#OnLeave

We ran out of milks so I put vanilla ice cream in my coffee this morning. I pretended to be mad but in reality I think we can all agree that this is a pretty fun treat. A lady should always have reserve ice cream (vanilla, maple, or possibly chocolate) in the freezer for just such a scenario. Did I mention that we bought a chest freezer? A small one, but plenty big for two middle-aged childfree weirdos spanning time together. We went to this place we called Manny’s Dented Appliances and got one on sale. It fits right in the pantry. Here is what is currently in it:
- gallon of beans
- quart of beans
- two loaves of bread
- bag of cubes of pesto
- bag of cubes of basil and oregano
- quart of veggie stock
- many bags of corn and blueberries
- squash soup
- some bags of rhubarb
If we’d gotten it earlier in the season and if I’d had a more focused summer I would have put a LOT more rhubarb and bluebs in it. I also would have canned rhubarb sauce for winter.

CANNING TALK:
Dudes I have canned twelve jars of tomatoes now and every single time no matter what I do I get this weird separation in my jars, where all the tomato blobs are up at the top, and then the bottom is like four inches of water. The internet and my friend Freddy say that this is normal but it looks like shit and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Anyway I just wanted to express my feelings.

OTHER CANNING NEWS:
Our CSA, for a reason I don’t understand, allows members to go out into the fields and pick whatever they want, and as much of it as they want, for free. Like, in addition to your weekly share. I was so confused by this and checked and double checked but it’s just true. So now every Saturday I literally pick 20 pounds of free tomatoes out of a greenhouse and then I go home and can them.

I’m realizing I don’t want to travel in the summer because it is maximum food preservation time. I missed several weeks of blueberries this summer. Also my tomatoes all got blight and I am wondering how to problem solve for next year. I’m also realizing that I think you either have a CSA or a garden but not both, or else if you do have both you need to have a very focused specific garden. Like I grew all this lettuce but then our CSA share was of course full of lettuce, ditto kale.

So I think next year I will focus on growing novelty tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, shit-tons of basil and oregano, and chili peppers. Let my old man have the rest of the garden zone for his nuts and seeds.

Our chili peppers popped off this year. It’s so fun to have fresh chili peppers in the yard! Just pop out into the yard and snip off a hot fresh cayenne and throw it in your eggs or beans or tacos or peanut noodle bowl or whatever! They are lovely and delightful. We also need to build some sort of a greenhouse.

We went to the best tag sale I have ever been to. It was at a house we have been interested in for a year, because we walk the dog by it every day; it has a huge garden and a homemade greenhouse lean-to and just seems really legit. It turns out it is owned by a real, old hippie. A very tall man with long curly gray hair. He was selling, among other things:
- a filthy, un-tanned sheepskin
- a pair of moccasins his friend made
- a 50 year old cast-iron hibachi grill
- an outdoor woodstove for outdoor canning
- a whole table full of battered African percussion instruments
- a box full of “talking drums” tapes, also Graceland and CSNY
- several large water jugs
- a George Foreman grill
- many women’s herbal healing books from the 70s
- many small crystals, lined up on a piece of cloth
- a book from the late 60s instructing women how to take back the land from capitalism and start their own communes

We got the moccasins, the hibachi, a water jug, an herbal healing book, and a cassette tape titled: “Eye of the Womb: Improvised Ritual Music”

Last week we celebrated summer’s end by tubing down a river! Our young friends made it happen. Many of the adventures in our life now come at the hands of these 25 year olds who are our main friends here. It was truly incredible. It took 4.5 hours and we were all sore and waterlogged by the end. I somehow have gotten this far in life never having tubed down a river before, and I’m so glad I finally got to do it. It was amazing. The river was so wide and clean and quiet, we saw so many huge water birds and also a bald eagle. We had a floating cooler full of beer and people’s t-shirts. We went down some mild rapids and I bashed my knee so hard for about four seconds I thought I’d broken it but then I was fine and didn’t say anything, because last time I got hurt with these friends (t-boned while go-karting) it ended up being really embarrassing. Night was falling when we finally arrived back at the car. Everyone was starving, beyond starving. We all got in our cars and peeled out, then the old man and I got takeout veggie burgers and I ate mine in literally 45 seconds. Then I was sore for three days. It was great.

So, today (Tuesday is when I’m writing this; I don’t know when I will post it, as I don’t have internet in my home, as well you know. I am typing this in a Word document) is officially my first day of being on leave, as it is the first day of school. My poor old man got up this morning, put on his coat and tie, forgot to pack a lunch, asked me if I could remember my copy code (I told him somebody canceled it for reasons yet to be explained to me) because he no longer has copy privileges even though he is teaching college students 4-credit classes at an R1 university (the 26th floor of the library used to be reserved for adjuncts and they had free printing but now it’s all closed and locked, probably to make room for another 36 3-D printers no one needs or uses but that some Associate Vice Chancellor can promote as an example of how she “increased innovation” during her brief tenure before being named CEO of Kraft Foods) and popped off to work, god bless him. While he was gone I had a real Grizzly Adams day. I finished a draft of my book conclusion, but then it was only eleven a.m., so I built a fire in the yard and roasted an eggplant, some zucchini, and two red peppers. When my old man comes home I will serve him baba ganoush and a good local beer in a chilled pewter mug, and listen to him complain.

Now it’s the next day and I’m in the coffee shop, researching night sweats. If anyone reading this is a scientist can you please help me? I’ve been to specialists and they just tell me to sleep with a lighter blanket. It someone tells me to sleep with a lighter blanket again I might burst into tears. The deal with these night sweats is: I don’t think they’re hormonal/menopausal! Because THEY ONLY HAPPEN IN THE WINTER. It’s like the moment the angle of the sun changes and it starts bending toward fall, the sweats come back, and get worse and worse throughout the winter, until spring comes, and then they completely stop again. It is really such a bizarre mystery. Obviously my first thought has been “Vitamin D” but I’ve been taking massive amounts of it and it doesn’t make a difference. Does anyone have ANY thoughts on this? Please ask your scientist friends.

So yeah, I’m on leave!! And my baba ganoush turned out great, smoky as hell.

On Friday I’ll be finalizing the feminist/neoliberal/world-building reading list with my reading group, and I have not forgotten that months ago one of you asked me to post the list, and I will!

I’ve got a lot of stuff in the hopper and in the pipeline, in terms of writing. A lot of writing and revising on tap, which is the whole point of being on leave. I’m very excited.

I’m thinking of reading Huck Finn again

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Shackleton’s Dogs

Last night we watched the recently restored footage that crewmember Frank Hurley shot during the epic Endurance polar expedition of 1914. The one with the year on the ice, and the whole deal where a malnourished and dyssentry-ridden Ernest Shackleton and two other guys ultimately rode in a dinky open lifeboat across 800 miles of stormy ocean, landed on an inhabited island but on the wrong side, then became the first people to climb that island’s mountains, in order to, finally, reach the whaling station on the other side and at last get a hot cup of soup. I bet nobody at that whaling station looked very good but Shackleton must have looked like absolute hell. “Boys, it’s me, Shackleton, and I’ve eaten nothing but raw penguin for 14 months” “Good Lord, Shackleton, we thought you were dead” “Nothing a bit of good Scotch whisky won’t fix right up” “Well done old chap, my god there’s British pluck for you! THREE CHEERS FOR SHACKLETON, BOYS! AND GOD SAVE THE KING”

Anyway, it turns out they lugged a 1914-era film camera all that way! Across the ice, sleeping in tents on ice floes that cracked and floated away during the night. Schlepping a huge camera.

The footage is AMAZING. Hurley was an artist! You can tell that he was interested in filmmaking for its own sake, not just for documentary evidence. There are some truly exceptional shots. There are shots taken head-on and right up close, of the Endurance breaking through pack ice, and it’s hard to imagine how the shot was achieved. There is a beautiful scene shot from the crow’s nest, looking down at the bow of the Endurance as she pokes through the ice, the ship’s shadow etched on the white snow, great leads of water opening up before her, a man sitting at the very tip of the bowsprit (?), legs dangling. There is footage of the ship’s masts cracking and falling apart as Endurance is crushed by pack ice!

The soundtrack that comes with the DVD is predictably terrible—some dumbass silent film buff noodling around on a piano, why do they ALL sound the same, it’d be one thing if it was historically accurate but it’s not?? We turned off the sound and instead listened to Ralph Vaughann Williams’s “Sea Symphony,” a more or less period- and nation-accurate composition that caused many delightful sync points, like a flock of glorious penguins leaping dramatically into the water right when the choir shouts “BEHOLD!”

I had hoped there would be footage of the 70 sled dogs the team brought along with them, and later ate. The fate of the explorer’s trusty dog is a routinely poignant and ambivalent one; the dog gives his all, works hard, and is devoted to the explorer, and in return the explorer usually kills and eats the dog, albeit with regret. This relationship is piquantly turned on its ear in Jack London’s excellent short story “To Build a Fire,” in which the dog knows the man is a fool for going out in weather this cold, and at the end when the man tries to grab the dog so he can kill it and plunge his frozen hands into its belly à la Han shoving Luke into the dead Taun-Taun the dog is like NO THANK YOU, and instead sits and watches the man die and then trots back to civilization like a normal person. Anyway, I really wanted to see those sled dogs, and I wondered if Hurley bothered filming them or if they were considered just part of the baggage.

Turns out, Hurley was OBSESSED with the dogs, and with animals in general! By far the longest uncut shot in the film is of the dogs in their onboard kennel. He intercuts titles telling their names (Hercules, Sue) and commenting on details of their behavior and care. There was so much dog footage that I briefly forgot this was a documentary of the Endurance. Dogs getting fed! Dogs pulling sleds! A litter of pups born on the boat, held in the burly arms of a ship’s mate who grins into the camera as he jostles them! Close-ups of the brand-new baby pups’ faces. A hilarious shot of the ship’s smallest crewmember wrasslin’ with the ship’s largest dog. I think it’s clear that those damn dogs are the only reason everyone on board did not go instantly insane. The psychological uplift of watching a goofy dog rolling around in the snow or of fondling a precious newborn pup must have been huge.

The film’s focus on dogs—the filmmaker’s clear interest in and appreciation for the dogs—made the knowledge of their future slaughter and consumption even harder to bear. I wondered if the film would dwell on that aspect of the expedition, but it did not. The last we see of the dogs, they are being unloaded from the sinking ship onto the ice, via a large canvas slide that the men just kind of shove them down. Out on the ice, they run and frolic. Then, presumably, Hurley ran out of film, and/or was too demoralized/focused on literally surviving to continue filming, and/or maybe actually just took the film cannisters and left the camera behind, because anyway there is no footage of the rest of the ordeal, the months on the ice, the months on Elephant Island trying not to die of frostbite. Instead we just see a couple still shots of the men’s harrowing months floating around on the ice, and then an artist’s rendering of Shackleton and the two other dudes’ legitimately unbelievable 800 mile rowboat trip, and then a picture of the island with the whaling camp where they finally landed and found succor. Not even an intertitle mentioning that, oh by the way, those dogs I lovingly filmed? We murdered them and skinned their bones. I guess you do what you have to do to survive, also there was probably nothing to feed the dogs, but still, that’s pretty rough stuff if you ask me. And honestly, I’d always wondered if men like this felt bad when they ate their dogs, but I feel like the language of the film reveals that they probably did. They loved those dogs!

(Also it is poignant to watch 100 year old footage of people playing with dogs. It’s like, some things never change; you can imagine the exact same scene 200, 500, 1,000 years ago. The dogs all act the same way and the people act the same way. Everybody knows you scratch a dog behind his ear just so; everybody has that urge to ruffle up a dog’s neck feathers; every dog does that soft-mouthed joyous biting thing on your arm to tell you he loves you. God bless and keep all dogs)

BUT THEN, after a title being like “thank god, the men were rescued finally” there is literally a 15 minute sequence of the film that is just shots of various arctic animals doing things. We think Hurley just came back later, after it was all over, and got all this footage of elephant seals and penguins. More animals! It’s very very weird, it goes on for so long that you do actually forget about Shackleton, until, seeming to reveal an anxiety about this very issue, Hurley suddenly cuts in a title that’s like “Shackleton ate a lot of these seals during his journey” or something, but you can tell that’s not what Hurley is interested in. He just wants to film those seals! And the footage he gets is truly amazing—with no zoom lens, you realize, he’s just standing 3 feet from an enormous elephant seal who is yelling at him in anger. He could have been killed! He gets footage of emeperor penguins shoving their babies underneath them, adopting an orphan, playing on the ice. He’s, like, standing amongst them. Jonathan Franzen would shit his pants!

There is also very disturbing footage of men sawing the blubber off a vast whale. Also, a shot of the entire crew walking a mile dragging a rope and then you realize they’re pulling up a giant net they dropped through the ice to try to get scientific specimens off the sea bed. What on earth!

The film is amazing, touching, emotionally stirring, and also really drives home the fact that Western culture is absurd and terrible. I highly recommend it. We wanted to watch it while drinking that recreated version of Shackleton’s scotch they made but it’s $149 a bottle and we would have had to drive to Cape Cod to buy it, so we didn’t.

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Time Keeps Marching On

I turned 39 yesterday! Wait, no, the day before yesterday. Anyway, it’s my last year of Pushin Forty and I’m kind of sad about it because I like that joke. So far I am not that depressed about aging although I’m sure that time will come if I live long enough. My mom turned 70 a few weeks ago and is suddenly depressed about her age for the first time! She called me on my birthday and talked about how she can’t believe she’s 70. I was like “well….you just have to embrace it I guess” and she briskly said “I mean we’re ALL gonna DIE, right?” Which is in fact true. Then she told me a story I’d never heard before: my grandmother–a profoundly vain woman–was very depressed on her fortieth birthday, and she was moping around the house feeling bad about what a horrid old hag she was, and then the doorbell rang, and it was a man selling coffins.

Door-to-door coffin salesman! That is a tough sell. Every time you feel bad about your job, just think of THAT guy. I guess in the 50s it made more sense, everyone was so practical about things like that–my dad and his brother already have headstones laid in the little graveyard in Abernathy, Texas, because their parents got a good deal for buying all four at once. Their names and birth dates are there but no death dates. The idea that we would haul my dad down to Abernathy, Texas to bury him in that little graveyard is absurd, like Lonesome Dove. “What you got in that wagon?” “My pappy. Gonna lug him back down to Texas, a place he loathed and could not wait to get out of.” My dad would never forgive me if I buried him in Abernathy! But Lord, it’s already paid for

The vision of life that could lead parents to pragmatically purchase headstones for their 10 year old children is very foreign to me and I think probably to most people living in America today. I think it’s a vision based on the assumption that the kids will continue living in that town for the rest of their lives, they’ll know the undertaker and the guy in charge of the graveyard, it’ll all be obvious. But in reality, how on earth could we make that happen?? Where’s the receipt, proving that grave is ours? How would that even work? And WHY ON EARTH would that be where he’d want to be buried? He left that place in like 1960 and literally never looked back.

I’m reading some of Shirley Jackson’s short stories. They are searingly hateful and disturbing; I love them.

On my birthday we bought a $3 rocking chair and picked up our CSA share and ate a muffin at the Bookmill where I bought the aforementioned Shirley Jackson collection. We did the crossword. We ate sit-down Italian food. We watched Veep. A good day! Tomorrow we are going camping for my old man’s birthday. We are going to Vermont and bringing Mr. Snoopy. Get it done!

I love being on research leave. A whole fall with no teaching or grading! Just lots of meetings. If there is one thing academics complain about, it’s meetings, and yet in my experience if there is one thing academics love to do above all other things, it’s schedule meetings. It is perhaps the greatest conundrum of the discipline. I wonder if politicians feel the same way? It’s hard to imagine the perspective of a sociopath; maybe they love meetings because it makes them feel important.

Coming up:
- Tomato Festival
- County Fair
- Cider Days

We watched some select Olympics events at our friend’s house. I was only interested in seeing events I had read New Yorker articles about, so that meant women’s gymnastics and dressage. The women’s gymnastics were amazing, obviously. I found dressage deeply disturbing on several different levels. And then we watched some men’s rings, and that was that! One hour of select Olympics coverage and then we went to the bar and got 2-for-1 apps and I still feel sick (this was last night).

I do like the concept of the Olympics, but I don’t like the capitalist nightmare the modern Olympics have become, but like, get in line when it comes to that. Really the main issue is not having television, and being weird nerds, it felt hard to prioritize watching it. We did watch the opening ceremony, which I thought was absurd and stupid, and the Parade of Nations, which I always enjoy, except I find it sort of shameful and sad how every athlete is holding up their phone the entire time. I like hearing that Michael Phelps broke that ancient Roman record, and I like seeing how much higher Simone Biles can leap than anybody else. I like the faces of the men doing the rings, how the unimaginable physical effort means smiling is out of the question so all they can manage is a deeply disturbing facial neutrality where it just looks like they are trying with all their might not to shit their pants. Those dudes have the weirdest bodies!!! I keep expecting somebody’s arm to just rip right off his body.

ATHLETICS

The other day we were talking about what you’d do if you had a time machine but you could only use it ONCE, and only to go into the past. I thought of some pretty standard things–premiere of Rite of Spring, that sort of thing–but then I realized, no way, you know where I would go? ANCIENT ATHENS. Specifically I want to see a performance of a play at one of their weird religious ceremonies. I want to hear what the music sounded like!!!!! And then as a corollary to that I would like to attend an original Olympics. I would have to dress up like a man, just like all the women in Life of Brian who want to stone the heretic but have to wear rented beards. “Can I have a big flat one mum?” “SSSH!” “Sorry, ‘dad’”

Original Olympics!! Straight-up fully naked dudes leaping and running and wrasslin’ around. I wonder how the crowd behaved. I guess I need to actually read some Mary Beard instead of just talking about how awesome Mary Beard is without actually reading her. The last time I tried to read Mary Beard I learned that something I’d read for my dissertation that I thought was a hilarious and fanciful fiction was actually based on a real historical event and I turned it into a great footnote and my chair wrote “ha ha!” next to the footnote.

In fact, speaking of footnotes, the first thing on my Internet To Do List today is “research silence in B5 for footnote material.” B5 = Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which contains the second-most famous silence in music history.

See you

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