I Am Running Out Of The “Tension Tonic” I Bought In North Carolina Last Summer

I just re-read my World War Z essay and it made me want to write a whole book about zombies.

The fantasy of our time! “I sure would like to write a book about zombies”–everyone in America

Also do you remember my essay about the secondary poster for the movie “Oblivion?” I could easily write a book about that poster. Do you think that book would sell? “Hot off the presses: some person’s extensive book-length thoughts on a poster for a movie you have already forgotten about”

This is the last weekend before classes start, and things are slammed and stressful. It’s like there were 6 weeks of vacation and then suddenly yesterday all these epic problems manifested. “Wait a second, we forgot to re-design the syllabus!” e.g. “Wait a second, we can’t assign them this because we canceled that other thing! Now we’re 20 points short!” “Wait a second, we forgot to figure out who’d teach that one class!” Things of this nature. Finally at 4:00 yesterday I literally just said “you’re going to have to deal with the rest of this and whatever doesn’t get done just doesn’t get done” to my course admin and I left. It is very unclear which things are my job and which things are her job so sometimes I say “I’ll do this” and other times I say “you do this goodbye”

I ran to the library to get an ILL book that finally came in that I want to assign parts of to my seminar this semester. I was walking back to the music building with it, slipping on the ice, trying to read about The Magic Flute, talking to myself. “Is this thing about the Iraq War being a genocide too intense?” etc. Finally I said very loud and in a tone of firm resolve “YES. I will assign the prologue and half of chapter four” only to turn and see that some random undergrad had been walking one step behind me this entire time. Lately I have been caught talking to myself a lot–the other day I went on one of my ill-advised thrice-yearly trips to Whole Foods and it was 6 degrees out and as I was walking back out through the ice and slush cramming shitty tofu in my mouth I go “THIS IS BULLSHIT” and did not realize that people were all around me. I like to think I just said what we were all thinking though.

Is this an aging thing or am I just going crazy, OR, is this normal? Talking out loud to yourself is actually very interesting/weird if you think about it. It is very weird! I don’t know what else to say about it. Verbalizing your own thoughts just for the benefit of your own ears. What is that.

I do think we have many selves and we spend a lot of our time sort of navigating and negotiating amongst them, so maybe that is what talking to yourself is. “I want a brownie!” “YOU SHUT UP”

Because of this seminar I’m planning, my house is littered with books with Beethoven on the covers. On the steps up to the second floor there are two books with Beethoven’s glowering face on the cover; in the living room on the table there is a book with a picture of a bust of Beethoven’s glowering face on the cover. One of the books opens with an introduction where the author describes looking at a book with Beethoven on the cover and wondering why so many books have Beethoven on the cover. Another book has a chapter called “Why the Frown?” that looks at iconography of Beethoven over the years and why we love to think of him glowering when in fact his conversation books are filled with delightful things about cheese, beer, and prostitutes. He was an earthy man but we want him to be a mad sylph, with one foot in heaven and the other foot planted firmly in German Idealism.

Also realized I planned this entire seminar and there is not a single female composer on my syllabus. So I blew it. When high-falutin’ rhetoric runs up against canon, what do you think wins, unless you are a really rigorously politically engaged scholar, which I sometimes am but lets be honest, I’m not really. “Music history classes never focus on Clara Schumann and it’s bullshit! Here’s my music history syllabus that does not have Clara Schumann on it.” I am a fucking hack. Okay I’m gonna go put her on there, Jesus Christ

Or Fanny Mendelssohn. There is a famous letter Fanny’s dad wrote to her where he’s like “your brother shall be a great composer but for you music can only ever be a nice thing you do to prove your marriageability” and Fanny’s like “yes father.” Then her brother published a bunch of her music under his own name. “This earthly life is an unending delight”–Fanny Mendelssohn on her deathbed (joke)

There’s this book called THE ROMANTIC AGONY that is sort of one of these canonical old-school grand narratives of an era. I read it for my comps in grad school, didn’t understand a single word of it, and then it just became one of the classic constant books on my shelf that I never think about. Just now I randomly picked it up and flipped through it and realized that in the intervening 8 years or so between my comps and this moment, I have somehow learned enough things to actually understand this book and even read a lot of the EXTENSIVE untranslated French quotations it’s peppered with throughout. This was a wonderful moment. I told my old man and he smiled with pleasure and said the same thing had happened to him recently. It’s cool to have a touchstone moment where you realize “hey, I actually learned something and am no longer as dumb as I once was.” Stoked to re-read this book and actually get all his references to de Sade and Janin or whatever. YES. He wrote this shit in 1933. There was this wonderful period for humanistic scholarship, your Barzuns, your Trillings, your Mario Praz. Guys who knew everything and spoke 5 languages and could just dash off an unbelievably erudite, beautifully written study of, like, “Western Culture” or “The Romantic Era” or, like, “MUSIC,” without footnoting much, without bothering to translate their long quotations from Dante. And you read them and they aren’t even THAT sexist. I just flipped to a page randomly and found that Praz is arguing that Matthew Lewis stole a bunch of his ideas from Ann Radcliffe. Dang! JB has a whole book he wrote in the freaking 50s about how “race” is just a stupid made-up construct we invented to keep ourselves separate from one another. Whoa! “I lived through two world wars and I don’t give a DAMN about this nonsense”

My old man was pointing out that these guys, even though, yes, they led very traditional lives in terms of having wives who took care of them like little babies, in a weird deep way, they actually came of age in a more progressive era than the Boomers. Imagine you’re a hot young Columbia prof, raring to go, and you’re, like, literally in the middle of the fucking suffrage movement. You’re teaching the history of culture at a time when women are getting the vote. What a crazy age! Then the Boomers come along and everything gets very masculinist and macho but disguised under obnoxious hippie rhetoric about free love. It seems so similar to the difference between the Enlightenment and the early Romantic era. In the 18th century you’ve got people like Wollestonecraft serving up heaping amounts of science to all her contemporaries, and, while being a woman in the 18th century sucked just as much as being a woman pretty much any time sucks, people–smart people–took her seriously and responded to her ideas, etc. Godwin et al were advocating for really radical changes to gender relations, plus you have all that older-school philosophy where they’re like “EVERY MOTHER IS A LORD” and stuff. Then the next generation–your Percey Shelleys, your Byrons–it’s like women just get erased, in a very Boomer-y way. Sure, it’s all “free love” this and “marriage is a trap” that, but who benefits from those ideas? It’s sure not all the ruined illegitimately pregnant ladies littering Byron’s wake, some of whom COMMITTED SUICIDE. It’s like rhetoric that the previous generation was exploring as a means of actually radically changing society just gets turned into reasons dudes should be able to fuck whoever they want, like, welcome back to business as usual. I’m morbidly generalizing here, but that’s what you do on the internet.


I need to eat something before we go HOUSE HUNTING

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I don’t write much in my analog journal anymore, but sometimes I feel like putting pen to paper and so I do keep one around. It’s also good to have it as a kind of personal file to put the programs from funerals in or whatever. Dark! Anyway, last night I got it out because I wanted a place to write down all the things I’m looking forward to about summer vacation. Even though I’m still on christmas vacation, I already yearn for summer break. I was going to start the entry “I yearn for summer break.” When I opened the journal and turned to the last entry, dated Nov. 30, I found that it began “I yearn for christmas break.” I was appalled and resolved there and then to change my mindset in powerful ways.

What is the point of yearning for the future? When all that truly lies in the future is DEATH? It’s like the movie “Click,” great cautionary fable of our times. Oh Adam Sandler! Enjoy your children’s gentle innocence, for soon your daughter will be grown up and having sex and you will be obsessed by it in a creepy way that is not humorous. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may or whatever.

Surely the only way to be happy is to be happy with things that are happening NOW. Yearning for the future is just as stupid as worrying about the future. Being future-oriented is basically what’s wrong with western society in the first place, if you ask me.

So. There is so much joy in the present day-to-day, and fuck everything else. I get to drink wine and watch comedy DVDs with my bony wild-bearded old man every single night. I get to pat a stinky dog and sing him songs every day. I do work that I love and find challenging every day. I am alive and in possession of my wits as well as all my limbs and most of my faculties, more or less. When summer comes it will be great, but far greater if I have spent the ensuing months living in the moment.

It snowed and then rained, which has been gross. It’s supposed to get cold this week, meaning 20 degrees, which, again, since I’ve been expecting Iowa weather, doesn’t seem so bad, but will entail me not forgetting my mittens like usual when I leave the house. I just emailed all my senators and representatives about approving our contract. We apparently have one of these heinous neoliberal biz-governors who says absurd things about education and doesn’t even have the decency to be ashamed of himself. He said employees of my university are “underworked and overpaid,” which is fucking hilarious. Like what does “overpaid” constitute these days? I just did the math, and BEFORE taxes, insurance, union dues, etc., I make about $25 an hour. Does that seem right, for a college professor? To me that does not seem to obviously constitute the condition of being “overpaid” but I guess I’m not a scientist so what do I know. I guess it would be “overpaying” me if I didn’t actually do much work, but that is not the case. So the only remaining explanation for his comment is that he doesn’t think education constitutes “real work.” In which case he is a bad person and ought not to be in a position of power over others.

Anyway, what are you gonna do? I’m re-reading The Member of the Wedding and thinking about how everyone dies alone. So gather ye rosebuds etc.

Now I must get back to my work that isn’t real work, you know, real work like tricking poor people into getting mortgages they can never pay back and then they lose their home

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We went to the basketball hall of fame on New Year’s Eve. It was really fun. It was more interesting than I thought it would be, to be honest (I thought it would be 1% interesting and 99% me holding Gary’s coat while he shot baskets, which to be fair did happen).

The best thing that happened there was that I learned all about the Harlem Globetrotters. I have had so many questions about them throughout the years but I never took the time to actually read about them. I just keep asking my husband, because I can’t get it through my head that he doesn’t know everything there is to know about basketball. He keeps saying “I don’t know” but I just keep asking. I hadn’t even been thinking about the Harlem Globetrotters when we decided to go to the hall of fame, but then there was a whole informational display about them and a cool video with historical footage and I finally learned about them and it is even more interesting than I thought!!! Do you want me to tell you about it?

So, basketball began in like 1890, in Springfield Mass, when this guy Mr. Naismith needed a way for his high school boys to exercise during the winter months. He nailed an ol’ peach basket up to the balcony in one of the school’s halls, and because that year he had 18 boys in his class, he invented this game where two teams of 9 each try to get a ball in the basket. There was no dribbling–it was all passing. The ball was a hilariously misshapen hunk of weird leather. Well the game simply took off, everyone loved it, and after a brief brown-nosing attempt to name it “Naismith Ball” Naismith himself was like “No, it shall be called ‘basket ball,’” and, after a couple of years fine-tuning the rules on successive generations of high school boys, he published a manual called THE THIRTEEN RULES OF BASKET BALL. And the world was changed!

Sidenote: Literally within a couple years of Naismith inventing the game, some headmistress at Smith College heard of this game and decided it would be appropriate for girls to play. I assume because this was during that sort of Teddy Roosevelt era of American history where everyone was supposed to be vigorous and hale–which was great for women, who had truly struggled during the Victorian Era with the social imperative that they must be rail-thin, white as a sheet, never be seen eating in public, and basically slowly dying at all times, like scholars have written books about how during this 100 year period of western history there was nothing more sexually compelling to men than a faint smudge of a woman lying completely enervated in a white bed with clean sheets, daintily coughing blood into a handkerchief. Along comes the Teddy Roosevelt age and now women can be bruisers and go mountain climbing! Teddy Roosevelt, you are a true asshole but I must credit you with engaging people with the out-of-doors and with their own musculature. Also this is all conjecture–there was not a single mention of Teddy Roosevelt in any of the informational videos I watched at the basketball hall of fame and to be quite honest I’m not even sure when he was president, but I feel I am right nonetheless. So anyway this lady at Smith teaches basket ball to her girls, and we saw some delightful footage from 1891 of women in big bloomers playing early proto-basketball and it was truly inspiring.

So at first, and for a long time, basketball was this sort of scrappy amateur game. The rules changed all the time; the rules were different from town to town; there certainly wasn’t any professionalization. It was just ad-hoc teams getting together and playing, and spectators yelling and swigging beer except probably not during prohibition.

CUT TO: Chicago! Where a lot of black people live, FYI. It’s the turn-of-the-century, not exactly a fun sexy time in terms of racial integration. But black Americans of the turn-of-the-century are stuck living in American culture too just like everybody else, and so they get into basketball too, just like everybody else. But they of course aren’t involved in these emerging regional teams/games, because of segregation. They start playing their own form of basketball, at all-black events, and because this is a sub-cultural affair it develops differently than white mainstream basketball is developing. It’s ENTERTAINMENT basketball–the games were part of a whole night of music, dancing, etc. The games thus evolved into these part-game, part-PERFORMANCE spectacles, with players playing to the crowd, doing cool tricks, trying to amaze and wow. Vaudeville basketball!

The main team to emerge out of this alternate-stream of basketball history were the Harlem Globetrotters. Even though they were in Chicago, they were named after Harlem because of a famous nightclub called the Harlem Renaissance, that had an approach to entertainment similar to the one they were going for!

So periodically the Globetrotters would play some regional white team and just utterly slaughter them, to the amazement of all present. Slowly they attained what the informational video called “mainstream appeal” but that just means “white appeal.” They were the Chuck Berry of entertainment basketball.

Meanwhile white mainstream basketball is getting consolidated into a professionalized deal with teams and paychecks and way more than 13 rules. Then here I kind of get patchy on the history but basically cut to WILT CHAMBERLAIN, the 100 foot tall basketball genius of legend. He plays basketball in high school, etc., and then when he grows up he goes to play for the Globetrotters. He’s playing that style of basketball–fancy dribbling, crazy palming tricks, feints, amazing spectacle-based dunking. Trick basketball! And it turns out, mainstream basketball did not play this way up until Chamberlain joined the NBA and started playing professionally. Up to that point basketball was mostly all these little white dudes very slowly and methodically passing the ball up and down the court. Somehow Chamberlain gets drafted or whatever they did back then, and suddenly now there’s this 20 foot tall trick basketball dude on the court and I got the impression that for awhile there it was basically like the basketball sequences from Teen Wolf. Chamberlain trick-dribbling around some little dude and the dude going “Boiiiiing?” and looking around with googly eyes like “wha happen??” I think all games were scored with the funny music and sad trombones from America’s Home Videos when babies fall down the stairs. I may be exaggerating this historical fantasy I am having. But after that everybody was like “we gotta get our shit together” and so mainstream basketball became infused with the same kind of speed, virtuosity, dexterity, and slam dunking of entertainment basketball. It became entertainment basketball, basically, which is what we have now, although of course the Globetrotters are still practicing a degree of trick basketball that would be literally crazy if it were brought into mainstream professional basketball, although lets be honest, if that happened I would probably actually start watching basketball.

Anyway and the rest is history!! So basically modern basketball looks the way it does because of the Harlem Globetrotters!! They represent the tail-end of a different stream of basketball history. I find that fucking fascinating.

While at the hall of fame, I was amazed by the size of basketball players’ feet (many shoes and molds of feet were on display), which are so big as to essentially represent a different species of animal than the one I represent. I was also amazed at the height of Muggsy Bogues, who my old man had always told me was 5’3″ but I think I just couldn’t conceive of that being real until I stood next to the cardboard cutout of him and found myself towering over him, which was inspiring, like maybe I too could play professional basketball. I was also delighted by a couple who put their small baby at the feet of Yao Ming and took a picture and the dad said “you’ll get there someday buddy” which for some reason really made me laugh. I tried to tell my old man about the New Yorker article about Yao Ming I read but he was very focused on taking pictures of all the huge posters of Kobe Bryant dunking with “PANINI” inexplicably emblazoned right across.

I was also having one of those experiences where you’re just so bummed to realize that socialized gender stereotypes are true. Like at a party full of supposedly progressive young people when you go in the kitchen and it’s full of women doing the dishes and you’re like AWW HELL. You’re like, fuck, I forgot that culture is a real thing and it SUCKS! Guys, lets just say that the basketball hall of fame is full of A LOT of women patiently humoring their boyfriends/husbands/sons. The practice court was full of probably 60 people, perhaps two of whom were small girls. Not a single adult woman shot a basket the entire time I was there. There are also all these games there where you can test your vertical leap, your palming ability, etc., against the stats of real basketball players, and it was just dude after dude doing it–dudes of all ages, races, and temperaments! Hipster dudes, big old dad dudes, small children dudes. And along the sidelines of each game was a coterie of women of all types and temperaments, holding coats and shouting encouragement. Including me! I was one of those women. And the dude running the game would be like “do you want to give it a shot,” to me, and I’d be like “No,” and I wanted to say “Not because I’m a girl, it’s because I don’t care what my vertical leap is” but then I realized that for all intents and purposes THAT IS THE SAME THING. I fucking hate culture! You can’t get away from it!

I’m not saying this to begrudge those dudes their fun. They were having fun and it was charming. Basketball is a perfectly legitimate interest/passion. We all live in patriarchy together, it’s nobody’s fault really. I mean, honestly, whose fault is patriarchy? these are systems beyond the ken of any individual.

But! At the very end of our visit, all of a sudden this fucking firecracker of a super-stoked blonde woman perhaps in her mid to late twenties descended upon us. She was wearing a basketball jersey, I don’t know whose but it was green so maybe Larry Bird? Except I think she was too young to be a Larry Bird fan. It’s just that that’s one of the only basketball players whose name I know and I know he wore a green blouse. Anyway, she was like “CAN YOU TAKE OUR PICTURE IN FRONT OF MICHAEL?” I was like, michael? Then turned around and realized she meant the immense, semi-religious mural of Michael Jordan stretching his arms out for 100 feet. She was SO STOKED. She was like vibrating with the excitement of being at the basketball hall of fame. And her boyfriend tried to start posing for the picture against the railing, looking down on the court, and she goes “NO!!!! IN FRONT OF MICHAEL!” like she couldn’t believe what a fucking hack he was, and he was like “oh okay” and I suddenly realized that HE was humoring HER. His insane basketball girlfriend! It was great and I took a great picture of them that they will remember for all time and show their grandchildren. “This was the picture that wonderful attractive intelligent looking woman took of us at the basketball hall of fame, remember? It was the year New York fell into the sea”

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