Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simulating Rallies

I watched most of the Rally to Support Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert today. It was what I expected it to be, up to a point. Here are my thoughts*, so far:

-I heart Stephen Colbert, and now I know the reason: he looks good in an Evel Knievel suit.
-If I ever vote again, which is a BIG If, it won't be for either of the two main parties in this country. They are false... which is different from simulated. Simulated is more self-aware, and, therefore, more honest.
-Kid Rock needs to eat a sandwich.
-So does Sheryl Crow.
-DC is a really pretty place. I want to go to there.
-The most dangerous kinds of Zombies don't always look dead.
-Paranormal Activity 2 is going to haunt me for a while.
-Flash Mobs** (which range from groups gathering to Zombie Walk and/or Improv are the bees, and this rally was one big, super-prepared Flash Mob.

* Some of these thoughts are not wholly related to the Rally. So. Prepare for random.
** Dancing with Michael Jackson’s UnDead Legions, lurching into open spaces at malls and parks, sometimes “eating” victims to create new legions of the walking dead, gathering on the Washington Mall to test theories of crowd control, these flash mobs affect politics in a very open and artificial way. Each moment of entry into Guinness Book of World Records for numbers adds to the pointlessness. Each camera shot documents the empty space being performed. Each performing body draws attention to the over-performance of life in the very spaces of mass consumption invaded by these moving bodies. Like the collection of games, movies, TV shows, and songs designed to honor and re-member them, these collections of zombie bodies bring audience attention to the end of life by performing it—making it a welcoming artifice, a space of human activity and motion. Such a Zombie Style, in its Affected Political way, gives the masses an unsettling power they cannot get from more historically recognizable methods of political intervention, loudly (and joyfully) defiant of traditional Western searches for an original that never was.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Memories in Space

Recently, my friend posed differences between electronic "firsts" and more traditional "firsts." I wonder if he's onto something. He divides his recollections into The Digital (first section) and The Physical (second section). Let's see how mine fall.

The Digital:

First internet experience: Oooh. Wait. I was in grad school, I think. And people were talking about Eudora and checking things on Eudora. Which made me think of Welty. Also. I had some friend who played on MUDS.

First cell phone: I did not get a cell phone until way late. I don't remember what it looked like, but I do remember that I did not like how people sounded when I talked to them on it, so I tried not to use it very much.

First web page: You're lookin at it, bitches.

First Tweet: Not a clue.

The Physical:

My first car: black Nissan pulsar, manual drive, with T tops. I. Loved. That. Car.

First book I ever loved: Call of the Wild. I read it, like a thousand times.

First song I ever obsessed over: This is a toss up between "It's a Heartache" by Bonnie Tyler and "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. I still know every single word to both.

First room of my own: Matt has a better memory of his. Mine is vague, but I do recall that I totally found a King snake in there when I was, like, three. I am unofficially re-titling this category to First King Snake.

First love: Long blond hair, blue eyes, velvet voice, weird obsession with Concrete Blond and science. Totally unforgettable.

Matt thinks there might be some underlying symbolism to these ties--or the lack thereof. I don't know. I do know that the experience of memory is what makes us. Like skin. It separates us from the worlds in which we function, protecting the softer, denser, more vulnerable bits by drawing lines between our constructions of self and the self constructions with whom we build the worlds we inhabit.

My self still misses that little Pulsar.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Oh. By The Way.

25 days left til football* season.

* And by "football season," I mean, of course COLLEGE football.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Word Gaming

We are playing a game,
Listing off all the synonyms we can think
For False.
How many words
(So many words)
Ring untrue,
Flat and soft and ruined like overripe nectarines?
We will remember them.
We will use them well.
First, we can begin with the beguiling,
The seduction
(Because, as it turns out,
There just aren’t that many ways to say Yes.
There are, however,
So many ways to stretch
The spaces between what we want to hear
And what we will believe.)

Then we will move to the concocted.
(Those are my favorite.)
In this language world we practice
How to maneuver from scene to character,
How to appropriate the weaknesses of the listener
And shape those weaknesses
Into something they’ll imagine is,
And was always,
(I am good at shaping.)

From the concocted, we easily move into that which is apocryphal.
These are your department—
You can be in charge of editing these volumes.
You will decide which tall tales to include
(Therefore, necessarily, the kind of boring bits)
And which of these tall tales will be left out
(The luscious, bloody entrails of accidental love affairs?
The intimate intercourse between dragons and snake charmers and belly dancers?)
I won’t interfere—you take the lead in this section of the game.

After our insubstantial diversions,
We cruise the lesser words—
Crowds of letters and syllables will insert themselves into our conversation
Whether we like it or not.
We try to remove them,
But the houses in which they live,
These mansions that we built for them...
How much time did we spend on the construction?
(So much.)
They are palatial.
Only a fool would want to leave such Gorgeous,
False Palaces.

I think we will end the game on casuistry.
You will try to make sure that this does not occur,
And I will work towards it.
After all, I started this game.
I wrote these rules.
Casuistry is where all of this will end
And where all of it will begin again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Learning from James

Last week, I posted a list of things I learned from my mom. Today, in honor of fathers everywhere, and Daddy in particular, I am posting some pearls of wisdom gleaned from James, the patriarch of Team Wright.

1) College football is worth the heartache.

2) Poetry and science are more closely related than you think.

3) Impermanence makes everything possible.

4) Always dress for dinner.

5) Pray.

6) The people that you love should be certain of your love for them, so never go to sleep or leave the house angry.

7) Good shorts can last a lifetime. Literally.

8) Not all the rides at Disney World are Small World. Space Mountain is for serious.

9) Good books are worth reading again and again.

10) Southern women are the bomb.

11) Dancing is good for the soul.

12) Three tasks any self-respecting human being should be able to accomplish are these: cook a superb steak, make a solid cup of coffee, and mix a powerful martini. If you can do these things well, Goodness will Follow.

Thanks, Daddy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Learning from Warrene

I haven't posted a list in a while, and I was thinking about my mom and how much I am looking forward to seeing her in July. So. Below I compiled a few lessons she imparted to me over the years. She knows some things about some things.

Twelve Things Warrene Wants You To Know:

1) The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

2) Be as kind to the lunch lady as you are to the president of your school.

3) Eyelash curlers may look very scary, but they do good work.

4) Cuddling, back scratches, and arm tickles aren’t just for the dog.

5) Reading makes the time pass quickly on road trips, but sometimes you need to put the book down and look out the window.

6) Brie is for breakfast.

7) Those heels look really, really yummy on you.

8) Movies and sermons make for productive, spicy brunch discussions.

9) Coconut cream pie makes every holiday better.

10) If you read a good book, don’t hog it—share it with someone you love.

11) The teacher isn’t always right.

12) Call your mother. She loves you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Charming Snakes

You will see him at parties, occasionally.
He will be standing in the middle of a crowd,
Men and women,
Friends and family,
Strangers and lovers,
For a sliver of his wit.
You will notice that he makes them each feel special,
A casual one-liner
And a room-brightening smile
Bestowed like rain on each admirer,
One at a time.
You will not watch him closely
Because you will be mesmerized, as well,
Lured in by the shiny story-telling
And the speed of his attentions.
He is a snake charmer,
And you are charmed by his song.

But if you were really watching,
If you were watching closely,
You would see him alone.
Surrounded by colleagues and coquettes,
He is always alone.
He keeps himself locked tight.
Nothing slips,
No hint of fear,
No slice of doubt,
No hesitation.
This constant planning exhausts him,
But it is necessary.
How else will he manage the costs of desire?
He ties up the ends of his hunger
With a recipe for cool detachment and passionate retorts…
He cannot allow you to think that he is not
to you.

You will see him at parties, occasionally.
Flirting with the quiet girls
(He will quietly leave with one),
Smiling at the jokes of the obvious and the awkward
(And he will make them subtle, if only for a moment).
He is benevolent and isolated,
A lonely, lusty king of a lonely, lusty island.
He has decided it will be that way
Because the pleasure of momentary release far outweighs
The pain of all that time served,
Waiting at the feet of love
For dust.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Where are you, Steve Anderson? Part Two

After a two-year hiatus from academe, I went back to school. At Texas. It was a trial by fire. At Texas, I was not in any way associated with the debate team—well, mostly. Because debate imagines itself to be a domain of rhetoric, I was surrounded with former debaters and debate coaches. Three (no, wait, four—see, it all gets ephemeral after undergrad) of my best friends at school did debate in both their undergrad and MA programs. One of these friends was an assistant coach for UT. He did not stay in debate—in fact, when we were all looking for jobs that last year (Harried! Frightened! Doubtful! Considering positions as a Wal-Mart greeter!), they (my best friends were married) made a conscious decision to avoid any debate-related post PhD jobs. It sucks your life away. It takes all of you that you are willing to give and more, and I think they were done with it.

I can honestly say that my years at Texas were the years in which I was most far removed from debate. The insular community of it, the permeability of its boundaries, the lawyers. We were too busy at Texas—too busy keeping our heads above the water and our hands inside the vehicle—to concern ourselves with debate drama and searches for Steve Anderson.

The year of my job search was a bumpy one—so was the year leading up to it. Grad school, as much as it reminded me of myself again, took my ability to lavish attention on others away. So. My marriage dissolved. Old friends were put aside. Even my family was placed at arm’s length for a while. I had always been the golden child, you see. The intelligent and charming winner—the thing is, at Texas, we all were. I stopped effortlessly achieving things, and I had to work. Like, really hard. Because of all the hard work, and the number of excellent colleagues, and the busyness of my professors, I learned some important things:

1) You have to own your scholarship (Thanks, E! and Jenn and Kevin and Jay for helping me with this one). Nobody else will notice how awesome you are just accidentally.

2) Along the same lines as #1: Demand the necessary attention from your advisor(s). (Thanks to Angie for this one.)

3) Require that your friends/colleagues work on the communal environment as hard as you do. (Here's to the New Old Boys' Network.)

4) Take a fucking break once in a while. Caps Tuesdays aren’t just for fun anymore—they’re for sanity. (Jonah, you are dear.)

5) Hobbit Day makes everything better. (Mmmm, Californians.)

6) Teaching is a craft that can be taught and learned.

While the first one was the hardest lesson for me to learn, the final one was the lesson that lead to the most change in my life. I have always been a good writer, and in all of my schooling, my writing gets better. It was (WAS!) a fluid, divine thing. Teaching, on the other hand, was not. I got some terrible reviews. I was not so good to my poor students. I thought that excellent teachers, like dear Steve Anderson, were born that way—that teaching was like a gift, an aura, a cosmic “turn.” But at Texas, I learned that I could be—I had to be—a better teacher.

As much as the world of the academy frowns on teaching (and it does, believe me), it is the corner of that world. I will not get tenure because I am a superb teacher. But I do still get emails from former students telling me how they realize now the importance of structure in a speech, or how they notice the significance of imagery in a movie, or how they miss the silly mysteries we used to chat about during the semester. And they still send me examples—of metaphors and similes, of prosopopoeia and litotes—which make me smile.

And so it goes. My long, tangential, and teeth-jarring romance with debate goes on. After the Fire and Ice of Texas, I got a job. And here, I am an Assistant Director of Debate. This last year, we traveled quite a bit. The debaters, like all the debaters I’ve known before, are fast and funny. Serious and competitive. But, now that I am in the middle of things, I am beginning to formulate some reasons why I always remained on the sidelines before. I used to think that it was timing. Or distraction. Or coincidence. Recently, however, at the US Worlds Nationals in Denver, I judged a round that bothered me (out loud) in a way that had always been sort of quietly annoying… like a nibbling at the corners of the page had finally started chewing out some words I really needed to see. Endings and Forms. Again.

The round went well, mostly. The opening table of Opposition kind of screwed the pooch, but the Second Table rocked it. Or, so I thought. The resolution was about professional jurors: This House would replace citizen jurors with professional jurors. And the two government tables did exactly what they should have done. They followed the Form exquisitely. And we, the five judges, ended up voting for a Government win. I do not think we chose incorrectly. I think the Form was followed. But I wondered then, and I wonder now: If all I do is Follow the Form, then what, exactly, am I doing? What am I teaching these people? In a debate about expertise and discipline, it nauseates me to think that we voted for the impossibility of inclusion. We, literally, performed exactly what the Second Table presented as a problem. The Whip Speaker (who speaks last) asked the room to look at itself—this room full of debaters from similar backgrounds and with similar outlooks on the world—and consider the possibility that maybe a more varied room, a more varied audience, would provide a different verdict. And we did look at ourselves. And then we voted for the Form. Goddammit.

Where are you, Steve Anderson? I miss you. And I could use a little help right now.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where are you, Steve Anderson? Part One

Forms and endings are problematic. Endings and forms. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright, to whom I am not related—just btw—, I only recently realized that I have been drunk on forms since I was little, and that it has not been as pleasant as, say, white-wine-summer-beaches-after-sun drunk. My theory, as some of you may know, is that people study what puzzles them—it makes, I think, for a life of interest and intrigue. If we studied things that were already familiar to us, or clear, or close, then we would lose the thread. Not because it’s so hard to see, but because that shit is super hard to keep hold of. Like a psychotic horse running into a burning barn.

Lately, that’s what writing feels like. Writing and reading and thinking are hard. I know, to many of you, they may look like nothing at all—as Rebecca Solnit writes in her gorgeous history of walking, thinking (unlike many other sorts of vocations) looks a whole lot like doing nothing much at all. Writing and reading, of course, can be seen as productive activities—and, in the last few months, I’ve realized that writing is less pleasurable and divine than I remember it. Still, that is not the subject of this essay. This essay is about endings, forms, and the words of the debater’s world.

There was not a debate team in my high school, but
I have always been tangentially linked to debate. If there had been, I have the feeling my life would look similar to the life I lead now; I just might have gotten here a bit faster. Everything is faster in debate. I was always meant to be a professor of rhetoric, though. And if not, then who cares? I tell myself the story of inevitability and that makes it so. So, anyway, there was no debate team at my high school, but there was one at my alma mater, the University of Alabama. I discovered them, as I came to discover rhetoric, in a roundabout, social sort of way. I met the professor of my dreams (Steven K. Anderson) and through him, met several of the debaters and coaches/assistant coaches. They talked fast and earnestly. They seemed to feel the words in the way that I did (emphasis on the word “seemed.” More on that later). So they seemed to feel words—seeing them floating through the air, picking the ones that felt right in the mouth, recognizing the dangers of incorrectness as well as the hazards of absolute certainty. I loved them, wanted to be like them, the words and the debaters.

I did not join the debate team, but I work to stay near them. Helped with judging, smoked on the veranda, hung out in bars, adopted stray kitties they found. Eventually, I even took a class (with Steve) dedicated to debate. We competed in one or two competitions outside of class—where we got our asses handed to us. In class, however, we did a round robin tournament, and Steve referred to me and my teammate as the Juggernaut. We could Not be defeated.

So, there was public debate—the two top teams from the class matched in front of some local media, a few classmates, some family members, and the judges. The audience is important to this story—as it always is—pay attention to the audience. You know, I cannot remember what the topic was—but I do remember that we lost because I dropped a turn. For those of you unfamiliar with policy debate terms, just know that a “turn” involves the opposing team using your own information against you. You must address it directly, in accordance with the form of the debate, or you lose automatically. Here is an ending and a form. The public audience, untrained in the rules of debate, awarded the win to my Juggernaut. The judges, however, familiar with form (and endings), declared the opposing team victorious. I was upset, but not devastated—because I like audiences, dear reader, and I can always get them to sit beside me. It is my thing that I do. I am not, however, so comfortable with form.

The next tangential relation to debate happens in my MA program. Our grad offices were right next to the debate offices. The debate coach, Ross Smith (RIP) and the debate director, Allan Louden (yummy yummy man) were so kind and inviting. The debate team became a home for many of the displaced first year grad students. My best friend was a recovering debater—as were two of my grad school crushes. Wait, three. I am a sucker for a fast talker. I was not officially associated with the debate team, per se—but I drove the vans to and from the airport, helped judge some high school tournaments, sat up late with debaters who were always already cutting cards, went to parties, drank gin out of coffee mugs with coaches from near and far. My MA program was an exercise in endurance. The debate team, in its inimitable fashion, helped me and harmed me equally.

I tell my students to be wary of moral philosophers—because, if my theory holds true, and we study that which puzzles us, then what should we do with someone who is intrigued by the mystery of moral philosophies? I have begun to think, though, that we should be wary of gifted speakers, as well. Much like the mystery of thinking, the magic of spoken conviction—when it works—is just as scary. These debaters, lawyers and advocates in training, changed the way I saw the academic world. I had assumed that ethics and teaching go hand in hand. But that is not the case. Don’t laugh. I know it sounds ridiculous now. Still, I came to this profession with misty, romantic eyes. The debaters at my MA program (as well as in undergrad) removed those scaly covers from my eyes. With the assistance of some well-timed professorial strangenesses—and some truths-of-life-in-close-quarters-with-people-who-think-they-are-very-smart—the endings and forms of collegia in general became distasteful.

So. I quit. I worked at a bookstore. I got married. I worked at a crappy insurance cubicle farm. But... the words were calling. The form, seductive and inevitable, was creeping round the edges. I was lured back. In the next installment, you’ll hear about the non-debateness (almost) of my PhD years—and the total immersion after graduation. Endings, forms, debate—we write these rules, you see, to make it seem like we can play them well. Seeming is big. It always was.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Prayers for Representation

Colorado is neat. I just want to start this out with a positive because it gets a bit dark in the middle part. If you are not interested in that part, cease and desist, dear reader. Instead, go outside. Hug your girl/boy. Visit Denver. Drink lots of water. Sit, lusciously, in the sun.

Before we begin, let us pray:
I offer my obeisances unto the Goddess who is the abode of lotuses, who holds the lotus, whose eyes resemble the petals of a lotus, whose face is a lotus, and who is dear to the Lord who has a lotus navel. You are the knowledge of sacrifice, the worship of the universal form, and occult learning, O beauteous one. You are the knowledge of Brahman, O goddess, and the bestower of the fruit of liberation. You are the science of dialectics, the three Vedas, Varta, the knowledge of chastisement. O goddess, this universe is filled with your gentle and terrifying forms.

Debate is Good
First Subpoint = The People Rock
a. The debate tournament from which we just returned was marvelous because of the people. I love hanging out with these clever, insanely dedicated folks.
b. My fellow coach is one of my favorite human beings in the world, and the debaters teach me new things every. single. day.

Second Subpoint = Learning Stuff is my Favorite

a. Judging the sorts of rounds and motions we saw at Nationals was a pleasure. I enjoy hearing smart arguments posed thoughtfully, and, as I mentioned previously, many of these teams come to play.
b. I like seeing the intersections of argument and imagination that get brought to bear in these moments. The fact that these students know where and when current events are occurring--as well as the material consequences of those events, always makes me a bit tingly. It is delicious to converse with and give feedback to such technically proficient interlocutors.
Third Subpoint: Legitimacy
a. Being the person that I am--rhetorician, Southern, woman, anti-Platonic-and-yet-seduced-by-Platonic-claims, always already tangentially linked to debate--it is satisfying, academically and intellectually, to be associated formally with a debate team for the first time ever. Much like the department in which I teach (which is the first department I've ever worked in to contain the word "Rhetoric"), this team makes me proud.
b. And my friend/fellow coach seems to agree. We make a good team.

Debate is Evil

First Subpoint = Games will be Games
a. The last adjudication in which I took part, a quarter final, hurt my heart. We ended up voting on technical proficiency over materially consequential argument.
b. The rules, arbitrary and enclavish, are strict. Poetry is difficult to find at a debate tournament, and when it does occur, it gets punished.
c. The outside is always dirty, made for exposure and erasure. I get the value of rules, I do. But I worry about the costs of these rules--these performative consequences on the world-shaping in which we are actively engaged... which leads me into my second and
Final Subpoint = Performing the (W)Hole Story, or Cunt Power, Fool
a. The debate tournament was really draining. I am a fan of performance. For real. I know how powerful and significant and potentially world-shaking it is to be a token representative, the voice of the vagina, the bootylicious appeal to Pathos, but I am tired.
b. In the middle of this sea of suits and ties, limp dicks and jealously guarded erections, we stand. The wearers of red peep toe shoes and sparkly earrings and tight bell bottoms and sassy cowboy boots and othered imagery and girlish hand gestures and leaners toward the dirty and defiers of expectation and negaters of the True.
c. We, the Other, add to the conversation of "reasonable" costs and "acceptable" losses," gauging the mechanism of rules writ large by people who may or may not ever have seen the shanty-style construction of an Alabama public school or spoken to a woman seeking reproductive rights or smelled the fear and rage at death penalty protest in central Texas.
d. Don't get me wrong. I am a rhetorician. Through and through. Situational reasoning is the name of my game--which is why I'm playing this other one. I get the significance of starting at the ground floor. I wear this burden of performative legitimacy and hot-ass high heels with pride.
d. Those burdens are weighty--for many, many reasons. Some of those reasons rhyme with "professorial responsibility." Some rhyme with "modeling good behavior." And some of those burdens rhyme with "Fuck you, Plato, and the Fascist, Formalist Horse You Rode In On. I Will See Your Philosopher King and Raise You Responsibility to the Other." The intensity and closeness of these things is something to see--debaters with good, smart, real questions are always everywhere, Goddess bless them.
e."O goddess, this universe is filled with your gentle and terrifying forms." Indeed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A few lists For Hannah

First, five reasons why I love Greenberg:

1) The opening line, spoken by Florence to the unseen and unavailable driver in the lane behind her: "Are you gonna let me in?" When I was a junior in high school, Dr. Schnell said that a good story tells you the tale in the first paragraph, but great art tells the tale in the very first line. She was right. Dr. Schnell was always right.

2) The closing line, spoken by Florence to Greenberg, "This is you."

3) The beginning and the ending of the movie. Last week, I had spoken to a couple of friends who thought I would hate this movie. And one of the reasons they thought so was because of the abrupt ending. I like that, though. One of the most exquisite things about Baumbach's writing is that he writes like people talk and tells stories like people live. At least, the people that I know. The ending is sudden and beautiful and scary and open-ended, as are all moments of grace.

4) The rant at Generation Y. "You're all ADD and Carpal Tunnel. I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview." Nuff said.

5) The lighting. Every scene looks like forgiveness.

Second, five best quotes from Kicking and Screaming. (I'll warn you, the majority are from Max.)

1) Max: I'm too nostalgic. I'll admit it.
Skippy: We graduated four months ago. What can you possibly be nostalgic for?
Max: I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory... and I didn't have a good time.

2) Max: What I used to able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life.

3) Chet: If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini.

4) Louis: Violence is always justified some of the time.

5) Max: Who the hell bought black eyed peas?

There you are, dear Hannah. I'll make you a birthday song list on Monday.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dust and New Beginnings

Yesterday, I was walking to meet a friend for movie-time. We saw Greenberg, and, contrary to popular expectation, I really enjoyed it. I missed this Noah Baumbach--the one who wrote "Kicking and Screaming," one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIES EVAR--and it is good to see him again. In fact, instead of reading the rest of this entry, go watch "Kicking and Screaming." Like, right now. It's available Instantly on Netflix, and it will speak to you. I promise.*

So. On the way to this movie that is about realizing some things that one should have realized a long time ago, and then forgiving oneself for the slowness of realizing those things, and then recognizing the delicious gifts that live in both forgiveness and realization, I saw an ice cream truck. Usually, those things scare me a bit. Not as much as clowns, but still. They play creepy music, they contain multiple temptations for children who run at them mindlessly, they are often driven by people who may or may not be as-yet-uncaught serial killers (Dexter, anyone?).

For some reason, on this sunny day, to see this secret surprise movie with this dear boy, instead of walking rapidly away from the ice-cream-truck-driver/as-yet-uncaught-serial-killer, I stopped and looked at him. The boy driving it smiled at me, and said, "Beautiful day, beautiful lady." And then he gave me a FREE rocket pop.

That is a good day, my friends. Dusting off old favorites in new forms, meeting up with new favorites in old forms, and free ice cream. Welcome, Spring. It is good to see you again. For the first time.

*Seriously. Why are you still reading? WATCH THE MOVIE.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Executionary Adventures

So yesterday I saw a mouse in my kitchen. I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, but then I told myself it was my hair. As I continued making my breakfast, I saw it move again, out of the corner of the other eye. And so I went on an explore and moved some things around and scared the bejesus out of Fieval, my new roommate.

I called my parents, poor things, to tell them of the scary!!! Mom asked me what the mouse was doing when I saw it, and I said, "Running away from me." Then she asked what I was doing, and I said, "Running away from him."

Several things happened after that.
1) I went to talk to the building manager. From whom I have not heard. I am going to call the building management people tomorrow.
2) I used the internetz to ask for advice. Some of the advice was sympathetic, some of it was helpful, and some of it was a Youtube link to "Somewhere Out There." Fucking. Super.
3) I saw the mouse again. He is taunting me, I think. Like, RIGHT beside my computer in the living room, he comes out to say, "Bah ha ha. I am very small. And I am looking for my family. Have you seen them?"
4) I went to Home Depot and bought an electric trap to catch and kill him. Theoretically, it is humane. Pragmatically, it is in my kitchen. Simmering, battery-fueled death.

Or so I thought.

I may or may not have set the trap correctly. I think Fieval is in there right now, eating peanut butter conveniently provided for him by his new favorite roommate. Seriously. I was in the kitchen, you know, doing whatever the hell you do in kitchens, and I saw him, I think. WALKING INTO THE TRAP AND THEN WALKING BACK OUT OF IT.

I am, in fact, the worst executioner ever. And balls if I'm gonna go in there and check for mice in the trap.

BALLS, I say.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Some Strongly Worded Letters

Thank you for this day. It has been a long time coming, and I appreciate all of your gorgeous, sun-drenched effort.

Dear Black, Patent Leather Peep-Toes,
Long time, no see! Welcome back to the ends of my legs. You are aging well, old friends.
Fashionable Interlocuter

Dear Almost-Graduating Seniors,
I am so proud of you. What a marvelous introduction to New York you provided. I love this job and this school--and it will not be the same without you. Still, the choices and roads ahead are so exciting! You will be as impressive and formiddable on your new roads as you have been here in this world. I look forward to hearing of your achievements-to-come, and I thank you for allowing me into your symbolic universe.
With gratitude,
Dr. J

Dear Students-Taking-the-Persuasion-Midterm,
You are wonderful. Everything is going to be alright. I promise.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Call This An Oversimplified Generalization, If You Must

But a TV show created by the people who did the Wire, starring people from the Wire (and Homicide! Holla!) is fucking guaranteed (CajunCajunCajun) to be good.

Watch. And anticipate with me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Your Mission,

should you choose to accept it, is simple: Help me come up with substitution phrases.

I tend to over-use my favorite words and phrases, and a former student just reminded me how annoying that can be. So, in the spirit (belated, I know I know, I GET it) of Lent, I am going to work on expanding my vocabulary. Below, I have compiled a list of my most popular go-tos. If you would be so kind as to provide some alternative suggestions, I will be forever in your debt.

1) Balls.
2) Delicious.
3) I'm just sayin, is all.
4) Son of a...
5) Yummy.
6) Serious (or some form thereof--for serious, seriously, on the serious).

There are probably more, but I can't think of them right now. In fact, I kinda feel bad about this--like I'm abandoning old friends. But, hey! It's a new world, right? And worlds are made of language.

Still. I might keep one or two, just for old time's sake.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Academy Award Fistfights

I will get in one. Because I always do. Oh--It's ON, Facebook friends.

It all started with my mother's angry grudge against Gandhi. She's still mad that Gandhi won the year that ET wasn't even nominated. I was seven, so I couldn't say, "Hey. Dear, Dear Mother. Gandhi has Ben Kingsley. ET has, like, rubber space frogs. You do the math." Then, there was the year that I almost got into a drunken brawl with these Germans at an Academy Award party in North Carolina--that was about "Training Day." *I love you, Denzel.* And then there was Crash.


Why do we care about these things? I haven't even seen all the movies, and I am all ready to be angry about the winning/losing of my favorites. And by favorites, I mean, "The Hurt Locker."

Honestly, though, since 2005, I've not watched all the movies. I am still outraged. OUTRAGED, I say, by "Crash" winning over "Brokeback Mountain." I think people got so excited about Jake Gyllenhaal's tight ass jeans and the possibility of two boy pee pees touching in a tee pee, they didn't notice the beauty of the movie.

Goddammit, I hate Paul Haggis.

Tina Fey and Steve Carell, however, I love. And George Clooney. And The Hurt Locker. And yummy, yummy Jack Donaghy. And Meryl Streep. And yummy coconut martinis. And righteous indignation. And Jack Donaghy.

Mmmm. I hope Jack Donaghy wins an Oscar.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

10 Rules for Writing

The authors included in the above link are several things I am not. First, they are quite famous. Second, they are quite famous for writing fiction. I could add that they might be more likely sources of writing advice than someone who has never been on Oprah, but I won't. So there.

Anyway, in line with their thoughts on writing, I wanted to add some of my own.

1) Be open to inspiration. There is no one way to write, especially when it comes to individual writers. I know many folks who swear by certain, specific patterns of writing. But they break those patterns all the time--and call those breaks inspiration, as if that is somehow outside the purview of writing-as-practice.

2) Friends don't let friends drink and write. Consider yourself a friend.

3) Savor good phrases, even if you have to get rid of them later. They were part of the story at one point, if only for a little while. Plus, they might end up somewhere else, and you want to be able to look them in the eye.

4) Never use the word "very."

5) Jonathan Franzen reminds us that the reader is a friend, and I agree. I also think that chaos should be treated as a friend. Creativity comes from chaos, and that's a pretty marvelous exchange.

6) Read things out loud. It's like a litmus test for meaning. The right words feel good in your mouth.

7) When someone you love reads your words and praises you, listen. You would if they were cursing you.

8) Take breaks. I find that episodes of "The Wire" work especially well in this capacity.

9) Start and stop before you feel ready to do either.

10) Feel free to write stuff on random parts of your body so that you don't forget it. The back of my hand is my favorite mnemonic device.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


But I heart the Muppets.

"Grab your partner by the ears, lash him to the wheel.
Do si do, step on his toes, listen to him squeal."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Practicing War

Trying to keep myself busy, I practice war.
I count the motes of dust on my screen, Out Loud,
One by
One by
One by
Because I must be careful with detail
And dust is nothing if not detailed.
I say “motes of dust” to nobody in particular
Because it feels good to put words into my mouth.
I make a list of weaponry
That I will need for my practice of war
Because it feels good to make lists.

A blade,
Thin and sharp and shiny.
I want something new—I will test it on myself.
It should be so sharp that I do not feel the wound until later,
Much later,
When I am sitting at my desk
And suddenly notice that my shoes are filled with blood,
That my hands and calves are damp,
That I have left footprints, tell-tale and horrifying,
From the car to the coffee-shop to the classroom.
The blade, unlike my blood-filled body,
Will be neat and sharp.

A shield,
Preferably something fit for a dragon
But more likely it will be a metal garbage can lid.
In a pinch, those are pretty handy.
I will clean it with rhetoric and antimicrobial sponges
And strap it to my body with coral-colored ribbons.
When I take the elevator, I will make sure to stand at the back,
So nobody has to maneuver awkwardly around the bulk.
This will also minimize the stares, I imagine.

Blood Red Leather and tall-tall-tall.
I refuse to sacrifice elegance for practicality.
I do not think those things are mutually exclusive, and
I am carrying a garbage-can-lid-shield, after all.
This is war.
I must use all the weapons in my arsenal if I plan to win.
And I do.
I plan to win.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It's snowing again. And I wish I were in New Orleans. Actually, not-so-much. NOLA during Mardis Gras is kind of the opposite of fun. That being said, a buncha gropey, drunk-ass frat boys and some tragic, topless Bowheads are a damn sight more fun to spend a Tuesday with than stupid zombie articles and more snow. Gah.

On to New Matter: This weekend offered several revelations--which I now will share with you, dear reader.

1) It is difficult to judge a debate when your feet are cold.
UMass Amherst is cold, and I don't just mean the outside. Those buildings are arctic. On the first day of the tournament, I wore thin canvas shoes, and I regretted them for the rest of the day.

2) I try to practice love toward everyone I meet, but the people with whom I fall in love are rare.
I talked with one of the debaters about his rubric for people-in-whom-he-will-eventually-be-interested. His is more complicated than mine (it contains ratios and corollaries), and yet... he falls far more frequently than I do.

3) Peanut butter cup cookies taste better with strawberry jelly on them.

4) I do not have a clear standard of evaluation for manner v. substance.
This is not actually a revelation. I mean, I struggle with this occasionally while grading class assignments. But. When grading papers and speeches, the measurements need not be as concrete. Those aural moments, visceral reactions, epiphanic intuitions, whatever you want to call them--these are the ways I read and combine effective turns of phrases with elegant constructions of arguments--the classroom set-up and the authority of the class-designer allow for more room to move. In debates, however, the clashes between attitude and content are (a) more noticeable and (b) more demanding of keen attention. I need a clear standard of evaluation for manner v. substance.

5) My favorite debaters practice kindness AND perspicuity.
That is a heady combination.

6) Hipster Zombie Lovers versus Hipster Binge-Drinkers is a false choice.
Nobody wins that fight.

7) I am not as good at sharing as I hoped I was.
Mostly, I want the things I want.

8) Vans are better than buses.
Because they have CD players. And the ability to stop at not-McDonald's.

9) My sense of direction is pretty fucking awesome, even in the darkest, iciest New York night.
My new apartment is a ten minute walk from the subway station--a little longer on icy sidewalks. After we got home, late Sunday night/early Monday morning, I could not find the right bus to take me from the subway, so I walked. I am indomitable, bitches.

10) As hard as all of this has been, and as heart-breaking as it may promise to become, you are worth it.
Seriously. I am for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Or Snowpocalpyse. Which do you prefer? I can't decide. I do know that the weather people are absolutely beside themselves with the excitement of predicting amounts and duration of this (cue ominous chord progression) Cataclysmic Storm.

Anyhoo. This is an image of my neighborhood. (I particularly like the gate hanging open, like someone was so eager to get the hell inside that they just left shit wherever: "Forget the gate latch and Run, Ivanya! It's the Snowpocalpyse!")

It's still falling. The snow, I mean. It has been falling pretty regularly for hours. HOURS. We in New York are not getting the Worst of It, though, according to our over-agitated weatherpeople - The Worst is happening in Philadelphia. Which makes sense. According to Steve the Weave, everything bad happens in Pennsylvania. (I mean, just look at that goddamned rodent. He saw his damned shadow and then we lost Washington DC to the Blizzard of Last Week.) Stupid Pennsylvania.

While I still cannot decide which title I prefer for this Cataclysmic Storm, I maintain that "We are not getting the Worst of It" is my favorite sentence of the day. Because what the what? Define "worst," you sons-a-bitches. I am from ALABAMA. This does not happen in ALABAMA. I thought to myself earlier today, "Self, you need some clean underwear. You should drop your laundry off at that new place down the street. It's less than a block away."

"How bad could it be?"

The answer might surprise you: Bad. It's fucking cold. And the snow is blowing pointedly... Like sharp, little icy darts into the eyes. And the sidewalks are death. Slipping, sliding, slapstick comedy may look fun, but it is not for the faint of heart.

So I dropped off the stupid laundry, then I minced my way back down the street and proceeded to consume almost an entire pan of brownies. I think that's a fair trade-off.

I am not going outside again until April. I know, I know, TS Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but he also thought fascism might be a good way to go, so, clearly, he got some things wrong.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The One about Performances

1. Where's your number one on your top 8?
Definitely Young Guns Two

2. What is your favorite possession?
My yellow platform peep toes

3. Do you own a gun?

4. If you could tell your last ex something what would you say?
I miss you, you douchebag.

5. Do you get nervous before doctors' appointments?

6. What do you think of hot dogs?
I'm for them.

7. What's your favorite Christmas song?
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Coffee and a sidecar, Wilmington, ma boy.

9. Can you do push ups?
Can YOU do push ups?

10. Is your bathroom clean?

11. What's your favorite piece of jewelry?
The ring my Grandmother left me.

12. Do you take painkillers?
Every chance I get.

13. What is your secret weapon to lure in the opposite sex?
Rhetoric. Or boobs. Depends on the situation, really. Which makes it all rhetoric. So, there.

14. Do you have A.D.D.?
My powers of concentration are legendary.

15. Still have a birthmark?
I don't know what this means.

16. What are you doing tonight?
Drinking with people I don't particularly like. Unpacking in a desultory fashion.

17. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment?
February sweeps are AWEsome. Thank you, Michael Leff. I like vodka.

18. Name the last 3 things you have bought?
Pears, eye drops, blackberries.

19. Name 3 things you drink regularly:
Tea, vodka, Coke Zero.

20. Are you on a diet?
Diets are for pussies.

21. Who's number one on your top 8?

22. Current worry:

23. Current hate:

24.Favorite place to be:
In the sun.

25. How did you bring in the New Year?

26. Where would you like to go?
Somewhere beachy.

27. Why do you wanna go there?
Winter is stupid.

28. What shirt are you wearing?
Eh. Something black.

29. What is your current relationship status?
I have many irons in the fire, son.

30. Favorite color(s)?

31. Would you be a pirate?
Yes. I look good on boats.

32. Are you gay?
All the time.

33. Do you sing in the shower?
All the time.

34. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?
My rabid dog. Where is Atticus Finch when you need him?

35. What's in your pockets right now?
Lint, most likely.

36. What are you going to do after this?
Call my mom.

37. Who do you want to be with right now?

38. Worst injury you've ever had?
I got dysentery.

39. Best feeling in the world?

40. Worst feeling in the world?
The end.

41. Who is your loudest friend?

42. Who is your quietest friend?

43. Does someone have a crush on you?
Who doesn't?

44 Do you wish on shooting stars?

45. What is your favorite food?
Skillet enchiladas. Or macaroni and cheese.

46. What is your favorite candy?
Anything Swedish

47. What song do/did you want played at your wedding?
Get in My Car by 50 Cent

48. What song do you want played at your funeral?
See 47.

49. What were you doing @ 12 AM last night?
Watching 300.

50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zombie Haiku of the Day

Last year, my friend M sent me a book called "Zombie Haiku" by this dude named Ryan Mecum. The premise of the book is that a bad-poet-turned-effective-zombie journals about his undead experiences.

Here's the sad part. I totally lost that book for, like, months. But then I moved and What ho! She is found again!

Here's the happy part. In honor of the finding, and of the move, and of the new-apartment awesomeness, I will share two of my favorites with you:

Blood is really warm.
It's like drinking hot chocolate,
but with more screaming.


They are so lucky
That I cannot remember
How to use doorknobs.

It's funny because it's true, son.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Poetry Night at the McGurkens, Part Two

So I'm moved in to the new place. There are Russians everywhere--which makes me wish I'd done more, um, retention practice in my undergrad years. That said, we did have a good time in that Russian class, B and I--she spent more time in my classes than she did in her own. Perhaps it was the delicious, full-palated nature of the Cyrillic alphabet. Mostly, though, I'm pretty sure that it was this: Tuscaloosa is just eons cooler than Starkville.

I hired professional movers. It was a cold Sunday, and a good day to not be lifting/axing heavy objects. The McGurkens were out of sight--but totally within listening range. Even as I was putting the last few bits into the bed of the truck, I could hear the cursing/yelling/money-begging/groaning. They were an adventure to live near--but I will not miss their troll voices or the creepy interest they demonstrated in my life.

Anyway. The move happened mostly flawlessly. Not effortlessly, but flawlessly. The only thing missing, really, is Schnapps. But I guess that might be poetic justice. Perhaps there is some value to cycles and circles--other than rhetorically, I mean. Maybe personalities leave and enter our lives in similar fashions.

If that is the case, I wonder... can I predict endings? Am I like the Oracle of Delphi, but with more control over the meanings of my own utterances and deliveries? Are we as formulated and sprawling as TS thought? I like that idea, sort of. I like that idea better than pedantic priests telling me what it is I say and do not say. Balls on someone else's misguided interpretations. Balls, I say.

Considering my new-found skills of prophesy, I was thinking of doing some predicting. But that might be (read: is) way too morbid for a Tuesday night musing.

So. Instead, I will let you imagine the ending, dear reader. Show me what you're working with.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I have loved you for so long

You are beautiful and powerful, strong and righteous.

But, Wonder Woman, I have to be honest with you... I may have a new crush.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Which I Submit some Strongly Worded Letters

I know I live in a place that is too cold when I get excited about a 40 degree day that may (or may not) happen in two to three days.
Also, what is up with the new layout? Different is bad; we fear change.

Balls on you, Balls, I say.
A Misplaced Florida Cracker

Dear 30 Rock,
I know I am late to this game, but is there an episode of your show in which Alec Baldwin is not laugh-out-loud delicious? If there is, I don't want to know about it.

Dear Students-from-Last-Semester-who-are-Concerned-about-their-Final-Grades:
I wish that you had thought about this during the fall/early winter. Checking on your grades, visiting office hours, completing assignments--these are just some suggestions I have for your next few years in college. Sometimes, preemptive strikes are best.
Dr. James

Dear Future Landlords,
I hope you are not as bat-shit crazy as my current landlords. It will make for less exciting stories, I know, but I am willing to make that sacrifice, if you are.
A Tenant with Too Many Books

Dear Schnapps,
This place just isn't the same without you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poetry Night at the McGurkens, Part One

It's the beginning of the decade, and I'm moving again. Sigh. I have too many books. And too many shoes. And too many martini glasses. Wait, wait. Scratch that--there is no such thing as too many martini glasses. Who knows when a thirsty visitor might stop by, desperate for a cold, tall libation? I was raised right, after all. I am, despite all efforts to the contrary, indomitably hospitable.

I have not written consistently in this blog for a while now--it was a busy semester. But I miss writing. So I am going to start again. It might not be in this blog, I'm sorry to say. I am working on a couple of projects right now that deserve some attention. But today, I am going to tell you a story, seeing as how it's the new decade and all.

Poetry Night at the McGurkens*

This tale begins with a traumatic move and ends with a mysterious disappearance. In April of 2009, I moved from a comfortable, one-bedroom apartment in Queens to another comfortable one-bedroom apartment in Queens. But here's the twist: this one was already occupied (inside and out).

My then-roommate and I were trying to save money. Turns out there are more important things than cash--like being friends with someone and not living on top of them. And not moving into a house occupied by landlords from space. Today, I am going to tell you about the landlords. I will save the roommate drama for another post (hope, hope).

Character DevelopmentThere are (I think) three to four people living in the apartment above my head.

The Father: I write the rent check to The Patriarch of the family. He is an old, retired Irish NY cop, and he looks a bit like this:
But whiter and with more watery eyes.

The Matriarch: The wife is small and round and has a voice like the trolls from Fraggle Rock. Also. She has been known to wear t-shirts that say "Alpha Bitch."

Peter: He is tall, like his father. And super loud like his mother. He smokes many different kinds of things--on the porch, of course, and works odd jobs around the neighborhood. Once, he was kicked out of our local watering hole for (a) being a douche and (b) carrying some sort of knife. Fun guy. Sometimes, he knocks on my door and asks for $20.

Moist Man: He is rumored to be a soon-to-be-ex-husband of one of the McGurkens' daughters. He is perpetually damp. Even in the winter--which can't be good for his health and might explain the monstrous cough from which he suffers. He lives in the basement of the house and in a brown van that is parked on the street. It seems to be some sort of time-share arrangement.

In the summer, they sit on the porch (right in front of my bedroom windows), screaming at each other and any poor sod who happens to wander by. They seem to have two levels of volume--very loud and 10 decibels above pain. They are very unkind to one another--abrasive, short, and abusive, but they love animals and have a menagerie of sorts. At times, The Patriarch walks up to three dogs at a time--allowing them to poop freely on other people's lawns.

The Matriarch has serious mobility problems. She rides around the neighborhood on one of those wheel-chair scooters with a red flag streaming from the back, and she is always eating Tums, which lend her an air of frothing-at-the-mouth rabidity. Her mobility issues are part of the reason for my upcoming move, but I will get to that in the next installment of Poetry Night at the McGurkens: The Case of the Unhoused Dentures.

*Names have been changed to protect the demented/innocent.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Remembering Accidentals

In 1996, I was drinking buttery nipples and Miller Lite (I know!) with some friends from school when one of them said to me, "Hey, James! Do you want a cat?" I was deliciously tipsy and feeling magnanimous, so I said, "Sure."

The next day, I met this scrawny, ugly, angry little thing that was going to be moving in with me. Rob, Amanda, Lisa, and I spent some time discussing the name of this mangy animal--I wanted to call her Buttery Nipple, in honor of our original coming-together, but we thought that might be awkward. So we settled on Schnapps.

Over the last thirteen years, Schnapps and I got close. And I mean, Super Ridiculous close. I wanted her to be an outside cat, but she decided that would not work. I thought she should not attack my visiting friends and family. She, however, was a fan of the secret-ninja-hand-nibble, and she scared the dickens out of poor Ed many times.

She moved with me to several cities in North Carolina and several apartments in Austin, Texas. She saw me through three different degrees, numerous writing panics, illnesses, disappearances, and heartaches. I dragged her into houses filled with dogs (whose main idea of entertainment involved biting her on the face and flinging her across the linoleum tile), out of a marriage filled with crushing desperation and expectation, and after the hope of a New Start in a Big New City.

Last weekend, she disappeared. And she has not come back. Pretty soon, I will be moving again, and I will have to do something with her little food bowl. Right now, though, I'm going to leave it alone for a little while longer.

She is the most beautiful cat I have ever seen, my favorite familiar, and one of the best accidental companions I have ever had. I will miss her.