Saturday, January 31, 2009

Imaginative FAIL

Before my Shakespeare class began the other day, a student turned to me and said,
"Can I ask you a question? Maybe kinda personal?"

"Um," I said. "Maybe."

"Are you married to another professor at RU?"

"Oh!" I said, and smiled, thinking that there was probably someone in another department with the same last name. "No, I'm not."

"No?" She said. "Really? Because there's another professor in the English department who teaches Shakespeare--Dr. So-and-So? And I thought you might be married."
Now, I assume my student doesn't know that Dr. So-and-So and I are not equally heterosexual. And while I suppose it's nice that her suspicion that we might be married wasn't disturbed by the fact that we do not share a last name, the only evidence she seemed to have in support of our being married was that we both teach Shakespeare.

Because really: what the hell would either of us have in common with a normal person?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


When I returned to campus yesterday, I found my fall student evaluations waiting. The numerical averages were strong, so I hardly looked at the individual forms--just flipped through to see if there were any interesting comments. Blah blah, loved this; blah blah, didn't like that; blah blah, thanks so much.

But then I found a gem, the best comment I've ever received or hope to receive. On the back of a form rating me "Very Poor" in every category, a student wrote:
She may or may not be a she-devil/vampire!
I'm tickled by this for so many reasons. Had the student simply written, "She's a she-devil," my reaction would have been, "yeah, whatever, dude." But I love the may-or-may-not-be bit, the pretense that he's not sure whether I'm a she-devil--and indeed, isn't quite sure whether it's a she-devil or a vampire that I may or may not be. (Also, I'm not really up on my demonology, but those strike me as two very different characterizations of one's English professor: does this class involve blood-sucking, or just garden-variety torment? Please check one.) The exclamation mark makes it even funnier.

So thanks, anonymous student! I kinda love you. And I'd haunt you if I had the time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Feline interlude

In 24 hours I'll be back in Cha-Cha-City--indeed, at this very hour, I hope to be drinking margaritas with Evey and Jack (because nothing says "winter in the northeast" like a margarita or four). But in order to get to that happy place and that happy hour, I first have to endure a number of hours in the company of an unhappy feline.

Nero is not fond of the car. I usually give him a tranquilizer--but, like his owner, he has a ridiculously high tolerance; even a large dose lasts only a few hours and doesn't fully calm him down. On our trip out here he was so unhappy that, at about the four-hour mark, I got to wondering whether he'd be any less stressed if he were out of his carrier.

Lesson learned: inside of his carrier, he's fretful and noisy. Outside of his carrier, he's fretful, noisy. . . and a danger to me and everyone else on the road.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Going home again, again

This second, longer portion of my stay in INRU-land is winding down, and I'm pleased to report that either all those previous selves are merging into something coherent--or I've created a much more agreeable self with a much more agreeable relationship to this city.

I've joked for years that my love for my alma mater is not clearly distinguishable from Stockholm Syndrome, but now that I have no obligations to and more distance from the institution, I'm free to remark on how very pretty the campus is and indulge in nostalgia without feeling vaguely complicit. I'm purely an alumna now, is perhaps what it is: I still know how to navigate the library stacks, make a fast escape from every building, and locate the nearest restroom at any given moment--but the need for fast escapes (if not always for restrooms) is less urgent than it used to be.

Another relationship that's been continuing to transform is that with my dissertation director. (This bulletin is, I know, the latest in a long and increasingly boring series--but just imagine, my dears, how boring it is to live it.) I had lunch with her earlier this month, and though I'd been so wound up the night before that I'd had a hard time sleeping, the meal itself was rather lovely: we spent most of the time chatting about our personal lives, teaching, and politics--and when the conversation eventually rolled around to my latest chapter, her comments were largely helpful.

At one point, though, as she was exhorting me to follow a particular line of argumentation, I interrupted: "See, that's what most interests me, too. . . but don't you think that's kinda--well--unscholarly?"

She flipped her hand dismissively. "Who's to say what scholarship is, anyway?"

Which is a fine attitude for the person who's published fifteen or twenty books to have, but perhaps not for the person who's published none (just to eliminate confusion: I'm the latter rather than the former). Still, she was generally encouraging about and pleased with my proposed reorientation of the project Formerly Known As My Dissertation--even though I think her remarks basically amount to "shine on, you crazy diamond." (Given that I tend to think of what I do as being stodgy, if anything, Advisor's not-infrequent application of words like "eccentric" and "unusual" to my work is somewhat concerning.)

On the whole, then, it's been a lovely several weeks. I haven't felt as isolated as I sometimes did on my fellowship this past summer, and I'm close enough to several other cities to have spent most of my weekends visiting and catching up with old friends. Next weekend I return to my actual home--and to a semester for which I am entirely unprepared--but I'm happy to have spent so much time back in this one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The way biographies ought to be written

The best paragraph of one of the best biographies I've come across in the Dictionary of National Biography:
[Titus Oates] was later described as a dull, unlovable child who suffered from convulsions, a runny nose, and a tendency to dribble. In 1664 he attended Merchant Taylors' School in London as a free scholar under the tuition of William Smith, whom he later accused of playing a part in the Popish Plot. Smith found Oates a dullard and, discovering that Oates had cheated him of his tuition fees, subsequently expelled him. In 1665 he attended a school at Seddlescombe, some 6 miles from Hastings, and in June 1667 he went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he gained a further reputation for stupidity, homosexuality, and a 'Canting Fanatical way' (Elliot, 1–2). Oates transferred to St. John's College in 1669, but fared no better. He left Cambridge without a degree in 1669, but having become skilled in mendacity.
Damn. That shit's old school. (For those with a subscription, the rest of the bio is equally awesome.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Textual ephemera

Today I deleted all the text messages in my phone: well over a thousand, sent and received, dating back to late February of last year. I'm under the impression that storing too many messages runs down the battery or is otherwise bad for my phone, so I try to remember to purge them every few months. In practice, I usually think to do it only when there's a motive, such as erasing all evidence of an ill-advised fling (not that Flavia would know anything about that).

This time there was no motive other than the turn of the new year and the ridiculous number of messages I'd accumulated, and I had mixed feelings about deleting them. Even obsessive archivists have their limits, and I had no real desire to preserve these messages permanently--but I still spent the better part of an hour clicking through the first few months' worth and trying to reconstruct their context. Ephemeral or not, they're still records of a life.

I was slow to catch on to text messaging initially, and while the 130-odd messages I sent and received over the course of MLA still pale in comparison to the volume produced by Those Kids Today, this year's conference may mark my full embrace of the medium. It's not only the most efficient way to communicate, in many circumstances, but its constraints have given me a form and an idiom that I actively enjoy. Let's say something awful or amazing has just happened, and I need to convey it to a friend--can I do it in five minutes in the ladies room? In three sentences or fewer? With some approximation of the right tone? Well! I'm gonna try!

Maybe it's that I like the challenge--or maybe it's just that I really like to talk--but each form of communication seems to have not only its own utility, but also its own distinct pleasures. Instant-messaging is another medium I didn't get initially, but now love: Victoria and I both type and think so rapidly that our IM conversations careen forward and back, with comic delays and resumptions; it's a bit like being on a transatlantic trunk call in the 1930s--except that these conversations are different, and in several ways better, than those we have over the telephone. IMing allows for split-second word and phrase changes, for scrolling back for the details we missed the first time, and for more substantive commentary when the other is telling a long story (on the phone, the listening partner might say no more than "uh-huh" and "yeah" for ten minutes straight--but on the computer, that's dull as fuck); I think there's more give-and-take and more conversational creativity built into the medium.

So although I'm not convinced that the phenomenon of the cell phone novel is real--the novel isn't meant for the cell phone or the cell phone for the novel--I'm open to the possibility that another sort of narrative (not necessarily the kind sent from the ladies room) is appropriate for cell-phone transmission.

Whatever it is, though, I'll be a late adopter. Which is fine--I don't need any more text to worry about archiving, cataloguing, or deleting.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Meme

(I enjoyed doing this meme last year, and like the idea of making it a tradition.)

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
*Went to Italy
*Initiated a breakup
*Found two fantastic sublets through Craigslist, sight-unseen
*Learned how to discuss difficult subjects with a romantic partner
*Travelled great distances avec cat
*[One thing I'm disinclined to relate, but of which I'd like this reminder.]
2. Did you keep your 2008 resolutions, and will you make more this year?
I did an adequate job with last year's resolutions. I hope to do the same with this year's.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes: four actual friends and a whole slew of "friends" on Facebook.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Italy and England.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
Let's get crazy here and say a completed book manuscript.

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I suppose I've had some professional achievements, but if we're keeping this in the realm of the personal, I'd say the thing I'm happiest about is having forgiven two or three people the wrongs they've done me. Said people probably neither know nor care about my forgiveness, but they're not the point.

8. What was your biggest failure?
Not falling in love with the person who fell in love with me.

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No. As several friends have remarked, I don't seem especially hale or hearty--but I guess I am: my only ailment in 2008 was a single, slight cold.

10. What was the best thing you bought?
My trip to Italy.

11. Whose behavior merited celebration?
As in 2007: my friends'. For reasons unknown, they put up with my shit and my self-absorption and my tedious, repetitive dilemmas and they make me a better person.

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Not depressed and probably not appalled, but I'm significantly displeased with those people who read my blog, realize who I am--and then thrill to the belief that they're in possession of a juicy secret (a "secret" which they must then tell all our mutual acquaintances about). Note to those people: if I wished my identity to be harder to figure out, it would be.

13. Where did most of your money go?
To bills of various kinds. Whatever was left over went to books, booze, and travel.

14. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Definitely happier, though not without a few regrets. My weight and finances remain almost exactly the same.

15. What do you wish you’d done more of?
As in 2007: saved more money/gotten out of debt. Worked on my book.

16. What do you wish you’d done less of?

17. Did you fall in love in 2008?
No. But it's nevertheless been a romantically happy and satisfying year.

18. What was the best new book you read?
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

19. What was your favorite film of the year?
Of the films that came out this year, probably There Will Be Blood. Of the films I saw this year, Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

20. What kept you sane?
Work. Friends. Travel. Books. My cat.

21. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Nothing's permanent and nothing's unfixable.

Happy 2009, everyone~~