Friday, November 27, 2009

Farawayzistan: The place where I am going

I’ll be far away for a while. All the usual going away criteria apply, so please water the plants, make fun of fonts, discuss deep philosophical issues amongst yourselves, drink my booze, and pick up any packages that arrive. Note: any packages marked NOT PORN are definitely not pornography. Take care of my tweeds and see you in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Lab Ain’t Like That

I understand that real Sudafed can be used to make meth. I don’t want any meth. I don’t want to make any meth. I just want the feeling that my brain is drowning in phlegm to stop. Can meth do that? I don’t really know, nor do I wish to find out. So I drag my ass to the pharmacy and say that I want some Sudafed. I have to provide identification and sign my name to some quasi-official looking registry. All of this, I assume, is to establish that I want some Sudafed for non-meth making purposes. So why, after going through these hoops, does the pharmacist grab a STACK a motherfucking STACK of Sudafed boxes for me. How much Sudafed do you think your average non-meth making person needs? Why on earth would I possibly want THAT MUCH Sudafed unless I WAS making meth? The pharmacist looked at me like I was crazy when I only wanted one box! Granted, my watery eyes schlubby clothes and dripping nose might resemble a “meth makeover” but I still have all of my teeth. What else are you willing to sell me friendly pharmacist? Let me just sort through my STACK of prescriptions and see what I can find...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

All I Saw Was A Tweedy Flash, Officer…

A few of your recent posts reminded me of something. You brought back to me the vivid memory of my typical “non-sabbatical” state of mind during this point in the semester. It is a feeling of gloom brought on by endless grading, too many demands on my time, crappy weather, and impending deadlines. Any excitement about the start of the semester has long since passed and there are too many obstacles ahead for any glimmer of excitement emanating from the end of the semester to shine through. I experience a brief “gloom phase” every single semester. Knowing that helps a bit, but it still feels like crap.

Being on sabbatical means I don’t have to experience it this year, but I am aware that gloom season would be right now for me and I think it’s right now for some of you. It makes me fantasize about a superhero (I picture a tweed cape) that could somehow fly around and relieve all of you stuck in gloom phase of your burdens. But what would that superhero do? I know when I’m feeling this way I know I need to relax. I need a break from grading papers, working on lectures, freaking out about some manuscript I haven’t touched in weeks, and the endless barrage of email. But an overwhelming sense of obligation keeps me from doing this. I’ve decided the only solution is for this superhero to provide valid excuses for imposed relaxation. The kind of excuse you can pass along to your students, Main Office Assistant, TA, GA, and/or colleagues without any trace of guilt and will force you to stop frantically working. This superhero is going to have to break some eggs.

What would our “gloom phase” superhero do? Bad things. Deliciously bad things. Our superhero would pull fire alarms before your class, release non-toxic but smelly substances throughout your building, and cause minor flooding. So sorry, class and office hours are canceled. University email systems are going have to go down in dramatic fashion. So sorry, I didn’t receive those whiny messages about how you have no time to study but do have the time to offer me nonsense extra credit work. Perhaps a minor fire needs to break out. So sorry, who knew the wiring on the Scantron machine was so bad? Jury duty might be required. So sorry, but I must attend to my civic duty. Crazy weather, vandalism, and all manner of suspicious activity might occur, leaving only a trace of tweed fibers in its wake. Shit just needs to go down.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The List: A Readers Guide, Part III, The Need For Pants

Well into the afternoon hours I found myself still not wearing pants. Before you get all excited, please know that I was wearing a robe. Perhaps it was a sexy robe. Go ahead, let yourself get carried away with that thought. Picture the fireplace, the wine, me and my silky robe lounging on the bearskin rug. Got it? Now look a little closer. You will see instead that in the middle of the damn day I found myself still not dressed, still sipping coffee, still not showered, still not toothbrushed, and still mindlessly staring at dripping icicles out the window while I sat on the couch. It was nice, all very sabbaticalish. But shit, I need to put some pants on! I’m cool with lazy days around the house, but sometimes you just have to get dressed and put a little effort into the day.

OK. Now I am ready to pour you that glass of wine and discuss a few additional Pulitzer items. So go ahead and put me back on that bearskin rug because I’m clean now and no longer have bad coffee breath. Isn’t that better? Yes, yes it is. Where was I? Oh yes, books. There remain a few Pulitzers worthy of mention simply because they stand out in some way. There are many books on the list that I have largely forgotten. They were forgettable. I know that because I look at them now on my shelf and all I can remember about them amounts to a rough sketch of the plot and main character(s). Actually, I‘m not even sure if the plural “characters” even applies. Then there are the books that stand out, not so much for being particularly good or bad, but for just being memorable. Here’s some.

Grab a cocktail…
The Stories of John Cheever (John Cheever): There are a few short story collections on the list. I’d say this one is the best (but they are all uneven). EVERYONE in this book is having, making, offering, or recovering from a drink. I’m not sure it is possible to get through these stories without being compelled to visit your liquor cabinet, fridge, flask, local keg party, or distillery. One story, “The Swimmer” really stuck with me. (Side Note: I was reading something completely unrelated to this book and someone mentioned this particular story. At first I congratulated myself on being so well read, but then I realized that the author mentioned it as if everyone knows this story. So I guess it’s either famous or the author who mentioned it is an erudite jerk.)

I liked it until…
Foreign Affairs (Alison Lurie): I was loving this book. For my fellow academics out there perhaps you have read this one? It’s right up our alley, professors on leave doing research, talk of tenure, and the relationships between colleagues, all that stuff we can relate to. It’s a good book, in fact the first few chapters are fantastic. But then the plot takes a turn for the worst and characters start reacting to the situation in ways that just seem wrong. It pissed me off.

Too much of a good thing…
Andersonville (MacKinlay Cantor): OK, this is one of those books that cuts back and forth between multiple characters. The book is loooong and the problem is half of the characters don’t really need to be there. I got bored with them. You find yourself reading about Civil-War-person-so-and-so wishing their part of the story would hurry the fuck up so you can get back to Intersting-Civil-War-Person.

The year the prize committee was stoned…
1981, A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole): This is a good book, no doubt about it. I would suggest you seek a little glaucoma treatment before reading it and just go with the flow. It requires a certain frame of mind.

I want to watch CSPAN now…
Advise and Consent (Allen Drury): This book is addictive. The writing is a little clunky in places and it’s pretty pulpy. The entire book centers on the nomination of a new Secretary of State and all the political shenanigans that ensue. It made me want to watch CSPAN. Which I did and I enjoyed it. A special prize should be awarded for inspiring anyone to willingly watch CSPAN. So, good job Alan Drury.

Can I have the cheetos now?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The List: A Readers Guide, Part II, Cue “One Shining Moment”

I guess there are clubs and groups you can join of people who are also reading the list. I had no idea they existed until recently and it seems a little late to join one now. Hi, my name is Dr. No and I’d liked to join your Pulitzer reading discussion group! I already read them all. Seems like a pretty assholey move. Akin to saying Hi, my name is Dr. No and I’m a cheetoaholic, but I’ve already recovered so don’t mind me and my orange flavor- dust encrusted fingers. So indulge me while I continue my wholly unqualified review of the Pulitzer list. Today we’ll explore the books I loved. I don’t really have all that much to say about these books, they just stuck with me. These were the books that I had to continue digesting long after they were finished, I had to let a little time pass before starting a new book. You know? That kind of good.

Top Pick…
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon): Brilliant. Just fucking brilliant. Had anyone asked me “Hey, would you be into a book where the world of comic books plays a central role?” my answer would have been “No.” Comic books just aren’t on my radar. Oh but this book is good. Brilliant. I should note that this book sparked my whole Pulitzer quest. So we can all blame Michael Chabon for making me read A Fable.

Most Photogenic…
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides): You just can’t forget it. This book is disturbing. I don’t mean disturbing in a gross or unseemly way. It is disturbing in the way that on rare occasions in life someone you don’t know particularly well shares something so deeply personal with you that you have no idea what to do with it. It’s usually not the content of what they told you that is really so disturbing. And after the fact, you know they probably shared this “secret nugget” with you exactly because you are not particularly close. But in that moment of hearing some completely unexpected words you are disturbed. This book somehow takes that very particular sense of disturbed and captures it. For that, I gotta award high props.

Slow & Steady Wins the Race Award…
Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner): It just quietly unfolds. I wasn’t even aware of how much I enjoyed this book until it was over. The story and writing just accumulate in your brain and when the book ends you just think: Well, that was something, something really lovely happened there.

Individual Medley Gold Champion…
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz): This book has a little bit of everything held together by a unique writing style that is simultaneously funny, insightful, and genuine. Shit, that sounds lame doesn’t it? It’s just weirdly good, one of the most unique books on the list. It’s the crazy jello salad your Aunt Edna makes with everything but the kitchen sink tossed into it but it somehow tastes pretty damn good.

All American Player…
Guard of Honor (James Gould Cozzens): This book requires some effort. I’d say for the first 50 pages I was bored and a little confused. Too many characters, too many military titles being thrown around, too many terms that made perfect sense in 1949 (the year it won) that I needed to see used multiple times before I had any idea what the fuck they meant, too much everything. But then it gets really good. Captivatingly good. These characters have personalities, realistically nuanced personalities. I’d like to have them all over for dinner. Technically the book is about military life and race relations, but as indicated by the title it’s really about honor.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The List: A Readers Guide, Part I, Journey To Suckitude

So I read the Pulitzer list for fiction. This task took me five years. Why so long? Because I have a job. Oh, and don’t say I didn’t warn you, but these books have very few pictures, zero pop-ups, and not one came with a little mirror that you can use to make half a picture whole. Remember those? So, lacking such typical hallmarks of fine literature, the task took me a while. By popular demand I will begin by discussing an elite category of books called “who the fuck voted this prize worthy?” or WTFVTPW? Sure, I should probably start with the good books. I mean how many Pulitzer prize winning works of fiction have I authored? (Three is the answer) Where do I get off passing judgment? (My crotch area is the answer) Anyhoo, we can break down WTFVTPW? into various subcategories, so without further ado let us begin.

The book that almost broke me…
A Fable (William Faulkner): Ugh. I’ve already expressed my supreme dislike for this book, you can read it here. But let’s kick a dead horse some MORE. I couldn’t tolerate more than a few pages at a time of this pontificating crap. Nice title dude. Really? It’s a fable? If it weren’t for the title I would have sworn I was reading the newspaper! The last time I hated a book this much was when I had to read that stupid seagull book in high school.

The year the prize committee was on crack…
1986. Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry): This is just a trashy soap opera. Endless drama set amidst horses, cattle, booze, guns, and all the stereotypical “western” crap you can think of. I know 1986 was a bad year. Case in point: The Golden Girls won an Emmy, that stupid band A-Ha won like a jillion Grammy awards, and the Voyager 2 space probe made its first contact with Uranus— and none of us, including our anuses has ever been the same. The book is enjoyable I guess. But a Pulitzer? C’mon! (and yes I made an Uranus joke)

I’m sorry, but, no…
Beloved (Toni Morrison): This is one of those books I feel like you are supposed to like and admitting you didn’t like it makes you an asshole. But I think it has already been established that I am an asshole, so I’ll just came right out and say this book does not deserve a Pulitzer. There are passages that are great, but you know some nachos are great too but that doesn’t mean you want to eat the burnt cheeseless chips that makeup the vast majority of your nacho platter.
The Shipping News (Annie Proulx): Whaaaaat? No.

Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. Rest assured many of the books were fantastic and it was a pleasure to read them. I'll post some book love soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The List

I will now attempt to get all Martha Stewart on your ass and convince you of a “good thing.” You will not be required to spend 10 hours folding hand-crafted paper, collecting pinecones, making hand lettered labels on acid-free paper, nor must you raise any fancy chickens. Of course you should already be doing those things. Don’t you love your friends and family? Where’s your holiday spirit? I mean otherwise your holiday decorations and gifts will be so lame. I’ve already started mining the silver I’ll need to make tinsel and the corn field I planted for popcorn balls is coming along nicely.

So put down your pinking shears and pour yourself a cup of homemade hot cocoa and listen to my little story. If you need to make a run to your cocoa farm, I’ll wait. I have always enjoyed reading. But somewhere in college I got obsessed with my own future profession and concentrated my efforts on nonfiction. This happens. There are some good nonfiction writers, but the bread and butter of my field (and I assume countless other professions) is boring. Boring as shit. You read for information, read for references, read to see how you are cited, read for data. It can be interesting in its own way. You learn to read boring shit, learn to write boring shit, and most importantly you learn to like it. At some point I developed an overwhelming desire to read good writing. Just good writing, just words. I had no idea where to start. Sure, there were a few authors I knew I liked- but what about all of the writing I didn’t know if I liked. How do you find it?

I imagine there are many solutions to this dilemma. My solution presented itself when I read a book I thought I’d hate. I decided I wouldn’t like it based only on the jacket art and description. I read it anyway because someone had given me a copy, I was bored, and there it was. I loved it and realized it had won a Pulitzer Prize which made me wonder if all Pulitzer winners were that good. So I decided to read the Pulitzer list thinking I may not actually like all of the books but that it would at least provide a decent sample of fiction writing. I just finished the list (from 1948-2009). I did not enjoy them all, but it was a good thing. You might like it too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I see you washed your hands, grabbed a fork, and are now extracting an olive. You seem rather germ conscious. I can respect that. But should I mention that I’ve had my fingers all up in that jar? That I just swish my fingers around in there, seize an olive, pop it in my mouth and go directly back in for more? That this has happened on numerous occasions? No. I don’t think I’ll bring that up. The vodka will kill my cooties right? Or have my cooties built up a resistance to vodka?

Oh, OK, sorry. Sorry doggie but I’m not supposed to give you people food. Here’s some scratches instead. Shit. The way you were conning me out of those last few bites earlier made it seem like you had done this before, lots of times. You worked me like a pro. Did I read you wrong? You don’t have some gastrointestinal problem do you? Those bites they didn’t see me give you earlier aren’t going to cause any problems are they? Answer with your eyes. OK. Got it. Let’s just keep those nibbles between you and me eh? No need to act like I’m your new best friend. Just keep it cool doggie. Keep it cool.

Just right on the corner? Yes, I think I might know the house, maybe, but the area is only vaguely familiar to me. It’s not like I’ve walked right by your house a hundred times or anything. There is no reason to assume that I consider your house the “crazy house” or anything, or that I am baffled by your yard and can’t for the life of me figure out what the hell all that crap is on your porch. Nope. It’s not like that at all. I’m just going to nod and smile.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Next Time Call A Cab

Elaborate, or think of it as “e” (the letter and drug that you should have administered to the audience) “labor” (we did, through 78 minutes) “ate” (a giant slice of random tangent pie with moderately amusing anecdote sauce, as in what you had for lunch). I don’t know how to explain it. You gave a talk. I went to listen. You spent forever elaborating on the boring parts and skimping on the good stuff. You seem well-spoken, well-read, and very experienced on the subject matter. You are pleasant to listen to. I somehow like you, but you just kept going on and on about the trivial parts. You skipped past some mighty interesting slides. I saw graphs! A diagram of some sort! Pretty pictures in some fancy lab! But you just kept right on driving. Driving like a nervous granny right past the exit to Interestingville and Relevancy Avenue. I thought for sure you would get off at Important Implication Town, but no. You just kept right on going. We ended up driving 5mph on a one-way road lost somewhere in the Useless Elaboration District. So, thanks for the ride I guess. I really did want to get somewhere today, I did come out of the cave for you after all… oh well.