Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baseline 49

So, with 363 days left until I turn 50, where am I, on various fronts?

Professionally, I feel pretty good.  The promotion meant a lot to me, as you probably know; having gotten it, I've relaxed a bit about productivity in the abstract, although I'm still doing more editing and less writing than I'd like.  Over the coming year I'd like to shift that ratio somewhat, by working on my romance book:  first the Susan Elizabeth Phillips piece, this winter and spring, and then the Mary Bly / Eloisa James one in the summer.  I'd also like to systematize my work on the Popular Romance Project, so that it doesn't feel quite so scattered.  The product, I'm happy with; it's the process that needs work.

One professional goal I do have is to invest a bit more in my teaching.  It's suffered, in the last couple of years, as I've focused on getting my publication record up to snuff.  I'm less connected with my students than I'd like, and also with the courses themselves--often I feel like I'm flailing, unsure of what to teach and why I'm teaching it.  So some reflection on all that seems in order, in the year to come.

The other is to improve my mind through extensive reading.  I feel like I've grown a bit stale, both in terms of the primary texts I know (in romance and even more so in poetry) and in terms of the secondary reading and ideas I work with, day to day.  Going back on Facebook immediately cut into my blog reading, I've noticed, so I'm going to need to push back against that, not least because, where romance is concerned, blogs are often where the scholarly action is, well before it reaches print.  (They're also prime recruiting ground for the Popular Romance Project.) 

Overall, though, the anxieties that beset me, professionally, not long ago seem to be melting away as the reality of the promotion sets in.   As the year ends, it's more like:  "Professional life? Check!

Family life?  Things looking good on this front, too.  Wonderful marriage, wonderful children:  the joys of my life.  Plans for this year?  Just to try and make things a little nicer for my wife by switching offices--hers has been in the basement since we moved into the house, and mine in a spare bedroom--and for my son by helping him repaint and refurnish his room.  He'll be off to college soon, and wants, he says, to "leave the room better than he found it."  Me, I want to enjoy this last year and a half at home with him as much as I can--not sure what that will entail, practically speaking, but I'll keep my eyes open.

Not sure if this counts as "family life," but I'm very excited about starting jazz guitar lessons this January, also.  I've been trying to switch from thinking in terms of acquiring instruments to thinking about acquiring skills on the ones I have:  what are the songs I want to play, really?  What do I want to be able to sit down and do?  One of my biggest successes from the summer was learning the chords to "Summer Samba," which I play with great pleasure all the time; I'm currently working on some changes to various torch songs ("In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"; "One for my Baby and One More for the Road") and really enjoying the process.  Much more interested in playing such songs or taking on bossa nova than in learning rock riffs or licks, and with five months of lessons lined up, I'm quite hopeful for the coming year.

What else do I want to use as a baseline, so that I can measure how the year plays out?

I'm holding level at about 155 pounds, more or less.  (The home scale isn't terribly accurate, so that might be a pound or two off, but I can use it for comparison's sake.)  I can drop and do 60 push-ups in a single set, no problem. (Just checked:  yup, 60.)  That number has been higher in the recent past--I've hit 100 a couple of summers in a row--but only at the end of steady workout regimes.  Let's call 60 the baseline as the year begins.  I can also do one pull-up, unassisted, and I think those will be my new fitness focus, if I can keep the push-ups going, too.  More metrics:  according to my friends at RescueTime, I'm spending about 3 hours a week on social networking, and anywhere between 30 minutes and...can this be right?  3 hours on "shopping," which is the category that includes all of my instrument browsing on line.

Wow.  So there's something to work on:  paring that down.  I've managed to do so with "News and Opinion," on which I never seem to spend more than an hour, week by week, and usually less.  (Blogs count as "reference and learning." Let's see if we can get that number up, shall we?)

OK--if I were going full-on Bridget Jones here I'd start noting alcohol units and such, but I think this is enough to get me started on the new year.

Off to Home Depot for primer and paint--my son's room awaits!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Update and Baseline (1)

Whew!  What month--well, a good three weeks--it's been.

First there was a book manuscript to review for a press.

Then, really quickly, there was that paid leave grant application to write and turn in.

To do that, I had to think through and write up an overview, chapter by chapter, of my romance fiction monograph.  Which isn't written yet.  Which I've avoided thinking through and writing up, because whenever I do, I see all the holes had problems with it.  But which I had to do, so I did it, and it felt good, looked good, sounded good.  Well, good enough.

Then I had to get a bunch of ducks in a row for PCA, and send a lot of overdue emails and things for JPRS.

Then I had to report for jury duty, which meant that I had to have a day cleared out, to spend at the courthouse, with the rest of the week cleared out, too, just in case I got called to serve.

Then I spent the day at the courthouse, and wasn't called.  Huzzah!  Free for another year, at least, and I got to read some fun P. G. Wodehouse novels on the Kindle while I waited.  Not a bad day.

Which was a good thing, too, because it turned out there was a bunch of work still to do for PCA.

Which I did, and started writing up lyrics for this year's Purim songs.

Which has turned out to be harder than I remembered, but I'm plugging away at it.

(So far, the only one that's come easily is the Paul Simon parody, "(You must read) Fifty Shades to be a  Lover.")

Then there was, what?  Well, the schedule cleared, and I did some holiday shopping, some birthday shopping, some fun.  Put some smooth-wound strings on my guitar, and signed up for jazz guitar lessons at the local cultural center, which will start in January.  Calmed down, and as I did, seemed to get happier and happier, as the days progressed.  Yay!

A lesson there, somewhere.


In the Jewish calendar, there's a 10-day period of soul-searching, etc., between Rosh Hashanah, the new year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  I don't really celebrate either of those, but I do find that the 10 days between the Winter Solstice and the secular New Year pretty much do the same thing for me.

Psychologically, I find that having the days start to get longer really boosts my mood, even if that's more a fact I know than a turn I perceive on my daily walks, at first.  Also, I tend to set the 21st as the target day for me to finish work and start my holiday, since that's when my kids get off from school.  It feels like a turning point, or rather the start of a slow curve into something new.

Then comes my birthday--49, this year!--more on which in a moment.

Then there's Christmas, which always gets me thinking about time's passage.  (I used to be very uncomfortable with the family celebration, and now I'm not; in fact, I quite enjoy it.  Noticing how much I do, and thinking back to my old aversion, always gets me musing about how things change.)

Then there's the big one:  the 28th, my late father's birthday.  I think about him a lot, at this time of year, partly because I miss him keenly, partly because I think about what he'd say about things that I'm up to, and partly because I always compare who I am now, and what I'm up to, to what I remember of him at my age.  A lot of soul-searching stirred up by all that, and sometimes resolutions, too.

After which--perfectly timed!--comes the new year.  There was a time, 7 or 8 years ago, when I felt so cocky at the end of the year that when someone asked me my New Year's resolution, it was "Keep Up the Good Work!"  Not quite at that point now, but I feel pretty good about where things stand on many fronts.

Next post will be about that, and where I want to go from here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


At 6:03 the alarm goes off, every weekday morning.

It's dark these days at 6:03.  Still feels like night, and I'm still sleeping, usually.  Not like summer, when I wake up on my own.

So it goes off, I get up, go downstairs, make coffee, and until that kicks in, generally hate everything and everyone.  I'm a grumpy guy in the morning, but only for 20 minutes or so.

If it lasts longer than that, I'm hungry, even (especially) if I don't feel it.

Almost fifty, moods like a baby!


It took a couple of days, but I changed the strings on my Sweet Pea mandolin--the first time since I got it, back in '07 or '08.  The tailpiece mechanism baffled me for the longest time, and made me nervous about changing them; in the end, it turned out to be quite simple, albeit an oddly intimate process, with lots of peering over the tops of my glasses to get the focus right.  (I'm always a little nervous, as I change mandolin strings, that one will snap and hit me in the eye when it reaches higher tension.  Hasn't happened yet, but ouch!  The thought of that!)

Last night, with the strings settled in, I started working on a chord change I've been wanting to learn:  F, F#dim7, Gm7.  It's the opening sequence to the song "Chicago," and has a fun, jazzy feel.  It'll be quite fun to play, once I get it down.


I buckled own yesterday and worked on the Leave Grant application.  Wrote about 4 pages; 5's the limit.  Finished it this morning, sending it off to my department chair for review.  The rest of the day was mostly taken up with schlepping my son here and there, waiting for him in doctors' waiting rooms, and thinking who to put in my new, streamlined Twitter feed.  Oh!  I also fixed the backyard fence.  That was a highlight, actually.  We had unseasonably warm weather, so I headed out in a t-shirt with my hammer and nails to straighten the sagging posts and reattach things that had blown over in a big windstorm a couple of weeks ago.  Not as good a job as my grandfather the carpenter would have done, but good enough to keep the storms at bay, with winter coming on.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Tiny Steps

Decided to take some tiny steps back into the social networking scene, and see if I can keep the time investment to a reasonable level.  I have a birthday coming up, and don't want to miss all the messages--and frankly, too few of my friends read and respond to these blog posts.  Big thanks to the ones who do, but I'm greedy.


On the morning walk last Friday, I think it was, R suggested that I try spending the morning off Outlook, not responding to emails, and not editing thing, either.  Just reading and writing my own stuff.

I have a book manuscript I'm supposed to read and respond to this week. Does that count as "reading," or as "editing"?


Decided it was "reading," which might have been a mistake.  Spent most of my working hours on that project, and since the manuscript was (is) very problematic, that was distracting, leaving me no mental energy for my own writing project, a new grant proposal for paid leave to write about romance.  On the other hand, it's very important to me that problematic material on romance not get published as-is, and I consider that sort of quality control to be "my own stuff."  Centrally so.

A good day's work, in short.  And Facebook / Twitter didn't seem to distract me much, so far.

Friday, November 30, 2012


5:30 or so, p.m., it hits me today--that longing to revisit Twitter and Facebook. Twitter gives me an out: I can eavesdrop on several of my friends' accounts, reading their posts to one another, even if I can't post myself. Facebook, not so much. Probably a good thing, that.


This morning I wrote a Purim parody song, although we're not likely to do it. (The story will be old news by the spring, probably.) Posted the lyrics and appropriate YouTube clip over at the Big Jewish Blog and In the Rain, thinking maybe it would get some comments at one or the other. We'll see!

That was before breakfast.

Afterwards I walked around the park with R, wrote and sent out some letters of recommendation, posted two Change of Grade requests, edited a Popular Romance Project blogpost, wrote one of my own, glanced at some friends' blogs, dealt with some emails.

Was that it? Other than making and eating lunch, was that my day's work? Am I forgetting something?  Changed the sheets.  Folded some laundry.  Seems too little, somehow, for the hours gone by.


Talked with R, on our walk, about the social media itch.  She suggested that I schedule some downtime:  go to a music store or just sit and read a bit, away from the computer, making such breaks a more formal part of my schedule, and certainly using them to "celebrate" finishing a block of work time.

The danger w/ social media, saith R, is that they'll eat up my month off teaching in December, and she's probably right.  Peeking at accounts, then emailing people in response, might be better precisely because it's more cumbersome, less easy to slip into.  Certainly I didn't do it until late in the afternoon, as opposed to the constant shift from work to Twitter, work to Facebook, which was my rhythm a few months ago.

The rhythm just now:  file some papers, jot something here, file some papers, jot some more.


Here's a song my son played for me in the car the other day--a CD he'd picked up at the library.  I quite like it, although it does make me hanker for a Telecaster and a Vibrolux amp in the worst way, now that I hear it again...

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Sudden craving to rejoin Twitter and / or Facebook.  Not sure why.  Will sit with it a while, see if it goes away.  Most do:  for example, in the last four days I've craved four or five guitars, all different styles, none for very long.  Meanwhile, at last night's klezmer band rehearsal I asked the bassist whether I should get a nylon-string guitar for the rhythm parts, swapping that in for my current steel-string.  He thought about this briefly, then said confidently that L, his wife, the bandleader, would definitely want me to stick with the current instrument.  (There's a different timber to the strings that she prefers for this music.)

Glad I didn't rush out and buy the nylon string when that mood struck!

Meanwhile, I had a great time between songs turning our various Eastern European songs (all Dm, Gm, and various major chords) into Brazilian-sounding songs by swapping in major 7th and minor 6th chords and so on.  "Der Rebbe from Ipanema!" my friend the bassist joked, joining in.  Instead of a new instrument, I think I'm going to buy some bossa nova guitar lessons at the local park district.  Love that sound.

Then, if I get any good, maybe something new to play it on.  Someday.

Dear Students...

Here's an email I sent out today:
Dear Students,
 If you are receiving this, it is because you promised me that a final paper in one of my fall classes would be coming in late, right before the grade-due deadline, but I haven’t received it yet.
 Because I need to get my grades in today, and all the rest are done, I’ve put in the IN for you, but I need to receive that final paper promptly in order to finalize your grade.
 Please recall that on the syllabus it states that to pass the class, you must turn in all three papers.  As I explained in class, even if you have an A on papers 1 and 2, you must turn in something for paper 3 to get a passing grade in the course.  As you also know, the IN grade will automatically convert to an F next quarter, if I do not file a change of grade for you.
 Per our discussions, I know that each of your papers will be arriving soon, in doc, docx, or pdf format, or as the body of an email message.  If you upload it to Dropbox, tell me.  I won’t keep checking—the burden is on you.  The minute I receive your paper, I will notify you that it has been received.  Until you receive that message, assume that the paper HAS NOT REACHED ME.
 I repeat:  unless you hear from me, I have not received your paper, and you are on track for the automatic F.   Please do not find yourself in this situation, when you deserve a passing grade!
 I look forward to receiving your final paper soon, to sending you that happy message (“Got it!”), and to filing the grade you’ve actually earned.   You’ve put time and money into your class, and you deserve to see that reflected in your transcript.  J All the best,
So far, it's shaken loose one of those missing papers--or, rather, it shook loose something that looked like a new paper, but on closer inspection turned out to be the student's 2nd paper with the title and author of the poem changed in the first and final paragraphs.  Irony?  Desperation?  Misunderstanding of class policies?  (You fail if you don't turn in all three papers, but you don't then automatically pass just by handing in "something," especially when the paper you're tweaking got a D the first time.)

Ah, teaching.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Final Paper Assignment, ENG 220

ENG 220:  Final Paper Assignment / Options

ENG 220:  Paper #3

The assignment for paper #3 in this class is the same as the assignment for paper #2:  that is, to write a “close reading” of the poem you choose, working through it sequentially, section by section, with attention to how the poem’s changes in mood and idea are reflected in, or acted out by, its changes in language and style. 

Once again, please include at least one reference to metrical variation, rhythmic emphasis, or sound artistry in your paper, integrating this into your argument as an illustration of how the poem’s language “acts out” something that the speaker is saying or how the poet holds the poem together through sound, even if it’s in free verse. 

If you prefer to write your paper in a different way this time, feel free to organize it using the two key terms that have been current in class over the past few weeks.  First, demonstrate the poem’s “freshness of imagination”:  that is, how it turns away from clich├ęs of thought and emotion and offers a new approach to, or new way of thinking / feeling about, whatever the poem is about.  (This might include decisions about what point of view to adopt, what order or pacing to follow, and other structural features in the poem, as well as whatever “risk of incoherence” might be involved.)  Then demonstrate the poet’s “mastery of language,” which includes all of the stylistic, formal, and other compositional decisions that you haven’t discussed in the first part of the paper. 

Feel free, in either case, to start the paper by situating your poem in the literary historical contexts that we've been discussing at the end of the quarter:  Romanticism and Modernism.  Gestures like this, which show your mastery of class material, are always welcome!

The Poems You May Choose for Paper #2:

Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” (1071)
Dickinson, “Publication – is the Auction” (1123)
Yeats, “No Second Troy” (1191), “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” (1204) 
Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme” (1295), “The Garden” (1296)
Moore, “Nevertheless” (1334)
 Stevens, “The Poems of Our Climate” (1266), “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm” (1267), “Table Talk” (1267)
Williams, “Danse Russe” (1272), “Portrait of a Lady” (1273)
Jeffers, “Shine, Perishing Republic” (1320)
cummings, “may i feel said he” (1395), “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (1396)
Kavanagh, “Epic” (1453), “Canal Bank Walk”(1453),
Bishop, “The Fish” (1516), “Filling Station” (1517),“One Art” (1527)
Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” (1533)

Love Poetry--Final Paper Topics

Spent the morning writing these--just sent them out.  Next stop, final paper topics for Reading Poetry.  Then grading the papers I already (still) have in hand.

Final Paper Topics:  Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich

1.      Ever since Sappho we have touched on the relationships between love and power.  There’s love’s power over the lover, the beloved’s power over the one who loves her (or him), and the power of the lover over his or her beloved; we’ve also talked about the ways that power shifts and adjusts within a relationship, and the ways that difference or equality in power can spark or stifle desire.  Choose one poem by one of our final group of poets (the Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich) and write an essay about the complexities of this relationship between love and power in it.  Or, if you prefer, you can compare and contrast multiple poems by a single poet, or two poems by two different poets.  Be sure to use the ideas you come up with as a way to show nuances and subtleties in the poems you discuss, rather than settling for generalities about ideas alone—and please, don’t try to tackle more than two or three poems in total!

2.      Ever since Sappho, love poets have courted not only their ostensible beloveds, but also their readers.  Indeed, as we saw with Whitman, for some love poets, the relationship with the reader may be the most complex, sustained, and important one.  Think back over our final set of poets (the Surrealists, Kabbani, Rich) and choose one who constructs an interesting relationship with his or her readers.  Write an essay about the complexities of that relationship and how it is constructed, either in a single poem or collectively, across several texts. 

3.      In his book on love and eroticism, The Double Flame, the Mexican poet and scholar Octavio Paz devotes a chapter to the Surrealists.  In it, he describes Surrealist love in a number of highly dramatic ways.  Love is “the experience of complete otherness:  we are outside ourselves, hurtling toward the beloved,” he tells us—and then, a few pages later, he says that love is “freedom personified, freedom incarnated in a body and a soul.”  Pretty giddy stuff!   What does it look like in practice?  Using Paz’s ideas, or ideas about Surrealist love from the introduction to our anthology, write an essay on one or more Surrealist love poems that we did not go over in class, making sense of what they do (if not of every image) in light of those ideas.  Organize your essay by the ideas you’re working with—otherness, self-transformation, freedom, “mad love,” etc.—and then show how passages from the poem or poems you choose can illustrate those ideas.

4.      One way to read 20th century love poetry is to imagine it tugged between the century’s two contradictory impulses where love itself is concerned.  On the one hand, there has been an itch to debunk love, casting a cold-eyed eye on what love means in practice for women and men, psychologically and socio-politically.  On the other hand, the twentieth century has also been a great age for the mystification of love, or maybe its re­-mystification:  a celebration of love as something powerful and transformative, even revolutionary.  No wonder, then, that our final set of love poets sometimes seem torn between these two extremes as well—or that they can draw on both in a single poem or sequence, playing them off against each other.  Choose one poet from our final group, and write a paper on how he or she debunks love, remystifies it, or threads his or her way between these two, either in a single poem or across a set of poems (I suggest no more than three).

5.      In reading both of our final poets, Kabbani and Rich, we took a biographical approach to the work, drawing both on the poets’ actual lives and on the three-dimensional, layered characters they each construct for us in their poems.  Choose one of these poets, find a poem we read for class that we didn’t go over in lecture / discussion, and write a paper on that poem that shows how it fits into that overall biographical narrative.  What typical features of the poet’s work—or of this particular stage in his or her work—does this poem demonstrate?  How is it like, or unlike, other poems that we did discuss in class, repeating and / or varying ideas, images, or rhetorical moves?

6.      Both Kabbani and Rich write poems in sections, whether these are numbered poems in a sequence (like the “Twenty-One Love Poems” or Kabbani’s “One Hundred Love Letters”) or simply poems that fall into separate sections marked by a dot or a turn of the page (as in Kabbani’s “I Learn by Reading Your Body” or “I Will Tell You: I Love You”).  Pick one poem from a longer sequence / series by one of these poets, and write a close reading of that poem in light of its place in the whole.  For example, you might choose the “Floating Poem” or the final poem in the “Twenty-One Love Poems” and write an essay on how it relates to the poems right around it, or to the rest of the sequence, in imagery, tone, idea, placing it in the overall “plot” of the sequence.

7.      In a poem by Rich which we didn't read, “Transcendental Etudes,” the poet makes a grand declaration about the poetry of lesbian love and women’s community that she begins to write in the mid-1970s, calling it “a whole new poetry beginning here.”  As the lightly-varied iambic pentameter form of that line suggests, however, this “whole new poetry” may have a lot in common with earlier poetry, by Rich and others.  Is this true of its vision of love?  Or do we see something truly “new” (or truly “whole”) in these poems?  Pick one or two of the lesbian love / marriage / relationship poems from Rich’s middle or later career—poems from The Dream of a Common Language and after—and compare / contrast them with one or more poems about heterosexual love / marriage / relationships from earlier in her career.  What do you find?  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not with a bang...

Last day of the quarter, and my classes are done!  Neither went the way I'd hoped, neither ended as well as I'd have liked, but after 17 years of unbelievably good evaluations, I'm not going to fret.  I had nearly full houses in both classes when students knew that no papers were coming back to them today, no final exam instructions were to be distributed, and no attendance would be taken.  I take that as a sign that things were going better than I thought--and in any case, they're done.

Plenty on my plate, still, for both courses:  papers to grade, final assignments to write and email out, etc.  But it's a very good feeling, wrapping up the in-class portion of the quarter.  Glad to be moving on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Causes, Correlations

I'm not sure whether there's cause-and-effect at work, or just a correlation, but when I fell back into checking news sites and political blogs, I also fell back into a jittery, tired, unhappy state of mind, which lasted a couple of days, and lifted when I stopped checking Andrew Sullivan, et. al.

This gets me thinking about the other kind of clicking and checking that I do, on musical instrument sites., some local music stores, Craigslist, Ebay:  I spend a fair amount of time on each of these, looking over the latest offerings, although I'm not really shopping as such.  In fact, in the past few weeks I've seen two or three of the instruments I was ostensibly waiting and searching for become available, and with money in the bank, I've passed on all of them.

Those particular neural pathways got laid down back in '04, almost a decade ago, when I started looking for an octave mandolin, and they've only gotten deeper.  I wonder, though, whether it's not time for me to try cutting out those searches for a while, too, and see what happens.

(The minute I type that sentence, a thought occurs:  but what if someone puts a Mid-Missouri octave up for sale?  I'd MISS it!  Heh.  Maybe I should say, We'd miss it, Precious!)

I did have a good time yesterday at a local guitar store, trying out a few instruments in person.  The pleasure came less from the instruments themselves, though, than from being able to play some jazzy chord runs on them:  a bit of bossa nova that I learned last summer; the opening chords for Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," which I've learned for the sake of the Alte Rockers' parody I'm writing "Fifty Shades (to be Her Lover."  The fantasy of buying a new instrument may really be, deep down, a fantasy of playing better--playing like the kind of person who would own X, Y, or Z.  Lessons in my future, maybe?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Results

One result of the election last night:  I'm back to checking the news.  Blogs, reporting, all the chatter I managed to tune out for the last few weeks, is now back in my head, tugging at my attention.

Not a bad thing, per se, but interesting.  It's as though those synapses, or patterns of synapses, that neural itch for novelty, was reactivated when I binged on news media last night, searching for updates.  It took about two weeks for the craving to pass last time; we'll see if it passes again.

One thing I don't seem to have, though, is any desire to go back to Twitter and Facebook.  Didn't check them last night, despite a direct invitation to do so, from a friend.  Glad about that.

Off to prep my next-to-last class in Love Poetry, on Nizar Qabbani (or Kabbani, as the book has it).  Lots of videos of his poetry on YouTube, but not as many with English subtitles / translations as I'd like, so I'm not going to post one now...  Maybe after class.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Love Class--a Sudden Thought

A sudden thought this morning:  what about organizing the course, not by secondary source, but by genre?

Teach a class with units on poetry, literary fiction, popular romance, fantasy, SF, and detective fiction?

Or skip the lit fic, and just do popular genres:  romance, fantasy, SF (separate category?), and detective fic.  Maybe chick-lit as something separate from romance; maybe the middle-brow bestseller as its own category, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Love: the Syllabus (Part 2)

I've been thinking a bit more about my senior seminar on "The Nature and Culture of Love," ENG 390, and particularly about how it might compare to that capacious course at Brown.

My impulse seems to be to start with a unit that asks why and how and for whom love might be thought of as a "problem."  (Which is to say, I suppose, to "problematize" love, although that sounds dreadful.)  I'm thinking here of classic feminist challenges to the ideal of romantic love, like those by Simone de Beauvoir and Shulamith Firestone and Adrienne Rich (the poem "Translations"), and also of more recent readings like Chuck Kloesterman's "This is Emo" (from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), which is about the dangers posed to the essayist and his various love interests by their investment in what he calls "fake love":  the kind purveyed by romantic films and novels.  

From there we could move into some works of nonfiction.  My impulse here is currently to avoid the natural sciences, since I don't feel confident that I can really choose good work on the neurobiology, say, of love, and I don't want to lead students astray with things that are reductive or unreliable.  (An alternative might be to "teach the conflicts," as they say, with some excerpts from a variety of sources.)  One source that's been recommended to me several times, however, is A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, which was written for the general public and seems pretty engaging.  If any of you have other suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them.

The other non-fiction books I'm considering are David Shumway's Modern Love:  Romance, Intimacy, and the Marriage Crisis and Eva Illouz's Consuming the Romantic Utopia, perhaps with a chapter or two from Why Love Hurts on the side.  Illouz is a sociologist, while Shumway does cultural studies with an emphasis, in that book, on film, fiction, and advice columns.  I'm up in the air about Simon May's Love: a History, which is philosophical and touches on theology, for reasons I'll get to in a minute.

Now, alongside those non-fiction texts I'm trying to think of the right set of romance novels.  Crusie's Bet Me has the science in it, and fairy tales, and pop culture, and any number of other discourses--but it's also a book that I've taught many times before.  My impulse right now is, if I teach a Crusie novel, to teach Fast Women instead.  It's written in homage to two novels by Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, it has some interesting poetry in it, and it's a very serious book, I think, about marriage and divorce, all of which seem to recommend it to senior English majors.  Some of my students might have taken the DePaul course on film noir and hardboiled fiction, so they'd have a natural point of entry even if they're not romance readers, and of course we could look at the films of those two Hammett novels as points of comparison also.

Two other novels I'm considering are Natural Born Charmer (which pairs very well with the Illouz and with the discourse-analysis approach in the Shumway) and Victoria Dahl's Real Men Will, which taught nicely last winter and includes some advice columns and didactic passages that make it an interesting fit with the Shumway as well.  

There's a part of me that wants to teach Redeeming Love in this class, because it's such an interesting book to look at closely and intertextually, and English majors should be good at that.  On the other hand, if I do teach Redeeming Love, I have to include either the Simon May book or some equivalent--something to give students tools for discussing love theologically, and also (Christian) theology of love.  

That's all good stuff...but it fills up the class, so that there's less time for each reading and topic.  Not sure if the trade-off is worth it.  

Finally, there are some other novels that have been suggested to me:  Ann Herendeen's Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander (which teaches well to English majors, and is all about different sorts of love and love-culture), Cecelia Grant's A Lady Awakened, Radclyffe's Fated Love, and more.  

So many novels, so little class time! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Love: The Syllabus

There are plenty of courses out there about love.  A quick search pulls up dozens of syllabi, from any variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.  As I think about my own upcoming class, I've spent some time looking at one particularly ambitious and interesting course, "The Study of Love," which was held at Brown University last year.

The course website includes a blog and a lot of links, as well as a detailed syllabus.  Stepping back for an overview, it looks like the course progressed through a series of ten topics, several of which got more than one week of classes.  (It's a semester course, not a quarter, like one of mine.)  Here's the list:

  1. Attraction and "Courtship" 
  2. Dating and Hook-Up Culture
  3. Falling in Love
  4. The Experience of Love:  Attachment and Love as Madness
  5. Love as a Story
  6. Love in Popular Culture
  7. Love Across Borders
  8. Sex
  9. Love in the Postmodern World
  10. Marriage and Monogamy

Several of the units mix scientific, social-scientific, and humanistic perspectives:  for example, one class day on "The Experience of Love" includes the following readings:

  • “Acute effects of cocaine on human brain activity and emotion” Brieter
  • “Pathological love: impulsivity, personality, and romantic relationship” Sophia et al.
  • “Sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity, sexual impulsivity or what? Toward a theoretical model” Bancroft & Vukadinovic,
  • “Personality characteristics of sexual addicts and pathological gamblers” M Raviv.
  • DH Lawrence, "The Mess of Love"
  • Stendhal, On Love (the famous passage on "crystallization")

All in all, as I say, it's a very ambitious syllabus--one that gets me thinking what my own set of topics might look like.

Several of the topics jump out at me as ones I could see myself doing, and several give me the opposite impression:  here's something I'd probably avoid.  Among the former, I'd count "Love as a Story" (which had readings from Robert Sternberg's book of that name, along with some Joseph Campbell);  "Love in Popular Culture" (songs, Disney movies); "Love Across Borders," and "Love in the Postmodern World" (feat. Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving and Cristina Nehring's recent Vindication of Love--I can think of some other readings I'd slot in here).  "Marriage and Monogamy" appeals to me also as a topic, perhaps because I feel like I've been thinking about it for the past, oh, 30 years or so.  :)

On the other hand, there are topics here that I'd be a bit uncomfortable doing--not for the content per se so much as for my lack of disciplinary knowledge.  The units on dating and hook-up culture, love as madness, and "sex" (as a stand-alone topic, which seems odd to me) fall into this category, although I suspect that at least the first would be of interest to my students.  Maybe if I had a text to work with?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"The Nature and Culture of Love" (Syllabus Musings)

I’m going to be teaching another ENG 390 senior capstone next term.  The official title is "The Nature and Culture of Love," but I neglected to turn in a course description for the catalog, so that students would know what the course is about.  Oops!  Oh, well.  The course filled up anyway, with 25 students (8 men, 17 women), which puts me in an interesting position:  a full course for me to play with, in terms of content and structure.  So--what to do?

My original plan for the course was to reframe my work on popular romance fiction as work about the "culture of love," so that I'd have leeway to bring in films or TV shows, advice books or pop songs, really the whole panoply of love-work out there, now and in the past.  The structure I'd planned was to start with an assortment of readings about love and romance (and marriage, perhaps) from various disciplinary perspectives, followed by an in-depth inquiry into one or two primary texts, from whatever medium caught my eye.

As my current courses stagger to the finish line, however, I'm remembering something that I seem to forget whenever I put together a syllabus:  that course teaches best which teaches least, or assigns least, anyway.  The more I try to "cover," the less satisfied I usually am.  And, conversely, the smaller the assigned reading list, the more interesting I tend to find each individual class day.

What does that mean for my seminar?  Well, there are several options I’m considering, and I’m trying to figure out which would be better for me, on the theory that each of them has plusses and minuses for the students, and it's hard to know what's the best fit, in advance.

The first model is to do what I originally planned:  choose a bunch of secondary readings and then focus on one or two objects of inquiry.  I'd have to pick the secondary readings now, and keep myself from assigning too many, as I have with poets in the Love Poetry class.

The second is to do what I did with Laura Kinsale's novel Flowers from the Storm a couple of years ago, but do it with Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  We'd spend 10 weeks on the novel:  the first four or five reading it on its own, discussing the various topics and issues that it raises, and the second half of the quarter having students do independent research projects based on those discussions, culminating in papers about the book from any number of perspectives. 

There are some obvious advantages to this approach, for me.  I’m going to be writing about this novel for the book I'm doing on Romance Fiction and American Culture--that will be my essay in the anthology--so I'll get a lot out of sustained focus on the book; likewise, I won't have to do much class prep, week by week, which will free up time for writing.  The problems I anticipate are that some students might not like the book, which can shut down class discussion, that I might have a bunch of LGBT students and / or students of color, and our only love story is a straight white one, which feels a bit sad and limiting, and that students might strike out in some pretty odd directions for their research (as they did for the Kinsale), which means less added value for me.

The third model is to choose four or five secondary sources about love or romance or marriage—books and essays that I’ve liked in the past, or am curious about now, which might give me some ideas to think with—and then spend the quarter reading them, one by one, without a specific "object of inquiry" in mind.  Students would then fan out and find a bunch of those objects, “primary texts” of their own choosing, from songs to films to TV shows to ad campaigns, and write final projects that use ideas from the secondary sources to write about the things that interest themThe advantage of this second model is that it forces me to put the time into doing some of the secondary reading that I’d like to do anyway, like Simon May’s book about the history of love or Eva Illouz’s new book.  The disadvantage is, I’d then be reading those books, plus the books for my other class, a popular romance survey, and that’s a lot of reading—harder to find the time to edit and write.

Option four?  Choose one thinker with a couple of relevant books (say, Eva Illouz), rather than one object of inquiry. Spend half the class getting to know that person's ideas, and then do the fanning-out bit, using them to study whatever catches our eye.  I mention Illouz because I think she's relevant to the Phillips novel, but also because she's someone new in my mind--and I'm learning in the Love Poetry class that going back to someone I've taught for years (like Anne Carson) doesn't seem to be as exciting or interesting for me as reading someone new.  I had a "Kristeva seminar" in grad school that looked like this:  10 weeks on several books by Julia Kristeva, with us students doing the application of the ideas to readings we chose, in conjunction with the professor.  

Thoughts, friends?  From a professorial or student perspective--or just as folks who know me, at least through the blog?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rainy Days & Mondays

It's a rainy Monday, here in Chicago.  I set aside that second stack of papers yesterday, focusing instead on family life and on preparing for the first rehearsal, this season, of the Alte Rockers, the parody rock band for which I sing and write and play (quite limited) guitar.  The day was sweet, and the rehearsal joyous, with the return of our other male vocalist, David, after a life-threatening spinal condition that took him out for a year.  Still, today I'm paying the price:  an abashed, apologetic return to the classroom, with a day or more of grading ahead.

The interesting thing is, I'm not bothered by the prospect of the grading as such.  To my surprise, I rather enjoyed grading that last stack of papers, typing up my comments in the margins of the on-line submissions.  It's quite like editing essays for my journal, or for a book manuscript, and I find it gratifying--an extension of my teaching.

What bothers me, then, is partly the opportunity cost:  the sense that there are so many other things that also need to be done, which I have to put on hold.  But mostly it's just a matter of feeling that I've let my students down, making them wait so long for their grades.

Now that the promotion is in hand, I'd like to focus a bit more again on my teaching as such--not for the sake of evaluations, which don't matter any more, but because it's something that I'm quite good at, when I give it the time and attention it deserves.  Some of my teaching, back before tenure, was really extraordinary, and of course after tenure I took several years off from writing and really dug down deep, pedagogically speaking, trying out new course structures and assignment models, all of which I seem to have forgotten or abandoned.  (The older I've gotten, the more I seem to lecture, which is a problem, I think.)

In short, I could be doing better, in all of my classes, and I suspect that the more I find a way to focus on them as a priority, the happier I'll be, even when grading, even on rainy Mondays.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Where have I been?

Where have I been?  Well, in the past week, in addition to the usual family stuff, I've

  • wrapped up the latest issue of JPRS
  • Skyped with my managing editor about the next issue
  • written a book proposal for my next co-edited collection (went out to a press yesterday)
  • written a summer research grant proposal 
  • completed and written up an external tenure review
  • had a conference call about the Popular Romance Project
  • had a preliminary songwriting meeting about this year's Alte Rockers parodies
  • taught my classes (Pope, Blake, Whitman, Dickinson)
  • co-taught another half-class with a colleague, on Donne, and
  • graded 25 student poetry essays.
I have another set of essays to do today (and tomorrow, and the next day), and some important emails to write, but basically, I feel good about what I've gotten done, and about how I've felt doing it:  calmer, less frazzled, less frantic.  

In short, the media downshift seems to be working--and to be getting easier, more self-sustaining.   

Let's see what the next week brings.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Media Detox

It's going on a couple of weeks since I stepped away from Twitter and Facebook, deactivating my accounts.  I've gotten a half-dozen anxious emails from friends who couldn't find me there, some of them wondering whether I was OK, others worried that something they'd said or done had driven me away.  Once they found out why I was gone, though, they all said some variation of "Good for you!" or "Gee, I wish I could do that."  An interesting reaction.

After last Wednesday's presidential debate, I added a new twist to my media detox.  Since my wife and kids are all avidly keeping up with the polls, the pundits, and the news, I decided that I didn't have to check them myself as well.  This would free up even more time for me--News and Opinion was the second of three big categories of Distracting Time in my RescueTime weekly summaries--and it would give me something interesting to talk about with my family, since we wouldn't all have read exactly the same sites, day after day, all day long. It also helps with the general anxiety I've been feeling about the election, which I can't much influence at this point, living in a solidly Democratic state and not having much money to donate.

What's been the impact of this shift, you ask?

The first few days without Twitter and Facebook were hard, but now, I don't really miss them, and I'm slowly losing the habit of thinking in tweets & status updates.  My fingers still start typing those site addresses when I get restless or bored with something else I'm doing at the computer, as they do the news / opinion URLs, but they're easy enough to stop--and it's a helpful reminder, each time, of how much of one's life is lived by habit.

The funny thing is, when I don't type one of those addresses in, I find myself standing at the keyboard puzzled, trying to think--sometimes pretty hard--of what I want to look at on line.  Are there any sites I want to read?  Anything I want to learn about?  It's a fascinating experience, this loss of pattern and habit.  I'm quite enjoying it.

The final leg in the Distracting Time tripod--weird metaphor, but maybe that makes these sites the stool that I've been sitting on to rest from work, or something like that--is the set of musical instrument sale sites I look at:  Ebay listings, the classified ads at Mandolin Cafe and Craigslist, the lists of newly arrived instruments at a couple of shops in town, etc.  I don't actually buy anything at any of these, mind you, nor do I go to the shops and play things.  I just window shop, see what's new, think about what I could buy and picture myself playing it--always better, of course, than I can actually play any instrument in real life.  It's very soothing, this sort of search:  the mental equivalent of sucking my thumb or ticking through worry beads or something like that.

I don't feel the same urge to cut this out entirely that I did the other two sorts of sites, because this doesn't cause me as much stress--but I'll be curious to see whether I spend more or less time on them now than I did when they were part of the overall mix.  When I think of it, I'm trying to replace them with sites or YouTube videos that teach me how to play something:  a song I like, a riff I've always enjoyed, etc.  You see, when I do go to an instrument shop, I'm always a bit intimidated by how little I know how to sit down & play off the top of my head.  It would be nice to change that.  But that's a post for another day, I think.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In the Narrows

Back in June, at the start of my summer break, I decided to take a break from social media.  It didn't last long.  My grandmother's death had me clicking back over to Facebook to post about her and connect with family, and I never looked back.

The impulse or insight behind that decision, though, has continued to haunt me.  Although I spend more and more of my time on line, less and less of that time is spent reading blogs and newspapers and other food for thought.  Instead, I obsessively check Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) to see what other people have posted links to or comments about--but I don't, then, follow the links.  I just note and move on.

Even more troubling, I've noticed that my attention span for reading off-line, whether it's a newspaper or a work of non-fiction, has shrunk considerably.  I'm now in the mental habit of clicking, darting from site to site, headline to headline, bit to bit, and even this among a shrinking number of sites.

As of this morning, then, I'm starting an experiment.  I've deactivated my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and am going to see if I can keep them inactive for a few weeks, at least, and just see what happens, how it feels, what I do instead.

In order to stay in touch with people, I've reactivated the comments at my other blogs, and of course there's always email.

It's just...I feel like there's something wrong with my time allocation these days.  Hours slip away, days slip away, and much of my professional mojo is gone.  I don't know that social media are to blame, but think at some point they started to be problematic, and the methods I've been using to try and rein in my use seem not to be working on that deeper, neurological-habit level.

To be honest, part of me feels really bereft without those accounts:  cut off, isolated, like I'm talking here into the void (as opposed to posting on a common wall where my friends and "Facebook friends" will see and might respond).  But as I say, let me give this a few weeks, and we'll see what happens & how I feel.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

And away we go!

First day--not of school, exactly, but of the school year, work-wise.  Which means I'm here at the office, polishing up the syllabi and making sure that things are copied and scanned and ready for action tomorrow.

It took me just under an hour to get here, and I suspect that this will be the norm throughout the quarter.  Minimum of four hours on the road a week for the next ten weeks, and probably a good deal more.  Need to plan for that, in terms of things to listen to in the car.  Suggestions are welcome; for now, I'm working on a bunch of Blur, per my son's recommendation.  (He's trying, bless his heart, to improve my musical taste.)


I've spent the last two hours getting my Love Poetry syllabus ready.  It's maddening--I have an eight-inch stack of files that I've used for the class over the years, none of them properly organized or actually useful.  Oh, well!  No time like the present to get them straightened out, or at least to start.  I've been shuttling back and forth to the department secretary all morning, asking her to make pdf files of things so that I can store them electronically and recycle the actual paper.

Oy, so green I'm getting!  "Annihilating all that's made / To a green thought in a green shade."


Forced myself to take a walk this afternoon, before lunch and student meeting.  I start the school year feeling harried, perhaps inevitably so, but I want to push back against that, and walking every day with R has been one of the joys of the summer.  Alone it's not so pleasant, but it's better than standing around my office fighting off the Big Chill.

(They have the air conditioning cranked down to about...I don't know.  68 degrees?  Sweater weather.  Crazy, when it's muggy and summer outside.)


Woke up from a nightmare--my mother in law coming for a two week visit!--and as I hit the shower, a fragment of a poem floated into my mind.  A rhythm, a phrase, an off-rhyme...that's all it comprised, and it wasn't even both halves of the rhyme, just the fact that "was" was rhymed with some word a longer "a" and proper "s" sound to it, like "pass" or "grass."

Haunted me all day, that.  Which I've enjoyed.  It's been a long time since a poem had that effect on me, and I've missed it.  Anyway, by the time I got to work, I'd remembered that there was a "she" in the poem, and with a little help from Google, I found the passage.  It was the final couplet of the final stanza of Donne's "The Relic," a poem I mostly know from teaching A. S. Byatt's novel Possession: a Romance, ages ago.  Here's the stanza--you can find the rest of the poem here, if you want to read it.

First we loved well and faithfully,
            Yet knew not what we loved, nor why;
            Difference of sex we never knew,
            No more than guardian angels do;
                Coming and going we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
                Our hands ne'er touch'd the seals,
Which nature, injured by late law, sets free.
These miracles we did; but now alas!
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was. 

I don't know what I'd say about that in a class this afternoon, but I take its sudden surfacing as a good omen for my poetry teaching this fall.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Love Poetry...Purgatory?

Getting there.

I've spent most of the day checking old syllabi and tinkering with the list of authors.  I'm thinking now that I'll cut back on the secondary reading, and try to pump up the non-Western aspect of the class just a bit, but not jettison the overall chronological structure, which always gives students a handle on the material.

Here's where I am right now with the list of authors and weeks:

Week 1:  Introductions

Wednesday:                Introduction to the class and to each other. 


Week 2:  Classical Foundations

Monday:                      Sappho, Eros, and the origins of the “Idealist” love tradition.  Read the Sappho poems and fragments posted on D2L.

Wednesday:                 Ovid; origins of the “Realist” tradition.  A selection of the "Amores" and all three parts of “The Art of Love.”

Week 3:  Jewish / Christian / Muslim Foundations

Monday:                      The Song of Songs as love song and allegory; the origins (perhaps) of companionate love.  Read pp. 3-131 in your edition, and browse the pages of line-by-line commentary when you find passages you particularly like. 
Wednesday:                 Ibn Arabi, Stations of Desire.  Read the Introduction and the poems on pages 53-75 and 105-138.  Consult the glossary in the back as you read, for helpful definitions.  (Or maybe Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi, the "two oceans," instead.)

Weeks 4-5:  Cultures of Love

Monday                       Dante, Vita Nuova; Canto 5 of Inferno, and perhaps other parts of the Divine Comedy (by handout)

Wednesday                  NO CLASS:  Professor in UK

Monday                       The Age of Beloveds (a fascinating book about Ottoman and European love poetry, from Venice to London, during the "long 16th century"--and a chance to learn how to read and situate poems in historical / cultural contexts, to think about the uses of love poems, as well as their ideas and aesthetics)
Wednesday                  The Age of Beloveds, continued.

Weeks 6-7:  The Companionate Revolution

Monday                      Donne
Wednesday                 More Donne

Tuesday 5/2                Bradstreet, early American love poems, Whitman
Thursday 5/4               Dickinson

Week 8:  Modern(ist) Love

Tuesday 5/16              Cavafy
Thursday 5/18             Rilke 

Weeks 9-11: Love and Revolution

Tuesday 5/23              Surrealists
Thursday 5/25             Faiz

Week 10:  Love and Politics

Tuesday 5/30               Darwish
Thursday 6/1               Rich

The week I'm least comfortable with at the moment is week 8, which reduces Modernist Love to two poets, although we get a handful more in the sheaf of Surrealist work in the following week.  Still, I'm torn between really getting to know Cavafy and Rilke (which is a joy) and introducing students to a wider range of Modernist poets, including several female ones.  And I'm thinking of leaving a slot open for another poet, just in case.  

But it's a start!

Love Poetry Hell

I've spent the last few hours in Love Poetry Hell.

Once upon a time, you see, I taught a comp. lit. class on Love Poetry here at DePaul.  To be specific, it was called "Love Poetry: the Western Tradition," because I wanted to leave room to apply for an in-house grant to study non-Western love poetry and create a new course on the topic. More on that anon.

In any case, across the early 2000s I taught the course...oh, seven or eight times, always with more or less the same core set of poets and readings on the syllabus:

the Song of Songs
Dante and / or Petrarch
a suite of Surrealists

These were usually joined by some secondary readings from Anne Carson's Eros, the Bittersweet and Octavio Paz's The Double Flame.  Some years I added poems by Ibn 'Arabi and St. John of the Cross; some years, when I had enough class days, I found room for a suite of "Scoffers and Debunkers" and even, when we met three times a week, for class presentations on poets of their choosing.

Why the hell?  Well, this fall I'm teaching the course again--and I find the earlier format simultaneously attractive and frustrating.

Attractive, because it always worked:  students learned a lot about new poets and about poets that they've studied elsewhere (Donne, Milton, Whitman, Dickinson) from a radically new perspective.  Frustrating, because the poets and topics that I want to think now about are damnably hard to shoehorn into the syllabus.   I'd like to expand the section on sacred and secular love, since that's a particular interest of mine; I'd like to spend more time on some modernist poets (Auden, Rich, maybe Rilke and / or Neruda); I'd love to do a unit on love songs; and I'd like to put some non-Western poets onto the syllabus, since that grant won't be coming my way any time soon.  In particular, I've thought of adding Mahmoud Darwish, who doesn't get talked about nearly enough, I think, as a poet of love--but to do that, I'd need some Sufi poetry earlier.

Grrr.  Argh.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rilke, Vacations, & Push-Ups

Vacations usually murmur to me what that archaic six-pack said to Rilke:  "You must change your life."  This year, though, the family trip was less inspiring, more confirming:  something's already changing, it said.  Slowly, somewhere, out of sight, you're settling down.  Enjoy it.


How many of my students would recognize that reference to Rilke, I wonder?  Back in 2003 I assembled my own anthology of poems for ENG 220 (Reading Poetry), organized more or less historically, running from Sappho (in translation, of course) to the present, with Rilke in the mix.  The idea was to teach an "Introduction to Poetry" course that reached outside the Anglo-American tradition, giving students a bit more cultural literacy than they acquire in my usual courses, which emphasize close reading skills. 

Is "cultural literacy" what I mean, exactly?  They learned some of the big names, yes, the reference points--but more than that, they got a whiff, like incense, of the romance of poetry.  That was the plan, anyway.

Like most of my more innovative syllabi, this one got abandoned at some point.  I don't remember why.  Maybe I should try it out again.


Archaic  Torso  of  Apollo
Rainer  Maria  Rilke
Translated  by  Stephen  Mitchell                                        

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power.Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you.  You must change your life.
That's not quite rhythmically steady enough, in English, to use for counting push-ups--not like Blake's "The Tyger," for example, which I've blogged about elsewhere.  

Still, it could be motivating.  I'm getting more archaic by the day!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Goals, Summer Fretting, Summer Musings

I've decided to hold off on the big scary project--Writing My Book--and focus instead on the smaller projects immediately at hand:  revising my Bollywood essay, expanding my piece on romance fiction and poetry, editing the Romance Fiction and American Culture anthology, and writing my own contribution to  that collection, which will be the expanded version of my IASPR conference paper from last summer.  Alongside, you know, all the other stuff (conference organizing, JPRS, family matters), those are my summer goals, while I keep a a catchall file somewhere on the computer where thoughts about Das Book will go.

My thought is that this strategy will keep these projects from seeming like roadblocks or distractions from what I "ought" to be doing, and will loosen me up a bit for the more peripheral, playful thinking that will need to go into DB.  Trying to hack my moods a bit, so that I don't begrudge the time I spend on any individual effort.

And, to be honest, as long as I'm writing something connected to my research, I'm happy.  It's the extended periods of only editing, or writing nothing but reports and emails, that gets me down.


Speaking of which, I recently got this as an auto-reply email:

"Your email has landed safely in my inbox.  I am offline editing and writing.  I will be checking from time to time so please be patient."

Why does it never occur to me to send out a message like that?


One thing I've started to learn this summer:  there's a particular feeling of mental restlessness, coupled either with generalized unhappiness or a recurrent set of mental "scripts"--arguments with person X or quarrelsome thoughts about topic Y--that I've learned to recognize as a sign that I really need to sit down and shut my eyes for 20 minutes...which often turns into an hour.  And, since it's the summer, I often can act on that realization.  Unbelievable luxury, this.  


It's been a while since I've read a book of essays that I've enjoyed as much--or that's gotten me thinking as gratefully--as Charles Bernstein's Attack of the Difficult Poems.  I don't always agree with it, or even quite know what he's saying, in practical terms (i.e., how I'd use his ideas in my classroom or what the student work-product would then look like), but the liveliness of thought and expression here are really welcome, and by no means guaranteed in either academic or literary writing, nowadays.  I'll post some quotes as the summer goes by.


My son's been getting me up to speed on some of his favorite music as we drive off to school in the morning.  Here's one that I enjoyed the other day, by the Arctic Monkeys.  Me, I'm off to nap.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It Makes No Difference

First off, thanks to my new reader (yay!) for joining the fun.  I don't blog much about poetry these days--a topic which I might post about at some point this summer--so if you're looking for posts on poems, you'll need to scroll down a bit.  Or just stay tuned.  You never know what's coming.  I sure don't!

My title today comes from a song by The Band that I heard on the radio yesterday, which sparked some rueful musings about the effects of my recent promotion.  For your listening pleasure, here's the song, in a lovely, low-key cover version, with musings below:

So, about the difference-making, or the lack thereof...

I'm struck, as the summer begins, by how little my daily life changes thanks to what was, in anxious anticipation, such a big, big deal.  Had I not gotten the promotion, I'd be pretty miserable, but it's hard to notice an absence--and day to day, hour by hour, I'm still doing exactly what I did before the news came in. Mostly, that's editing, email, and organizational work, whether for IASPR / JPRS or for the Popular Romance Project, where I curate the "Talking About Romance" blog. I have one last book that I'm editing before that side of my research is done, at least for a while, so there are essays that I need to read and evaluate from those contributors, draft blog posts for the Project to read over, and pieces in the submissions queue--and the readers' reports queue--for the journal. I'm also involved in planning the upcoming 2012 IASPR international romance conference, after sitting out the planning stages of the last two of them.

So as I say: editing, email, and organizational work. 

Add some fun to that--a whole lotta Zumba going on--and then some less-fun family commitments, what with the recent deaths of my 104-year old grandmother and one of my wife's uncles, and her father's ongoing heart troubles, and we have a fullish day, then another, and the next thing you know, it's been a week.

(Those heart troubles are worrisome.  More on them anon.)

All in all, that's not a bad or unproductive way to spend a summer. And lord knows I spent the spring with plenty of all of that work to do, and a crying need for time in which to do it! But it leaves out writing of my own, and reading, and making music, all of which are things I'd planned to spend time on in the summer.  In particular, I'm worried about my popular romance monograph.  If I don't get started on that this summer...well, I don't know when it's likely to go better, or get easier.

Something, folks, must be done.

Friday, June 15, 2012


First off, thanks so much for leaving a comment, Laura!  That's a pleasure in this blog that I've sorely missed.

I'd meant to post something substantial, reflective, or otherwise interesting here--or at least a picture of myself with my Yiddishe Joe Strummer haircut--but I've been hit with one of those professional embarrassments that I couldn't possibly have mentioned a few weeks ago, before the promotion.

It seems the grading for this quarter, which I'd planned to do at a leisurely pace for the next five days, is actually due tonight by midnight, and not next Wednesday.  Evidently I checked the 2012-13 Academic Calendar for the date, not this year's.  Oops.

Luckily, the University's automated email system sent me a reminder this morning, so I've been reading papers all day, and am just dipping in to say hello and to leave this little YouTube clip:  a song that's been going through my head in honor of the upcoming Fathers' Day holiday.

(And yes, I write it as "Fathers' Day," not "Father's," as I do with  Mothers' Day.  It's a celebration of all who serve in that capacity, not just my late local instance.)

More soon, then, when the grading's done!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Was I Waiting For?

If you've ever followed this blog, you'll know that it petered out a while back--partly because other social media took over its social function (connecting me to old friends and making some new ones), and partly because its professional function, as a place to think about poetry, got no respect when I went up for promotion to full professor back in the 2008-9 school year.  (I got the same response to my blogging on romance fiction over at Teach Me Tonight.)

I've made some desultory efforts to start up again over the past couple of years, with no real luck--and, to be honest, I was worried that anything I posted might somehow be used against me the next time I went up for promotion, at least if I said anything negative about how I felt my teaching was going, or a class, or my research.

Well, I got the promotion (yay!), and that means I can get back to this, if I want to.  I had a whole list of things that I would do, in fact--both old and new--when and if I got it.  Sadly, I never actually wrote it down, so who knows what was on it?  But I'll try to remember, and maybe report here and elsewhere (i.e., TMT) on the progress.


Oh--one thing I'd meant to do, but hadn't:  cut my hair.  Which I did, or had done, this morning.  Nice & short.  I'll post a new picture when I get my new glasses, in a couple of days.  After that...who knows?

I love this song.  Maybe I'll learn to play it, whether or not it was on my little list.