NIETZSCHE’S EYEBALLS

Well it has certainly been awhile. HELLO. Are any of you even still out there? I don’t know why I’ve fallen off updating this thing so steeply. I got busy with an actual career I guess, and now I’m old as dirt and spend my free time sleeping (not true), but then also there’s something about working on learning to write intensely/deeply/critically (like I do for my job) that makes it harder to put breezy blog entries down on paper, as it were. I keep wanting to go back and edit them all. “Writing” occupies a different part of my brain now than it used to. In many ways I’m glad, as learning to read and write at the scholarly level has been incredibly transformative for my brain and life. But I miss informal writing. Oh laddie the times they are, ah, becoming quite different

I did feel honor-bound to update the internet about how I have CURED MY NIGHT SWEATS, on the off chance a fellow afflicted will find this and learn of this miracle. As you know I’d had years of unhelpful doctors and unfruitful self-cure attempts. Somebody put me on PROZAC for awhile because sometimes it has a side effect of regulating night sweats. And I took it! That’s how bad it was. Finally I went in for a routine pelvic exam to my new gyno. At this point, I put “night sweats” on all medical intake forms on the off chance someone has a brilliant idea, but I had given up hope of actually being helped. Then this lady was like “huh, have you tried magnesium?” and I was like whaaaaat? and she was like, sometimes your body can’t absorb vitamin D and magnesium helps you do that. And I was like OKAY and started taking magnesium and IT WORKED, it like mostly worked. I was down to three sweats a month instead of fifteen or twenty. The magnesium was intense and gave me truly transcendent morning shits but I was still happy. THEN Jessica posted about this magnesium product on instagram and the product is all about maximum absorption and I just had a feeling about it and I went and got it and it was like aaahhhhhhhhh, PEACE AT LAST. The product is Natural Calm and it’s a powder you put in water and drink. I am free. I can sleep at night. The shits are no longer transcendent. My boobs don’t hurt all winter long anymore. I no longer dread going to bed; I no longer sleep between two beach towels. I am so happy, thank you to our Lord and Savior for this blessed release from pain. Thank you to Jesus for MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENT. Anyway, if anyone out there is struggling with wintertime night sweats, give MAGNESIUM a try!

I keep thinking what people with this affliction did in the nineteenth century. Just suffered I guess. My parents are having all these medical issues suddenly, they’ve both had surgery this year and they’ve both survived cancer this year (my dad by being patient #1 in an experimental immunotherapy drug trial??? “I’ve always been lucky”–my dad’s life motto). My dad had this weird pinched nerve due to his lifetime of hunching over a typewriter or computer finally catching up to him (word to the wise, also to myself) that DEADENED his left arm, like not only was it incredibly painful but it turned his whole left arm numb and weak and useless. And he got surgery to correct it and it worked. And the other day he was like, what did people do in the old days, when they didn’t have painkillers and corrective surgery? And I was like, well, they SUFFERED. Much like today, if you don’t have health insurance. You suffer. Then I told him about how medieval doctors performed eye surgeries on patients with no anesthetic whatsoever, and the patient would just kneel gently on a cushion at the doctor’s feet while the doctor probed around in their eyeball. So it seems like pain and suffering also are cultural, like maybe an old dead arm that’s super upsetting and painful in middle class America today wouldn’t have felt like that big a deal back then. I don’t know.

J.S. Bach got eyeball surgery! Also Louis XVI got penis surgery.

When it comes to pre-modern surgery I say: no thank you

I am also reading this totally bonkers new Nietzsche biography I AM DYNAMITE! It is so, so good. It’s mostly all about Wagner, actually, so it’s right up my alley. Talk about nineteenth-century medical issues!!!!! Good lord!!! You want to see someone who suffered medically look no further, plus the treatments he endured were worse than the disease. For starters, from childhood he was plagued by this weird sickness that would come over him all sudden-like, where he’d get super sick, be unable to tolerate light, have splitting headaches etc., maybe like migraines?? But the biographer doesn’t suggest this diagnosis; it sounds like nobody to this day knows what was wrong with Nietzsche, although his father died of “brain softening” at age 35 and the family had a history of mental illness and weird neurological problems. But this is just the start of poor Friedrich’s woes.

As he grew up he became very brilliant and also kept getting sick a lot. His friends would read to him during these times because reading hurt his eyes and brain too much. He was sick A LOT. And every time one of these bouts came over him, he’d be sick for a full week. So it really took a lot out of him. But it’s so interesting–he developed his aphoristic writing style explicitly because of this pattern of epic sickness followed by unpredictable amounts of time of feeling ok. So he developed this writing style where he basically just wrote incredibly brief pithy things, as developing long arguments was impossible for him. He started wearing glasses that were tinted deep green, along with a green visor, to shield his weird eyes from the sun. As he descended into madness in his early thirties he started thinking electricity from the sky was what gave him brain problems.

On a doctor’s recommendation he started putting deadly nightshade in his eyes to paralyze the eye muscles (this was a cool nineteenth-century version of pain relief), which apparently relaxed his eyes so much that he couldn’t see at all and his pupils grew enormous and everyone said he looked “frightening.”

MEANWHILE he suddenly goes to serve as a medic in the dang Franco-Prussian war! He is not medically trained, nor is he particularly physically fit (see above re: gigantic pupils) but he wants to be part of this great historical moment and serve his country in some way. He gets 2 weeks of medical training then is sent out into the field, where he’s literally sawing off legs and treating people whose guts have been blown out of their body. He has this utterly harrowing experience where he’s the only medic on board a hideous cattle car full of dying soldiers, for three days. During that time he contracts dysentery and diphtheria, on top of all his other problems. He also witnesses the utter horror of war and becomes a “Europeanist,” eschewing nationalism for its tendency to generate violent cultural clashes. His cosmopolitan beliefs will strengthen over the course of his life and ultimately cause the breakup of several friendships with German nationalists, whom he will come to see as vulgar and disgusting.

Anyway the treatment for his wartime medical problems was enemas of tannic acid, which destroyed his digestive system irreparably. So now he’s got that to contend with on top of everything else. For the rest of his life he takes intense, too-large doses of things like opium in an effort to find relief from his unbearable chronic pain, but everything he takes for the pain also worsens his physical condition. By his early thirties he’s a shambling wreck. It’s honestly hard to read about.

As basically a child, he becomes a famous professor in Switzerland. One thing I will say the nineteenth century, specifically in Germany, has going for it is the enormous esteem professors were held in. The descriptions of his fame are so funny in the context of how professors are seen today, at least in this country! He’s considered a national treasure–every time he even SEEMS like he might be considering taking a job somewhere else, his university ups his salary and stuff. The actual country of Switzerland considers him an asset and plies him with praise and money to try to make him stay. I think at one point he receives a medal from the city?? Crazy shit like that. And he’s famous with students, students come from all over to study with him, etc. He’s only like 24 years old–he was named the CHAIR of Philology before he’d even finished his degree, and he didn’t have any teaching certification. But they were like PLEASE COME RUN OUR DEPARTMENT, so his current school just GAVE him a doctorate and sent him off. In short, he was very smart.

Around this time he befriends Richard Wagner, an internationally famous/infamous superstar composer currently being supported by the teenaged King of Bavaria (Ludwig, aka “the Mad King Ludwig”) and kicking up a ruckus wherever he goes. Nietzsche was obsessed with Wagner for various complicated reasons having to do with philosophy and Germany and capitalism and cultural renewal and Schopenhauer. Wagner is like 30 years older than him and they develop this strange father/son thing where for many years Nietzsche is sort of in thrall to him and worships him and wants him to like all his writing and approve of him. This kind of thing goes hard on a person when disappointment or disenchantment creeps in, as it did For Nietzsche for several well-known reasons and one (to me) totally previously unknown reason that made me scream!

There’s this hilarious period where he’s hanging out with the Wagners at their beloved home in Tribschen ‘pon the lovely lake and talking about universal harmony and shit. Supposedly the first time Nietzsche approached the house he heard Wagner playing something from Siegfried over and over again on a piano and he was struck with raptures of the soul (in the nineteenth century everyone wrote like this about their emotional life, it’s so amazing. Seeing or hearing cool art sends people into “paroxysms” and makes them faint and makes them beg for death because they can not tolerate knowing that such beauty exists in the world, it obliterates them, etc. Cosima Wagner is constantly begging her husband for death after hearing a piece of music he’s been working on and he’s like my love, if thou diest so die I and then they weep together. It sounds like, from reading her diaries and this Nietzsche book, these explosions of group weeping and begging for death happened regularly, every couple of days, including one famous time on Christmas morning when Wagner got Hans Richter and a fifteen piece orchestra to play music from Siegfried on the staircase to wake Cosima up. “NOW LET ME DIE” she begs). Anyway there’s also a lot of weird descriptions of the rainbows caused by the mist over the lake, and Wagner standing before it and projecting his shadow massively over the mountain and being like I AM A GOD and then shinnying up the drainpipe and standing on a balcony and yelling because he did something he was ashamed of. And making his servant row him back and forth over the surface of the lake while he recites poetry and makes ribald jokes. Wagner sounds like a real character; he actually sounds a lot like Trump, like Trump if Trump were somehow really smart and did actually have deep thoughts. It’s a really weird personality combo–all the thuggish self-aggrandizement and demanding of attention and reverence of a Trump but then also sitting around thinking incredibly deeply about, like, the nature of existence and writing this unbelievably complex music that takes 20 years to fully realize. Also he was intensely, intensely empathetic toward animals and would scream and weep if he saw a carriage driver beating a horse, etc., which it’s admittedly hard to imagine Trump doing. Anyway!

So things are going well For Nietzsche, aside from the aforementioned genuinely hideous physical ailments. He’s actually befriended his hero, and he (the hero) thinks his writing is profound! What bliss! There’s this weird part where somehow Nietzsche doesn’t realize that Cosima is 9 months pregnant and he’s there in the house when she gives birth and somehow doesn’t realize it’s happening even though Cosima is screaming all night and the midwife is running up and down the stairs and everything; Nietzsche just goes to sleep and when he wakes up somehow Wagner magically has a son. Must have been pretty surprising.

So things are going well BUT THEN, disaster strikes! He publishes The Birth of Tragedy and it’s a total flop; no one knows what to make of it, and those that do actually read it hate it SO MUCH, including his former mentors, fans, people who love him. The kindest thing these people do is just NOT review it; so there’s this weird period of total silence when he’s waiting for people to comment on his brilliant book and nothing happens and no one will respond to his letters about it. Finally somebody writes the most epic screed, the most classically nineteenth-century take-down, a blistering review that includes a demand that Nietzsche be removed from his teaching position. Disaster! Poor Nietzsche doesn’t get it, he’s like, but my book is awesome! (Also there’s a quieter tragedy during this period because he sends one of his musical compositions to Wagner and expects that Wagner will respond with praise but instead Wagner just never responds at all; in Cosima’s diary she records that they had Hans Richter play it to them and then they all sat around so bummed and annoyed by how bad it was and then they decided the kindest thing to do is just not write back to him about it. Desperately seeking approval Nietzsche makes the mistake of sending it to Hans von Bulow, who, long story, but anyway he hates it and writes back another blistering screed, literally at one point asking N if this is supposed to be a joke, etc. Anyway N is devastated and embarrassed, as anyone would be. I will say as a sidenote that after I read this part we found a recording of this piece and listened to it and it indeed is really not very good, it’s like a mashup of Beethoven and Wagner emotional drama but without anything interesting going on musically; when it was over we looked at each other with kind of wry “that’s a shame” looks on our faces and I started laughing imagining those very same expressions being on the faces of Richard, Cosima, and Hans Richter once they turned and looked at each other when Richter finished playing. POOR FRIEDRICH)

Anyway because of this horrible disaster of a book publication NO STUDENTS WILL SIGN UP FOR HIS CLASSES ANYMORE and the school has to put him on leave. CAN YOU IMAGINE

So he’s wandering around town in his green eyeglasses and green eye shade, the disgraced professor, if you can even call him that now, and the Wagners have moved to Bayreuth and he’s bereft and lonely and sick.

Then a lot of other stuff happens. INCLUDING the amazing thing that made me scream, which is the actual reason for the famous breach between Nietzsche and Wagner. In my field the canonical story is that Wagner sold out to the aristocracy–he began as a kind of revolutionary but by throwing in his lot with Ludwig and certainly after the building of Bayreuth he became more of an icon of the State and his works were seen as upholding the glory of the monarchy and stuff–and also that he got too Christian (with Parsifal). Nietzsche’s horrible sister Elisabeth, who controlled much of the discourse about him following his death (and I say “horrible” not in the run-of-the-mill misogynist way where every famous man’s female relatives are kind of belittled in the discourse surrounding that man but because she was a LITERAL NAZI and indeed her virulent racism is what drove Nietzsche to finally cut off all ties with her and tell her she was a disgusting pig despite their years of closeness in childhood), anyway, Elisabeth spread around this story about N and W climbing a mountain together and then at the top of the mountain W told N the plot of Parsifal and he talked for hours as N grew slowly more and more disillusioned and upset, and at the end of the conversation N was like “fuck Wagner.” That’s the canonical story of the end of their friendship. And these aspects were indeed a part of it–N goes to the first Bayreuth festival and is totally disgusted and appalled. Wagner’s installed himself as a sort of emperor, living in a newly-built mansion with a special second-floor balcony built expressly for the purpose of him standing and waving at parades in his honor; he’s hob-nobbing with kings and dukes and all the kinds of trash aristocrats that he and N spent years talking about overthrowing and destroying; whereas before, during the idyllic days in Tribschen, his piano was set up so that he looked out onto the glory of God’s sublime creation as he played (the lake, the mountain), in Bayreuth his piano is set up so that he looks out AT HIS OWN GRAVE, which he’s had specially built for him and Cosima and their two dogs (apparently at night he and Cosima stand out on the balcony and look down at their graves with their arms around each other, yearning for death as usual). FUCKING EPIC. So anyway Nietzsche is, to say the least, bummed about all this, but he still reveres Wagner and feels deep loyalty to both of them.

BUT LITTLE DID HE KNOW!!!!!!

Some years previously, Wagner had gotten him an appointment with a famous ophthalmologist to try to get him some relief for his eye problems. And, because this was a time before anything resembling doctor-patient confidentiality, Wagner and this doctor wrote letters to each other about Nietzsche’s condition. And in one of these letters, Wagner–clearly out of genuine worry, but still–tells the doctor that after years of observing Nietzsche he’s positive the man must be a chronic masturbator, because he doesn’t have normal relations with women (meaning he’s not only unmarried but also doesn’t seem to visit prostitutes; highly abnormal and suspect behavior). Wagner goes on and on about how N must be masturbating constantly, and how this must be the source of his eye problems. This theory being a scientifically-accepted one in this period–eye problems being caused by masturbation–the doctor writes back and is literally like “well I examined him, and he assured me that he does visit prostitutes, but still I defer to your greater observation of his lifestyle and so I’m sure you’re right, he must be an awful chronic masturbator and I do think that’s why his eyes are so fucked up.” Furthermore the doctor says that in men of his “advanced condition” (meaning: the masturbation is SO chronic and long-term) there is very little hope that the eyes will ever improve.

Nietzsche did not know that Wagner and the doctor were writing these letters. He found out five years later, when out of spite this newspaperman who served as Wagner’s secretary spread this information around at the second Bayreuth festival. And it was THE TALK OF THE TOWN. Kings and queens were literally gossiping about it, about how that disgraced philologist Friedrich Nietzsche is a chronic masturbator!! My dear it’s simply TERRIBLE, did you hear?? At this time Nietzsche was living in a completely asexual experimental menage-a-trois with his friend Paul Ree and this wild philosopher woman Lou Salomé whom he considered his intellectual soulmate. They took an unfortunate and immediately notorious photograph in which Nietzsche and Ree are hitched to a carriage like oxen and Salomé is in the carriage pretending to whip them. This did not help N’s reputation as some sort of sex pervert.

Then a lot of social drama happens, but at any rate the point is that N was really genuinely so hurt by these revelations about Wagner calling him a masturbator. And that’s what really ended the friendship. And Elisabeth knew this, and specifically spread the Parsifal/mountain story around to try to cover up the real story for posterity. And it worked! The truth was not discovered until 1981 when someone dug it up. What a fun scholarly discovery that must have been!!!! I’d love to discover something like that.

Then Nietzsche goes crazy and dies.

THE END

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Congratulations, and you did it

Hello!
Well the semester has begun and it is truly a wild ride this time around, let me tell you! Here is why:
– due to how various sabbaticals and parental leaves have played out, this semester I am the ONLY member of my area in residence. This means everyone comes to me with questions about my area I can’t answer because I barely know anything because I’m also the most junior member of my area AND I don’t teach our majors. It also means I’m on the hook for advising our weirdly huge incoming cohort. Lord if you could see me hunched over at my computer every time someone asks me a question I don’t understand! “Alexa, what is a ‘curriculum management system’ and how do I log into it”
– the biennial conference my friend and I put on has fallen ‘pon this semester as well, with all the madness that that entails
– somehow everything I have written in the past 2 years is finally being published now at this exact moment and so there are tons of revisions and fact-checking reports. The fact-checking on one of these articles was terrifying. It was amazing, I was in awe of this person’s attention to detail. They caught things like “in the block quote on p. 22 there is a comma after the word ‘there.’ In the original 1976 source that comma is there but in the revised 2008 edition there is no comma, but the footnote cites the original source.” There are like 10 pages of these notes. Cut to me sobbing in combined terror and glorious awe in the face of this Dark Lord, someone with a brain and skill set so different from mine as to comprise almost a different kind of human altogether, a herald of our future perfection. A job I could never do and would never be allowed to do! It’s interesting because I truly DON’T CARE about those kinds of details, and yet it’s true that this is scholarship and we are supposed to be accurate. So my knowledge of reality bucks against what I actually give a shit about. As is so often the case. Anyway, now I remember two years ago my colleague telling me that the editing at this journal is “intense” and now I get it. And you know what, it’s awesome. Someone is keeping me from embarrassing myself (hopefully)!
– teaching two grad seminars at once, which again is an evil born of the necessity of the aforementioned sabbaticals and leaves, and which is mentally difficult. I love teaching them but it is very hard to remember what we have talked about in one seminar vs. in the other, and also seminars (for me anyway) take roughly 100 times the amount of prep time as my undergrad classes. PLUS our grad students are really smart this year! I can’t bullshit them!!
– half of my tenure file is due THIS SPRING (can you believe how time flies) and so there are workshops and meetings and moments of sheer horror for example when the union gave me a flash drive with sample personal statements from past tenure cases and they are so much longer than I was picturing. The longest one is THIRTY THREE PAGES SINGLE SPACED. The shortest is seven. I was thinking more like two. So now I gotta figure out how to write a thousand pages about my own genius. Luckily I am a Leo–how do Virgos get this shit done?? They’re not narcissistic enough! Jesus Lord
– I guess that’s all the stuff that’s unusual this year, the rest is just the normal mayhem. I kind of love it even as it takes a toll on my body and mind. It’s so funny how we are not even 3 weeks in and already in the halls when you meet a colleague you both just look at each other with wide eyes and shake your heads like “no, no, I cannot explain the sheer horror I am going through.” Also I’m really noticing how bananas our students’ lives are. For example I teach a class until 8 at night at which point I go home and literally collapse on the couch and my husband sort of coaxes tacos into my mouth as I sleep. Not my students! NONE OF THEM go home after class. They either have rehearsal or they’re going to the practice room or they’re copying scores for their TAship. And they’re all in HIGH SPIRITS, whistling down the hall, yelling goodnight to me, joshing one another about various intricacies of the conservatory lifestyle I don’t understand. After I’ve just made them talk about Hegel for three hours (not literally Hegel). Lord alive! They’re amazing.

I am also in my version of high spirits. I love to work punishingly and live unhealthily, because of all that stuff Max Weber says! Yesterday I planned two classes, revised my article in accordance with the 10 page discrepancy report, sent it in, then canned six jars of peaches and seven jars of tomatoes, then made fancy ramen. FEELING GREAT, knock on wood.

We went to the county fair because Gary has decided that our favorite holiday is Halloween and the county fair helps us start the process of getting in the Halloween spirit (because of fall). For weeks he’d been looking forward to it, specifically to riding the “Haunted Mansion” ride that’s like a little train you sit in and it takes you through a haunted house where stuff jumps out and scares you. “It will mark the beginning of the Halloween season for us,” he decided. I’ve never wanted to ride on this ride as I famously hate being scared in this manner. He kept saying “come on, you know it won’t be as scary as Hereditary,” which is true but the quality of terror between those two experiences is different, and one is compelling to me and one isn’t. Still, because marriage is about compromise, I said okay.

The great day arrived. We drove to the fairgrounds, parked, paid our TWENTY DOLLARS EACH to enter the fair, and went immediately to the fried dough stand where throwing caution to the wind I got my own whole one instead of stealing bites from my husband which he hates but accepts (see above re compromise). I felt very sick but regretted nothing. Then we made our way immediately to the haunted ride. It was closed. We stood regarding it for awhile. The outside was spray-painted with a very confusing mural, depicting what appeared to be zombies sitting in a classroom staring lustfully at the teacher, who–due to not having green skin–did not seem to be a zombie, but was dressed like a dominatrix or something, with a book propped on her knees. On the chalkboard behind them was a drawing of a hand holding a plate of brains and it said TODAY’S LESSON. We talked about this for awhile, trying to parse this image while waiting for the ride to open. It didn’t open. We could see the guy in charge of this ride eating something out of a styrofoam container but he was making no move to begin his shift. Around us the fair was slowly grinding into life. Two carnies were polishing the fun slide. Another was ordering curly fries at a booth and joking with the person inside. Our guy finished his food and got up to throw it away and started yelling obscenities at the old lady in the ticket booth, who was apparently hassling him about something. “GO FUCK YOURSELF” he yelled, with a snarl of genuine hate on his face. “Lets go to the monkey business ride” said Gary.

We went to the monkey business ride, which was not a ride but rather a fun house, with the weird mirrors and the mirror maze and such. Like everything at this fair, it was extraordinarily janky, the mirrors mended with black duct tape and such. We handed over our tickets and went inside. The mirror maze was interesting. Then you go upstairs and look in the mirrors that make you look fat or skinny or like your head is floating upside down above your body. Then that’s the end of it and you get out by sliding down a slide. I haven’t been on a slide in probably a decade and my body had forgotten how to do it. The slide itself was only about 8 feet long but I immediately got all twisted around and burned my elbow. Remember slide burns? They hurt LIKE HELL. I was so sad. Damn old monkey business ride!

At this point the haunted house ride was open and the mad carnie was grudgingly taking people’s tickets and letting them on. Sidenote: the carny life seems a hard one. It’s amazing that that is still a life people can lead. It seems so brutal and I bet they are paid so little. Living in trailers out behind the Ferris wheel, trailers I’m sure they have to provide themselves. It just doesn’t seem fun and I would like to know if they have a union or how their labor is accounted for. I particularly wondered this after our experience on the haunted ride.

As we stood in line waiting, we were a bit confused, because he was only letting one car go at a time, rather than the whole train of them. He’d put two people in a car, press the button, the car would disappear, and then he’d run off somewhere. Then there’d be screaming and recorded scary noises and stuff, and the car would come out the other side and he’d reappear and load up the next car. Huh, we thought. We also noticed the ride was literally 10 seconds long. “You can do it honey,” Gary said, reassuringly patting my hand.

We got loaded into our car. I noticed that on the back of the sign indicating how many tickets the ride cost, someone had written in sharpie the simple phrase DARK RIDE. What did my future hold? Perhaps this WOULD be as scary as Hereditary! Gary gripped my hand and began giggling in anticipatory delight. The carny pressed the button and our car began its journey into the hellish darkness beyond which no mortal may peer without being forever changed. Immediately as our car rounded the corner to begin the journey proper, it stalled and began making a horrible grinding noise. Gary was shrieking with laughter, yelling IT’S STUCK, WE’RE STUCK. We rocked back and forth trying to get our car back on the track. Then we began moving again! Suddenly Gary shrieked in ACTUAL TERROR, which made me shriek, but I didn’t know what we were shrieking about because honestly the “ride” was just a plywood tunnel spray-painted black, with sunlight filtering through from the outside, and all I saw was a grimy monster mask that was nailed to one of the walls. Gary was laughing harder now. The car continued around another corner and came out the other side and we got out and staggered away.

“Did you see what happened?” Gary asked
“No, why did you scream??” I asked

It turned out that the ride was actually broken–the track was broken or something–so every single car that went through it had to be MANUALLY PUSHED. So our guy was pressing the button to start the ride, then rushing around the back into the tunnel, where he put on a scary mask and then just pushed the car through the ride himself. What made Gary scream was looking over his shoulder and seeing the guy there two inches away. Something that was not meant to be part of the ride, but that was legitimately fucking terrifying.

We laughed so hard but also I just kept thinking, Jesus that guy is going to do that all night long? Why is his ride broken–is it his responsibility to pay to get it fixed or something? What kind of arcane exploitative labor agreements does this place enforce? I felt bad for how hard we were laughing but also what was funny was the weeks of build up about how scary this ride was gonna be vs. what the reality was. I said it was like a haunted house ride that Homer Simpson would cook up in the yard to try to bilk neighborhood kids.

Anyway then two other guys let us ride the Ferris wheel by ourselves and then we went home. “I don’t feel like that was the fair experience I was looking for” said Gary. But that’s life isn’t it!

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Gyms and Jams

I’ve been going to my new 80s gym every day and it’s great. I just really get into the scene there; the other day I watched an entire episode of Judge Judy whilst on the elliptical. I haven’t seen Judge Judy since college. She’s so mean!! Her celebrity is based solely on how much we, as a people, love authoritarianism. It’s so crazy how the whole point of that show is watching someone dominate and abuse people who have no recourse against her. The way she wears people down until they just stand there nervously saying “yes ma’am” as politely as they can. How does that become your life, as a judge, I wonder? She must be an awful human being–I read on Wikipedia that she made her name as the “toughest” family court judge on the circuit. Imagine what that means. She’s taken so many poor people’s kids away from them and called them idiots to their faces. Imagine having your kids taken away by this mean woman and then seeing her on her celebrated TV show each day. Lord. TALKIN’ JUDGE JUDY. My friend told me Judge Judy’s daughter lives in my town. I also recently learned that Matthew Fox lives here. Also Lou Barlow and Jay Mascis. Really interesting celebo mix we’ve got going!

Anyway I still love my gym. I have been going every single day, taking aerobics classes but also just doin’ the old elliptical. I haven’t exercised every day since high school and it feels great. Can this be my new life??? Will I ever learn the Zumba moves? Some say maybe, others aren’t so sure. The other day at Zumba it was just me and one other old lady. The instructor just goes THIS IS WEIRD! Then put on the music and taught class totally as normal. I respected her for it. I realized that day that where her moves are sexy and kind of hip hop themed, my attempts to imitate them end up being basically ska. I am not proud of this.

I took a really hard aerobics class yesterday, from a maniac who is kind of my old age icon, all ropy muscles and wild yelling. She knows everyone by name–the class was packed–and she incorporates humorous ribbing into her shouted instructions. “Okay eight more to go, you can do it! Ha ha look at Carol! Carol hates it, oh my god!” At one point she asked rhetorically “did you guys like that pec series we just did? IT CAME TO ME IN A DREAM!!!” As we were doing our ab work one lady asked “are we allowed to swear” and the instructor said “yes, you can swear” and the lady yelled “son of BISCUIT!”

Working on my syllabi, reading grad theses, messing around with this thing I’m supposed to be writing. Planning these syllabi is always such a slog. It’s so hard to envision the arc of the semester. What should come first? I get bogged down in side issues, finding readings about them, etc., then realizing wait this isn’t what this class is supposed to be about. But to learn anything about this issue, you have to learn this history and that history and this idea and that idea…and before you know it you’ve planned an entire class on “The Symphony” and forgotten to put any readings about the symphony in it.

If you are wondering whether I am still haunted by “Hereditary” the answer is yes. I am still unable to get up in the night and go to the bathroom without risking a heart attack. Last night my friend Sarah and I went to a movie because our respective life partners were watching THE PURGE at our house and we hate those movies. The movie we went to see instead was UNFRIENDED: THE DARK WEB, which was very stupid but I did enjoy how the whole thing takes place on a single computer screen. Our modern world! Anyway my point is on the drive home instead of talking about the movie I just told her the entire plot of Hereditary in great detail while she said NO over and over again. I can’t stop thinking about it.

In other movie news, recently on Mubi they put up a bunch of Ealing comedies, which are these charming British comedies from the 40s. They are all incredibly zany. The first one we watched was called WHISKEY GALORE and it is pretty racist against Scottish people, which sucks coming from the English, but we still enjoyed it. It’s about a tiny Scotch island where the supply of whiskey is cut off by various grand events related to WWII. Nobody on the island gives a shit about the war, it’s all very distant and abstract to them, but the whiskey supply abruptly ceasing sends the town into a spiralling panic. One old man dies of shock in the early scenes establishing the situation. Anyway the whole movie is a bunch of hijinks—a ship carrying a whiskey cargo runs aground on the island but since it’s the Sabbath they aren’t allowed to do any work so they just all sit on the beach staring at the boat for the entire day (joke about catholicism). They finally get the whiskey and spend a lot of time and ingenuity hiding it from the British army guy who’s in charge of the island and who is slowly worn down by their puckishness and refusal to give him straight answers. And once the stolen secret cargo of whiskey is dispersed across the island there is indeed Whiskey Galore! Whiskey in the bread tin, whiskey in the hot water bottle, whiskey hidden behind father’s picture. And everyone is happy and that’s the end of the movie. BUT it was in this movie that we discovered the genius of Joan Greenwood, who I can’t believe I’ve never seen before. WHAT A NATIONAL TREASURE FOR THE WORLD. She’s like a weirder, sleepier Audrey Hepburn. Very funny actor.

Then we watched four more Ealing comedies, three of them starring a young Alec Guinness. Have you ever seen a young Alec Guinness? Do yourself a favor. He is very cute, but also he is a comic actor which I don’t think I realized. There’s one movie where a disinherited nobleman decides to kill the 8 family members who stand between him and his Dukedom, and all 8 family members are played by Alec Guinness. The mean old patriarch, the cute earnest young heir who loves photography, the stern lady suffragette (that one dies when the guy shoots an arrow into the hot air balloon she is using to distribute leaflets triumphantly over London), etc. One of the family members is a doddering old priest who is a fool, and it is 100% proto Obi Wan and so funny to think of Guinness first working out some of those gestures and that diction in the form of this dumb old priest who gives the world’s boringest sermons and only cares about port wine. Anyway that one is called “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” it’s a brutal satire of the class system and social striving, and it’s also got Joan Greenwood. WORD TO THE WISE

I also recommend “The Lavender Hill Mob” very strongly, in re: Ealing comedies starring a young Alec Guinness. It is EXTREMELY zany; there’s a delightful sequence where Guinness and his friend/co-conspirator run all the way down the Eiffel Tower stairs holding suitcases and laughing wildly (they’re chasing a busload of English school girls who have accidentally bought model Eiffel Towers that Guinness and his friend have smuggled gold out of England in. It’s a long story)

That’s all I’ve got, in terms of Young Alec Guinness news and suggestions

I guess that’s all I’ve got in general. I’m making ravioli tonight. My friend gave me a seedling and told me he didn’t know what it was but that he thought it was some sort of berry; when it ripened I posted a picture of it on instagram and everyone told me it’s a DEADLY BLACK NIGHTSHADE. Why/where did my friend get hold of a deadly nightshade seedling?? What kind of nursery is selling them? Anyway now I have a five foot tall nightshade plant in my yard, which I think makes me a goth.

PEACE ON EARTH

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