THOUGHTS AND IMPRESSIONS UPON ATTENDING MY FIRST REN FAIRE; THE HOAX AND OUR AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF DAVID BECKHAM; FINALLY, WHILE CELEBRATING OUR NATION’S BIRTH AND AGAINST ALL ODDS I INDEED GET A PIANO

We went to a Ren Faire. I can’t believe I’d never gone to one before! It seems vaguely up my alley, as I am extremely interested in medieval and renaissance european history, although I have always been uncomfortable with role playing. They had a forest trail (confusingly named Sherwood Enchanted Forest, so I was unclear whether it was full of faeries or whether we would be pretend-robbed; as it turned out, it was both) and you walked along it and throughout the forest were all these people basically playing pretend, like pretending to be sprites or wood nymphs or bandits or whatever else. E.g. I saw one lady who was barefoot and wearing sort of a tattered minidress made of leaves and vines and she was skipping joyfully around a tree and beckoning dramatically to passing travelers. I would like to know more about these people, their motivations and what kind of pleasure this gives them. Their faces were intense; a lot of them were REALLY inhabiting the space, expressing puckish wonder as they pretended to commune with nature spirits. You were supposed to go up to these people and give them a feather and then they would give you glitter. I stood and watched one faerie stand alone on a stump and do mystical dancing for awhile. I do not think these people were on drugs; they looked very wholesome. Role-play stuff always kind of gives me hives but I was thinking about the different ways we find to escape our presently-existing realities and this one seems no worse than any other and probably better than a lot. I’ve also been reading about immersive theater which can be a means of encouraging group political awakening and although this certainly was not that it was interesting to think of it within that tradition. At one point as I crept through the woods I looked over and there was a guy in full black cloak and hood wearing a very elaborate skull mask with twisting horns and carrying a staff and right as I saw him through the trees he turned and looked right at me.

I was very interested in the haziness of the historical concept on display. The official font and iconography of the fair was pretty clearly drawn from some point in the English Renaissance (or, more accurately, from movies about the Renaissance) but in terms of the actual eras different people and elves and theater troupes seemed to be inhabiting it was really a mixed bag. There were musical consorts playing music from many different eras, including a bagpipe group that was playing straight-up contemporary rock music (“do you think they had syncopation in medieval tymes?” I asked my old man. I actually don’t know! I don’t think Western Europeans had syncopation in the sense of using syncopation to construct a regular rhythmic pulse, which was what these bagpipe guys were doing. Then again, they loved hocketing, which is super complex syncopation, but was it in support of a rhythmic pulse ever? God now I’m suddenly thinking about the history of cultural constructions of rhythm and realizing how little I know about rhythm. I will have to ask my colleague who studies Renaissance music. I’ll report back, I’m sure you are all dying to find out. Or maybe one of you knows the answer, if so do tell). The food also was all over the place, but I guess that’s to be expected (e.g. giant roasted turkey leg you eat like a medieval king; mead; wood fired pizza; quesadillas; budweiser). Some people were dressed in vaguely Renaissance appropriate garb although I was also thinking a lot about social position and how that did NOT come into play in people’s costume choices. Like a 60 year old woman in the 1600s would not be wearing one of these off-the-shoulder dresses with the epic push-up bustier, unless she was a prostitute, I imagine. There were also a lot of lady pirates though which I thought was cool and who knows, perhaps accurate. But then other people had gone further back than the Renaissance and were fully medieval, in monk’s cloaks or heavy shapeless woolen tunics. One group was barefoot and in loincloths (“must be Polynesians or something” said Gary) and were selling decorative water fountains for your home or office. And then within all of this period stuff there were also people dressed as sexy cartoon animals, which, why do THESE two things go together?? I get why you’d go to a Ren Faire wearing a cloak and actual dagger but what does a sexy cat with neon blue hair or like a guy in assless chaps with a perky fox tail poking out the butt have to do with Olden Tymes?? The role-play stuff was periodically somewhat poignant, when the undercurrent of erotic fantasy jarred awkwardly against all the middle-aged dads in khaki shorts eating fried dough; one guy was wearing an enormous tiger head and as he waited in the pizza line a drunk man yelled AREN’T YOU HOT IN THAT THING? And the tiger man simply regarded him without speaking, conveying an impression of wounded mystification, like, am I hot in WHAT thing, this is simply my real head sir, how dare you invade my fantasy space.

The horsemen were pretty firmly Renaissance-era though, and they were also amazing. That was something else interesting, which was the incredible skills on display. These horse people! One guy came riding into the jousting arena standing on the backs of two galloping horses, which he then led in a series of complicated loopty-loops while everyone yelled. Since we don’t live in Renaissance times when such horsemanship would win you the favor of a Lord and a sack of fine gold, how and where do people learn such stuff? Our friends were speculating that they’re just “local horse people” who make extra money doing the Ren Faire horse show, but the skills on display at this thing would take ages to develop and I don’t think just any old horse person could do it. Like riding horses full-tilt at each other with big-ass lances and shields and hitting each other dead center and then whipping the horse around in a tight turn, flinging the lance into a hay bale, grabbing another lance out of the ground and immediately spearing it through a ring tossed high in the sky by a squire, then grabbing a sword and knocking off a bunch of dummies’ heads? Where are they practicing this stuff? It was awesome

There was also a woman who put on a show with her trained cat that I at first scoffed at and then became legitimately awed by.

But many other skills were on display as well, for example spinning yarn, roasting chickens with a homemade spit, cheesemaking, blacksmithing (there was an on-site forge where you could watch men in tunics hammering on shit while confusingly a woman in sexy leather gear and animal horns watched them and yelled encouragement), archery. There was a guy selling beautiful wooden bows and arrows! There were guys putting on swordfighting demonstrations. I kept thinking about the Dies The Fire series of post-apoc novels where the only people who survive the apocalypse are dark military guys and Ren Faire people. And the Ren Faire people immediately found a new society based on like vague Wicca stuff mixed with Tolkien, and they are very successful because they already know how to drive a horse team and card wool and tan leather and shoot arrows and shit.

I bought a decorated human skull and I ate fried dough. My husband drank a thimbleful of mead that he pronounced “sweet.” I saw a man drinking out of a straight-up drinking horn, and it looked badass. A group of goth teens passed by and I heard one of them say “see, instead of rednecks, it’s white nerds,” which also made me wonder about the alt-right component of these things. On its surface it seemed very gentle and fun and extremely welcoming to all kinds of people but I bet also this is the kind of shit those alt-right guys love. They are after all essentially nerds, just mean ones. They love all that stuff, all that creepy excalibur white european fascist fantasy stuff. This made me sad. However although I did see a guy wearing an NRA shirt I did not see anything I recognized as white nationalist so who knows.

I did see:

A middle aged man dressed sort of as a wizard, who was walking around with a dragon puppet on one hand, which he was manipulating to look very “real” and to which he was talking very sincerely. This mystical mage with his dragon familiar, speaking of spells and dark magick! In his other hand he held a long, gnarled, Gandalf type staff. But then as I watched, his cell phone rang, and he answered it, holding it between his ear and his shoulder and using the hand with the dragon puppet to hold his staff, such that the dragon was just kind of smushed up against the staff, forgotten, while the guy was like “yeah? Yeah ok” into his phone

As I was walking past the jousting arena where horsemen were yelling into headset microphones to get the crowd amped up (“GOOD PEOPLE! DO YOU CHEER FOR SIR WILLIAM”) a man in a monk’s tunic walked past me and he was squishing a plastic water bottle in his hand and looking at it in wonderment and then he said to himself “Aye! ‘Tis crinkly!”

We took refuge from the blasting sun of the jousting arena and went to sit in the shade by the spare horses. After awhile one of the squires came back there leading the horses from the arena and although we were the only people back there he yelled “MAKE WAY FOR THE STEEDS!” and then he said “in truth ye should not be back here.” So we left

A man selling pottery gave me a small metal dragon figurine and tried to engage me in pretending it was a real dragon that had just hatched. I told him I was happy for him and that it was cool.

A wildlife organization had a bunch of raptors on display and I got very sad watching the raven who was bored and agitated. There was also a very tiny wood owl who was staring wide-eyed at a giant hawk next to it. What a weird life animals have in the modern age.

Anyway

Last night as we lay peacefully abed, trying to sleep but instead discussing capitalist logic and how it rears its head everywhere even in conversations with loved ones, even in our own predilections and perceptions, and getting more and more wound up, we then tried to calm ourselves back down by talking about our favorite film, “The Hoax,” which is about a man (the titular The Hoax (pronounced “Tay Ho-axe”)) who pretends to have interviewed Howard Hughes and writes an authorized autobiography of him even though it is all a scam. All jokes about the title aside, this is a true story, the man’s name is Clifford Irving and he had the chutzpah of a thousand medieval warriors to do what he did. “It was a different time,” my old man protested, meaning, I suppose, that no one could use the internet to somehow disprove Irving’s wild tale; furthermore, Irving was clearly banking on the hope that Hughes was too far gone in his descent into madness to even be aware that a book had been published. Which, sadly for Irving, turned out not to be the case. I encourage you to watch The Hoax starring Richard Gere as The Hoax/Clifford Irving (“Clifford Irving IS……THE HOAX”) and even more so “F for Fake” by Orson Welles if you are interested in this bananas tale of fraud and tomfoolery. Clifford Irving is still alive and not in jail, which I feel represents a great triumph and he should probably be our president.

Still, it is totally shocking when you think about it, how easy it would be to fabricate somebody’s biography without their consent or knowledge and then pass it off as real. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Why hasn’t someone published a book of interviews with J.D. Salinger or somebody like that? If Salinger protested, I mean, how could he PROVE you had never interviewed him? It’d be his word against yours. Really it seems like it would only take just a bit of forethought (e.g. actually buying some plane tickets and traveling a couple times to Salinger’s town, which ticket stubs you could later produce as evidence that you had visited him).

We started laughing so hard, imagining doing this. Who would we try to profit off of in this way? Salinger would be a good one. It would also be useful if the person were probably dead but unverifiably so, like poor Shelly Miscavige or something, except that would be a stupid move because the cult-that-shall-not-be-named would have you killed. But then we started laughing harder, imagining doing it as an obvious joke–not intending anyone to think it was a real book. Like, not doing any research and just making it up. Ten years ago I think you could have made a million dollars writing such a fake joke biography of Banksy, for example, and it would be great because you know he’d probably think it was funny and wouldn’t sue you; it would just add to the ambiguity and mystery.

We finally settled on David Beckham. Somebody very famous, not reclusive at all, somebody who has given a million interviews that you can easily find on the internet and disprove everything in the book, somebody currently alive and in full possession of his wits, who seems like basically a pretty nice guy, and who would probably not understand the joke. It would be amazing. It’d technically be a novel, but it would never acknowledge itself as such; it would simply be a made-up biography of David Beckham. The cover would be a straightforward photo of him, à la all celebrity memoirs. It would be kind of like “Being John Malkovich” only it would seem to be earnestly non-fiction. But we would do no research whatsoever; we wouldn’t even read his Wikipedia page. The book would obviously be written by someone who knew almost nothing about soccer–we’d use the word “soccer,” for example, even when supposedly directly quoting him and other Brits–and nothing about Beckham’s life. We’d make up dialogue in an awkward British idiom that would have no relation to his actual speech patterns. “I was born in Leeds in 1965. Me mum was a washerwoman and I never knew me da.” The soccer talk would be extremely vague. “I got the ball from my teammate and kicked it down the field. I scored a goal. I scored the most goals of all. My team beat the other team in the big soccer competition.” We also decided the biography would also just be about Beckham’s lifelong desire to be a famous movie actor, and would focus primarily on all the film cameos he’s done; soccer would be sort of secondary, something he did to make money even though it wasn’t his real dream. The book would be called “I, DAVID.”

And we would also include things in the book like “when this book is published, I will deny everything in it. I will insist that the author is a fraud and that I never met them in my life. But you will know, reader, that my denials are themselves false; everything in this book is the absolute truth.”

If you steal our idea I will hunt you down

Yesterday was July the Fourth, one of my least favorite holidays. Actually I am of two minds on most holidays: I hate the concepts most of them are founded upon and yet I enjoy having a day off work and think it is important for society that such days off be enforced by law. July Fourth is no different. I don’t like: hot dogs, America, patriotism, drinking during the day, fireworks, the way fireworks absolutely terrorize dogs and how you have to sit there listening ot every dog in the neighborhood screaming in fear for two hours. And yet, it’s a fun day off and you can go to the river with your friends and all your dogs. And, I do enjoy a parade. So that’s where I’m at, w/r/t July Fourth.

We had big plans for the day, specifically we were being taken to a secret place by our friends about which I have been sworn to secrecy but rest assured it was amazing. It’s an island you can only get to with a boat (in our case, a canoe our friends purchased on the side of the road for $80), and we went there, and there was no one else anywhere near, and it was silent and we sat on a beach idly swimming in the warm lake and listening to bullfrogs and it was simply delightful. Anyway we were late for the meet-up for this event and as we were driving away from our house in a panic we saw that our neighbor two doors down was having a yard sale, and at the yard sale there was a piano! I yelled STOP and we screeched to a halt and ran over there.

I’ve been, as you know, somewhat stressed out by the need to have a piano in my house combined with my unwillingness to pay a lot of money for the privilege. Pianos are a very weird type of object–so far as I know, there are only two options: spend a lot of money on a good one, or spend zero money on a very bad one. The bad ones are more or less fine for my purposes (I shall never be a Yuja Wang nor even a moderately talented amateur, lets be real), yet you still have to pay $400 to somebody to move even a very bad piano, and it feels weird to spend that much money on such a junker. Plus I was balking at the hassle of setting it all up, all the phone calls and negotiations and I knew I’d have to get the mover to come scout out my house before I even hired him because the piano has to go into a kind of awkward space and I wasn’t sure it would work. Anyway, et cetera. SO, as soon as I saw the piano at the yard sale, I thought, this might be the answer to all my prayers! Or anyway my piano-based prayers. I ran over to our neighbor, Scott, who was sitting there tuning it as I approached.
“I’m in the market for a piano!” I yelled at him.
“You are? Well I’m selling one!”
“My only issue is, can it be tuned to concert pitch? I made a mistake with my last piano”
“Well I’m tuning it to concert pitch right now!” and then he went beep beep beep on a little keyboard he was using to tune it and I yelled RIGHT ON
“If I buy it will you help us move it? We live two doors down”
“Oh, the little bungalow? Sure, I can help you move it. I’ve been trying to get rid of it for ages, I’m thrilled you want to buy it.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“I don’t know. Make me an offer.”
“Uh….$200?”
“Well…how about $100?”
“Okay!”

I asked him to come scout the route and measure the inner hallways with me, which he did. While in our house he informed us that he’d done some carpentry work on it before it was sold. He’s a carpenter–comically, also at his yard sale was a table of the EXACT size and dimensions we’ve been looking for for over a year; finally my old man just built one, but now here was a lovely one all ready to go. “Yeah, you can’t find tables with those dimensions so I just built one,” our neighbor said. NO SHIT! He was also selling all these expansion packs for the game Carcassone, and he was also talking about how he’s been recording birds with a microphone in the morning. So basically our neighbor is my husband, it is very very strange. And we’d never met him before!

He scouted the route and said it’d fit. We went back to the piano and found our neighbor Henry there. Henry is very cool and helpful and just likes to know all about what’s going on in the neighborhood–he’s the one who likes to come over when we are doing yard work and offer us gentle suggestions that are somehow compelling yet unobtrusive. Like he’ll watch you hacking away at a log for awhile and then he’ll go “hey, do you wanna try my maul? It might be better, I don’t know…” and then you try it and of course it’s infinitely superior to the way you’d been doing the chore, which obviously Henry knew because he is a rad old new england man who knows how to do this stuff and you are a dipshit west coast city person who hasn’t hacked at a log since 7th grade when you did it poorly and grudgingly because your mom said you had to. Henry’s also the guy who painted a picture of our house and gave it to us! Henry rules–anyway he’d come over to see what we were talking about. “Do you want me to go get my furniture dolly?” he asked. Well yeah, we sure did! He ran off and was back in a second. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find it but it was right where I’d left it!” he announced. He and Scott hefted the piano onto the dolly and we all stood looking at it. “Well thanks for the dolly, Henry,” said Scott, “actually I don’t know what we would have done without it,” which was true. At that point our other neighbor Noel, who, like Henry, is cool, retired, profoundly competent (he recently yelled up at my old man who was on the roof trying to fix a leak to JUST CAULK IT, which totally worked) and interested in neighborhood goings-on, came over to see what all the hoo-ra was about, and he also started helping. It became an exciting neighborhood event–people were on their porches waving and cheering as we went past, and Noel’s wife came out and excitedly watched and yelled encouragement. I of course did not help at all and didn’t even offer to help. I could lift probably 0.002% of the piano with my small doll’s arms so I just stayed out of the way and tried not to yell things like BE CAREFUL and DON’T HURT YOURSELF, obviously unhelpful advice. I was so scared one of these nice men would hurt his back moving my stupid piano; so far as I know this did not happen although they probably would have hidden it if it had.

Well those fellas (plus Scott’s teen son, amiably conscripted into service) just rolled that ol’ piano down the sidewalk and hulked it up the steps and muscled it through the door and carried it through the house and wedged it into the hallway in front of my office, at which point it got stuck. A few timid jokes were made about just leaving it there, but then somebody realized they could just lift the whole damn thing up over the baseboards and then it would fit, which it did. They rolled it into my office and against the wall and Scott played a glissando all the way down the keyboard and everyone cheered. Then Henry and Noel just IMMEDIATELY said “well, see ya,” and left. No big deal, just another day moving a piano down the street for no reason! What cool guys! I’m going to bake them miniature blueberry pies today because our blueberries are ripe now. This truly has been a dispatch from Quaint New England, thank you

Anyway now I have a $100 junky old jangly-ass piano that stays marginally in tune which is all I ever wanted. Now I’m going to learn how to tune it myself using YouTube and a guzheng tuning wrench I bought on ebay. What could go wrong???? (cut to: piano falling over and landing on top of me, completely crushing my entire skeleton)

Well that’s about it for me, enjoy your day

Posted in Opinion | 1 Comment

Sweet Child

I spent $20 on a replica of a coffee cup from the Titanic and I am so pleased by this expenditure and would do it again. It’s a very subtly oddly shaped cup made of thick white ceramic, and it has the heroic WHITE STAR LINE logo on one side in red. A gentleman’s cup indeed, now resting on the bottom of the deepest darkest coldest ocean, gently encrusted with weird algaes.

The other night we listened to every cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses that is available on Spotify. It took hours, and we didn’t even listen to full songs. It was a strange odyssey into the unknowable, algae-encrusted depths of the internet, upon the silent floors of which lie innumerable–literally innumerable; if pressed I could not even hazard a guess as to how many there were–covers of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, every single one, with the exception of Sheryl Crow’s, made by people or groups you have never heard of in your life. Some of them were just the full track of the original but with different vocals on top. Some were dramatically re-envisioned versions of the song; there were many, many sensitive solo piano versions, a dub-step version, at least three reggae versions, one country version, and a lot of house remix versions. There were versions for solo violin, two violins, solo cello, one harp, two harps, bagpipes, solo banjo, flute, several for string quartet, one for full orchestra, several versions for mandolin including at least three done by full bluegrass bands, many marching band and acapella group versions, several done as New Orleans style jazz, a couple live ones where it was a band playing the riff with a person yelling wildly (not singing) in a language I couldn’t identify, several on xylophone including at least two off an album of lullabies for infants, and this crazy one, the best one, that was like “Buffalo Soldier” production with Springsteen nasty sax on top.

You access all these by simply typing “Sweet Child O” into spotify. This captures the correct title, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” as well as the incorrect but common variant “Sweet Child Of Mine.” A few of the results are just unrelated songs that happen to share that title, including a few about Jesus.

It is clear that the opening riff of this song is very compelling to people all over the world, which seems fair to me, as it is a very good riff. All the cover versions also reveal that Sweet Child is actually a ballad, with this randomly tough-sounding riff as its backbone; this interesting affective tension becomes evident in the many sensitive ballad versions of the song, which turn the riff into a slow, sweet tune. The covers also really forcefully bring home how bad the actual song is, I mean the main melody and lyrics. All the versions of the opening riff are like, okay, this sounds pretty chill, like a string quartet interpretation of that riff and the chord changes underlying it, this is not bad. Then when the song starts it’s like…hoo boy. Everyone really leans on that awful blue note in the first line.

Many, many of the covers get the riff wrong in various ways, and it never stopped being jarring. Other versions reharmonized the song, which I found interesting.

We started listening to them and I assumed there would be three or five, but then they just went on forever; every time I got to the bottom of the spotify search results it would load more. It went on and on, and I became obsessed in a sort of Ahab-esque fashion. I didn’t want to quit before reaching the end. I kept playing them and playing them, periodically getting up to go sit in the dog’s bed so I could recharge my phone. My old man lay on the couch, accepting this sonic journey as this is something we periodically both do and it is one of the compromises of our marriage, going on tedious never-ending sonic journeys such as this, for example in the early days he liked to turn on the radio in the car and then turn the volume all the way up and all the way down over and over again for many minutes at a time; for another example just this afternoon he sat in the living room and listened to two full sound effects records (horse running; cat meowing; thunderstorm) from the 1970s in their entirety (and I will add that he has listened to these records before); another time he promised to make me tater tots and have 90s R&B playing when I arrived home from work but instead when I arrived home he was asleep on the couch and a recording of train whistles was blasting at top volume. So my Sweet Child journey was fair and just and my right and he accepted it as such. As I played the Sweet Child covers the sun slowly set over our neighbor’s house and lit up the trees beyond with a beautiful pink glow. Then the glow slowly faded and night fell. The Sweet Child covers continued. The windows were all open wide; I can not imagine what our neighbors thought. I kept thinking my old man had fallen asleep but then he’d suddenly burst out laughing at a new cover, for example the aforementioned reggae plus nasty sax one. When we finally reached the end I turned on the living room light and we stared at each other. How could it be? How is the panoply of human experience and expression possible?

Then we watched a movie and we both just kept hearing the Sweet Child riff in everything. It’s still running through my head now, and this all happened several days ago. In fact it all started, now that I am thinking about it, because I remembered this wonderful piece of sound art a friend named Aaron made, where he took just the first bar of the riff and ran it through a Steve Reich-esque phasing process for nine minutes, during which the riff goes on a journey of discovery of its own, engaging in different harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic formulations with itself before ultimately returning to coherence.

I want to go on the spotify journey again with other iconic riff-based songs, for example “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith. Just see what else is out there!

I had to go to school for a meeting yesterday despite it being summer and everyone was so pissed. At the end of the meeting our area head was like ok we need to schedule another meeting for tomorrow and everyone was like WHY and CAN’T WE JUST DO IT OVER EMAIL and AWWWWWW NUTS COME ON DAD.

I do like being on campus during the summer because all my otherwise fairly straitlaced new england conservatory style colleagues are in full on summer mode, straight up flip flops and shorts and tank tops, it rules. I was in my office constructing yet another email to the business manager about reimbursement receipts when one colleague came breezing in, in boat shoes with no socks and a lovely light linen shirt, and sunglasses, and sat down and was all casual like “what time is it, my watch is still set to west coast time, no big deal.”

Now I’m rewriting my book’s introduction for probably the billionth time, after hacking out a totally new outline for it with Gary two days ago. I love outlining so much, and yet it is the hardest type of enthusiasm to convey to students. I have gotten business majors excited about John Cage’s 4’33” so believe me I know how to convey enthusiasm for weird shit to people who don’t care at all about it; it is one of my talents as a teacher, which I know from the innumerable comments on my teaching evaluations that say some variant of “she made boring stuff really interesting,” a comment that always bothers me (if it was interesting then it wasn’t boring; things aren’t just “boring” as an innate feature of themselves) but what are you going to do. And yet, for all the years I have tried to convey the joy of outlining, I don’t believe I have ever once succeeded, though I have really put my heart and soul into it. It is my own personal poetic justice too because in my own student days I absolutely refused to outline, and I told my teachers all the same hubristic self-satsified nonsense my students say to me today: oh, I don’t need outlines, I like to just start writing and “see where the ideas take me,” etc. News flash kid, this is why your papers are all just stream-of-consciousness ramblings and I give you a damn B. Youth truly is wasted on the young, as I believe Oscar Wilde once famously said or wrote, although he certainly was not talking about outlining when he said or wrote it. And now I must ceaselessly rue my youthful braggings as cascades of my own students confidently inform me that they don’t need to outline in order to write a great paper; and so I am literally living the metaphor for hubris represented by the Titanic

Posted in Opinion | 3 Comments

Spring Break All Summer

In an uncharacteristic move, I just ate lunch. I had a nice crunchy vegetable roll at the sushi place in the big dining commons. Even more uncharacteristically, after eating the delicious sushi I thought “who cares” and went to the bakery and got a delicious little fruit tart thingy. I would honestly eat another one.

Why am I relaxed and chill enough to be eating lunch plus desserts all day long, you ask? Oh it’s not much, just THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER BREAK

I have finally uploaded my grades, on the last possible day before the deadline. Now it’s time to just sit back, put on a pair of sunglasses, and wait for those angry student emails to roll in, baby!

I now have three hours to kill before my old man is ready to go home. He came to campus today to be on his student’s podcast; I only had to come to campus because of a literally bananas paperwork situation I’ve somehow become embroiled in regarding a late-add for an independent study. This has somehow entailed me needing to send multiple emails to not one but TWO academic deans, filling out at least six pieces of paperwork only to be told they were the wrong pieces, and the student in question sending me increasingly frantic emails because he’s supposed to graduate. I’m still not sure it’s all taken care of; please pray for all of us trapped in a nightmare bureaucracy.

A few weeks ago a ceiling in one of the practice rooms by my office caved in and water started pouring down onto the piano in there. Then maintenance came and put up a biohazard tent around the entire area with all this red signage that said DANGER ASBESTOS CANCER. After awhile that all went away, but then a sewage pipe busted and poured sewage into the percussion studio. I love that this is my daily environment and then for my research I go read a bunch of stupid shit artists say about how academics don’t live in “the real world.” I guess this is true, in the sense that in regular middle class society I would imagine raw sewage pouring into your office would be considered shocking and unacceptable, while here it is fairly normal. “In Mother Russia, sewage pours on YOU!”

I am re-reading David Lodge’s “Nice Work,” which is a satire written in 1988 in which a literary theory professor is assigned a totally absurd PR task where she has to spent ten weeks shadowing a titan of local industry, because of widespread antagonism toward the university along the lines described above (academia is an ivory tower, nobody there knows what a real job is like, etc.). There are all these hilarious descriptions of the money-saving rules imposed by the Dean of the college, like everyone in the English department having to share a single telephone, so then they’re all spending all their time running up and down the halls fetching each other to calls and missing all their tutorials. The Dean has said secretaries are supposed to save money on typewriter ink by using acronyms wherever possible, so then all campus communication becomes totally garbled and no one can parse these weird memos that they’re supposed to talk about at meetings. Anyway as a PR stunt the Dean decides a faculty member needs to go follow a businessman around for ten weeks and this junior faculty member in English gets stuck with the job because she feels like she can’t say no due to having no institutional security. She’s a specialist on the nineteenth-century industrial novel, and everyone keeps saying it’ll be good for her research to go hang around in a modern factory all day. It’s such a great book because both the businessman and the professor are wholly sympathetic and also Lodge spends time gently making fun of both of them. The reader is sort of compelled to see the value or at least the reasonableness in both their perspectives. Both of them live in a state of stressful precarity–she because she’s not on the tenure track and he because his factory is constantly on the edge of going under the production metrics that have been set by some CEO high above him. He’s depressed and unsatisfied without knowing why (capitalism), and she’s kind of an out-of-touch snob and doesn’t realize it (academic marxism). And they both learn from each other and it’s kind of absurdly heart-warming. He starts deconstructing the symbols in advertisements and she starts saying things like “YEAH BUT WHO’LL PAY FOR IT” when her colleagues complain about their shitty offices. He learns the difference between metaphor and metonymy and she gets really engaged in this complicated subterfuge he’s undertaking to find out which competitor underbid him with a client. She uses Freudian analysis to help him understand the weaknesses of one of his enemies; he teaches her how to negotiate like a hardass. Then he falls in love with her but she’s a liberated feminist who doesn’t believe in monogamous bonds and so she’s like “no thanks.” But then in desperation he gets the CEO of his company to set up ANOTHER PR scheme where HE has to follow HER around for 10 weeks. And he sits on her lectures and her tutorials and watches her advising students and gets his mind blown by Wuthering Heights and the history of capitalism and stuff, and is baffled by how hard she works for how little money. And they come to value and support one another via understanding and respecting one another’s labor, but they don’t end up together, they go back to their own worlds, both wiser and more fully actualized. Anyway I just gave away the ending but it’s great and it’s got so many inside jokes meant for readers who know about deconstructionism and Lacan and Freud and what the cold war academic critique of bourgeois norms was like. VERY FUN, I wish there were more books firmly set in academia, meaning books that actually deploy the minutiae of academia; books written by people with strong working knowledge of academia. Here are the ones I know, will you tell me if there are other good ones?
– That Don DeLillo one where the guy is the chair of Hitler Studies but can’t speak German. I couldn’t get into this book even though that is a great premise
– David Lodge’s trilogy
– Lucky Jim (spectacular)
– Stoner (very sad)
– The Secret History (sort of (fancy boarding school))
– On Beauty to some extent
– I just finished reading a kind of pretty bad novel but it’s written by someone who is married to a famous scholar whose work I know and the main love interest in the book is clearly based on this scholar and so how can you not read it? It was very fun to read

Oh yeah, I started googling and there are so many. There are like 100.
– Wonder Boys
– The Marriage Plot!!! What a piece of shit yet it does meet my criteria

How can I know which of these I’m googling are good? Somebody tell me. I am NOT reading Phillip Roth, I’d rather go to jail (exaggeration)

A long time ago we identified a dramatic new way to orient our living room that would require the purchase of a couple of very specifically-sized and -shaped pieces of furniture (e.g. a very short, unusually low loveseat). We looked with diligence for months, driving all over the place, driving to Vermont, driving 1.5 hours to various antique malls, and never found a single thing, then suddenly we found almost everything all at once in a store five blocks from our house. The last thing we needed was a square coffee table, and somewhere we’d heard about this outdoor antique market that happens in the summer 20 minutes from here, so one day we spontaneously decided to go. It turns out this thing is a HUGE DEAL. The traffic jam just to get into the town was like 2 miles long. Parking was $7 and even though we got there at 10 in the morning half the lots were already full. The market itself went on forever, it was endless. We walked for hours and never got to the end of it. It was so fun. I love walking around a gigantic outdoor market, and passing all the people who have bought innumerable weird random things and are now carrying them around in one hand while eating fried dough in the other hand. We saw people carrying: a stuffed deer’s head; two sections of a picket fence; a large cactus in a pot; a floor lamp whose base was made of wicker; a canoe; a Hudson Bay wool blanket; a styrofoam mermaid; a Japanese sword; and one guy riding a bike down the middle of the street with a stack of twelve dinner plates under one arm. Anyway we found our dream coffee table and took it home and considered it a day well spent.

The biggest thing on my summer to-do list is revising my book. I’m already done with the first pass through it and have rewritten the intro and conclusion and I’m sort of nervous now because this is always the point at which my brain fails me. I get a piece of writing to a certain level of smartness and then it’s hard for me to see beyond it, because I’m not yet smart enough to do so, even though I am smart enough to see that the piece of writing isn’t quite smart enough yet. So I’m scared and am taking today off and also tomorrow if I can stick to it, so I can bring refreshed eyes to it hopefully. If someone offered me the pill from Limitless I would take it, even though I know it’s a fairy tale whose moral is that attaining success without working properly for it will always bring sorrow in the end.

I haven’t done anything interesting but work on my book for so many months. I wish I had a cool adventure to relate. Thinking about writing a letter to our local paper expressing my displeasure with the way one of our town council members has been trying to trick us into letting big box stores onto main street, that sort of thing. Basically I guess I am leading the life you’d pretty much expect of a 40 year old professor.

I’m doing a new thing where I set an alarm while I’m writing and every hour I get up and do a bunch of pushups. Soon I will be buff, strong, sleek, and healthy, how great

Posted in Opinion | 6 Comments