I Canna Take It, Captain!

I can't read another goddamn word. Not one more. Not about nineteenth-century European history, not about the Ottoman Empire, not about grant applications, nothing. Here's what I can do:

Actually, that last one sounds like a plan. And I'm off!


This Charming Fellow

Here's the guy I'm writing my dissertation about: André Gorz.* Here's what I'm not saying in my research prospectus or grant/fellowship proposals: I'm writing about him for exactly two reasons. And they are:
  1. I can do most of the research here in SC. He published a lot and it's available in the UC library system and/or Worldcat.**
  2. I admire him. He was a radical philosopher and journalist, but he wasn't at all dogmatic or pig-headed, unlike some people he knew and worked with.
Today I wrote my research proposal (or, at least, a draft thereof), read a book about the French Revolution, graded a mess of quizzes, worked out, made dinner, and drank some gin and some wine. I'm not sure I have it in me to clean the bathroom, which was supposed to be the grand finale to this exciting day.

We had C and Tweak/J over for drinks and one of the top 3 funniest movies ever made last night, which was fun. The wee one drank her gin and tonic a little too fast, but she managed not to fall over, so all was well.

I'm wearing my commie hat to section tomorrow. Time to fly the colors.

* Along with his wife. They had one of those love-of-the-era kind of marriages. Like Princess Bride, you know?
** For a few reasons. My French still sucks. The Euro is 100 to the dollar right now. And I just don't want to be in Europe for months and months. I'm sorry, I just don't take this shit seriously enough to want to do that and be away from B for that long.

Addendum: I'm still going to France, just not for, like, ever. The days of the year or two-year research trip are numbered, at least for Europeanist grad students...


Raising the Rent

So our rent got hiked. Keep this in mind: if you want to live in a small (about 500 sq. ft.) one-bedroom apartment in SC, it'll cost you 1075 a month.

It's an appropriate allegorical event for how I'm feeling right now. My shelves in the bunker are rapidly approaching seriously-full status and are, at this point, literally bending under the weight of the huge tomes on European history. As of my meeting with my adviser the other day, I'm responsible for 1789 to the present in my field statement, which bumps up my reading list by about 50%.. I'm producing my dissertation prospectus and applying for things while I'm simulteneously trying to keep up the pace of the reading and writing. Somewhere in there I'm teaching middle eastern history.

The real thing that's bothering me, though, is the feeling of social dispersion. I miss Oregon, as ever, but I find myself missing even how things were last year here in SC. Our cohort still exists and we're all still friends, but the gatherings are infrequent and people are often too exhausted, or just antisocial, to go out. The most important piece of advice I got from my former advisor at UO was that the quality of your fellow grads is as important as the quality of the program you're in as a whole; if you don't have smart, supportive people to spend time with, the experience is miserable and isolating. This term just sucks for everyone, but here's me hoping it turns around a bit and we spend more time drinking and talking shit about the department together.

As an aside, it's raining like nuts. So at least the drought's over.


Like Stand Up Comedy at a Mortuary

...that's how it feels to lead discussion sections a lot of the time.

My Tuesdays, they are ugly bitches this term. I'm in lectures, seminars, and discussions all day from 10:00am to 7:00pm, not including the time it takes to get to and from the city on the hill. The killer is leading the section last; it's this huge burst of energy on my part as I try to make it, you know, not completely suck. Because I'm so out of it by the time it begins, I've already produced two logistical foibles this term that I had to correct via e-mail once I realized that I'd screwed up. And me, I don't produce logistical foibles. I DON'T PRODUCE LOGISTICAL FOIBLES.

On a happier note, my advisor really liked my MA paper and thinks I should polish it up and try to get it published in a lefty history journal or a feminist history journal (ha ha...big difference.) Any suggestions for journals I might seek out? He had mentioned History Workshop.

On a less happy note, I have a lot, lot, LOT of French historiography to catch up on before my QE.

B's mouth still really hurts and she has a nasty headache tonight to boot. On the up side, she was able to eat part of a scrambled egg earlier. It just took a long time.

This evening is one of those times I'm really in touch with my "flee to a cabin in the woods" fantasy. What the hell: I'll upgrade the fantasy to a "flee to my compound in the woods" scenario. Everyone could come hang out; J is in charge of security.


Long Haul, Good Songs

So B is hanging in there. Much to our shared chagrin, the real problem has been the antibiotics, not the pain. She's on day 5 of a 5-day antibiotic assault meant to prevent infection in the transplanted tissue. In turn, the antibiotics make her really, really nauseous for several hours a day. That makes it hard for her to eat, which makes it hard for her to take painkillers, which makes everything suck even more.

Happily, this is the last day she has to take an antibiotic and we both have high hopes that she'll be over the hump as of tomorrow.

In unrelated news, I recently purchased the new Magnetic Fields album. It is awesome, like just about everything that guy has ever done. Here are the lyrics to my favorite song, which is definitely going on my "welcome to the inside of my head '08" mix I'm making.*

California Girls
See them on their big bright screen
tan and blonde and seventeen
Eating nonfood keeps them mean
but they're young forever
If they must grow up
they marry dukes and earls
I hate California girls

They ain't broke, so they put on airs,
the faux folks sans derrieres
They breathe coke and have affairs
with each passing rock star
They come on like squares
then get off like squirrels
I hate California girls

Looking down their perfect noses
at me and my kind
do they think we won't
well, never mind

Laughing through their perfect teeth
at everyone I know
do they think we won't
Get up and go?

I have planned my grand attacks
I will stand behind their backs
with my brand-new battle ax
Then they will they taste my wrath
They will hear me say
as the pavement whirls
"I hate California girls..."

* I try to do these every once in a while. Most come up short, but I did produce a mix back in about '03 when I was in the thick of corporate IT that still holds up. The trick is finding songs that not only rock out, but accurately reflect some nasty little corner of one's psyche.


New Hat!

From some trendy hot-topic style designer! A steal at only 6 bucks off of amazon! The running dogs of capitalism are scared stiff(er) knowing that be-sweatered grad students in an obscure UC are plotting their downfall!

Ok, back to work...


Cut Up With a Scalpel

So, yesterday B had oral surgery: gum grafting. It's where they slice chunks off of the roof of your mouth and stitch them under/into your gums to repair damaged or receding gum-lines. It's painful, expensive, and all-around gnarly, but in the long run we expect it to be worth it.

She was out of surgery at about 1:30pm, so we headed home and made the best of the rest of the day:
  • Fruit smoothies with honey.
  • Vicodin, ibuprofen, antibiotics, acidopholis.
  • Soup.
  • Ice packs.
  • More vicodin.
  • The entire first season of America's Top Model, start to finish.*
Once the vicodin kicked in, she felt okay. This morning she was feeling pretty miserable, but I think that's to be expected; the problem with sleeping when you're hurt or sick is that you can't do the things (ice-packs, painkillers) that make you feel better, even though sleep is the best thing for you overall. By the time I left for campus, she was starting to feel basically human again.

So: we are accepting well-wishes and remote hi-fives. I'll be on good husband duty for the next week or so and we hope and expect a speedy recovery.

* Which was great! The funny trashy chick beat the self-righteous Christian bible-thumper chick. It was a victory for truth and justice.


Cheer Up, Dickhead

One of the most important scholars I've read in any depth this year is Perry Anderson, probably the most important Marxist scholar writing in English today.* I read yet another brilliant article by him yesterday and, as usual, felt pretty depressed. Basically, the guy is amazing at describing just how terrible everything is and has been for the last couple of hundred years, and it's hard to avoid feeling pretty down after coming to terms with his writing.

Fortunately for me, my brother sent me a bunch of awesome motivational posters. Like this one.

And it occurs to me that one thing grad school has undermined is my ability to indulge in the kind of things that used to make me happy, like funny weird shit and good music. So here's me stating my intention of doing that more frequently from now on. To start with, I'm listening to Wolf Parade right now, and they are completely fucking badass.

* Or, um..."late Marxist?" "Marxian?" "Marx-inspired?" "Radical leftist?" Who fucking cares.


Two Things from the News

...but enough about Zoidberg. Here are two things I read today that pissed me off:

First, Stanley Fish's bad idea editorial, part II, in which he tries to undermine every imaginable argument for the existence of the humanities in academia. Speaking as a wizened insider (he teaches English), Fish claims that the usual arguments about enriching culture and expanding critical thinking skills people credit the humanities with in universities are nonsense. Art enriches culture, he claims, not people theorizing about art. Likewise, he says that all branches of learning improve thinking skills (he doesn't like the term critical thinking, since it seems the same to him as just plain thinking.) Where the sciences produce things people can use, humanities departments just produce theories they can use to keep momentum going and funding coming in.

I have two big problems with this editorial. First, it's disingenuous for someone who ostensibly knows what he's doing in the humanities to provide argumentative ammunition for people who don't and who simply dismiss the thing as useless. Fish glibly skips over arguments in favor of the humanities by, essentially, playing the qualitative vs. quantitative game: you can count inventions and vaccines, but you can't count the times someone didn't do something stupid and destructive because they learned a lesson from history or considered the humanity of someone they were planning on hurting.*

Second, and more importantly, I resent that Fish draws an absolute divide between research and teaching. All of the innovations of thought that have occurred in the humanities in the last fifty years (consider race and gender theory, just to name two very important examples) arose from research of various kinds and entered into curriculum. Teachers teach what they know, including the insights they glean from reading the insider work of other people in their fields. There is a reason that kids now are exposed to a lot more history and literature about and written by people that aren't dead white guys: research about the lives of the majority of humanity that aren't and weren't white and male made its way to the classroom because it was logically compelling and well-argued by various researchers in the humanities.

Oh, and second-and-a-half, it's completely asinine to claim that the neocons wouldn't have done anything differently if they'd read more and read better before the invasion of Iraq. I buy that they failed to learn the lessons of the Vietnam War, but I don't buy for a second that the major decision-makers really knew a damn thing about middle eastern history, least of all the British occupation of Iraq in the early twentieth century (which didn't work, either.)

The other thing that irritated me in the news today was the Forbes piece on the best and worst paying jobs in the US. I didn't mind the article itself, which was pretty neutral and straightforward. It just made me choke a bit re-reading the mean income of US workers: $39,190. Even if we accept that almost 40K a year is pretty damn good by global standards, it's minuscule compared to home prices, even while they're "falling precipitously." I honestly don't understand why so much attention is paid in the mainstream media to things like consumer confidence and so little is paid to income. Now that there's compelling evidence that the US has gotten bloody close to the end of its credit limits (i.e. the mortgage crisis as evidence of what happens when the entire economy is based on borrowing without the ability to ever pay back), will anyone start paying attention to what people actually earn as opposed to borrow? I doubt it.

Save 300 workers: gut a CEO with some hedge clippers and distribute his income.

* My point here is that, I think, the humanities teach people not to do stupid, destructive things, and you can't count what someone doesn't do because you have no idea that they didn't do it. Are we clear?!


Zoidberg Awaits

This evening B and I are heading over to K and L's for some serious wine-drinking and a viewing of Bender's Big Score. I am stoked. Like most people of discriminating taste, my favorite Futurama character is Zoidberg, and I expect he will have a lot to say and do on the big screen.

This brings up the issue of favorite fictional characters in general. You know how just about everyone had a certain sexual awakening when they recognized what variety of human they were really interested in?* I think something comparable happens in terms of genres of fictional characters. For as long as I remember, I always liked the nerdy people in shows and movies. Examples:
  • Egon from Ghostbusters.
  • Donatello from Ninja Turtles.
  • Panthro from Thundercats (not technically a nerd, but he was still their technician.)
  • Data from Goonies.
  • Snake Eyes from GI Joe (not a nerd in any way. Just the coolest ninja ever.)
  • Forge from X-Men.
  • Mick Mars from Motley Crue (not a nerd either - just the creepiest human being on the planet.)
What I'm trying to say is that I knew I was a nerd from a very, very young age. And that's a proud legacy I'll take with me to the grave.**

* Example: when I first noticed that the majority of girls I liked in high school had short hair and glasses.
** Just another reason I miss playing in Mondale.


Eeeeeeasy, Tiger

It's day four of the term and I'm feeling a bit frayed. Definitely not a good sign for the next five months before the exam. The workload is formidable, the language test in Italian completely intimidating (it got a lot more real today when I exchanged e-mails with the prof, who offered to let me borrow some journals to practice on), but you know what's really got my blood up? The prof I'm TA'ing for, The Sith Lord, didn't order desk copies of the books I, and the other TA, need. So we're sharing the dog-eared library copy of the main textbook and begging the department to allow us to just buy a copy and get reimbursed. This guy has been teaching for forty years and this shit doesn't occur to him...it's that peculiar brand of retarded that you only find in higher education.

In happier news, apparently George W. is in Israel and Palestine this week encouraging a new peace deal. If there's anyone on planet earth better qualified to bring about peace, I can't imagine who it would be.*

The news is kind of depressing these days. Recessions and 100$+ /barrel oil make baby jesus cry, and it never fails to horrify me that there are still so many republicans out there no matter how bad it gets...

* Perhaps Hannibal Lecter, or Josef Stalin, or maybe Pal Pot...


Put Down the Martini, Mr. Sinatra

Have you noticed that whenever there's an anti-drinking sign (an anti-drunk driving sign, a "don't drink in this park, you stinky hobo" sign, a "don't have more than three long islands, Colin" sign), it's almost always a martini crossed out? I realize that a martini glass can only really be used for martinis, while a beer bottle might merely be full of refreshing ginger ale, and thus the former's iconic shape lends itself to signitude, but still. Who drinks martinis in a park? Or in a car? Besides the late Old Blue Eyes, I mean?

I bring it up because I'm officially drinking less. And it's weird. I'll keep this short: I've never been much for restraint in anything, nor for worrying about my health. I got the hookup with the good genes. I heal quickly and I don't get sick much. But there's the rub with those progressive diseases like alcoholism, which runs in my family just like it runs in EVERYBODY'S family.* You can get away with it for a few decades before it really catches up, or so I gather. So I had my first-ever actual new year's resolution and I'm only drinking on weekends and special occasions, which must now include events more "special" than a rerun of No Reservations. We'll see how it goes.

In the spirit of making this a kind of "update from the nursing home" blog, I'd like to add that I've got a sty in my eye that won't die. The friendly RN at the health center, after a long-ass wait, informed me that I really do need to hit it with a lot of hot compresses. Compress it hotly, a lot. You get the idea. It's sexy. It's just weird, because a sty is basically an evil pimple of hell that lives on your eyelid, and I never had a pimple that just hung around being itchy for a month. If anyone has any interesting folk remedies for sties (stys?), please let me know. I'm up for anything, crystals and pyramid magic included.

* I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't pipe in with "oh, yeah, alcoholism totally runs in my family, too" when the subject comes up.


Update Your Damn Blog, Fool

It is the new year! Those of you in school are back in school! Those of you at work are back at work, if you even had any time off to begin with! Those of you who are independently wealthy are off chortling with Dick Cheney at an exclusive nightclub in Dubai, being waited on by slaves imported from the Balkans! Either way, anyway, you're back in the swing of the routine and you have the ability to update your damn blog, fool. Furthermore, you probably have lots of interesting things to post about: what you did over the holiday, how things are looking for '08, thoughts on the politics, thoughts on the hot new sweater/shirt combos you're going to try out this year, and so on.

  • Get out your digital camera and take some pictures and put them on your blog and/or flickr site.
  • It doesn't matter if you have nothing interesting to say; update anyway. The point of blogging is giving people something to read while they drink coffee. It really doesn't have to be interesting. Seriously.
  • That is all.
In my neck of the wood: my TA assignment is going to be insane this term. I can't find my folder thing in which I keep my loose papers and syllabi and that kind of thing. I wasted 45 minutes waiting for the goddamn bus today. But I'm still in a residual good mood from the break.


Well, That Certainly Was Moist

The west coast was just battered by a pretty gnarly storm. Our power just came back on after about 24 hours; it was novel at first, then kind of worrisome, then just tedious. The storm itself was about a 8/10 on the badass scale - sideways rain, sheets of water coming down, big tree-shaking blasts of wind, and so on.

B and I did a good job staying busy. Scrabble and hangman were played, a candlelit dinner was had, wine was guzzled, and Arrested Development was watched on B's laptop (which she had the good sense to charge up before the storm really hit.) B also thought of using our neglected bike lights as flashlights, which allowed us to not run into walls. We went to bed at 9:30.

Anyway, back to reality today. It's always there waiting...


So Long to the Beaver State

New Year's Eve in PDX was very fun, as was a long afternoon of bloody marys the next day. This morning it's raining buckets and I've got a few hours left at the House of Pants before I'm off to the airport.

It's been a reflective trip for me, not least because I did a terrible job sleeping every night except last night so I had plenty of time to think. It was wonderful, of course, to see my family and friends. After being cooped-up in SC for months, the open spaces, the big cheap apartments, and the all-purpose elbow room was a visceral relief. The strongest impression I'm coming away with, though, just has to do with the space itself, of Oregon and of Portland. People are really, truly happy to live here, even while they deal with the usual laundry list of problems in their respective lives. I know lots (most?) of people feel the equivalent for either their home towns or the places they adopted after they moved away from home, but I also know that all of my roots are put down here in the Willamette Valley.

I also know that I completely fucked up in planning this trip. I really miss B and it was only because of my confusion and negligence in the middle of last term that she isn't here. Living-and-learning is a cold, unsatisfying recompense for mistakes, but I'll make the best use of it I can so that something like this won't happen again.

So it's back to the Cali central coast, just in time to dodge the big storm system that's apparently coming in. Expect the return of lots of whiny blog posts about me teaching + QE-prepping + second MA paper writing in the very immediate future.