Spring Break All Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Opinion | 6 Comments

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

Posted in Opinion | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Opinion | 5 Comments