THE ACADEMIC GRIND

I had hoped not to have to entertain the thought of seriously re-applying for other jobs when I accepted my current position. Various things have led me to think that I will probably actively pursue other jobs once I finish the dissertation and get a couple peer-reviewed publications out, though. In that vein, Dr. Crazy’s musings on the job search while in a tenure-track position are thoughtful. For me, it’ll probably be at least three years before I look for jobs again (unless I get kicked out after the third-year review).

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS

One of my students e-mailed this web comic strip to the class a few weeks back. I was happy to see that someone was sort of paying attention in class (we were reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse) and that this e-mail confirmed my suspicions of this student’s geekiness, in a good way of course. It’s unfortunate that the comic strip’s understanding of stream of consciousness is a bit off, in my mind. It seems to equate stream of consciousness as a narrative technique to automatic writing or free writing. They’re all to some extent related, but while automatic writing and free writing are techniques of writing that are meant to access the writer’s thoughts in a less inhibited or scripted way, I think stream of consciousness is on the contrary a highly contrived narrative technique that requires much revision and much thinking about the direction of the “stream” and how it proceeds. So, while stream of consciousness as readers perceive it might be like automatic writing or free writing, the process through which writers go to construct stories through stream of consciousness narratives is very painstakingly thought out.

GROCERY SHOPPING

I should check the weather forecast to make sure there isn’t a blizzard on its way. Given the packed grocery store parking lot just now, which caused me to drive on through and not get any food though our apartment is essentially foodless at the moment (we even ran out of butter!), I’m thinking either there’s a rush to stock up on foodstuffs before an impending storm or Sunday evening is the preferred grocery shopping time for my neighborhood. I swear, everyone and her mom was at that store!

HOME AND VAMPIRES

Yesterday’s not-for-work stuff included watching At Home at the End of the World, the movie version of Michael Cunningham’s novel, and reading Michael Schiefelbein’s Vampire Vow. Both the dvd and the book I checked out from the Quatrefoil Library. I think I will spend my entire winter break watching and reading stuff from their collection. I also checked out Willyce Kim’s Dead Heat (I didn’t know she had written this sequel to Dancer Dawkins and the California Kid) and Matthew Stadler’s Landscape: Memory (I love his Allan Stein).

At Home at the End of the World was a very sad but beautiful movie. The Bobby character is so refreshing to see. I know people who have aspects of his personality — the intense innocence, openness to love, and utterly caring attitude towards people. But what I think is so great about this character is his lack of guilt and lack of awareness of social disapproval. I wish people could be more like him this way. Like his openness to his best friend’s gropes. His offering his friend’s mother a joint when she catches them smoking. His actions diffuse those moments of possible disapproval in the best possible way — by refusing to interact with people and a world in a way that frowns upon loving relationships.

Vampire Vow, on the other hand, was a fun little read that was naughty yet ultimately pious. I thought the best part of it is that it’s written by a man who studied to be a priest, became an English professor, taught at a Catholic university in Tennessee, then went on to be a minister. Plus, the story is about this Roman soldier Victor who becomes a vampire because of his unrequited love for Jesus. Seriously! It’s an awesome story. Victor goes on his two millenia rampage because Jesus, though in love with him, too, rejects him for God instead. And in the second millenia, Victor preys specifically on Jesus’s followers in monasteries. There are scenes where he pushes up monks’ habits and “enters” them. Is it wrong that this tickles me so? But the story does ultimately create a world in which Christianity is about true faith, and though the story doesn’t condemn Victor outright, it also sets him up for a final redemption somewhere down the line. (So far there are three vampire books by Schiefelbein — I’ll probably read the other two in the next month: Vampire Thrall and Blood Brothers — and as much as Victor challenges the order of goodness, he does so in a way that is like theological inquiry, testing the limits of the Christian faith and thereby strengthening it.)

BRRRR

How cold is it? Why, it’s so cold that my face is numb from our morning walk. And it itches, for some reason, but when I scratch it, I can’t feel my face nor relieve the itchiness. That’s how cold it is.

How cold is it? Why, it’s so cold that while I was talking on the phone during the morning walk with Giles, my friend said she could hear how cold it is over the phone. That’s how cold it is.

Time for some extra hot mocha, I think.

THE WOMEN IN GAY MEN’S LIVES

Reading the most recent post by gay prof about his love for Wonder Woman reminded me of what irks me about the gay movie/tv show genre’s representations of women, especially the “fag hag.” Women in Eating Out and Will & Grace love their gay male friends because they are trying so desperately to complete their lives with a heterosexual relationship and constantly push the queer quality of their friendship into “normal” territory. Also, there’s a fawning quality to their characters and an off-putting self-centeredness. I wonder how much it is that there are women like this out there or if it’s gay men’s twisted desire to be loved by women as forbidden objects. But whatever. I’m not really all that interested in “real” representations so much as I am in transformative ones — ones that enable us to rethink how people are in the world.

Anyways, gay prof points out that queer icons, unlike fag hags, are women who blend and bend gender and challenge what gets relentlessly rescripted as normal masculine and feminine traits. I like that understanding of women who are queer icons.

On a related note, author Brent Hartinger talks about the “gay genre” in movies and television. His discussion treads the usual grounds of assimilation and acceptance (gay people have made such headway in being accepted that there now can be movies that just incidentally have gay characters! woo!). On the one hand, yes, I agree it’s great that movies with gay characters don’t have to thematize homosexuality or make it the central issue anymore. And frankly, the “gay genre” as coming-out narrative is quite overdone and frustrating in its lack of complexity about issues that gay men face (even in what happens to people in coming out). But I’d prefer to think that the best movies with gay characters, content, perspectives, and so on help to queer/skew normative assumptions about gender and sexuality, and in that respect, it’s sad that queer movies are now just like every other movie.

SOUL ASYLUM AND PLACES OF MUSIC

Ah, alternative rock of the 1990s. Since arriving in Minnesota, I’ve seen Soul Asylum’s name around a lot as a local band. And now the radio is playing their song “Somebody to Shove.” I think my first non-classical music cd, after the Aladdin soundtrack, was Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancers Union, which had that creepy album cover.

My memories of some music I listen to are inexplicably much more rooted, much fuller.* Listening to those songs conjures for me a sense of place, especially, and a moment in my life. Soul Asylum is high school in my bedroom, lying on the floor staring at the ceiling for long stretches of time. Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is the high-ceilinged room of the addition to my parents’ house and hours spent in front of drawing paper and canvases. Tori Amos’s From the Choirgirl Hotel is my cousin’s apartment that I sublet a couple summers in New Haven some five years later. Tori Amos’s To Venus and Back is New York City’s subway system — the trains and stations — as I commute to and from work, to and from friends’ places, to and from all that is New York.

No one album has become as strongly entwined with a place or moment for me since I started graduate school. I don’t know how much that has to do with age, the situations of my life since college, or something else. I don’t listen to music the way I did anymore. I used to browse music stores for hours, sampling many many albums of artists I had never heard before taking one home. I would open the cd as soon as I left the store, pore over the liner notes, and listen to the music on repeat for weeks. These days, I pick up music almost haphazardly, choosing albums by artists I already know or newer ones I’ve heard on the radio. But I often don’t listen to the albums immediately or all the way through, focusing only on the radio singles, the catchiest tunes, the recognizable tracks. I abandon them just as quickly as I pick them up, accumulating them but not immersing myself in the sounds.

I want to lose myself in an album again. I want to find music that pulls me into another world and weaves itself insistently through the places of this world, echoing off the walls of my apartment or through the streets around me.
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* It should be noted that while I love the music that evokes a sense of place for me, not all other music I love evokes such a sense of place. For example, some of my favorite musicians like Björk, Christina Aguilera, James Blunt, Holcombe Waller, Erasure, and Mariah Carey don’t do this for me. Also, music doesn’t seem to conjure other kinds of memories and sensations; it’s always about a specific place and moment rather than a taste or a smell or an idea or an emotion.

DOGS AND HUMAN LANGUAGE

Yesterday, I watched bits of Dogs and More Dogs, a PBS/NOVA program about the evolution of dogs. I was drifting in and out of sleep while dozing on the couch, but I did enjoy the show. It presented the two common theories of how dogs branched off from wolves as domesticated animals — the first theory focusing on how Stone Age humanoids actively bred for tamer wolves and the second focusing on how human settlements with concomitant waste sites selected for scavenging wolves who were less afraid of humans. Though I would throw my chips in with the latter theory, I like how the first theory, in some scientists’ accounts, also incorporates a bit about the origins of human language. In these accounts, the relationship between wolves and humans led to a need for verbal/vocal commands that helped develop human speech.

The other tidbit that was interesting was how dogs developed floppy ears, different fur colorings, and barking. As characteristics not seen in wolves, it doesn’t make sense that these traits could’ve been actively selected for in breeding programs. However, a Russian geneticist breeding tame foxes in Siberia discovered that after a few generations of such breeding, floppy ears, different-colored fur, and barking began appearing. This research suggested that some of these characteristics are correlated with a “tameness” gene — linked to the decreased production of adrenaline. Kinda cool.

CHANCE ENCOUNTERS

Yesterday morning while getting my soy mocha at Dunn Bros, I ran into the adjunct I observed last month. He’s also a full-time staff member on campus and did his master’s in the English program. He’s really the only person from my school that I’d run into elsewhere up until yesterday (the other two times were also at Dunn Bros).

Yesterday afternoon I ran into a faculty colleague at Cupcake. She was there with her husband and two sons. It was their first time there. They tried it at my recommendation.

Yesterday evening while grocery shopping I ran into a student. “Mr Lai,” he said as I browsed the cookies on the shelves. He was not in class today.

EXTRA CREDIT AND MANTRA

This is the extra credit assignment I am giving my students today:

COLLAGE (Visual Interpretation Extra Credit Assignment)

With images and text you find in newspapers or magazines, construct a visual interpretation of either Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” The interpretation should illustrate some scene or character of the story you have chosen. Or, it should capture a theme, idea, or argument of the chosen story. Be creative!

Your interpretation should be on 8-1/2″ by 11″ paper (standard letter-size paper). You must use only images and text that you cut-and-paste together (in other words, no drawing or writing of your own). On a separate sheet of paper, write a quick explanation of your visual interpretation.

My mantra for today, trying to ignore whiny student e-mails, is, “I will stay upbeat and positive about teaching.”