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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Q&A

Rambunctious: Who would win a football game: Tai Lung (the evil snow leopard form Kung Fu Panda) or Ben Roethlisberger?
Horace: Where are they playing: The Valley of Peace, or Pittsburgh?
R: Pittsburgh
H: Oh, then Roethlisberger would win.

R: Oh! I know why. Tai Lung would get more penalties.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Acceptance

A couple of bits of good news:

  • The talk for Tuesday is going well, and I'm fairly sure that it will be good to go well before I leave on Monday.
  • Willow got a story accepted that will be coming out very soon.
  • I got an MLA talk accepted. I've applied for MLA talks virtually every year for the last 7 or 8, and have only gotten one accepted previously. That one was an early morning talk with a generally small draw. This one should be much higher profile.
While it's so much easier to focus on rejection letters, it's also easy to move on from the initial blush of approval that an acceptance letter generates. And that Willow and I both got them in the same week feels awfully nice.

Frantically Writing

Just because I haven't posted in a while doesn't mean I haven't been writing quite frantically over the last few days. Since returning from the second theatre tour trip (more on that in another post), I've been pecking away at the article due (now mid-April), and preparing vigorously for the talk and workshop I'm doing at the invitation of a fellow blogger. The workshop I feel quite confident about, though I haven't done much formal prep: I still have a great number of ideas to draw from a good bit of prose already produced and going to press. The talk is another matter, for even with an hour+ to work with, I'm finding that I might be running short on space/time, not to mention some potential difficulty working with A/V (I'll be juggling three DVDs, plus a couple of YouTube clips.

Willow is taking a much needed break this weekend (since she's had the kids alone 2 weekends in a row, and will have them alone for two more stretches over the next two weeks), and so I'm writing and watching film clips and talking notes and maybe producing a powerpoint or even a powerpoint-y blog, all in between playing with the kids, feeding the kids, reading to the kids, etc.

Keep your fingers crossed...it's gonna be a fun weekend.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is a cluttered desk a productive desk?

Although this is Spring Break, I've got more responsibilities this week than any other of the semester. Since these two weekends are theatre tour weekends, and I only teach one course this semester otherwise, I've gotten back 6 Monday hours and lost 2 weekends. And there are papers to grade. Always.

In the meantime, I got an extension on the article (half drafted) due on Monday, and am gearing up for the talk in two weeks.

Plus, with the inspection on our current house just in (with several small things to be done) and the one on the new house recently completed (with items to request), and movers to contract, and excess furniture to offload on craigslist, this housing switch couldn't be happening at a better time (!!).

Plus, for Christmas, one gift to Willow was that I'd take over manuscript submissions for lit mags.

So I can't tell, is this a productive desk, or just a messy one?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Influential Writers Annotated, The Undergrad Years

The books and authors come more fast and furious here, and so the annotations must get shorter, in part because they individually seem to take up less space because as a literature major, the books themselves were coming fast and furious. But here they are, roughly chronologically

Caryl Churchill: I arrived at college and immediately joined College Republicans and the campus right-to-life group. But by November, I cast my first presidential vote for Clinton, and a week or two later, I read Cloud 9, a play that critic David Savran has called "the locus classicus of genderfuck." The professor for the theatre class was quite smart, very queer, and an amazing teacher, and I had met my first openly gay friends that semester, and developed what was probably my first acknowledged crush on a man (boy? It's so hard to tell at 18).

Anyway, I read the play in gulps; I can imagine myself not even blinking through it. I sat the play down, and before I went down the hall to hang with another friend in who was also in that class, I very clearly recall having and making a choice. I thought, "I can either reject this thing out of hand as tabboo, or I can take it at face value, try to see what it's point is, and go from there."

I still teach Cloud 9 whenever I can, and I always tell that story before we begin any discussion of the play. That text, while certainly formative to both my political and scholarly sensibilities as a feminist theatre and drama critic, was more revolutionary than that. It taught me how to keep an open mind by testing how far I could open my mind.

Truman Capote: I'd never seen Breakfast at Tiffany's when I read it one summer. I was staying in my first apartment, a one-bedroom shared with a guy from my dorm, and a woman I'd known from years before and who was doing an internship at the Library of Congress in town. We'd slept together two summers earlier, and we slept together again for a time that summer. I was sleeping with a lot of people that summer, in fact.

But reading Holly Golightly alongside the narrator (with whom I identified quite intensely, before I realized that Capote had been modeled on Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird, with whom I also identified quite intensely) left me with a strange but potent model for friendship--one intense, melancholy, and sadly transient. I didn't realize it at the time, because I had not been in college long enough to understand how fleeting those amazing years would be, and I hadn't gotten to grad school to realize how much harder making and also keeping friends over the years would get. I imagine that if I were to return to the book today, I'd both recognize certain ways I approach friendships as often already transient even as they begin, and at the same time, cringe at some of the ethical implications that this model leaves me with.

John Keats: I'm not entirely sure why I put Keats on the list, except that I, for a time, imagined that I might be a romanticist. I will note that the famous urn poem was the first place I was taught, and understood, a really sophisticated deconstructive technique turned on a poem.

William Shakespeare (again): I read a lot of Shakespeare as an undergrad, and saw a lot of it, too: Tom Hulce as Hamlet and Richard Thomas as Richard II both stand out. I took a course on acting Shakespeare, and performed in a fair number of short excerpts from the plays, including Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado. What Shakespeare taught me here was how to understand the relationship of text to performance, and of performance to text. That's a relationship that I'm still trying to tease out, but never did I get a fuller sense of the interplay between them and the interpretive possibilities of both, than in these three years.

Samuel Beckett: Meanwhile. While I'm getting the richness of Shakespeare, I'm also beginning to understand other ways that performance works, that language works, and that silence and stillness can be potent languages in and of themselves. Beckett is not an influence on the way I live my life, certainly, for anyone who knows me will likely list silence and stillness at the very bottom of any list of applicable traits. But my mind always feels like it's expanding when I engage a Beckett play, if only to make room for the things he chooses not to write and stage.

Erica Jong: Not Fear of Flying, but its sequel, How to Save Your Own Life, was given to me in the context of the most serious relationship prior to Willow. Venus (she looked to my smitten eyes uncannily like Botticelli's) was the only child of a hippie mother. She grew up with a lot more sexual knowledge and openness than I certainly had, and since she was also 3 years older than me, I had a lot to learn from her. She was enamoured with my naivete, my "emotional honesty" as she liked to put it, and probably the fact that I had worshipped her from various points near and far since I first saw her my first week on campus. She and I first got together during the summer of Holly Golightly under circumstances that really quite exceed the bounds of conversation for pleasant company, and we fell quite quickly into bed together on a regular basis. We got engaged a year later, but she left me quite abruptly after we both graduated (on my 21st birthday, for the bed of the friend who was to be my best man). I didn't have much of a spine while with Venus.

Ah right, Erica Jong. How to Save Your Own Life was, as I recall, a novel about making choices that are in your own interest, an important thing for many women to hear in the early 70s, but also something important for me to hear not long afterwards. At the time, venus saw her self in the main character, while I reminded her of the new lover...three years and two break-ups later, I recalled this book one night when Venus showed up on my doorstep to rekindle our relationship. Willow and I had just started dating, and it was a bit rocky there, too, but auspicious. In fact, Willow was at my aparatment when Venus arrived, and she graciously excused herself so I could handle that drama. You know how the rest turned out. That evening where I had to say no to someone whom I had loved (and who I still loved, to be honest) turned out to be one of the best choices I've ever made.

Italo Calvino: Like Beckett, always reminds me of the payoff of the experiment.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: reminds me that sometimes an expiement is all well and good, but sometimes lush, gorgeous prose is just as good.

Tom Stoppard: The first Stoppard I saw was not R&G, but The Real Inspector Hound, a play where two theatre critics are implicated as murderers in the murder mystery play thay have come to see and review. I loved it, im part because I have always loved metatheatricality, and metafiction. When I read and saw R&G a couple of years later, I was blown away, not by the humor that dominates the play, but by the implication that acting and life are not really all that different. This is an ongoing trend in these entries, the dissolve between the real and the act, and much of my work lurks around precisely in that dissolve. Stoppard's work treads it as deftly and lightly and playfully as I can imagine, and that's exactly how I'd like to be able to navigate it myself.

Michel Foucault: My last year, I took a theory course as the first in a two-part honors capstone sequence, and I read "What is an Author?" alongside Barthes's "Death of the Author." Thus began my second major intellectual preoccupation. While metatheatricality and the divide between life and performance have frequently been undercurrents to my work, these two essays set me off on my first two major projects in the form of my honors capstone and my master's thesis, each attempting in variously naive ways to articulate the relationship of theatrical performance to authorship. It took me years to really articulate the role of the body in this relationship, and I still am poking around the interplay of body, identity, and narrative. My book takes up that project directly, as does the talk I'm giving in 2 weeks (!!). While History of Sexuality and Discipline and Punish and other texts still pop up in my work more often that this essay, Foucault set in motion a good 15 years of concerted intellectual work.

Richard Schechner: If Foucault set the wheels spinning, Schechner gave them a path. I disagreed so vehemently with certain statements in his late 60s Performance Theory that I devoted a good 20 pages of my undergrad capstone to refuting them. Of course, I find much to admire in how work now, and can see both why his words made me so upset at the time, and why I was (mostly) wrong about them while still being (mostly) right in my instincts. So that's the direct influence. Indirectly, though, Schechner is responsible for the very existence of performance studies as a field, and so I'm still laboring in his shadow.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Theatre Tour Part 1

Having generally remedied the mistakes (no small hassle there) of the theatre tour class, we're off tomorrow morning for our first trip where, in 48 hours, we see plays by Brecht, Albee, and Euripedes.

Next weekend, Middleton and Shakespeare.

Two weeks later, I take a small make-up/optional group to see Shakespeare and Stoppard (yup.)

Then an evening trip to see a Lorca play.

Eight plays in a month. That is why I like this class. I may lose much of my Spring break, but I get lots of free theatre in recompense.

Cross your Fingers

Six weeks behind my own schedule, I just sent in my book intro and a sample chapter to the press I met with at MLA. Also, the collection I'm co-editing went off to the indexer today. Now back to the other article due in March, and then onto the talk I'm doing, (which I'm using as incentive to finish this other article).

Whew!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mistakes

Sometimes a few small mistakes can ruin a class. Sometimes big ones don't. It depends on the class and the mistakes. For the theatre tour class, I've made a number of mostly careless mistakes, but some have had a large impact. For those unfamiliar with the course, the concept is a sort of page-to-stage thing, where we read several plays and then go see them in performance. Once I took student to London; this semester we're seeing regional theatre.

Mistake 1: Inconsequential: In the syllabus I noted merely that a show opened on a particular date, because I hadn't yet secured tickets. Even after I announced in class the actual date, one student told me that she had already made plans around the opening. not a mistake so much as a miscommunication.

Mistake 2: The syllabus says that our second Spring break trip is the final Saturday and sunday of break, when in fact they are the final Friday and Saturday. Not only does this conflict with at least one studennt's plans, it is the same student as in #1. This one is all my fault.

Mistake 3: Next weekend, we're seeing 1 Henry VI. I was so excited a few weeks ago to teach Hal and Hotspur again. VI? IV? crap.

I've had lots of these students before, some several times, so they're very forgiving of my quirks, but these, well, these are doozies...

Influential Writers Annotated, Secondary School

In the years between 7th and 12th grade, I went from being a reader to being a real English student. After taking the Johns Hopkins CTY program exam (basically taking the PSAT as a seventh grader), I moved from my school's TAG (talented and gifted) English class (taught by the beloved Dr. Warren) and was slotted into the local magnet program which had me in an accelerated class with about 7 other students from around the (very rural) county. By 11th grade we were taking courses at a branch campus of the Bitty State U, and so I graduated high school with 12 English credits already. So some of my reading from this period is inspired from early literary study rather than merely "reading for class," but I'm calling a lot of those undergraduate reading for the next post, which seems right, since the context seems to be the operating feature there. At any rate, here's what has stuck with me from late middle school and high school.

Harper Lee
: When I wrote in the earlier post that I have retained an important set of ethics from a childhood steeped in the Bible, reading Harper Lee in the 7th grade may have been the fulcrum that helped transform some of that ethic from my parents' fundamentalist conservatism to something more like a liberal secular humanism. The 'walk a mile in his shoes' bit of To Kill a Mockingbird is a fairly central component to my own ethic, and while it may often make me a bit of a sucker for, say, whingeing students, I can almost always sleep at night.

That, and there's this character in the book who always felt kindred in a way I couldn't talk about much at the time: Dill was flamboyant and unreliable and full of wild stories and I knew I'd fall in love with him in a minute if I met him in real life. Of course, now that we all know he was based on Truman Capote, this impulse means something different, but I'm not sure how true that particular kinship might have been. Certainly at the time I had no real language for sexuality at this age, except that I got teased for being a pansy and a sissy, and I was fascinated by sex (though my recollection is that it was exclusively hetero fascination and desire). The point is that Dill was the first character who felt familiar to me in that way, a way that has as much to do with a kind of hyper-theatrical self-presentation more than actual sexual practice. After all, that's the year I (belatedly) discovered preppy, and began my life-long love of argyle sweaters. So while I may not have identified with the homosexual Dill, I certainly saw myself in a queer Dill.

Bullfinch (of Mythology fame): Last summer, while researching Winterson's Sexing the Cherry I ran across a quote that I immediately sent to Willow, and which she uses now as her email tagline: "Before I knew about books, I knew all the Bible and all the fairy stories. To me, a world without miracles is not the real world." I was never the fairy-tale person that Willow is (I had a Reader's Digest anthology that you can still find today, but that's about it). But I was fascinated early and often with the Hellenic pantheon. As a younger child, I recall having checked out a children's book on the greek gods, traced the stylized images of each of them, and hung them on my bedroom wall.

So in the 8th grade, when Dr. Warren (who had earned his PhD at the height of structuralism) began a long unit on mythologies, we got our Bullfinch's Mythologys out and started in on the deep structure of myth, eventually tracing motifs across cultures and characters. I didn't recognize the kind of theoretical structure in this work until I was in graduate school, but at Dr. Warren's retirement party about eight years ago, we had a very different kind of conversation about myth and the power of story.

Of course here again were the seeds for a skepticism about fundamentalist Christianity, given the fact that so many cultures developed such similar stories to those I had read as a child. Initially, I took the common "These are all shades and slight distortions of the truth of God" approach, imagining that other cultures couldn't help but to observe the majesty of God despite their ignorance, but they were still just echoes. Of course it wasn't long before I began to wonder instead if Judeo-Christian mythologies weren't just the one I arbitrarily ended up with, and that these were all variations on the same kinds of human experiences...(Later I imagined that Judeo-Christian weren't so arbitrary, given how much they emphasize docility and sbservience, but we haven't gotten to Foucault yet...)

William Shakespeare: Dr. Warren is also primarily responsible for my lingering addiction to performing in plays. I had been performing in other ways, mostly singing in church, forever, but he was the first to actually direct me in a play. Our TAG class did a children's Sleeping Beauty in 7th grade, but in 8th grade, we participated in the Folger Library's Student Shakespeare Festival, where we performed a 30-minute version of The Tempest. I adored it. Our production won the festival, and I took home an "intelligent characterization" award (whatever that may mean) for my drunken Stephano. From that moment forward, the idea of not only reading but embodying the book has been my personal passion. I haven't acted for about 13 years now--grad school and small children make doing live theatre very hard--but the idea of giving stories body and voice still remains the most potent form of imagination for me.

And...it was in studying that very play that I came across one of my first lingering academic obsessions. It was then that I learned that Prospero's final speech, promising to bury his books, and referencing "The great globe itself" was a metatheatrical reference. At the time, I just thought that was a really cool fact, but it's the kind of really cool fact that has propelled me to many of my central questions, which can effectively be boiled down to, "Where does theatre end and real life begin? or isn't there really any difference at all?" And thus an obsession was born.

Robert Frost:
I read "The Road not Taken" for the first time as a younger child, and really loved it, and when we read several Frost poems during the semester of poetry in Dr. Warren's 7th grade class, I was really hooked. Frost became my first bona-fide literary love. It's hardly surprising, given Frost's general accessibility, and his penchant for the obvious, but also multi-layered metaphor. But I was a pretty depressed 13-year-old, and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" helped find a way to contend with my only bout with thoughts of suicide. So Frost extends out from my initial brushes with C.S. Lewis and allegory and metaphor and conceit and all that great figurative stuff, but he also extends forward into a period of the academic study of literature, bridging two different phases in my reading life. And he maybe saved my life a little bit, too.

In the 11th grade, I took an Introduction to Poetry course where we flew through the Norton Anthology of Poetry in 14 easy weeks. It was essentially a very good course in New Criticism, (fancy that, I got my New Criticism after my Structuralism), and the final exam was essentially to do answer a lot of vocabulary questions (synecdoche, trochee, spondee) and close readings of two poems. In that three hour exam, I did fine with the vocab and the first close reading, and with 90 minutes remaining, I focused my eyes on "Design," which for whatever reason I had not yet read, or read closely. In that 90 minutes (and you'l forgive the obviously gendered metaphor, but I was 16, after all), that poem unfolded for me, petals of image and meaning opening to reveal more and more beautiful petals. The professor, a late-career satellite campus guy on a 4/4, was decidedly blase about the sheer joy with which I emerged from that exam, but the idea that I could spend that much time (and I took all of it) unpacking 14 lovely lines spnning out idea upon idea thrilled me. I wrote my senior term paper on death imagery in Frost, and it's all downhill from there.

I got a copy of Frost's complete works from my folks that year for my birthday or christmas, and I devoured that thing. The following spring, I had taken it on a fishing trip with my Dad and some friends, and we got caught in a wicked storm: boats much larger than ours capsized that day, and the ten-minute ride out over calm water was a two-hour return trip over 20-foot swells. I bailed water the entire trip back. Frost's collected poems were never quite the same. I carted the waterlogged book around to college, and flipped through it a couple of times after that, by the time I finally parted with it, I had moved on to e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot (see below), and then on to Anne Sexton and John Ashbery, when I read poetry at all. But the pleasures of unfolding this poem like a flower, petal by petal, remains one of my most passionate teaching stories, even if I haven't read a Frost poem closely in years.

C.S. Lewis: I already talked about Lewis's Narnia books, but in high school, a librarian introduced me to Screwtape. Lewis's Screwtape books, were for me the height of a period where I was deeply invested in reconciling the faith of my upbringing with my own rational mind. It's a long and glorious tradition: from Augustine to Locke and Pascal and onward. But I'm a narrative-driven guy, I guess, so Screwtape it was. And while I went to the devil only a few years after, my rather constant low-level struggle to reconcile any sense of the sacred with my actual understanding of the world and the universe seems to have found an early incarnation here.

T.S. Eliot: In that same poetry class where Frost made close reading come alive, I met J. Alfred Prufrock. This was one of those places where I had to mull over writing I admired vs. actual influence, and I still struggle with it, not because Eliot's poetry wasn't influential, but because I admired and still admire it so much. Eliot's sense of difficulty, gorgeous language, and bleak outlook seemed so in tune with what I was thinking of for myself that I can barely express it.

First of all, I still revel in the way that Eliot expresses the impossibility of action, the insufficiency of language, and the despair of actual connection in such stunningly beautiful language. I'm hardly the great seducer, but reading Prufrock aloud has been en effective courtship tactic at least once (and I wink at Willow here), although a quite ineffective one at at least one other point. But Eliot was a natural follow to Frost's more obvious "difficulty" and sinking my teeth into "The Waste Land" still remains one of my favorite teaching tasks...

Eliot's collected works has replaced Frost's on my shelf, and I've always wanted to find a way to write about his drama, if not his poems...

A.A. Milne: All through high school, I was often disappointed that the mermaids wouldn't sing to me, if you will. My two biggest unrequited crushes ended up being very, very close friends who thought of me as a little brother while they dated my best friend/archnemesis, Tom. Lori was the second of them, and the homecoming queen at that. I was flabbergasted that she'd even give me the time of day, and yet our friendship grew out of all sorts of common interests, despite the uneven physical desire. At any rate, as graduation gift, Lori gave me a copy of the collected Pooh stories, and we read them together sometimes, and spent a fair amount of time talking about whatever while poohsticking--racing floating sticks under bridges.

Maybe Lori was trying something, maybe she wasn't. We hooked up once after high school, but it never amounted to anything. But what is left is that simple little book, one that allowed me to imagine myself childlike. That's always been difficult for me, particularly given the fact that I had spent a lot of my life being precocious. Even now, as I read Pooh stories to my kids, I have to remind myself that sometimes, it's not just ok, but a really good idea to race sticks under bridges, or to spend some time putting a popped balloon inside a pot, and taking it out again, or taking a walk on a Windsday. Milne may not have been as much of an influence as anyone else here, but sometimes I wish he were.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Influential Writers, Annotated

In the comments to the shorter version of this post, Sisyphus pointed out that since I had tagged myself, that I'd need to do this meme twice, which seemed cause for some really self indulgent book blogging...To wit: the influential writer's meme, annotated as memoir. Part One.

Early:
King James's translators and a long history of commentators: My folks started attending church together when I was quite young. First they began as choir members, and then my father began to conduct the choir. And by the time I reached 4th grade, we were attending an evangelical church. Like so many young evangelicals, I wore my faith on my sleeve, and knew the Bible stories backwards and forwards.

At some point in middle school, I followed my parents in their New Year's resolution to read the entire Bible in a year. I read it cover to cover several times over the next several. I was a champion bible verse memorizer, and these were my allusions in early creative writing. Lord knows why I never found an early affinity for Milton, since the devotion to text and faith were complete.

I say that the Bible and its commentators were early influences for two reasons. The first is the obvious, which is that my moral and ethical upbringing always returned to this book and its commentators. In many ways, that moral upbringing was repressive, and I have abandoned it in most literal ways. But others of its lessons remain: judge not lest ye be judged, let him without sin cast the first stone, do unto others as you would have them do unto you...these are more than just aphorisms; they represent a philosophy that established to me that the msot ethical way to function in the world is through compassion and an honest and diligent attempt to imagine others' experience of the world, rather than to make judgements (and act on those judgements) based only on my own experiences. (See Harper Lee below).

The second is the more important, honestly, and it is simple. From the bible I have taken a sense of the importance of the word. The Word became flesh after all, and so I studied these words carefully. It's why I have always preferred King James, and always will, since it is the only translation in my experience that pays attentio to the language as language, whereas modern translations seem much more interested in trying quite futilely to be some kind of transparent window onto some other inscrutable divine intent. In the end, it was the Bible that taught me how to read, read closely, and to apply the ethics of texts and of language to the world around me. This I retain. There is no small irony, then, that this sense of reading carefully and closely undermined my faith in this text as literal dogma, but I still find solace in its language, if not precisely its theology.

Editors of the World Book Encyclopedia: My folks didn't have truckloads of cash to spend on books before say, high school, and while I occasionally went to the town library, it wasn't on any of our regular routes, so I was always racking up library fines. And I used the school library some too. But I read in torrents with little in between, and so often when I was bored, I'd sit down in front of my dad's 1950's childhood set of encyclopediae and just start reading. I think it became apparent to them that as a precocious child, I'd need something a bit more up-to-date, and so they laid down the money for the complete set of the World Book Encyclopedia. Whenever I'd come into the room and say I was bored, and mom would suggest I'd go read, if I said I didn't have anything, she'd ask, only partially in jest, whether I'd finished all of those World Book volumes. And so I got in the habit of plopping down in front of the one dedicated bookshelf in the house, picking a volume, and reading.

I loved the ones on different countries, and the colorful entry on flags still sticks in my head. dozens of school reports referenced these books, and when puberty hit, I got a fair number of (insufficiently tawdry) details about sex from the S volume. I suspect that were I to go back and do a cultural studies reading of any one entry, I'd find all sorts of ways that cultural hierarchies are reproduced by publications like these, which probably partially explains the amount and degree of re-enculturation I've experienced since I left home for college.

Judy Blume: Of the books I did get from the school library, Judy Blume was my most frequent source of fiction (Though I read a lot of Beverly Cleary, too. I quite remember Dear Mr. Henshaw resonating quite a bit). I don't vividly recall most of Blume's books, especially not the way many people of my generation recall, say, Are You there God? It's Me Margaret. But the ones I do most remember are Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and its sequel Superfudge. Something about an older brother being outdazzled by a mischievous younger sibling felt very familiar, and the attitude that the main character (Peter?) took to his younger brother seems to have shaped, subtly or not, the way approached my similarly boisterous younger sister. That's still a tricky relationship, though one made much more mutually appreciative by adulthood, but let's just say that Judy Blume gave me a few tools for that one.

C.S. Lewis first contact. In the sixth grade,I devoured Narnia, blowing through TLtWatW in a day or so, and moving greedily onto the next. As a thoroughly indoctrinated Christian, I was already quietly attuned to its allegory, and I was at an age where the very idea of allegory was awfully cool. I read the whole series two or three times, and read Voyage of the Dawn Treader several more times over. It was my first really memorable experience of reading greedily, something that I rarely do anymore, but when I do, it feels like a sweet spot, taking me back to the walnut-paneled bedroom with the inch-think green shag carpet. I'd click on the hot lamp clipped to my headboard, reach over to grab my plastic-framed glasses, and start in. I'm guessing my folks told me to put down one or other of these seven books and go to sleep many, many times over the course of that year.

Lewis's fantasy seems quaint now, especially in light of the technicolor films that were out over the last year or so. But it seems significant for me that these books provided a pretty clear pathway from the kind of sanctioned, often devout reading experiences I'd had to that point, and the kind of pleasures of the text I've since learned to love enough to make into my life's work. In fact, though I was no great reader of Tolkein, I've always wanted to teach or at least take a graduate course on Lewis, Tolkein, Rowling and Pullman. Lewis stands (for me) at the start of that list.

Did, Doing, Not doing

What we did: Signed a contract on a new house Friday evening, after the current owners/ remodelers took us through to show us their quite thoughtful and detail-oriented handiwork. We close on both houses May 1 (the last day of classes!).

The new place is probably about 75-85 years old (We don't have the exact year yet), but beautifully refinished, with plaster replaced by insulation and drywall, new windows, gorgeous new hardwood floors, remodeled kitchen and bathrooms, and fresh paint (mostly beautifully chosen). Without the attic finished, it's about 1700 sq feet, but the attic refinishing which should be done just before the baby is born, will add about 600 sq feet for the twins rooms and a walk-in closet. We're very excited about it. How excited? Let me see...

What I've been doing all weekend:

That's right, I've been diagramming the new house using nothing more than the draw menu on Word some clip art, and a little dash of OCD. Not only the floor plan, but where all of our existing furniture might go. This important, since it's a pretty drastic reduction in space, albeit one that saves us a lot of money in the long term and gets us into a neighborhood that better suits us (and is 3/4 mi from campus, which will add fuel savings to the mortgage savings). The point is, we havee to figure out which pieces in the new house will not fit in (like my grandmother's century-old piano) and then have enough time to find suitable homes for these things.

What I'm not doing: On the second-floor diagram, you can see, in a little smudge on the oval desk next to the blue striped bed, a small stack of papers entitled "book project." You can't see it, you say? Oh! That's because I've done virtually nothing on it in a month. I hit the 75-page wall, and have not touched the thing except to revise a few pages of prose here and there. Plus I've got an article due in the end of March that I'm not super excited to do, and a talk around the same time that I am super-excited to do (turns out enthusiasm to write is a limited resource), all of which are keeping that book project somewhere other than next to my actual desk. sigh. I'll do it right after we move, are unpacked, have a baby, and finish the attic refinishing, in between there and prep for next fall, which will give me all of about, oh, three sleep-deprived days in July.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Influential Writers Meme

"in which you name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people."

Lots of people are doing this, including Undine, who tagged me for this. I am including critics, and I will follow the lead of Lumpenprofessoriat who has taken the idea of moving chronologically. I may also list people twice, in order to indicate the return of certain writers or their ideas to my life. I'm also boldfacing writers who remain particularly influential to me now. Also, I can't stop at 25.

Finally, I'm defining influential broadly, since I mean that it shifted my thinking about both ideas on their own, and also how I conduct myself in the world. Part of this is that I think my intellectual work has a great deal of bearing on my ethical stances in life. And since you'll see a lot of stuff here on theatricality, feminism, and queerness, I think you'll see some trends.

Early:
  • King James's translators
  • Editors of the World Book Encyclopedia
  • Judy Blume
  • C.S. Lewis
Secondary School:
  • Harper Lee
  • Bullfinch (of Mythology fame)
  • William Shakespeare
  • Robert Frost
  • C.S. Lewis
  • T.S. Eliot
  • A.A. Milne
Undergraduate
  • Truman Capote
  • John Keats
  • William Shakespeare
  • Caryl Churchill
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Erica Jong
  • Italo Calvino
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Tom Stoppard
  • Michel Foucault
  • Richard Schechner
Graduate and beyond
  • Caryl Churchill
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Thomas Kyd
  • Alan Ginsburgh
  • Luigi Pirandello
  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Judith Butler
  • Michel Foucault
  • William Shakespeare
  • Peggy Phelan
  • E.L. Doctorow
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Tom Stoppard
  • Jeannette Winterson
  • Angela Carter
  • Anna Deavere Smith
  • Suzan-Lori Parks
and Undine tagged basically everyone I read (or if I missed you, sorry!) So I'll just copy and paste her list below.
  1. Bardiac
  2. Mel
  3. Profgrrrl
  4. Lesboprof
  5. Sisyphus
  6. Dr. Crazy
  7. Horace (oops, that's me)
  8. Fretful Porpentine
  9. Heu Mihi
  10. K8grrl
  11. Bittersweet Girl
  12. Dr. Virago
  13. What Now?
  14. jo(e)
  15. Dance
  16. Philosophy Factory
  17. Dr. Brazen Hussy
  18. The Salt Box
  19. Moria
  20. 10eleven
  21. Historiann
  22. New Kid
  23. PhDme
  24. MuseyMe
  25. Cheese and Responsibility

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Real Estate Timeline

Despite what we were told would be a very very sluggish market, things have been fast and furious for us on the home buying front.

1/21: Agree to list house with realtors
next two weeks: de-clutter, freshen up some paint, obsess about cleanliness, browse MLS listings for the neighborhood we want to move into.
2/10: House goes on market
2/13-16: In addition to the realtors' open house on the 16th, five different people come through the house in the first week.
2/17: We get, and haggle, and finally reject our first offer.
2/21: Despite positive early returns, obsessive HGTV watching leads me to believe that we must do scads of home maintenance (including swapping out all the hardware in the kitchen, repainting the kitchen, cleaning up several lingering projects in the yard, etc.) and invite friends over for brunch and labor.
2/22: Open House. it snows. Two people come through in two hours.
2/23-26: No activity on our house.
2/26: We go house hunting, find a few workable palces, and one place we love, for sale by owner
2/27 2pm: We put an offer on for sale by owner, despite some signs that things might be a little flaky. Still, we send many friends emails asking for good jujus on selling our house.
2/27 6pm: Earlier offer on our house comes back much closer to our acceptable range.
2/28: After a sleepless night and a bit of haggling, we accept offer on our house, after only 18 days on the market. No word yet on home we've bid on.
3/1: Still no word.
3/2: Still no word: contract as written expires. Seller --may be a bit drunk--calls realtor and says he has to talk to family and accountant. says he will be in touch next evening.
3/3: No word.
3/4 10 am: Our realtor calls seller, suspicious of seller's reliability. Seller says, "Pretty sure we can make it work," talking to accountant at 2pm.
3/4 2:17pm: still waiting. Send more good jujus.
Update:!!!
3/4 6:45pm: Sellers agree in principle to slightly reworked offer, and will sign by Friday when we do walk-through to specify work to be finished. Not a complete sigh of relief, but breathing MUCH easier!