English is well dry

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sometimes I worry that my students are going to rise up against me.  If they do, I can only hope it takes the following form.  After all, I *am* a Doctor....

Hypothetical H. Pine

Friday, March 18, 2011

This video has renewed my commitment to naming my future children after abstract concepts and qualities.  I had been thinking along the lines of eighteenth Puritan uses of virtues as names, but without the Christian inflections.  Things like "Clarity" and "Philosophy."  And "Hypothetical." 

I'm not sure I can best "If Jesus had not died, thou hadst been damned," though.

Some days Mt. Grademore oppresses me...

... and that's when I wear these.

TSS: This March will be Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

I'm sitting here, swathed in comforters and buried vast drifts of marking.  I'm prepping classes on Frank McGuinness's Observe the Sons of Ulster and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," but it's not my décor that's speaking to me (thank god).  'Tis basketball, basketball that hath ravished me.  March Madness is upon me, in all its Mephistophelean, Byronic glory.  Today will be dominated by the ACC Championship game, which happens to pit my beloved Tar Heels against their nemeses, the odious Blue Devils.

I may even have convinced my nonagenarian grandparents (whose only athletic interest is in tennis) to watch the Duke-Carolina game today.

My nonna:     I used to play basketball, you know.
SP:                I think the game has changed a bit over the past, er, century.
Nonna:          Why don't they raise the basket now that they are making *all* the players so much bigger?
SP:                Ummm....

Oh, Halifax. You know I love it when you're noir.

Look through the light refracting off the fog...
...and you might see this in the image above.


Don't tell D, but I'm on Twitter. Just tryin' it out.  We'll see how it goes.

(You remember how he feels about it.  "I'm going to start my own site," he scoffed. "Bitter.com. We will send beets."  I encouraged him to do it, visions of hipster fame dancing in my head.  But of course, the mind that gave birth to bitter.com was too steeped in cynicism to make good on the idea.)

Time and Tide

My phone had been beeping all night. It says something unflattering about my character that I never once thought, "Maybe someone in my family is having an emergency.  I should get that."  Instead I rolled over, pulled my pillow over my ears, and grumpily contemplated getting up just long enough to kick the phone down the stairs.

When the radio alarm went off this morning, the first words I heard were "one of the biggest earthquakes in history" and "tsunami heading for Hawai'i." 

I sprang up in a panic and, only half awake, ran over to my phone. There I found a series of text messages from D in Honolulu, telling me that I was going to wake up to a story about an earthquake and a tsunami, but that I shouldn't worry, because he was outside the evacuation zone.  He's a veritable prophet, my fella.

In my muddled state, I took this to mean that he had been evacuated already.  I called him, still mid-panic, and woke him a half-hour before the tsunami was set to hit Oahu.  He was... cranky.  And completely unendangered.  Both of us were mostly asleep, although heading different directions across the sleep/wakefulness border. 

While I talked to him, first on the phone, and then via computer, the first in a series of long, slow waves hit the base of Diamondhead, the nearest beach to D's house.  He told me that local word was that the tide would go all the way out - far farther out than usual - and then come roaring back in. But apart from these extreme shifts, the effect was much smaller than anyone anticipated.  D went back to sleep for an additional hour: he had to get up at 6 a.m. for his work call.  Apparently even apocalyptic natural disasters don't get you a day off when you work in television. Time, tide, and filming wait for no man.  

After watching the videos (traumatizing, awe-inspiring, sympathy-inducing videos) of water pouring through Japanese cities, however, D told me, "when there is a serious tsunami, Honolulu's preparations don't seem nearly adequate.  The evacuation zone isn't big enough.  It isn't nearly as extensive a plan as we claimed on Hawai'i Five-0, when we did the tsunami episode." He paused meaningfully. "Don't believe everything you see on the show."

"Um.  I don't," I wittily rejoined.  

Lightning Review: Gran Torino (Film)

February 18, 2011

I'm not the first to observe that Clint Eastwood does a consistently solid job of making a very old-fashioned kind of movie.  Here, the director plays a cranky, gun-wielding widower whose only connection with the neighbors in his increasing Asian neighborhood involves growling at them to get the hell off his lawn.  Gradually, he comes to the aid of a young Hmong boy and instructs him (sigh) in the peerless art of how to be a man.  This mostly, of course, consists of teaching him how to insult other men's ethnicity with an odd mixture of gruffness and delicacy.  Eastwood presents us with a racist saviour, a man of violence who meets a Christ-like end, and while these are hardly revolutionary moves, the film also has a gift for skipping away from easy categorization just as I was about to condemn it for self-satisfied conservatism.

The greater flaw here is how half-hearted the film seems in some of its crucial moments. The scene in which Clint destroys his own kitchen in a rage is one of many ill-rehearsed if not ill-conceived examples of this, as is just about any scene involving a priest who has just stepped earnestly out of a 40s melodrama.  Eastwood at his actorly best is always a paragon of barely restrained violence and intensity. What we get here is something different from this taut restraint: a film pulling its punches.

Gran Torino (2008)
dir. Clint Eastwood

On Barbecue and Morality

March 5, 2011

Duke-Carolina Game
Halifax, NS - March 5, 2011
Bring it, Dook
(Notice the mustard sauce in the top right corner.)

I'm going back over journals from this summer, and finding things like this:

Dinner at Chapter One (Dublin).  We have a fight about whether I would try South Carolina barbecue.  D calls my open-mindedness an 'abomination.'  I can't stop laughing.  D never cracks a smile.

D's response to this nostalgic revelation?  Unrepentant.

They put mustard in their barbecue.  Even considering eating it is just ... it's wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong.

Continental Domination (Hypothetical)

February 11, 2011

[From my journals]

Last night's 30 Rock created a crisis of loyalty in me by being both Canada- and North Carolina-themed.  Liz Lemon has a relationship crisis while on a flight to Raleigh for the weekend, while Jack and his neo-con beloved are on a romantic, pre-parenthood weekend getaway to Toronto when she goes into labour.  They are faced with the horrific possibility that their daughter might be born a Canadian, and as a result she would never be President ("As absurd as that sentence sounds").

Then (of course) I had a bit of a panic attack upon realizing that any (totally hypothetical) child I had here would be unable to become President.  (I might need to start working on my anxiety problem.) Citizenship shouldn't be a problem for wee Hypothetical S. Pine, but I would never forgive myself if I kept little Hypo out of the White House right out of the gate.

I've talked from time to time with Canadian friends about how distinctly American the ubiquity of the "When I grow up, I'll be the President" childhood dream is.  Apparently few children in Canada dream publicly of becoming Prime Minister.  I'm intrigued by why this is.

Interestingly enough, to be Prime Minister of Canada, one only needs to be a citizen of Canada, not a natural born Canadian.  Could little Hypo be the politician to become President AND Prime Minister?  Could I?

Only time will tell.

To Hate Like This is To Be Happy Forever

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Today is one of my two most superstitious days of the year: the second Carolina-Duke basketball game.

Let's honour this glorious day of pride in alma mater, through the noble process of hating a worthy but despicable adversary.

I give you the late Charles Kuralt, fervent Tar Heel:

I was asked to speak here tonight, because during the bicentennial I was the guy who stood there in front of the President of the United States and said that I was there to speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke... and would not have gone there even if we could have.
We have great affection for Duke University.  All of us in this room know how important it is to our state, and know how important the rivalry is.  And if there had never been a Duke (which of course there was not, during most of the distinguished history of the University of North Carolina); if there had never been a Duke, we would have had to invent it.
We would have made it a place with severe gothic arches and ivy growing out of the walls, to persuade the more naive undergraduates that they had been admitted to Yale after all.
And we would have given it a towering national reputation (in some odd things, like parapsychology and the rice diet), but a national reputation.
We would have sent Richard Nixon there to study constitutional law.

Home and Castle

March 5, 2011

Oh, the house drama.

On February 9, I spent three and a half hours getting my hair done.  Finally.  Everything had been so busy that I had rescheduled the appointment twice when work meetings got in the way.  Finally, I devoted an entire evening, the night before I was doing the final inspections on the house of my dreams and an important faculty meeting.

At the end of our three and a half hour slog through foils, chemical smells, round brushes made of tourmaline or some other space-age hair-altering substance, and endless pondering of the Royal Wedding, I turned to my stylist and said, "The only person who is going to get the full effect of this is my septic inspector, tomorrow morning."  I hoped he'd appreciate it.

The product of our labours
To be honest, by the next morning I was sporting a limp, tangled, "morning after the prom" look.  Classy.  But he still did appreciate it, paying me the very high compliment of acting surprised that I was "from away," and telling me that I "sounded just like a Nova Scotian" as he toured me through the proctological video journey he was making of my prospective sewage system.

Just after this, my realtor showed up, looking grim.  "We've got a problem," he said, "Basically, we're f**ked."

There was a problem with the foundation.  A problem that would make the house essentially unsellable, should I ever lose my job, have to leave Canada, and need to unload the house promptly.  It was a $40,000 problem that, if solved, would raise the value of the house no more than $4000.  It was in addition to prospective problems with the roof, the chimney, the floors, and the septic system.  There was no concession that the sellers could make that would make it worthwhile.  We withdrew in deep mourning.

Actually, I was pretty strong at the beginning, acknowledging that it was the only possible logical choice.  D found it harder, having become attached to the property from afar.  But in the weeks that followed, I felt grimmer and grimmer, like I'd been dumped unceremoniously by my very first house-love.  "I loved it," I told people, "but the whole time it was hiding a bad foundation from me.  How could it?  How could I not have known???"

I began scrolling through real estate listings with a dull resentment.  "There's nothing," I wrote to D, "I feel like I will never love again."

"I don't know," he replied callously, "That last place was nice.  Kinda small."

I sighed.  We'll see.  We'll see.

A Little More than Lightning Review: Exclusively Yours (Novel)

February 18, 2011

High school sweethearts become successful writers in the twenty years after their breakup - he of horror thrillers, she of celebrity profiles.  When her editor learns of their steamy past, she sends our Keri back home to seek an exclusive interview, which Joe (still smoldering - it was a very hot past, and he has a vast smolder capacity) grants on the condition that she spend two weeks with his, well, vivid family on their annual camping trip.  The heroine is a barely fleshed out cipher, all designer clothes and delicate city ways, whose family barely merits a mention, but this doesn't dampen my annoyance with the fact that she ends up  [spoiler alert, unless you are familiar with the structures of a certain type of romance, in which case you saw this coming] giving up her whole life and career to be with him.  His "equivalent" sacrifice is ... trusting her again after she broke his heart two decades earlier.  The novel's last line - in which she celebrates giving up her old identity to become known solely as his wife, a fate which horrified her earlier in the book, is particularly galling.  Hrmph.

[Sidebar: why is it that many romance novels can only cope with one eccentric family at a time (the hero's or the heroine's), when most relationships are about the fundamental difficulty of grappling with two?]

There's a lot that's well done about the gripping, warm writing of this novel, and my complaints are largely about the blandness (or rather blankness) of the heroine and the way the resolution rubs away what little we know about her that's distinctive.  I wanted to see more of their high school years (which were described with all the urgent heat of nostalgia), to understand better why she left him while so madly in love, and to get a sense of why he (a fascinating, compellingly drawn man) would even be interested in her.

This is a pitfall I often stumble into with romances.  I wouldn't ever say it is characteristic of the whole varied genre, just of a certain type of characterization problem: the hero, as the object of our erotic focus, is detailed, vivid, charming.  The heroine, with whom we are supposed to identify, perhaps, is vaguer, more abstract.  Scott McCloud talks about this in Understanding Comics, if I remember correctly, when he deals with why comics artists render characters as either realistic ("Other") or iconic (abstract, and thus ripe for identification - "I").  The problem is this: a character who is sufficiently iconic, vague, or abstract that ANY reader could step into her skin is also a non-character.  Someone with features so universal as to be an everywoman.  And then what is there for the hero to latch onto and love, apart from the yawn-inducing idea of arbitrary fatedness.

Here my alienation from poor Keri is compounded by the fact that a stunningly beautiful and dazzlingly fashionable heroine needs some humanizing specifics to counteract my knee-jerk, Episcopalian-girls-school-trained dislike for those whom the gods and Neimans have blessed with a polished surface.  A beautiful heroine is routinely less interesting to me than one who is simply ... human.  Normal.  Lovely in moments, and plain in others.  If a heroine simply has to be beautiful, I'd like her to be deep as well.  Filled with shadows and fears, flaws and self-knowledge.  (See the heroine of Kristen Cashore's Fire.)

One last note: it's been some years since I've been camping.  But, as I remember it, there's nothing sexy about a campground's public bathhouse.  This is not the realm of romance, but of black widows and fungal growth.  I'm just sayin': all I could think, every time a couple slipped off to the bathhouse, was, "Did they take shower shoes?".  Eww.

Exclusively Yours (2010)
Shannon Stacey

Quite the class opener

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First day back from mid-term vacation.  I ask my Irish Drama class how their break went.  "Well," said a student brightly, "I'm no longer a 22-year-old virgin!".

I blinked at her with roughly the expression my cat used to get when he jumped into the bathtub and found the shower was still on.

She let the other shoe drop: "I'm now a 23-year-old virgin!!!".  This may be the only time in my teaching career that I have been left entirely without words.

It's been too long

Friday, March 4, 2011

...and so much has happened.  Which is why it's been too long.  I have a whole backlog of posts scribbled down here and there.  Let me see whether I can't actually get some of them up on the blog in the near future, eh?