Friday, January 25, 2008

I know this is old...

Check out this NPR review from 2006 of one of my all-time favorite albums, The Crane Wife, by The Decemberists. Pretentious as hell and pure genius.
Quote by reviewer Will Hermes:
"'Look for me when the sun bright swallow sings upon the birch bough high?' Dude! You must be kidding. I thought that sort of rock posy faded away with Yes and Gentle Giant. But The Decemberists love of Old English, the linguistic mode, not the malt liquor, and for complex story songs, has led them to their new CD, the Crane Wife, which is colored by the odd-metered, merrily bombastic sound of 1970s British progressive rock. "

Semester reading list

While not as lengthy or impressive as a year ago, this year's list of required readings, especially those for my literature class, ENGL 507, Living White Male Writers. I've already read The Crying of Lot 49, Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. With the exception of ...Mysteries, which I found to be too clever and aloof for my tastes, all are worth re-reading. I need another go at Pynchon's ...Lot 49 just to get at an understanding of it. God forbid I should tackle Gravity's Rainbow, a copy of which taunts me from my bookshelf.

M.A. Comprehensive exam reading list for English education: (Exam on March 22)

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/ I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing.

National Writing Project and Carl Nagin. Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools.

Sheridan Blau. The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Teachers. [I am very familiar with this text. It was used in two of my teaching methods courses. I oughta break down and buy a copy, but interlibrary loan is too easy.]

Arthur Applebee, Robert Burroughs, and Anita Stevens. "Creating Continuity and Coherence in High School Literature Curricula." Research in the Teaching of English, 34. 2000, 396-429.

Thomas McCann, Larry Johannessen, Elizabeth Kahn, and Joseph Flanagan. Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Urbana, IL: NCTE, chapters 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, and 13.

Pamela Hartman. "'Loud on the Inside': Working Class Girls, Gender, and Literacy." Research in the Teaching of English, 41: 2006, 82-117.

William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.

Readings for ENGL 520 Semantics:

Henriette de Swart. Introduction to Natural Language Semantics.

A Tiny Little Introduction to Formal Logic for Linguistics Students: logic.pdf (43KB)

Aitchison, J. 1998. Bad birds and better birds: Prototype theories. In V.P. Clark, P. A. Eschholz, and A. F. Rosa, eds., Language: Introductory Readings, 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. 225-239aitchisonbbb.pdf (924KB)

Grice, H.P. 1975. Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J.L. Morgan, eds., Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts. NY: Academic Press. 41-58.gricelc.pdf (871KB)

Reddy, M.J. 1979. The Conduit Metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language. In A. Ortony, ed., Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 284-324.cmcfc.pdf (2.08MB)

Readings for ENGL 507.1 Literature of Living White Male Writers

Russell Banks. Trailerpark.
T.C. Boyle. World's End.
Michael Chabon. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
Michael Cunningham. The Hours.
Nathan Englander. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges.
Keith Gandal. Cleveland Anonymous. (book by NIU professor)
R.S. Gwynn and April Lindner. Contemporary American Poetry.
Tony Kushner. Angels in America.
Cormac McCarthy. The Road.
Robert Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49.
Philip Roth. Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint
J.D. Salinger. Catcher in the Rye.
David Savran. The Sadomasochist in the Closet.
Neil Simon. The Prisoner of Second Avenue.
Wendy Somerson. Becoming Rasta.
John Updike. Rabbit Run.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Midweek update

Let's start with the food. Homemade pizza the other night. One of my best. Used almost the last of some tomato marinara spice, itself the last of one of those four-spices-in-one shakers given to me, it seems, so long ago. Added honey too. Awesome sweet and tomatoey crust. Toppings thin sliced full cut circles of tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and garlic. Three cheeses -- fresh romano, swiss, and mozzarella. Conventional canned pizza sauce. Sullivan's own Italian sausage, oregano and a bunch of other miscellaneous spices I can't remember.

This was my third pizza. It's official. I've got it down. Great pie.

First loaf of sourdough, while it did not rise as high as other breads I've baked, tasted very good, especially toasted. The bread was made with a mixture of organic rye flour and bleached, enriched Aldi's flour.

Baking's practical in many ways. It saves money on ingredients and cost. The physical labor of kneading warms the body while the oven warms the abode. Plus, dammit, it just feels good. The whole apartment fills up with the homey smell of baked bread.

Cooking smells are home smells. That's why I fell in love with cooking in the first place. It connects me with home, even though most of my dishes are not passed down. But at my house, the kitchen is where the action is, the heart of the home. It's only logical I should feel at home in my kitchen.

Some problems I have with homemade bread. While I'm still experimenting, I have not yet been able to create a loaf that has the same light, yet held together consistency of store-bought bread. When I go for the lightness, I get flaky crumbliness that falls apart, and more often than not err on the side of thickness due to my natural impatience and shortchanging the yeast time to rise. If I want a decent, held-together sandwich, I still have to go buy a loaf.
In other news, I am a week away from finalizing my credentials and beginning the job search. I got my third letter of recommendation this week and am sending my resume in for critique at the Career Center tomorrow. I will also make an appointment with a counselor to go over interview and cover letter tips. February begins the first barrage of resumes and cover letters. I won't develop a game plan until after I talk to a few people, including some NIU English Dept. folk.

I've got almost all the required readings for my courses and comprehensive exams.
Cross country skiied to class Tuesday morning. Early. 7:30 a.m. Sun low. Gained a little speed downhill to the railroad underpass on Pearl St. The world all quiet and snow blanket sun shine down John Street, coffee-clad book packers trundle roadside to campus boundaries, where await cleaner sidewalks, an armada of red and black blowers and plows.

Transcendent moment... As I skiied around the lagoon, I suspended the knowledge I was in the heart of the city and looked to the ground and the shadows of the trees on the snow, and the snow all windblown and crystallized golden in the early rays. And then eastward across a parking lot and through a patch of woods between Lincoln Highway and the computer science/psychology building. I didn't realize how many inclines there are in DeKalb, a benefit of skiiing I'd overlooked, this greater intimacy with slope.

Good exercise, but not as fast or efficient as walking. My hand-me-down skiis need to be re-waxed. I also need to develop a greater efficiency of motion. XC uses different muscles in the legs and more upper body strength than regular walking.

Seeing Jonny and Esther three days a week. She's still my best friend. Amazing sometimes. A strong connection still, a thread unbroken. It's easier, I guess, not living together, a better arrangement. I guess. Old habits die hard. Like speaking only in vague generalities about the intimate details of my soul. I don't have the courage to do that in a public forum, even one I'm contemplating shutting down, saving to a hard drive and out of general public knowledge. Maybe now, on the eve of that change, I will bare my soul. About love. Fears. My past. Everything.

Maybe not. We'll see.
Jonny. Jonny. He tells me he loves me, not often, randomly, like after I read him a story or, once, after I got him strapped in his car seat. And he always says it in a serious, low tone. Other times, right when I see him he yells "Daddy, no!" and clings to mother's leg. I just roll my eyes, say "ohhh-kay," and leave him be until he comes to me.

The first week of January, I took care of Jon two times during the day from 6A - 2:30P, while Esther was at work, and for one of the first times since I've cared for him during a weekday, he didn't cry for mama. I tried to cut off flapdoodle at the pass by reminding Jonny that mama was taking care of the babies and would be back later.

He is a walking advertisement for Spiderman, thanks to Christmas. Over Thanksgiving, Jonny saw one of his cousin's Spiderman toys and was smitten. I closely quizzed Esther about the origins of Jonny's interest in Spiderman because I was really into comic books when I was kid and Spiderman remains one of my favorite characters. Jonny got into Spiderman entirely on his own. Word got around. Now Jonny's got a spiderman shirt, fleece hat, shoes (with these big spiderman heads on each toe), car and action figure, ball, and there's more, I just can't remember it all.

I got him a mini-basketball and hoop. He looked at the net and said, "Webs," and then made this toddler effort at the thwip thwip of Spidey's web launchers. He can complete the lyrics for most of the 1967 Spiderman cartoon theme song. I say, "Look out!" and then we both say "Here Comes the Spiderman," and he does this "wah wah wah" noise for the trumpet part.

I'm not giving him access to my approximately 700 Spiderman comic books. Not yet. Not for another five years at least. For all of his verbal erudition, he can barely turn the pages of those bomb proof cardboard laminate books.

I could go on and on all day about Jonny, but I gotta get to bed. He's a good, kind-hearted, fun-loving, rambunctious, but ultimately well-behaved kid. His mother's still pretty cool too.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Incisive cold

Saturday morning. First week of my last semester in the books. Whew! Busy times, but I see more reading, less hustle next week.

I'm officially broke. There's been some SNAFU with my financial aid. I'm not worried about getting any, but it will be delayed. Luckily, I will, I hope, with thrift, get through this by the skin of my teeth. Substitute teaching and a graduate assistantship stipend are all I am living on. This semester I will, best case scenario, sub three days a week. So far, I've been in high demand.

One thing that does not occupy my thoughts much is money. Not until the balance hovers near overdraft. Then, every activity and habit is scrutinized in the name of thrift. It's a fun mental exercise. Some of my best days are broke days. I read more. I eat less. Go to more public events because they're free. Walk. Walk. Walk. Me and the crazy lady with the platinum hair who spends her days roaming DeKalb and, yes, Sycamore. Hermitage and physical exercise.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Seems like every Transcendentalist is deeply rooted in the finite, the listmania of Thoreau. That's what I aspire to...

"House $28 12 1/2
Farm one year 14 72 1/2
Food eight months 8 74
Clothing, &c., eight months 8 40 3/4
Oil, &c., eight months 2 00
In all $61 99 3/4," Thoreau, Walden

Hermitage. I like that word. Don't think I can live like a hermit. But I thought of that word when I was out in the desert backcountry of Arizona.

From Word of the Day, December 26, 2007.

"Your oath I will not trust,
but go with speed
To some forlorn and naked hermitage,
Remote from all the pleasures of the world." -- Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost

Hermitage is from Old French hermitage, from heremite, "hermit," ultimately from Greek eremites, "dwelling in the desert," from eremia, "desert," from eremos, "solitary; desolate."

Cold, cold, bitter cold. Stay close to the hearth. Or venture out in layers. Wish there was an inch more of snow, enough to cross country ski. Bitter wind chill, -24 degrees fahrenheit. Winterfest at Russell Woods. Mmmmm. Maybe not. We'll see.

Going to put the starter to the test with a loaf of bread. Something to warm my humble cell. This bread, to me, if successful, will be akin to starting a fire from scratch. Not as laborious, but the philosophy is there. Instead of using mail-order or store-bought yeast, I simply let flour and water ferment in open air for 5 days, throwing out half each day and replacing with fresh flour and water. I now have a bubbly, yeasty-smelling mixture. I will take the majority of that and knead it in with flour, water, salt, a little sugar, leave it to rise for a couple hours, punch down, you know, the usual bread thing.

I've been wanting to make my own sourdough starter for a long time and was surprised at how simple the process is to make it. From what I read online, rye flour is best. Naturally occurring yeasts are finicky and random. That's another uniquity of sourdough. Each strain bears a unique personality and flavor. It is the flavor of your environment.

Good! Now the starter is "proofing," yeast are multiplying as I type.

And now it's off to a basketball game with Jonny and Esther. And then to Winterfest. The boy's half-Scandihoovian and, bundled up into a waddling ball, he should be all right. Cold air is good air. Good for the bronchii.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A man and his cabin in Alaska

One Man's Wilderness, by Sam Keith, from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke, is about Proenneke's adventures building a cabin on the shores of Twin Lakes, southwest of Anchorage and a mountain range away from Cook's Inlet. Proenneke was a mechanic before he retired to the Alaskan frontier in 1967 at age 51.

Proenneke's simple, declarative, often clunkily whimsical prose makes his world come to life. Step-by-step, but not bogged down in detail, he shares the pleasures and hard work of woodcraft with no power tools as his one-room cabin comes to life. With few exceptions (including a polyethylene cover for his roof, concrete mix in his chimney, and nails), Proenneke used all natural materials to build his home.

Check out this link for a 500-page National Park Service publication with more photographs and writings of Proenneke.

Below is an excerpt from a 60-minute long documentary DVD, Alone in the Wilderness. Most of the footage was shot by Proenneke.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Deconstruction debate

I enjoyed this rare literary debate on a prime time television show, “The Graduate," a Northern Exposure episode from 1995, the sixth and final season.

Set the scene: Chris Stevens, ex-con, radio host, transcendentalist, and spiritual leader of Cicely, Alaska, is taking his oral exams to get his master’s degree in comparative literature, via correspondence courses, from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Two literature professors join Chris for dinner at astronaut Maurice Minnifield’s house. Dr. Martin, a modernist, and Dr. Schuster, a traditionalist, argue about deconstructionist theory.

CHRIS: I was doing some re-reading on the deconstruction thing. You know, Jacque Derrida, Roland Barthes. The more I read, the more contradictions just whacked me in the head. Whatever happened to “Truth is beauty, beauty truth?”

DR. MARTIN: It’s the very multiplicity of interpretations that is the heart of deconstructionism.

MAURICE: Deconstruction?

DR. MARTIN: It is only when you remove the author as the final arbiter that all the suppressed meanings are allowed to proliferate.

DR. SCHUSTER: Ergo, misinterpretation is no longer a literary crime, nor is plagiarism for that matter.

DR. MARTIN: Think of the interpretive freedom that that allows. Take Chris’s thesis for example. Mighty Casey is not just a .400 slugger.

MAURICE: He’s not?

DR. MARTIN: No. He’s Nietzche’s uber-mensch.

CHRIS: Yeah, yeah. I had the notion that the world’s come to depend on Uncle Sam to solve all its problems just like the fans of Mudville expect Casey to knock it out of the park every time he steps up.

DR. MARTIN: Hermeneutic license at it’s best.

DR. SCHUSTER: In one fell swoop, you and your carjacking protégé there have put 2,000 years of accumulated knowledge into a rhetorical Osterizer and grinded it all into oblivion.

DR. MARTIN: Ah, the last gasp of the dead, white, European male, or as I like to call it, the pale penis people.

DR. SCHUSTER: Listen to that. Anything that smacks of reverence for tradition or the support of objective standards falls prostrate to the almighty god of political correctness.

DR. MARTIN: Now the real agenda comes out, huh? You’re determined to hang on this department chair until the bitter end, aren’t you, Dick?

DR. SCHUSTER: It’ll be a few more years, buddy. You better get used to those faculty apartments. [He laughs]. You guys! Throw out Jane Austen. All she did is validate imperialism. Who needs Shakespeare? An elitist punster at best. And all the while we’re shamelessly pandering to the loudest of the disenfranchised. It’s college through a boom box!

DR. MARTIN: Well done, Dick. Bigotry with panache.

DR. SCHUSTER: You son of a bitch!

DR. MARTIN: Come on!

[Maurice stands up and goes between the men]

MAURICE: Stop this right now! It’s only literature for goodness’ sake.

Chris, earlier, when he first met Dr. Martin, proposed this toast: “To academia. In a world of ever more compromise and pettiness, the last refuge of ideals and idealism for its own sake.”