I Celebrate Myself

Well I’m back in that bar (the one with Jesse’s fucked up playlist), waiting once again for my husband to attend some goddamn film screening, one that will surely have a Q&A that goes on and on and on and that he won’t leave early because he’s so polite.

I have learned a lot about film due to being married to this guy, and I am grateful for it and have really enjoyed becoming more knowledgeable and developing an ability to have thoughts about even the weirdest experimental cinema. But at this point just right this moment I am extremely over it. Some weird-ass 45 minute movie that’s just like a guy swinging a camera back and forth and the soundtrack is the sound of paper ripping or some shit. I spend my entire career trying to get my students to “Be excited about art” and “have ideas about art” and I go home and complain about how unwilling they are to engage with art and then when my husband is like “you could come to the screening, it starts right after your class ends and is right next door” I am like “…………………………….yeah maybe” and he is like “you’re not going to come are you” and I am like “no”

No, I have to walk into town, eat a huge bowl of hot and sour soup while reading a scathing review of “The Fate of the Furious” and then get approximately two beers at the bar where all the grad students hang out and do their grading. The person next to me is grading AT THIS MOMENT.

Actually I just remembered the screening is “Daughters of the Dust,” which is a rad movie. I’m still glad I came into town and got soup and beer though, you know, Wednesdays are a long-ass day and momma’s tired.

Last night was the first night it was warm enough to sit outside at dusk and there were just immediately swarms of mosquitos. They come IMMEDIATELY the moment it is even mildly summertime; there is no period of time in this part of the country where you can sit outside at night, unless you are willing to do it in the freezing cold, or right next to a smoky fire. It is the only thing I don’t like about this place. When I see pictures of my friends relaxing outside on a balmy summer’s eve I get very jealous and sad. Having windows with no screens in them!!! Such a thing would be unthinkable here. I remember reading somewhere about all the refugees from the Reign of Terror who fled to New England (weird to call them refugees as they were specifically members of the aristocracy, but to be fair they were legitimately fleeing for their lives) and their letters home are full of psychedelic, horror-struck descriptions of the hordes of immense biting insects that fling themselves against the window as soon as night falls. “Mon dieu!”

I am not reading anything interesting, apart from scholarship for my work, which I assume you don’t want to hear about, which is fine and I don’t blame you. I haven’t read a novel in forever. The last movie I saw in the theater was Ghost in the Shell, which was just sort of nothing. Again, the only reason I saw it was because my husband teaches the original Japanese version(s) and he was interested in the American live action remake. It was weirdly Americanized, like it was all about authenticity and individualism and people brooding about how can they be human if they are actually a machine. WHO CARES. The Japanese version isn’t really like that, or is like that in a way less self-centered way, plus, as my old man noted, in the original, “The Major really loves catchin’ crooks,” which didn’t seem super motivating to Scar-Jo. Also, it’s been years now and can we all admit, with love, that Scar-Jo is not a good actress? She has an incredible FACE, a face you could watch for hours, and I fully respect and understand why she is a famous actress, and am even fine with it–I enjoy looking at her face as much as anybody–but lord

Also the score was different and worse. The original theme song is AN ABSOLUTE BANGER

Every single preview we saw was a preview for a movie that was either a new entry in a franchise, or a remake of an existing film. We are living in a weird time. How many times do we, as a people, require being re-told the story of Beauty and the Beast, or the Power Rangers, or Transformers, or Planet of the Apes? I get that folktales are not meant to seem novel–their charm comes partially from their familiarity–but there’s something pretty fucking sick in contemplating the lunatic amounts of money spent to just show us those fucking apes again. The entire world could be fed for 10 years with the money spent on just the movies whose previews we saw before Ghost in the Shell. And of course G in the S itself is a remake.

We also saw King Kong, which I would describe as “fucking terrible.” My old man said “that was a movie made by people who have never had any kind of experience.” King Kong of course is also a remake, or a franchise entry, however you want to think of it. People of the future will wonder what our obsession with gigantic and/or talking apes and heroic alien car-men had to do with why we elected Donald Trump president and effectively brought an end to the Western liberal tradition. Actually I think it’ll be pretty obvious. “As you can see,” the professors of the future will say to their students, “their culture had become totally hollowed out by commodification and a worship of the profit motive, which evacuated morality from their worldview and chained them to an endless cycle of talking monkey movies and using data and spreadsheets to justify war.” “What’s a movie,” a student will ask. The professor will sigh. “Patrick, did you do the reading for today?” the professor will ask. The professor will go home and wonder yet again if they ought to implement pop reading quizzes even though it is infantilizing to their students and beneath their dignity as a practicing intellectual. They will check their work email even though they know they ought to be meditating or something. Will their work email contain a message from the business manager telling them that because they used the corporate card instead of the commercial card to pay for the visiting artist’s dinner, they will have to pay out of pocket for the alcohol that was consumed, even though there is enough money in the grant the professor received to cover everything? Only time will tell

We watched the first episode of Westworld too. It was fine. Then the next night I said “well, should we keep watching Westworld?” and my old man said “you know, on our deathbed, are we really gonna wish we had watched more episodes of Westworld?”

There are six school days left in the year! I just realized.

Here are my summer plans, listed in order of priority:
– revise my book
– write an article about this stupid opera I’m going to see in July
– can enough tomatoes to last us until next tomato season! This is a big goal
– start exercising again
– wear sunscreen every day

Our wonderful Best New England friends refer to this coming summer as “spring break every day,” and they send us regular supportive texts about it, which I love. We have big plans. Croquet, tubing, many river trips, game nights, fires in the yard, moscow mules in the copper cups I bought just for this purpose, dog parties. How amazing is it that our very best friends here we met randomly at a bar?? When did you ever hear of such a thing? And they are ten years younger than us (to be fair, ten years younger than my old man; they are more like thirteen years younger than yours truly. One time I introduced them to a friend who is my age and she said “are those your young friends you’ve told me about” and I said yes and she said “I can tell because of their beautiful skin”), which is invigorating. They are fucking delightful. We learned much later that they intentionally set out to befriend us, by lying about how they already knew how to play Settlers of Catan. I am so happy!

Do you know what else, I am turning forty this summer. The days of #PushinForty are quickly coming to a close. Awhile ago I texted Katy to let her know I’d made eggplant parmesan and she responded “we have been pushin forty for so long.”

What should I do for my fortieth?! What Does One Do For One’s Fortieth? Maybe I should do something I’ve never done before in my life, like run down main street naked. Really, why not? On your deathbed, are you really gonna wish you hadn’t run down main street naked? I doubt it. No way. Your grandchild will be like “Grandma remember how you ran down main street naked” and you’ll be like “yes child….that…..owned….”

Honestly I am fine with turning forty. FORTY!!!!!!! God, it sounds hilarious. But it’s fine. I wouldn’t be twenty again for a million dollars. I am truly such a piece of shit idiot now but I was a thousand times worse at age 20; no thank you.

I am approaching (*trying to approach) my aging body with an aesthetically detached evaluative ethos. My hands look crazy to me–the wrinkles and crags in my hands, how bony they are, the myriad little scars that have piled up over the decades. Beautiful! I don’t give a shit. Here are the scars you can see on my hands:
– scar on right thumb where at age 7 I slammed my thumb so hard in the door of the house we were renting while my Dad and his buddies were building our actual house across the canyon that my thumbnail fully fell all the way off
– scar on my left thumb where, during a wrestling bout with my husband during the first few months we were dating, in the year 2003, the skin of my thumb caught on his ACTUAL BRACES and a big ol’ gash opened up
– scar on my left palm where I was de-seeding an avocado with foolish haste at Katy’s house in Long Beach and the knife slipped and jabbed deeply into my palm and we both screamed and stared at my palm and Katy yelled WHAT DO WE DO????? and then nothing happened, no blood or anything?? Just a deep, deep wound in my flesh? But no blood at all? Still a very weird experience
– scar on my right wrist where you will recall I slashed myself while washing dishes too quickly, which necessitated a sprint to the Emergency Room and like 24 stitches or something, and that guy sponge-bathing blood off the bottoms of my feet

That’s just my hands! Other Classic Scars:
– big blob of scar tissue on my hip from where I literally just fell down while walking one day
– huge round scar on right elbow from epic bike crash in high school while biking down our dirt road with my brother, and I flew over the handlebars and skidded into a nettle patch and when my brother came running up I said “Clyde honey I think I broke my arm,” which I believe is a line from “Witches of Eastwick,” a movie we were really into at that time
– tiny scar on outside of right big toe from sting ray stinging me in Baja, Spring Break 1994!!!!!
– weird long scar down right shin from Mr. Snoopy clawing me while playing
– scar underneath right boob from mole removal (remember, the dermatologist pronounced me cancer-free, saying “your body just makes weird moles”)
– almost invisible scar down left temple that now only my mother can see, from when I broke my jaw skiing and slid across the harsh snow on my face for many yards before coming to a stop unconscious in a pool of my own blood, a very cool true story

Not so bad, when it comes to scars. Ach, the scars tell the story of a life, me boy! Also, are there scars inside your mouth? If so I must have an unusual number, due to broken jaw and myriad oral surgeries.

I always think of a story my English teacher in high school told often, and which we loved, about an English professor she’d had in college, who had had polio in childhood, and was in a wheelchair, and both his hands were gnarled (by the polio) into permanent middle fingers, which he used to gesticulate with while lecturing, which his students thought was cool as hell, and one day in lecture she (my teacher) was leaning the entire weight of her head onto the tip of a ballpoint pin whose other end was resting in a groove in her desk, and the pen slipped, and jabbed all the way through the roof of her mouth and stuck there, with blood spurting out, and everyone screaming, and the professor with the polio gesticulating with his two middle fingers and yelling for someone to go get help, and she (my teacher) felt so stupid and embarrassed, because she was usually too shy to even talk in class, and was now making this huge spectacle of herself.

I think of this, and similar stories, every time I get annoyed with my students for basically acting like they have no conception of how physical reality works (e.g. they think that if they text under their desks I can’t see, but like…there is nothing impeding my view down there?? And it seems like anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of concrete reality would perceive that? But they don’t)

In ten more years I will be in the terrible life phase of actually having conscious memories of when my parents turned my age; I remember my dad’s 50th birthday party extremely well, because my parents made us go sleep at our neighbors’ house while they threw a huge kegger in our house. Our neighbors at that time lived in this tiny cabin that only had one bedroom and this sort of attic room you accessed via a trap door; they had two sons and a daughter and we all had to sleep in two twin beds. And both our sets of parents, along with the parents of most of our classmates, were just partying up the road at my house til the wee hours. I wonder what we ate for dinner! Boy those were the days, when parents just left their children layin’ around all over town, fending for themselves; you’d probably be arrested for it today, but we were totally fucking fine and had a simply super time. This also makes me think of all the fun times we had sitting on the roof of the car while my dad did donuts out in the meadow by where our cistern was, a frosty Budweiser in one hand, honking the horn joyfully with the other. Rural 80s childhoods rule

How about this?

I know, right

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Teaching

You know what else is great about my job? The fact that teaching actually teaches people stuff. It’s incredible! We’re at Day 15 in my pop music class and the students, who began the semester with basically zero knowledge of specific styles and cultural histories, are now hearing stuff and confidently being all “oh yeah that’s a classic R&B horn section but the horns are being played as percussive instruments, verily this must be funk” and “hmmm this sounds like honky tonk but with way better production values I wonder if these are white dudes from San Francisco who hate progressive rock” and “ah yes the classic Phil Spector ‘wall of sound,’ I surely would know it anywhere and would never mistake it for a Motown recording as I did in my youth 15 class days ago.” Discoursing upon the Great Migration and different urban blues styles. Asking smart questions about record label consolidation and marketing demographics. THEY LEARNED. I laugh with glee as I grade these damn quizzes! The last quiz I gave they pronounced “too easy.” Gonna have to bring my A game to the writing of the final. “NAME EVERY MEMBER OF SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE IN ORDER OF BIRTHDATE”

Similarly with grad students. To give somebody a reading list and then six months later they come see you all jazzed about how their topic has changed now that they’ve read everything on the list! When they begin they’re like “yeah, I think trombones are cool” and then a year later they’re all “branding” this and “immaterial labor” that and “as David Harvey demonstrates” this and “confidently quoting Bourdieu” that. It’s so cool that if you put your shoulder to it you can learn stuff. And the labor shall never cease but lo what a joy it is

I also am learning and enjoying it. The other day I read a book I’ve tried to read three times over the past several years, and this time it finally clicked, I had finally read enough and built enough of an intellectual scaffolding to understand it, and it all came clear to me and I was just like, oh yeah, duh, what a great argument. I always think of these moments the way math problems reveal themselves to Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind,” lighting up and rising into the air before his eyes. AHA!

It’s crazy that then you die and your brain just rots away and everything you learned just disappears

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some basics

I am sitting alone at a bar in the town adjacent to the giant school where I teach. The bar is filled with students. It is 8:15 p.m. on a Wednesday night. The bar is playing an odd mix of music I can’t quite nail down. Lorde, “Africa” by Toto, Postal Service, Depeche Mode, a song from a musical like maybe Sweeney Todd, Richard Hell, Frank Ocean, The Beatles, and something that sounded like some of that contemporary classical music those hipsters in Brooklyn are making these days. What Spotify playlist is this? I am pretty much in favor of it, I guess.

I am consuming an entire order of nachos and just finished preparing for a student’s oral exam tomorrow. At this point I am truly living the dream! Alone at a bar researching the Spanish roots of the chaconne, drinking a fine local IPA. What could be better? I can’t tell if I’m joking or not!

This kind of is what I set out to make my life become, ten years ago when I began this journey. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this journey, how crazy it is that I actually have the job that I set out to get in 2005, and that I decided to one day set out to get in 1996. 1996!!!! A lifetime ago. What was going through my mind, when I decided to become a professor? I no longer have access to that person; I can only assume she was kind of an idiot but I also respect her passion. And anyway here I am, grading papers just like I always dreamed.

It’s kind of sad that my life clearly seems very weird and boring to many people I know, and yet it is everything I always dreamed of AND MORE, and also it was INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO ATTAIN. Like, I had to strive for it. To the max, and with devotion and passion in my soul. And I’m still not very good at it and this haunts me and I strive harder each day to become even a tiny bit more good at it, and every little fragment of “more good at it” I become fills me with profound joy. And yet when I explain my daily life to people, many of them look at me with pity. I have decided to take pride in this fact. In an absurd world, only absurd actions are sane.

There are lots of things I dislike about teaching this huge gen-ed lecture class I teach every single semester, but one of the things I dislike is the fact that, because there are 200 students in the class and I barely see their faces, almost anyone I encounter in this town who is between the ages of 18-21 could be one of my students, and I wouldn’t know it. The person who sells me a used copy of House of Mirth I am for some reason buying could be my student. The guy who watched me trip and drop my keys as I crossed the street could be my student. A student could be staring at me right now as I shovel an entire order of nachos into my mouth and I would have no idea I was being evaluated in that way. One time I got a cavity filled and then went immediately to eat hot and sour soup in a local restaurant and halfway through my messy struggle to pour soup into my numb mouth I realized a fairly large group of my grad students was watching me. I am definitely getting more comfortable with being a lame freak of a middle aged weirdo but I will also say I am glad we consciously decided to live in a town 30 minutes away and full of farmers who don’t give a shit about this university.

“Africa” by Toto is a truly great song

So I have been growing my hair out and I can’t tell if it looks normal or actually crazy, and no one will tell you something like that, the truth I mean, and my husband is useless when it comes to matters of appearance, because he always says I look fine, which just statistically speaking can’t possibly be the case, which means I can never trust his opinion. He’ll tell me there’s nothing in my teeth even when there is indeed lots of stuff in my teeth. I can’t tell if he (a) always finds me enticingly beautiful because he is blinded by his love for me or (b) he is trolling me. Or (c) he’s just not paying much attention. The other night I told him it triggers me when he says “maybe I could make a soup” at 8:00 p.m. when I am starving and there are no groceries in the house, so now he says it every night.

Anyway I am growing my hair out. I haven’t shampooed my hair in at least five years, but during that whole time I had very short hair. It turns out it’s a bit more complicated when your hair gets longer; you actually have to think about it and brush it and shit. I bought a nice brush and actually researched the no-shampoo method and we’ll see what happens. My fingernails are also long. I feel like I am turning into a monster. The repetition of my days is starting to get to me. Do you know what I mean? Every day the same routine, the same actions performed in the same order, in the same way. Open the medicine cabinet, get out the toothpaste, put the toothpaste back in. Cook the dinner, eat the dinner, shit out the dinner. Write “Nice work!” on the papers. Say “I don’t know” in the faculty meeting. “Another day, another dollar; another dollar, another damn day–where does it all end?” I keep telling my students they’re all going to die someday; they always laugh.

Our neighbors were so delighted by the bird feeder we put up that they bought us a set of beautiful crystal goblets and left them on our porch with a big card in the shape of a chickadee in which they’d written “thanks for being such great neighbors.” Word to the wise: if you want your neighbors to like you, stick a bird feeder by their kitchen window! Now we talk every day about all the cool-ass birds in the yard. “SAW A BLUEBIRD THIS MORNING” one of us will yell while pruning some sort of bush or hedge in the yard. I love all our neighbors. We live around mostly retired people and this guy Bob who has these beautiful huge mastiffs he’s always out in the yard with.

SNOW AND NEIGHBORS

In New England when it snows a lot there is this whole culture around it. I imagine it’s like this everywhere that it snows; I just haven’t experienced it because in Colorado we didn’t live in a neighborhood but rather out in the middle of nowhere where there was no culture and no neighbors to speak of. So, when it snows here, first of all you wake up in the wee hours of the morning because the snowplows are driving down your quiet residential street going literally 40 mph and it’s completely terrifying, yet the sound also fills you with excitement because maybe school is canceled!! Which it rarely is. If it’s a pretty big or a huge snow, then the whole next day people are outside dealing with it. I think this is surely partly a product of having mostly retired neighbors? Because it really is like a 5-7 hour pretty non-stop management situation, which I hear on snow days when I stay home. I work in my office all day and all day the snow blowers and the scraping of the shovels continues. When my old man and I shovel the area that is generally considered to be our responsibility it takes like 20 minutes and we do a shitty but passable job. The neighbors, on the other hand, are out there carving these like beautiful geometrically perfect sidewalks. They have so many different tools, all propped up waiting their usage. Several of them have actual snow blowers, which, if you have never seen one of these, it’s kind of like a lawn mower in terms of its general size and decibel level. You push it and it sucks up snow and shoots it off to the side in a huge arc. Obviously snow blowers are superior to shovels in a variety of ways, although much worse in the sense that they are loud and gasoline-powered. However, unlike their shitty cousin the leaf blower, they REALLY do the job!

The neighborhood culture regarding snow is very fun. When it snows, you go outside the next morning, and all the neighbors are outside shoveling and jawing about it. You stand around leaning on your shovels, chatting about the snow. “Heard they got 15 inches up in Brattleboro,” that kind of talk. There is a lot of congenial complaining about the city’s snowplow drivers, who are generally held to be “maniacs,” an assessment I totally agree with. “Well, better get back to it!” you say, and everyone says “oh yeah,” and then you all go back to shoveling. But then! Sometimes a little magical elf comes and helps you without saying anything! One time we came home and someone (clearly Bob) had just blasted all the snow in our driveway back into our backyard, doing us a huge solid. Several times I have been outside struggling to shovel the sidewalk, and then I come inside to take a break, only to realize that one of our neighbors has come over and is using his snow-blower on OUR sidewalk or driveway! It’s so goddamn neighborly, I can’t stand it, I always wish I had cookies to bring out, although of course I never do. We also shovel the steps and driveway of our very elderly neighbor, Al. It’s just a lot of good old fashioned helping each other out, in this great New England way where no one ever says anything about it.

I am sure we have had our last snow for the year. It was a weird 24 hour sleet that was disgusting.

Crossing our fingers for our apple tree to bloom this year. OH MY GOD. I am so excited/nervous.

My old man is walking around with a puffed out chest and a shit-eating grin on his face because several months ago he dumped a pile of brush in the yard in hopes a family of carolina wrens would make their home inside of it AND THEY DID

Other happenings:

It’s a long story but it turns out I’ve been accidentally overloaded on teaching for three years, and have technically been teaching a 4/3 instead of a 3/2 as stated in my contract. It’s actually terrible and I am really upset about it, but the upshot is that next year my teaching is being reduced and it’s going to make an enormous difference in my life. Just think, all this time that I’ve been panicking and saying “I don’t understand how people do this,” meaning write/publish while teaching full time, it turns out I’ve been teaching almost double what the other people in my college teach (the rest of our college has a 2/2). So I wasn’t just a piece of shit after all–it actually WAS too hard! I am intensely gratified by this. And also kind of proud, because I DID IT, I got used to it, and it was really hard but I did do it and also did get writing done also. And now next year will feel so amazing! Knock on wood. There is also talk of finally moving me into a real office, although tbh I will not count that chicken until it is not only hatched but grown up and thriving out in the yard.

I learned that restrictions on how university funds can be spent mean that although I am allowed to use my startup funds to buy a piano for my home, I have to have the piano delivered to campus, unloaded, checked off a piece of paper, and then a separate company has to come pick the piano up to take to my house. In conclusion: “I am not getting a piano.”

My old man got a book about how to build your own sauna. It’s full of pictures of naked Finns.

I put my rad sweater in the dryer and it shrank and I am going to mail it to my friend who is a small child in hopes it will fit him.

I am in one of these zones I get into periodically in which I dream vividly each night but only about extremely mundane things I already planned to do the next day. It makes me feel tired and confused. I will dream that I:
– graded all my papers
– emailed that student I’ve been meaning to check on
– tweeted a joke
– made coffee
– walked the dog

that sort of thing. Then the next day I have to continually confront stuff I thought I did already. What on earth

The other night my old man insisted on betting me that “Ned” is not a nickname for “Edward.” He obviously lost. We have been together fourteen years and I literally can not think of a time he has won a bet against me. This is NOT because I know everything but rather is a result of my betting style. “You are a very conservative bettor,” he agreed, chagrined at yet another victory on my part. I truly only bet when I know for a fact I’m right, which makes his insistence on continuing to bet against me either frightening or sweet depending on how you look at it. One time he bet me $150 that David Hyde Pierce was in the movie “The Ten.” He also bet me one time that there was an “s” in “Bobcat Goldthwaite.” I am making money hand over fist! Most personally lucrative marriage in history???

After losing this bet he challenged me to re-cast “Ghostbusters” using only actors named “Ed.” Here is my cast, I feel good about it:
– Venkman: Eddie Murphy
– Ray: Ed Asner
– Egon: Ed Begley Jr.
– Winston: Ed Harris
– Dana: Edward Norton
– Annie Potts: Ed Helms
– Lewis: Eddie Izzard
– Mayor: Edward James Olmos

OMG the bartender just yelled “THIS IS JESSE’S FUCKED UP PLAYLIST” and another bartender said “Oh no you can NEVER play Jesse’s playlist in here!” Everything makes sense now

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