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.


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....


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?