Blearily, I Write Briefly of Marriage

So B's been away for the weekend, being a crafty kid up north. There are things I like about it when she goes away for a day now and again; basically, I can indulge in the stuff she doesn't like (i.e. pasta, staying up late, the movies that I insist on watching 200+ times in a row.) But when she's gone, particularly for more than a day, I remember the kind of hidden, mostly unsung advantages of cohabitation, the fact that having someone you care a whole lot about close at hand keeps you honest and healthy and happy in a way that I, for one, am not able to pull off alone.

I've been reading Ibsen for the class I'm teaching in this term and it reminds me that there has been real, meaningful progress in the last century or so. It's true that there's absolutely no reason to get married any more beyond a few legal trappings, from a certain perspective. But from another perspective, I like how the people I know of my generation approach marriage. There's a (existential!) sincerity in choosing to get married when no one's making you, when the social pressure is so much less than it used to be and the decision to do it comes only from the people who are actually involved. I tried and failed to explain it to a friend a while ago; either I'm not articulate enough or the whole thing is just hard to pin down. I think my point is that marriage is one factor, out of many, that can contribute to the happiness of the people involved, and it's better able to do so now that it's not a requirement, at least in these happy liberal cities of the left coast.

On an unrelated note, the REAL start of the term is tomorrow (last week was kind of a teaser.) And I'm both dreading it and starting to feel my patented grad-psychosis start up, the mental disorder that keeps me sane and functioning while reading giant piles of monographs and squeezing onto crowded buses every day. We might have to go on strike; I'm not sure if I'm supposed to post about that, so I'll just leave it there. I really hope we don't have to. I have a lot, lot more to do and read this year than I did last year on top of that, but I think that's a good thing. I'm terrible about doing things I don't have to do, so having a year of no teaching was nice but ultimately counter-productive.

Pile on the QE reading list. Give me sections to lead. It keeps me honest.


Writing Lectures for Fun and Profit

I'm in a holding pattern with the start of the new year. My first meeting with a prof is, ostensibly*, this afternoon. Later I have the first lecture in the course I'm teaching in. Then I participate in the true vernacular of love: karaoke (granted, that's an extra-curricular activity.) Right now I'm sitting pretty for someone in the opening months of qualifying exam prep, because I have no book lists, AT ALL, because I have no communication with my committee members, AT ALL. So I'm totally not overworked and stressed out. Nice.

I'm T.A.'ing European intellectual history this term, which is to say, I'm teaching in my field for the first...time...ever. I get to talk about Nietzsche with undergraduates. I also get to do a full-length lecture on the existentialists, Raymond Aron, and May of '68. Lacking other semi-productive things to do yesterday, I started writing it (the lecture) up. I have this to say: not having to establish your own authority and not having to cite anything makes writing fun and easy. I could write lectures all day! I even get to use the terms "existentialism version 1.0" and "existentialism version 2.0" - because it's my damn lecture! Huzzah!

In other news, the CSI season opener really sucked. Its suckage hinged on the issue of plausibility. We the audience know that these scenarios are at variance with reality, that's not a problem. The problem is that for a show to be successful, plots must remain plausible within the context of the show. In this case, one of the main characters was trapped in the desert under a car, escaped, and then wandered off into the desert and almost died. It was deeply frustrating to watch because of all of the logical problems: it had supposedly rained 3+ inches in the desert the night she was trapped, then it was bone dry the next day. She's supposed to be a highly-trained, intelligent operative and yet she breaks every basic rule of being lost + getting found and every rule of basic survival (stay where you are, stay out of the sun, don't wander around aimlessly, etc.) She only had a few hours to walk but this massive team of search helicopters and so on couldn't find her. Etc.

Also, my man Grissom is looking a little old these days.

* Ostensibly, because he's, well, in the running for flakiest prof ever, and there's some serious competition in that field.


Nous Allons

The academic year has begun. We did our best to welcome it in classic SC history grad fashion: we drank all day and I got progressively louder. Sorry about that to everyone who was there at the bar last night.

I just re-read the comments on my essay produced for the cultural studies course I took Spring term, courtesy of this guy. They were harsh, but accurate. Like all lifelong Good Students (tm), it's hard for me to take tough criticism. It makes me feel sheepish and embarrassed, like I shouldn't have even produced the thing that got criticized because I clearly didn't know what I was doing. That is clearly not going to fly any longer. There are so many difficult things I have to do in the next few years, and crafting essays that can take some punishment (or, more to the point, developing the ability to take some punishment myself) is on the list.

Whew. Hangover almost gone now. That's a relief.


Left to My Own Devices

It rained for the first time in five months on Friday. I don't think I can really describe how rain makes me feel, especially to everyone out there with the traditional sun = beautiful day equation built in. I'll just say that how you feel about a sunny day after months of cold and gray is exactly how I feel about a sky full of beautiful dark clouds.

B has been up in San Francisco with her brother for the baptism of a friend's kiddo. B and A are now godparents of said kiddo. For being left to my own devices for the weekend, I've played very few video games overall. I wrote my first of many reaction papers to be written this year, I cleaned the bathroom, I walked down to TJ's and Long's, and I hosted K and L for an evening of watching music videos and, well, pretty serious drinking.

I'm starting to get a little hesitant about my drinking habits. I accidentally sucked down a bottle of wine the other night and didn't really notice. Despite the respective histories of Russian and Irish literature, I'm not sure that (lots of) booze and the pursuit of knowledge are happy traveling companions.

If you haven't, be sure to check in on Count Fosco - he's doing a LOL Theorists project that is probably the best thing ever wrought by a man, or at least by a graduate student man.

Oh, and the picture is of the rainy morning yesterday, featuring what's left of the trees that used to loom over our little patio. They were "trimmed" by the management. What the fuck is wrong with people?


(Barely) Dodged a Bullet

So. Abject terror. Let me explain:

If you are not a resident of the state of California and you are a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the UC system, your out-of-state tuition is NOT (that was NOT, people) covered by your assistantship. Let me rephrase: you owe 5000+ bucks (PER TERM) AFTER all of the remission stuff goes through.

Now, happily, when I moved here last summer, I immediately switched everything over: driver's license, car registration, voter's registration, the works. Unlike in the states I'm familiar with (Oregon and Washington), you can and do get residency as a student so long as you aren't a dependent and you made your living - even through fellowships - for one calendar year in California. So after a huge panic attack and a lot of frantic running around, my 5000+ dollar bill vanished from whence it came after the system officially processed me as a resident. But holy shit, you guys. For about two hours I was coming up with backup plans involving leaves of absence and continued computer-temping and/or dropping the whole graduate gig once and for all.

If there's a moral to the story, it's to spend as much time and energy as possible sucking up to bureaucrats. Keep the secretaries and administrators on your good side, because when it's your ass on the line, you need them.


Fear and Loathing on the Central Coast

I have three days left of honest, salt-of-the-earth computer work and then I'm back to my dishonest, cream-puff-of-the-earth intellectual labors as a grad student. I've got a neat handful of things to be terrified about:

  • Fees. It's at the point just before the term wherein I officially owe close to 9000 bucks. All but about 300 of that is magically supposed to vanish sometime next week. There's this kind of vertiginous terror involved in waiting for that to happen.
  • Writing for grants. I've never, ever written for grants. Armed only with a vague idea of what my "project" is, I need to try to convince various funding bodies (who are yet to be identified) to give me money to do...something? Go to France, I guess?
  • Preparing for my qualifying exams. I'm supposed to take them in exactly one year. Did I mention that everyone I work with is abroad right now?
  • Really nailing down what it is that I'm going to write my dissertation about. That decision will be the foundation of my eventual success or failure in getting a job as an academic. No pressure, asshole.

But I've got my iPod, I've got my thermos full of black coffee, I've got a slowly-healing new tattoo. I'm trying to keep my chin up.

I should note a happier thing: for a while now my lovely wife has been making awesome crafty things. If you haven't recently, you should go look at her blog and her flickr site and her Etsy shop. This paragraph brought to you by Shameless Wife Promotion, TM.

Times like this, when I'm sort of reeling from existential uncertainty (what good old Sartre called nausea), I take heart in knowing that Dan Savage is out there. Here's his latest missive. And here's my favorite part:

"Your friend, like a lot of Bible-thumpers, needs to feel morally superior to someone. And looking down his nose at you in your little-girl dresses and me in my big fag relationship allows him to feel morally superior at absolutely no cost to himself. He doesn't have to refrain from fucking hookers or cheating on his parade of spouses to get right with his make-believe God. He need only refrain from doing things he has no desire to do—sucking dick, dancing around in dresses—in order to go to his wholly imaginary God's entirely fictitious heaven."

In closing, something I got out of my French tutoring this summer: I used to say "bonne chance" (good luck) to people, but at the end of my last session my tutor sent me off with a "bon courage." It's a much smarter thing to say: wishing someone luck has absolutely no effect on anything, but there's always the possibility that wishing someone courage might sink in a little. And we all could always use a little more luck and courage.

Bon courage, homies.


Body Imaging

My friends are independent thinkers. As a group, one of their defining characteristics is and always has been that they're good at rationally interrogating social mores and cultural values. Not all of them want kids. Not all of them want home-ownership. Most of them have their own standards of what constitutes "success," and they rarely correlate to the default American standards.

One thing we, myself included, are terrible at, however, is extending that "rational interrogation" to include body image issues. Especially as the average age of my friends up and down the left coast hits 30 and metabolisms slow down accordingly, many of us are horrified as our bodies change. More to the point, most of us know and have known that we are of a certain body type since we were adolescents; for all the weights I've lifted over the years, I've known that I'm basically a tall, lanky guy, not a tall, bulky guy, since I was about 15. Very few of my friends eat fast food, almost everyone exercises, and as a group we're "healthy" people, but for some reason we can't get over how we're built. My point here is not that a certain height/weight ratio isn't, supposedly, "healthier," but that we all have different defaults within that healthy range. Despite that fact, most people still strive to achieve a standard that has very little to do with how their bodies are designed.

I'm genuinely puzzled by this. Why can we distance ourselves, more or less, from imposed standards in every other realm but our bodies? Is it something about the impression images make, rather than ideas? Why are we able to accept, reject, or modify standards of how to live but we can only accept (and struggle with)standards of how to look?

P.S. Appropriately enough, my plans for when I get home involve a bunch of crunches.


Suspicious About Vineyards

Camping was really fun, as ever. B, her dad and I did was do best when we camp:
  1. Sit around the campfire.
  2. Eat.
  3. Drink beer.
  4. Bullshit.
  5. Go "fishing" for bluejays with peanuts tied to string.
Having sampled a couple of the local state parks at this point, I can confidently recommend Butano over Big Basin - Big Basin is neat because it's the oldest of the California SP's and the redwoods are fantastic, but it's also a bit of a zoo since it's so well known and so bloody close to Silicon Valley. Lots of Hummers and giant trailers and screaming kiddos. We still had a great time, but we'll be returning to Butano (or perhaps trying out Big Sur) next time.

ANYWAY, the point is, we went to a local winery yesterday for their "harvest celebration." I have never been more suspicious. There's this breed of SF-hipster that seems to have the money and the time to go move to the mountains or the valleys and start wineries. These are not farmers. Nor are they immigrants from Tuscany or something. They're just tattooed weirdos like me that somehow came up with a couple million in venture capital and ended up running a vineyard...the end result is that the wine is not always that great (in this case, however, the imported cheese WAS that great.) Where the hell do these guys come from?

Pictures are on flickr. Rest assured that no birds were harmed, just irritated.


Poopin' In the Woods

I'm heading off to Big Basin State Park this afternoon to join B and her dad for two days of our usual campground activities: eating peanuts and drinking beer. Tweak is bunny-sitting for us while we're gone, because she's a fine human being and a good friend. Pictures when I return.


9 out of 25 on the Man Scale

My homie K just sent me the following from here:

Are You A Real Man? 25 Skills You Should Know:

(listed here with my self-assesment)

1. Patch a radiator hose
No way. Unless you gave me a very simple radiator hose patch-machine.
2. Protect your computer
Easily, whether from viruses, spyware, or people trying to steal it. Assuming I'm armed.
3. Rescue a boater who as capsized
I can barely dog-paddle. I would frantically shout for help, though.
4. Frame a wall
No. I can, however, help pick out tasteful spots to frame pictures on a wall.
5. Retouch digital photos
Easily. And I can also add stupid, low-quality Photoshop effects.
6. Back up a trailer
Probably. I can drive a Uhaul with the best of them.
7. Build a campfire
Oh, totally. And I can pitch a tent (Stewart.)
8. Fix a dead outlet
Not without killing myself in the process.
9. Navigate with a map and compass
Absolutely. After I got lost in the Desolation National Wilderness Area when I was fourteen, this became an important skill to pick up (I'm not kidding.)
10. Use a torque wrench
I don't even know what that is. I don't know; I could probably figure it out.
11. Sharpen a knife
Badly, but sure.
12. Perform CPR
Nope. As in the capsizing boat scenario, I would frantically jump about.
13. Fillet a fish
Ha ha! It would just look like I attacked it with a hatchet.
14. Maneuver a car out of a skid
It's possible. But I doubt it.
15. Get a car unstuck
16. Back up data
Uh, yeah.
17. Paint a room
How can you not be able to paint a room?
18. Mix concrete
WTF? I mean, sure, I assume you just pour the dry part into a bunch of water and stir it.
19. Clean a bolt-action rifle
Nope. I'd probably shoot myself in the process.
20. Change oil and filter
And deprive oil-change guys of their living? I think not!
21. Hook up a HDTV
Sure. If it has wires and electronics, I can probably do it.
22. Bleed brakes
23. Paddle a canoe
Unless I was bound in duct tape, yes, I can paddle a canoe.
24. Fix a bike flat
Sadly, no. I'm not proud of that fact.
25. Extend your wireless network

9 definitely + 3 or 4 probably/possibly. That makes me a bit less than 50% of a man, by my math.

I note, however, a complete lack of sex questions. I would like to think that if there had been a couple of those on the list I would have done considerably better. They should also have something about how much you can bench relative to your weight.

K herself scored a solid 12 out of 25, easily trumping me in manliness.


I Prefer Fat Elvis (my $0.02 on Britney)

I am loving the celebrity trainwrecks of the last few months, in particular the drug-addled hooliganism of Lindsey Lohan and the listless, floppy lip-synching of Britney Spears. I like the proof-positive that being insanely rich doesn't make you happy and I like watching basically loathsome people suffer.

Because here's the thing: when I was coming of age in the 80s and early 90s, most music stars and movie stars were resolutely on the left. The obvious comparison with Britney is Madonna, who (not always eloquently) stuck up for left causes and even worked Issues into some of her music (remember the video for Like a Prayer?) Britney and her whole generation of evil Mouseketeers sold themselves as this kind of hybrid of squeaky-clean Christian republican and Girls Gone Wild hedonistic frat house excess. The idiocy of saying something like "we should just trust the president" (I don't care which side you're on; no one should EVER "just trust" ANY president) and the pitiful, blatant hypocrisy of her whole lifestyle seem to have reached their logical conclusion with her simply falling apart in front of the whole entire damn world.*

A while back I read an article in one of my mother in-law's pop-psychology magazines (which are fun) about the social function of gossiping about celebrities. It argued that gossiping about people, whether or not we actually know them, serves as a kind of forum for maintaining social mores and standards. We critique someone's behavior, and in doing so we define what is and what is not acceptable. The Britney situation fits right in there - marrying some mouth-breathing room-temperature-IQ jack-knob: bad idea. Getting hella loaded with Paris Hilton a whole bunch: bad idea. Being really stupid: bad idea.

On the other hand, the debate that quickly emerged online about her weight is interesting unto itself; everyone agreed that her performance sucked and she's doomed, but people were quick to call bullshit on saying that she's "fat" (the short argument there: try having two kids and looking like that.) I take heart in that a few inroads have actually been made in changing the ridiculous body-standards women are held to.

So, to conclude: I prefer the Fat Elvises of the world, full of pills and liquor, dead on the toilet. I like watching horrible celebrities crash and burn. The schadenfreude is all the sweeter for knowing that they had the resources to make dramatic changes, even to call off their idiotic careers entirely if they wanted to and coast on the royalties, but instead they just hit the clubs, hit the streets, and hopefully hit a bridge abutment.

* Meanwhile, Madonna managed to reinvent herself successfully about six times before going into her aristocratic semi-retirement in England. Why she chose England, I've never really been able to figure out...


All I Really Need

(I forgot to bring my camera cable to work, so I couldn't upload 'em until I got home. More of the same on flickr.)


J'ai 29 Ans!

9/9/78: a bald kid was born in Portland, Oregon. 9/9/07: a bald kid gets a sweet-ass tattoo from a shop in Santa Cruz, California, then proceeds to drink wine and eat cheesecake with his hottie wife.

I have to keep the bandage on until this evening, so pictures will follow in my next post. Suffice it to say that I officially endorse Staircase Tattoo and the work of Doug Love, tattoo artist.

Other cool shit I got for my birthday: a 2GB memory stick for my camera and this awesome bag.

Man. I'm thoroughly mired in materialism today.

Oh, also, a friendly hi-five to everyone present at Tweak's BBQ last night. It was a momentous occasion, not least because we decided to start calling our friend E.M. "Money."


Be-Pantied They Charged: Conan vs. 300

Let's look at two be-pantied sword-wielding men with flexing boobs:

This is Conan. He's from Hyperborea. He set out to slay the evil wizard-king Thulsa Doom because Thulsa Doom slew his family and his people when he was but a child.

This is Leonides. He's from Sparta, in Greece. He set out to defiantly scream "LET'S ALL GET FUCKING KILLED FIGHTING PERSIANS!!!" over and over until he finally got (fucking) killed fighting Persians.

The original graphic novel that 300 is based on is great. I read it in college and it was gripping, fun, and the art was extraordinary. The translation to the screen was a let-down on two counts: you realize in watching it as a movie how 2-dimensional the plot is and it's the most hyperbolic, frothing-at-the-mouth bunch of nationalistic pro-war horseshit you could ever conjure up while the Iraq War is going on.

The weird thing is that the director, apparently, defended it repeatedly, in one case actually claiming that the logical parallel is between the Iraqis and the Greeks; invaded by an overwhelming force, struggling to maintain their sovereignty. The problem, as so many have already pointed out, is that the Persians are portrayed as this kind of gang of gay black perverts. As Dan Savage said of 300's political implications, "it's Ann Coulter on a meth binge."

I'll keep this nice and short: for superior sword-wielding men in leather panties ACTION, may I suggest the original Conan the Barbarian. Conan isn't out to invade Iraq, he just wants revenge for the death of his family, and he eventually gets it by hacking off James Earl Jones' head after killing about 300 big viking guys. I think we can all relate to that.


It's a Metal Place to Be

Cheers to recent-addition to the links and big-brained lit grad Count Fosco for pointing me to the "which layer of hell are you going to" quiz. BEHOLD!

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

The Iron City of Dis: a metal place to be. And except for the wrathful stuff, I feel like that quiz pretty much had my number (oh, wait, it's "wrathful and gloomy." I am pretty gloomy. I was a crotchety old grouch by 22...)

In other news, K and her man L were over last night for good food, cheap wine, and fun conversation. And man, are B and I feeling it this morning....

The pall of smoke remains over SC, which is fine by me; yesterday I kept kind of startling myself by being in a good mood, and I realized it was because I wasn't uncomfortably hot for the first time in weeks. I miss rain A LOT but I'll take a creepy apocalyptic cloud of smoke if that's what it takes for it to be pleasantly cool.


Handsome and Discreet, or, The Week California Burned Down

There's a pall of smoke* hanging over the entire central coast this morning - two huge fires are burning right over the hill. I know it's harder for fires to go down hills than up them, so I hope to avoid having to throw Pesto in the back seat and tear-ass for B's parents' place in Marin. On the up side, the smoke is so thick that I expect it'll be cooler today and I won't risk sunburning my scalp if I'm outside.

I love this picture:

It's from the cover of the album "Rabbit" by The Billy Nayer Show.

And if you haven't seen this yet, watch it right now (N [really] SFW):

Cheers to the P-town kids who clued me in to that.

* The phrase "pall of smoke" is interesting because you hardly ever hear the word "pall" outside of it. Two other examples of this phenomenon: "vim and vigor" (when else do you hear the word "vim"?) and "rue the day." Note, however, that in a Simpsons episode Homer did try to convince Marge to change her name to "Chesty LaRue," which in French would mean "Chesty the Street."


Better Than a Stick in the Eye

I went from being in a well-rested post-long-weekend state to a stressed, hot and annoyed state in the course of a few short hours. My co-workers are all sick, on vacation, or just absent, leaving me to do 100% of the workstation / misc. support around the salt mine today. Then two things happened:
  1. I spilled raspberry jam on my crotch.
  2. I got something sharp and hurty in my eye and I can't get it out.
Neither of these events improved my mood at all.

On the up side, I'm feeling slightly better about the coming year. I have a clearer idea of what I'm really interested in and how I might go about studying it.* I just officially signed up for my readings w/ the Red Terror of Histcon. And I'm starting to get just sick enough of being in IT to want to be back in academia...

Also, my brother in-law sent me this picture:

Thanks, T.

* In one sentence: did the revolutionary imperative within leftist political ideology in modern European history handicap efficacious politics, or did it instead inspire an effective kind of intransigence in the parties of the left and/or force the right to institute the welfare state in order to sap the strength of more overtly threatening forms of leftism?

It's too big, too broad, too ungainly, and impossible to answer. In other words, it's got all the fixins' of a classic academic history thesis topic.


Plants Eat Bugs

We went to the SF Conservatory of Flowers and met up with a gang of girls and two tiny kids for B's 30th. They had a carnivorous plants exhibit. It was pretty awesome. I put the pictures I took up on my flickr site...go look at them right now.

Also, B was kind enough to send me three of the ones she took:

I don't really remember why I was doing that.

I like this one because we look like we're in a band.

Things we have in common: we both eat bugs for nutrients due to the poor quality of the local soil.

This morning we raced back to SC in time for my tattoo consult. It was short and sweet and I'm all signed up to get drilled on for two hours on my birthday, in precisely a week. Sweet.

P.S. Got in touch w/ pissy prof described in last post, will be meeting with tomorrow (yes, that would be Labor Day) at 8:00am. At least it won't be on campus. Either way: groan.