 opening, or soon thereafter.

We're just getting into peak market season here, and so take a gander at today's haul...

Two kinds of lettuce, fennel, beets, green onions, two kinds of cucumbers, fava beans, purple cauliflower, golden raspberries and black raspberries. Not to mention the pound of handcured-and-smoked bacon that costs the same as a pound of grocery bacon...

There we'll see colleagues from campus, kids from school, dozens of local dogs on leashes (usually) and sometimes in backpacks and bags, even some fellow bloggers. Imperia likes to buy a pair of honey sticks, and Rambunctious likes to pick up fudge or sugar cookies from the shepherd lady who also sells home-spun wool items.

My colleague N'awlins Hippie and her guitarist from the sociology department are often busking, and always have an extra set of spoons or maracas for the kids to tap along with them. I keep threatening to join them, but haven't had the time to practice yet...

After we've made our way around the market, we'll often run right across the street to the library. Last trip we picked up audiobooks of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and an armload full of picture books.

If I'm lucky, especially if we didn't stop for coffee on the way in, we'll stop at the coffee shop named for one of my favorite children's books (I knew I was destined for this place when I was taken there during my on-campus).

We roll back in around 10:30 or 11, and the kids play in the backyard while Willow and I take in our produce, feed the Junebug, whatever. We've lived here for about 10 weeks now, and we've missed the market only twice. I have a feeling we won't miss it to many more times than that this summer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Schedule

Just heard from the press today on the collection I'm co-editing...Full manuscript is in hand, with production on the schedule for November 2009. So it will really happen!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

On Michael Jackson

I've been working on a chapter on autobiographical performance art and the performativity of identity, and so even though I am loathe to contribute to the avalanche of discourse on the subject, it has honestly been difficult not to think of Michael Jackson, who Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson, has called "a post-modern shape-shifter." And so despite my better judgment, another inquiry into the meaning of Michael Jackson.

In a recent article in the post, Jefferson offers up her eulogy, ending with the overblown "and the rest is silence." And while it feels odd to compare the gravitas of Hamlet's death to Jackson's, one thing becomes clear from this line: that what Hamlet and Jackson shared is deeply important: a theatrical, malleable conception of self-representation, one that their respective cultures could barely contain. And, like Hamlet's Denmark, we too needed to kill off our shape-shifter for our cultural narrative to make sense.

In short, we wanted Michael Jackson dead.

Now, I'll qualify that statement five ways from Thursday--I'm not saying that you, dear reader, had active or secret wishes that this person would suffer cardiac arrest. Rather, by "we" I mean a broader cultural we, and by "Michael Jackson" I mean the simulacrum, the icon of a human being we know truckloads about, but can hardly claim to know. His "reality," if such a thing could even be said to exist, is impossible to speculate on (Was the mediatized Jackson a simulacrum to himself? Perhaps).

What I am saying is that by dominant normate standards, our mainstream American culture could only tolerate Jackson's presence in our contemporary culture for so much longer. What he represented was so deeply subversive to a host of categories by which we order society--gender, race, sexuality, age--that his place in the common consciousness became increasingly sinister over the past thirty years. At the height of his popularity, there were merely the one-gloved queer insinuations, but then came the incongruous hetero-spectacle of his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, and the unseemly conception, birth, and rearing of his children, all underscored by the whispers of pedophilia, culminating in actual legal action 2005 for sexual abuse.

By the time of his trial, his public persona was so confounding that (as one of my grad students pointed out to me) the Court TV reenactment of the trial cast a caucasian woman as Jackson.

I don't claim to know the facts of these incidents in Jackson's life, only that we tempered our cultural fascination with his compelling stage persona with an increasingly vicious expulsion from the real world of the freak whose sheer entertainment value challenged the very identities we use to arrange ourselves in the world.

That narrative of discipline, exclusion, and expulsion wouldn't otherwise seem to logically conclude in a massive spectacle of a funeral, one of the most elaborate we've seen in years. Yet this death was marked by an outpouring of praise and love for a figure who was as much a bogeyman dangling his children over the balcony (literally and figuratively) as for someone who sang and danced well, and sold a lot of music (and owned even more).

How do we explain that? To me, it seems not a mourning of his passing, but rather a kind of public celebration that this most compelling of figures can now be contained. It is almost a Greek tragedy in this way: that through expelling our hubristic tragic figure from our midst, we can only then purge the culture itself, and celebrate that even without the great man (or male impersonator, as Jefferson astutely suggests) we can continue. We can celebrate his life only in death, because that death puts him in his proper place in the social order. No longer able to force us to squirm at gender crossings, racial uneasiness, conflations of childhood and adulthood (I could hardly even say "manhood" as that is a performance that Jackson never quite gave us), Jackson can be called a great performer, an icon, whatever.

When his 1991 album Dangerous hit the shelves, Jackson was almost more punchline than a major persona. But he was still culturally dangerous in a way that few understood (and I do not mean in the narrow way that, say, fundamentalist Christians might have understood). For unlike any other postmodern celebrity who, like Madonna, has generally eased back into normative culture, Jackson was unwilling, or perhaps more likely, no longer able to rejoin the mainstream.

And so as a culture, we ridiculed, prodded, and disciplined him into seclusion and into more and more bizarre public iterations. Maybe we drove him to his early death. But now that he is dead, and only now, we can celebrate his life.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On the plus side...

On the one hand, I just found out that my MLA panel is in the 9-10:15pm slot.

On the other, it's followed by the Division's cash bar...

Bullets, Mostly Crappy

  • Mom's back in hospital, this time with a bacterial infection that she may have gotten from helping to clean dog poo from my older son's knee. She'll be fine, but I can't say that the immediate retreat to certain patterns of communication has been particularly good. I have taken to not answering my Dad's phone calls and just listening to the voicemail in order to prep myself for the actual conversation.
  • Yesterday, a dear friend suffered a tragedy that has absolutely broken my heart. I don't want to say much more about it, but I broke into tears about four times yesterday.
  • I'm not in perfect shape physically either. After squash Monday, soccer Monday evening, and squash again Tuesday, I let myself get overheated and dehydrated, and by the time I got home with the kids in the afternoon Tuesday, I was dizzy, nauseated, shivering, and my whole body ached. I was running a 102 temperature. I'm not sure if it was a mild heatstroke or just heat exhaustion, but after a fevered nap, a cool shower and a lot of water, I felt better. Then again this evening, I had kind of a relapse, with a 100 fever and the dizziness, except the aches seemed concentrated in my back...I'm wodering if I didn't trigger a mild kidney infection. Going to the doctor tomorrow. Blah.
  • Just finished reading Terry Galloway's Mean Little deaf Queer, a memoir that traces both her childhood as a deaf and queer child in Texas, up through her career as a performance artist in Austin, New York, and Florida. I'll be using it (along with her performance work) in one of the chapters of my book, but it's also just a wonderful little book, and not only because I know a few of the characters in the book (and have corresponded with Terry myself for a year or so). I know that most of my readers don't have much room on their bookshelves for recommendations not related to work, but this is a good one.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Engrossment


I have been (predictably) quiet on this space because, of course, I've been deep in the baby haze of renewed fatherhood, punctuated by the sheer energy jolt that is parenting 5-year-olds in the summer.

The baby books call this period of fatherhood "engrossment," in which the male parent (or presumably, potentially any parent who did not physically give birth) bonds intensely with the child through close physical contact, logistical concern, and other domestic involvement with the new child's arrival. I am certainly experiencing that process, as this picture surely illustrates.

But we've got two other children, too, and I've found, perhaps predictably as well, that I've had opportunities to renew my bond with them as well. Much of their childhood has been defined by a preference (not exclusive, but marked) for their mother, even though we split a lot of the parenting duties and privileges. This has been a source of constant, if not devastating, hurt, as I sit quietly as the twins fight over who gets to sit behind mommy in the car, or next to her at a restaurant, as my nurturing of a skinned knee or bumped head is usually elicits cries for Mommy's apparently superior nurturing.

This preference is likely to be even more marked with Junebug, as Willow has been more singularly active with him than I have, requiring my help less frequently during key nursing or nurturing moments. I can only suspect that the next years with him will find some of the same rejections of the father that have stung with the twins.

But as I said, I'm also sometimes engrossed with my older children, having taken them for walks and trips and outings and time in the garden and a lot of other things since Junebug was born. The preferences for Mommy remain, but I'm finding some new, if unnervingly stereotypical, ways of finding affirmation from my children. That Rambunctious, for example, is super-excited to come watch my soccer game tonight induces extraordinary pride. That Imperia, upon her drop-off from a visit with grandparents, sat plastered up next to me at dinner feels warm and affectionate.

Couple these with the engrossment of a sleeping baby, and you can imagine a pretty satisfying month of fatherhood.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Music Recommendations

I am getting old.

I say this not because I just had a birthday, or another kid. Not because I can't keep up with the kids on the facebook, or even that I don't understand what they're watching on the TV these days (do they still watch TV? or just web shorts?)

Nope. I'm getting old because my list of music to purchase is pretty much stale. I got an iTunes gift card for my birthday, and have nothing good to spend it one. So I ask you, oh internets for recommendations for albums (remember those) or songs I just MUST get. Otherwise, I'm plopping down $20 eBucks to hear Rufus Wainright's version of Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall show, which just doesn't feel birthdayish enough. I'd rather something new.

So....Here are a few artists/ albums that have gotten me going over the past few months/ years to guide your recommendations...Let's see if you can inspire me more than Amazon or iTunes genius...

Rufus Wainright: Want One and Want Two
Jolie Holland (Formerly of Be Good Tanyas)
New Pornographers: Twin Cinema and Challengers
REM: Accelerate
Punch Brothers
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast and Armchair Apocrypha
Regina Spektor (I'll probably get her new album once it comes out)
Elliott Smith (XO and Figure 8)
Hem (which releases in August original settings from this summer's Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night)
Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
Fleet Foxes

What's missing? what MUST I hear? Please help me figure out what's missing on my iPod!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My kids and me...


Imperia was actually much happier than this picture suggests. Rambunctious was exactly this happy. Junebug, well, he's not so sure...

Five



Junebug arrived today, 8 lbs even 19.75 inches, insistently healthy. Willow is doing well and is happy to breathe, while Rambunctious and Imperia seem genuinely excited about their baby brother.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

RBOC: T-Minus Four Days

To say there's a lot going on right now is both an understatement and an overstatement, for as much as school just ended, the attic renovations are not done, my birthday happened today, and the baby is coming in four days, if not before, this has kind of been a lazy late-spring weekend. I am forgiving myself for being scattered on the one hand, but on the other hand, there's not a lot of urgency to anything going on right now.

  • The article I was working on got revised nicely and got a bery nice response from the editor, who says that although a bit more summary of two of the plays might be nice, ultimately, she is not asking for any revisions until after the book's reader make their report. Yay!
  • I got a talk accepted at ASTR, the big theatre research conference I've decided is the best one for me. It's in Puerto Rico in November: hard to complain about that. So my two conferences this year are ASTR and MLA, which makes me feel good about how my work is being received, or at least good about my abstract writing abilities...
  • The renovations to the attic are behind by a bit, but they look great. It's a funny little rabbit warren of a space, but the kids are going to love being up there. The current plan is to paint both rooms light blue, then paint some clouds on the sloping part of the walls, and letting the kids decide what they want in their own skies: superheroes? butterflies? airplanes? fairies? sun, moon and stars? They'll get to decide. We're just hoping that the contractors are out by the time the baby actually gets home!
  • And yup. The baby is coming. The twins were C-section and Willow had a perfectly fine experience with the planned C-section, and given how skittish the doctors here have been about VBAC, and the fact that Willow isn't interesting in pushing for one, we've been saying C-section all along. So if Junebug isn't here by June 11, he's coming that morning. I'll announce his arrival here, though those whom I've met IRL and would like the actual announcement with name should gmail me: delightandinstruct. I'll put you on the list.
  • I have weird misgivings about having Junebug's birthday so close to mine. Not that I'm worried about my birthday getting buried, but rather that his will get overshadowed from time to time. As it is, the twins have birthday sharing issues (very different personalities make celebration styles a bit of a negotiation). So I'm hoping that my 40th, for example, doesn't put a blot on his 5th, and so on.
  • Speaking of my birthday, Willow took me out with some friends for dinner last night, and then let me sleep in this morning while she and the twins made breakfast: strawberry shortcakes with chevre replacing the whipped cream. Yuuhummm! Also, I got like a thousand happy returns via facebook of all places. That, honestly, was one of the nicest surprises ever.
  • In completely unrelated news, the new house now has a small enough yard (about 400 sq ft.) that I've begun to find enough energy to garden a bit in a few beds along the house and fence. I've put in some random flowers (delphinium, morning glory, butterfly bushes), herbs (rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, dill, thyme) and some veggies (cukes, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes--cherry and a heritage breed I can't remember). I'm trying to get the twins involved enough that they enjoy it, but not so mauch that they're turned off of it until they're in their thirties and have to rediscover it after years of weeding trauma...Anyway, little flowers and herbs are popping up all over, and finally, the idea of weeding doesn't seem like just a total drag.
  • OK, so my ENFP tendencies have me all over the place tonight, and I should just go sit on the couch with my very pregnant spouse, and see if I can rub her feet, or back or something. If I don't blog for a few days, you can guess why.

Monday, June 01, 2009

New Concepts in College-Town Dining

The fine dining options, or paucity of them, are a much discussed topic among the self-professed cosmopolitans of our faculty. "No Thai?! How shall I ever survive without good tom ka?" "No, french dressing does not count as French cuisine..."

You get the idea.

That, plus Willow and I often fantasize about that least wise of alternate careers: restaurateur.

When we moved, our dream restaurant would be called Aspergrass, which for whatever reason found etymological roots from each of our childhoods. It was a healthy, veg-heavy, California cuisine concept with a bit of a Southern inflection.

When we realized there was no good Mexican/ Salvadoran/ Southwestern food in town, our concept was Mission: Sparse white adobe walls, stark mission style furniture, chestnut pumpkin soup with cayenne and nutmeg.

Well, the other day, we were walking downtown with the kids, and we noticed an old stalwart shop along Main Street had closed down: City Pharmacy. "That" I said, "would be a great name for a gastro-pub, and a great location too."

This got Rambunctious and Imperia thinking about their restaurant concepts. Imperia's was Purple Blankie Restaurant, where everything would be purple, and Red Hat Societies would drive from miles away to hold tea parties over grape cake. With the amount of detail she provided, we could tell she'd been percolating this idea for a good long time.

"OH!" Rambunctious bellowed (bellowing is the default volume right now). Mine would be "Stop! You're gonna Kill me!"

I'm not sure if he's a visionary animal-rights, vegetarian, gastro-activist, or destined for some other career. Given his enthusiasm for bacon, I'm going with the latter.

Ephemeral

"I love the ephemeral nature of live theatre. Once a specific performance is over, you can never be subjected to it again.”


This was the caption on a New Yorker cartoon that caught my attention a few years ago. I clipped it and held onto it, but it's always vaguely troubled me.

The ephemeral nature of the theatre, in fact, is precisely its beauty: true. As Peggy Phelan has said, "Performance's only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance" ... "The act of writing towards disappearance, rather than the act of writing towards preservation, must remember that the after-effect of disappearance is the experience of subjectivity itself" (146/148).

The disappearance of performance: the ghosts that haunt the stage, the echoes we hear bouncing around the empty auditorium, after-images of scenery erected and dismantled. Something about this very process reminds me both of the very image of life (and of liveliness) that theatre offers us, and of the disappearance of this liveliness that seems a time-lapse snapshot of life itself.

A student of mine recently posted this site on facebook, and I've spent about 20 minutes, scrolling through its images of abandoned theatre spaces. As my student noted, it's both beautiful and depressing, but while the depressing part of it may come from what it represents about the preservation of art in our culture, for me it is a sense of gloom that we tend to associate with the sublime: if Edmund Burke (and in "Ozymandias," Shelley) finds ancient ruins to inspire us to contemplate mortality and the cruel hand of slow time, then these decayed and crumbling stages perform for us this same effect: If life flickers and dies on the stage, then these crumbling stages have seen whole histories pass across its boards. These are "Stages of Decay" as the collection is entitled, theatres of our own mortality.

One shot in particular has a tattered red armchair set in the middle, may a throne, or maybe the chair that Hamm inhabits for Samuel Beckett's Endgame. That play imagines the winding down of all life, the persistence of human life reduced to a single choice to stay or go. And here in this image, Clov has gone, and the only signs of life on the stage are those that mark life by its conspicuous absence.

And yet these crumbling spaces also find a counterpoint in images like this space, the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, which reminds me that even as performances, performers, stories, and spaces will vanish, they do still echo and haunt, reminding us of the persistence of human play, and that we've been playing for centuries.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Anna Deavere Smith on NPR

Partially, I'm bookmarking this link for myself, but it strikes me as being of interest to others out there. Those who don't know Smith's work are missing out. Her now 25-year-running series, In Search of American Character includes her two most famous performances pieces: Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. These two pieces in particular have interested scholars, me included, because of the way that Smith, and African American woman, performs across genders and across races, thematizing them as she does so.

So her performances make very explicit use of her body as text onto which a range of identities are written.

The show she is talking about here, "Let Me Down Easy" is about illness and the American health care system, which means that among the identities she will be be performing and thematizing are bodies in whatever way disabled by illness or accident, and in doing so, she will be performing pain in a way that I've been thinking about a lot recently, particularly in light of my mother's illness, and the way that has led into academic work on performance, pain and identity.

I need to listen to the interview carefully, and find a way to see the show as soon as I can.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Le brouillon, c'est finis

OK, so I had to look up the translation of "Draft," so "brouillon" may not be the right word, but somehow, the declaration seemed more triumphant than it might have otherwise.

The point is, the draft of the essay is done. Willow will edit it at the sentence level (a particular benefit of being married to an avowed prose stylist), and I will clean up the citations, but the heavy lifting on the piece is done.

The unique challenge of this essay (though hardly the only one) was that a short section of it (about 4 pages) overlapped significantly with an argument I've already published. I didn't want to omit the argument entirely, since the rest of the essay benefited from it immensely, and while the sub-claims were quite similar, the overall point was different entirely. So I found myself in the position of having to quote my own work, an exercise that very much put me in the shoes of my students. That is, knowing that what I had to say had already been said, how to say it differently? Certainly some direct quotation happened, and a bit of paraphrase, but three of those pages were among the most difficult I've had to write. The ethical stakes of quotation were different, but the writing task itself reminded me to have a specific kind of sympathy for students who are in the early stages of writing with research...

Anyway, it was not easy, but the draft (if not the project) is done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why I am Selfish

My therapist just called to cancel our appointment this week. She has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

My first thought is that her phone call ruined my concentration on the paragraph I was writing.

I am a terrible person.

Please help me atone by thinking good thoughts for her. While her prognosis is very good, this is terrifying and terrible news.

Momentum

So the move to a new home completely thwarted a great deal of momentum that I was building up on my research. This should have been totally self-evident at the beginning of the process of selling, buying, moving, and settling in, but for whatever reason, my incurable optimism had me pairing those processes with a spate of writing projects, some of which got done, and some of which were left over for, well, now.

I only taught one course this spring, since I was on a pre-tenure course release (not a sabbatical at all). The course was the theatre tour which was unexpectedly involving in terms of time resources, and so along with the move, I really didn't have as much time, or more importantly, mental resources, to really dig into a lot of writing. I did get about 70 pages of the book manuscript into good shape, and I did a long talk for Nels' classes that will result in a publishable essay with a week's work or so, but hardly the goals I'd set for myself...indeed, hardly the deadlines that others had set for me.

So since the move two-plus weeks ago, I've had to re-emerge, find my bearings and get soem writing done before the Junebug arrives in about 3 weeks. So far, I've been able to manage my share of the last set of editorial tasks for the co-edited collection, which was mostly mindless, but important (acknowledgements, bibliography edits, pagination, bios, index edits, etc.). And now I am on to an article that was due, technically, March 31. I asked for an extension of a couple of weeks which was generously granted, but a couple of weeks has blossomed into seven. I am back at that particular grindstone, and have recently really gotten back down to work. Yesterday, i wrote about four new pages, and with a few days worth of work, hope to have a complete draft in hand--ideally by the end of the week. If that gets done (just a bit longer than Sisyphus's Magical Month of Academic Publishing), then I'll feel a little bit better about this process, and will dig into the book manuscript as much as possible before being the father of three intervenes, as it undoubtedly will.

In a sense, this very post is meant to be a warm up for writing the next section, and so I should close now, and devote the time and word count to writing about the politics of staging terrorism. Here's to new momentum...

Friday, May 15, 2009

An Annoying Conversation and the Thing it Made Me Do...

So after a rousing game of squash yesterday, I was changing in the locker room, now far quieter than usual with so few students on campus, and my squash partner asked, "So do students write worse than they did 10 years ago? 20 years ago?"

A couple of other people jumped in the conversation, and they all seemed to unequivocally agree that students wrote worse than ever before. Those darned illiterate BRU students.

They're wrong. At least mostly. They cite all kinds of anecdotal evidence about the terrible writing sins their students commit, and how it seems to go downhill. There are many culprits: the internet, and No Child Left Behind chief among them. (The internet is a scapegoat, but NCLB might not be wrong).

But this is just an illusion: There have always been poor writers in college, a kid who couldn't tell a subject from a predicate. It's just that we didn't see them, either because we were doing work that demonstrated the (generally) proper use of Standard Written English, or because we didn't go to a Big State College in a Poor State. So no, friend, many of your students don't write as well as you did 20 years ago, or your peers at University of Chicago or Johns Hopkins. But students here 20 years ago couldn't write to save their lives either. You just weren't one of them.

I was so worked up about this conversation that I was halfway home before I realized...I was going to the old house...oops.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two quick questions...

One: Undine and Moria have recently posted the joys of two non-Microsoft word processors that work beautifully...for Mac. Anyone have any suggestions for PC users?

Two: I have recently switched from drip coffeemaker to the French press, which I vastly prefer, except for the clean-up, which seems messy, and never very good for the drain, which always ends up taking more coffee grounds than seems a good idea. Anyone have any good ideas for getting around this?

OK...that's all. Now go on and look at the house pics below.

The New House: A Walking Tour

So this is our new house: Significantly smaller than the old one, which was a gaudy 4K+ square feet: more than we needed, and ultimately more than we could afford to maintain. This house is only a little more than 2K sq ft, and will be a little cramped, even after we thinned out our belongings, but it's an adorable historical home, exactly where we want to be living.

The new house is in a neighborhood much closer to campus (it takes less time to walk in now than it did to drive in before), and inhabited by scads of other faculty...our new neighbors hosted an end-of-the-year party this weekend, and we were invited, already besting the number of parties we were invited to in the old neighborhood.

So come on in, take a look around:

The front door opens onto a closed porch, with an eating area to the left and a play area to the right (as always, click pics to embiggen):










As you walk through the next door (itself a more modern front storm door: more secure than the original door required to remain intact by the historical society), you'll look to the right and see the room we're calling the library. I'm working in here now at the writing desk and hutch you see dead ahead.
This is my view back toward the front door from the desk:
And back to the front door, to the left, is the family room. as you walk toward the doorway in the back, you'll see the poster with the full text of Hamlet posted just above the stereo. Willow and I have actually consulted that poster more than once since we've had it.

If you turn around from that doorway, and look back toward the front door, this is the view of the family room...For the record, the literary fiction and memoir is alphabetized in here, with poetry, genre fiction, and writing reference back there in the library...


Cut through that door, and you'll see the dining room and kitchen...the dining room is directly behind the family room, and the kitchen is directly behind the library (but not accessible from there).

From the space at the border of these rooms, you can get good looks at both: The dining room, complete with tone-on-tone stripey wall (flat and metallic paints alternating)

And if you turn around, you'll see the kitchen, with terra-cotta colored walls, new countertops and appliances, and our stuff already comfortably ensconced around the premises. Straight ahead, on the counter, you can barely see four canisters, a Mother's Day gift for Willow, labeled (left to right) "Cuckoo for Cocoa," "Just a Spoonful of Sugar," "Flour Power," and "Better Living through Coffee"...The kids helped me come up with those.
Not pictured, because of tight spaces, a mudroom with coat hooks and shoe cubbies leading to the tiny but functional back yard, a 5x9 laundry room, which instead of laundry has Willow's elliptical, a wall-mounted spice rack, and a linen cabinet, and off of that, behind the kitchen, a half-bath.

Let's go upstairs, shall we? You will not see here the kids' bathroom at the top of the stairs, with Sun/Moon/Stars art and shower curtain, and a lovely sky-blue paint job.

To the left, above the library, you will see the master bedroom...cozy! Messy!
And around the corner through the bedroom is the master bath, which is pretty big, but hard to get a good photo of. There's a tiled shower to the right and two sinks, not one, to the left, and the loo is just below the left corner of the picture...in case you wondered...

at the other end of the hall, to the left of the stairs, you will see a decent-sized bedroom, currently, temporarily, housing both kids and Willow's desk.

And a small yellow bedroom, sunny and happy. Mostly full of half-unpacked stuff that will find a home eventually...
These last two rooms will not look like this in a month or so: the green bedroom will be an office and guestroom, and the yellow bedroom will be our nursery for Junebug. The room that will eventually be transformed into the children's bedrooms, though, currently looks like this:

A lovely, open, unfinished attic.










So, thanks for stopping by...come again sometime!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Where Am I? What Was I Doing?

Well, we are into the new house, and mostly unpacked (and Sisyphus, I promise pics as soon as I unpack the camera battery charger). The kids have returned to town and to school, and we are planning our first dinner guests for next week sometime. The water from Monday's torrential rains have basically cleared out of the basement, and the washing machine is installed. Oh, sure, there are boxes here and there to unpack, and contractors will be in and out over the next month before Junebug is born to finish the attic so the twins have their own bedrooms, but basically, the ripples are settling from that large boulder called "moving" thrown into the pond of my life.

And so, on this last day of exams, as I sit in my office collecting final portfolios that must be graded in 24 hours, I open my eyes, blink away the construction dust haze, note my mixed metaphors, and shout triumphantly to myself....

Harrrngnnn?

This process, of cleaning up the old house, finding a new one, packing, moving, signing paperwork, signing more paperwork, negotiating, haggling, unpacking, installing, contracting, and cleaning has completely consumed my life that I can barely imagine what I was supposed to be doing at this stage, or worse, what I might have been up to had I not spent the last 4 months on this process.

I got some writing done, and the course I taught was fun, if an occasional opportunity for logistical embarrassment, and while my committee responsibilities have not gone completely unshirked, they have been accomplished in due course. But I'm way overdue on an article, had hoped to be much deeper into the book revision, and honestly had imagined this semester as more intellectually productive than it actually was.

the upside of having been so consumed is that I've scehduled absolutely nothing for the rest of the month, so I'm hoping that rather than collapsing in a puddle of drool, I'll be able to muster my resources and buckle back down to some writing. If only I can find a clean surface on which to place the laptop.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On Harry's Nude Scene and Capitalism

My article on Equus and the recent revival starring a certain young naked wizard has just appeared, and those with Project MUSE access can find it easily enough. I'd love to hear thoughts if you have them.

In related news, I got a very flattering email from the editor of the journal praising the article, and asking me to review another one for him. On the one hand, I adore the praise for my work; on the other hand, does the request to do work for him undercut the sincerity of the compliment? I doubt it, but it is a bit odd.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Movin In--Oof

Note: This post is a week or so old, and didn't get posted, but given the other things I'm posting today, I though I could throw this up just to fill in a certain set of blanks.

So I went to take some things down to the basement to prep for the deliver of the washer and dryer this morning, only to discover that, in the course of the overnight downpour, our basement had flooded. A crack in the basement wall had eroded away and was pouring water in like a faucet.

Most everything that was in boxes was off the floor so minimal damage, and after I figured out that the drain was clogged and got the water out, things seem ok, but what a way to open the day.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Movin In--book sorting edition

I barely have anything that might be interesting to anyone else who might be reading, since the bulk of my week has involved lifting things and putting them down somewhere else.

The big picture on all of this, though, as that we are out of the old house, which we no longer own, and into the new house which we sort of own: we went to settlement on Friday, signed out papers, handed a check over to the mortgage rep, and walked out again, but the prior owner wasn't there: he was called in to a federal court case as a representative of the union for which he works, and won't sign off on anything until Monday, so keep your fingers crossed that nothing nasty happens.

In the meantime, willow has taken the kids to friends' for the weekend, and I am here trying to whip the place into shape...painting, laying down rugs, unpacking boxes, installing bathroom and closet hardware, hanging pictures, hooking up electronics, etc. Three and half days of full-on house work is actually kind of invigorating.

So here's the question: I'm sorting books, and our bookshelves are in a slightly different configuration, which provides an opportunity to reorganize, but also leaves open the option of leaving the book schema basically as it was. So how do you organize your books in your house? All of my drama and theory books are on campus, but Willow's more work oriented stuff, as well as her cotton-candy reading (both of which overlap through some genre fiction--sci-fi, fantasy, fairy tale, and romance) is here. We also have a few random books in other genres--philosophy, health, etc.--as well as a healthy collection of what might be called literary fiction.

So, do we break out the genres with (I think) a greater ease of use, but also with an implied hierarchy (the more prestigious literary fiction in the family room where the most people will see them), or do we simply combine each collection and sort by author? Or do we just throw all the books on the nearest shelf and call it a day? How do you sort?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Movin Out

So we're moving this week, from a too-big house to a smaller one in town. I won't have much internet access (not like I've been using it much lately), and I'll be knee-deep in boxes for a while.

But there are truckloads of things to blog about, so I'm hoping to return to teh intertubes with gusto come (what) May.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Countdown

  • Eleven days until we go to settlement on the new house
  • Ten days until we go to settlement on the current house
  • Nine days until final project conferences in the Theatre Tour class
  • Eight days until the movers arrive to begin the two-day move
  • Seven days until we take possession of the new home in an early occupancy agreement
  • Seven Days until I teach the last Theatre Tour class
  • Seven Days until I paint the dining room in the new house
  • Five days until my mentee presents his McNair project
  • Four Days until I give a talk to the graduate student group
  • Two days until the department's awards luncheon (with two of my students claiming awards)
  • One day until I can return to normal vigorous exercise on the squash court, and begin losing the 8 pounds I've gained since the arm surgery
.....
  • One day since Willow's nephew was born (Welcome Jack Roland!)
  • One day since my mom left town
  • Three days since the last Theatre Tour excursion
  • Six days since an article was due to the editor

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Writing is Fun/Writing is Hard

There has been a bit of blogospheric discussion that welled up and then died down weeks ago about the nasty truth that what we do is actually fun for many of us: writing critical scholarship does, alas, produce pleasure for the writer.

It also, like so many other pleasure inducing experiences (ahem) produces its fair share of anxieties. I'm working on a slightly overdue article which is a reworking of a short piece I began as a performance review, and then conference paper 3 years ago or so, and which is now expanding to cover more ground. I know the points I want to make, the background material I need to marshal in support, the textual evidence to cite. It's all in my head, and frankly, that part is the fun part for me: the discovery, the new idea, brimming with promise and brilliance, the Eureka that I know will add to the ongoing discussion.

The thing is, the kernal of an idea I could probably express in a page or two: a nice blog post, even. But real scholarship doesn't work like a blog post inasmuchas it is, well, work. Assembling those quotes, and the theatre history, and the theoretical underpinnings, etc. etc.--That's not even a tiny bit of fun to me: it's work. Which is why I have spent much of the last 12 hours NOT writing this article, preferring instead to hammer out a memo requesting Faculty Senate approval for changes to the English Major, and the acknowledgements page for the collection (I learned today that only the Brits--and I--spell "acknowledgements" with that second 'e').

The only thing I like doing less that writing up an article with no discover left in it is doing the works cited when I'm done...but even that has worked as a procrastination habit. Oh, and Proofreading, at which I am miserable--as this blog can attest.

So about the writing as fun/hard/painful/whatever...Writing to think is fun, but the writing down what I've already thought? not so much.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Some Updates: very random

  • The workshop and talk (on different topics) last week both went fantastically well. I was received with great warmth by Nels there, and was thrilled to be talking with such a smart batch of colleagues and his really engaging students. I also had a little fun working with the presentation itself, using blogger in place PowerPoint for presentation slides, and then uploading much of the talk's notes onto the site ex post facto so students could use it as a resource. I'll pull it down eventually, since I hope to use this for an article before too long, but the format seemed to work well, and helped me continue the momentum from the writing marathon preceding the visit.
  • The Junebug is growing according to (or slightly ahead of) schedule. He has big feet.
  • Traveling with students for three out the last four weekends has been a blast (though exhausting). I really like getting to know them as people, and having them get to know me as a person, and in my case, that happens really well at the theatre, where I find it much harder to hide my enthusiasm or disappointment than in the classroom. Most recently, a good R&G are Dead had the conversation with my students rolling. If only I had been smart enough to cut the conversation short to get some shut eye...
  • In the meantime, with all that travel, I have been waaaaay behind: on grading, committee work, an article deadline, you name it. As soon as grading is caught up tomorrow, I'll be working on all that other stuff.
  • The move is proceeding apace. Many things in the current house are finding their way toward boxes, or at least stacks which will make boxing easier. If you don't hear from me at all during the last week of April, you'll know why.
  • I did see what may have been the funniest sight yet of my parenting days. Rambunctious went to a timeout after throwing his sister's towel in the (still-full) bathtub. He had not yet dressed. When I went to check on him, he was wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, a black mask (a la Robin), a Superman cape, and carrying a lightsaber. I shall never forget this image, since it will likely be excellent blackmail in about 10 years.
  • I have seen Hamlet twice this semester, not counting screening film clips in class (Olivier, Gibson, Branagh, Hawke). It really is that good, even in a crappy production.
  • Willow is into the 3rd trimester, which means that breathing and sleeping and eating without reflux are all challenges right now. I wish I could do more for her...

Monday, March 30, 2009

An Actor Prepares

I'm in Insurance City this evening, where a fellow blogger has invited me to campus to do a workshop on performance and composition pedagogy, and to give a talk as part of a fantastic humanities seminar. After a frustrating series of delays and a couple of bumpy flights (it was windy today) I arrived, and then had coffee with another fellow blogger. (on a side note: how great is it that academic blogging can bring together a rhetorician, a Victorianist and a performance theorist who would likely have never otherwise crossed paths for a random coffee hour for plain old good conversation?)

After a lovely dinner with a few of Nels's departmental colleagues, I am back at the hotel, brushing up the notes for the talk, and laying out my plan for the workshop.

It has occurred to me that when you are a performance theorist/drama guy, running a workshop on performance pedagogy, a certain level of performance on my part will certainly be expected. Now, I'm a bit of a performer by nature, and my costume is in the closet hanging out (velvet blazer of power, natch), so I'm not experiencing stage fright, per say, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't experiencing performance anxiety of a somewhat different sort--the kind that our students experience when they themselves sit down to write.

I think that I am surprised whenever I am regarded by peers (and especially by those further along in their careers than I), as anything like an expert or an authority in my field. Yes, sure I think about the performance element more than many, but I haven't logged the classroom hours that some have, and I can only claim to be a thoughtful participant in the teaching profession, not a thoroughly informed expert on pedagogy. What qualifies me to lead these people in a workshop?

It occurs to me, though, that my whole point is that thinking of the classroom as a space in which we are all actors--rather than simply an actor and an audience--should not simply be a thesis statement. It should be a methodology as well.

Last week, one of the performances that I took in with my students was put on by a company that takes as m.o. for its winter season the idea that a core group of actors will perform a play with no director, no costume designer, etc. They collaborate on the production, and while one lead actor may be the prime mover for many of the choices, there isn't a singular authority in the process. The production was a little ragged around the edges, but it was vibrant and thoroughly engaging. it was evident that every actor had a stake in the performance as an artist.

So as I plan for the workshop tomorrow, I'm fine in terms of content, but I am actively trying to think of ways to create an environment where every teacher there is an actor and not simply an audience member. And I must constantly remind myself about this in the classroom, too.