Monday, June 24, 2013

Just What I Tweeted (Professionally, Natch)

As the summer began, I went off Twitter and Facebook, suspending my accounts.  I've gone back on both, although with Twitter, it's really for professional reasons:  a sense that we needed to have a stronger IASPR / JPRS presence there.

I'm currently posting there from a new Editorial account, with the handle @JPRStudies, and I've signed in to post from @IASPR from time to time as well.

All this on-again, off-again social networking is rather comical, I know.  In fact, I wrote a song about it, delivered by my Alte Rocker compatriot "Flash" (the photographer David Sutton) at last spring's PurimSpiel:

 David's having a little joke by reading the lyrics off of his phone; here they are, for your amusement, too:

Just What I Tweeted - Lyrics © 2013 by Eric Selinger

I make the promise every year--
It's wasting all my time.
I've got to quit the cybersphere,
And get some peace of mind.

But there's a farm to populate
And something new from George Takei
And have you seen this video
Of puppies making wine?

Every time we're on a date,
We're posting while we dine.
I know the food was awfully good,
You told me so, on-line.

You keep a browser in your hand,
Another one on your nightstand,
In case you feel like waking up 
To "like" me in my sleep...

This time I'm gonna defeat it!
You know, I'm feeling so free,
Since my account's been deleted,
But I've got nothing to read...


People tell me logging on
Is wasting all their time, time.
I'm bragging I gave it up,
I feel so unconfined, yeah.

But won't you tell me what's the news?
And could you check +972?
I'm pining for my Muzzlewatch,
Or was it Mondoweiss?

This time I nearly suceeded!
I lasted almost a week.
But there's a fix and I need it!
I've got a friend list to weed...

I guess I've just been defeated!
I couldn't stand to secede.
In fact, I'm gonna go tweet it!
I've got a Tumblr to feed—yeah, yeah...

So feed me.

I've just been re-tweeted!
I've just been re-tweeted!
I've just been re-tweeted!
Yeah, yeah, yeah...

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Does every spouse / domestic partner become a bit of a detective?  I wake up in the morning, come upstairs, and figure out what's been up the night before:  a son up late, a daughter slipping on her headphones to watch something on one of her devices.

Last night, if I'm not deceived, at about 4 am, my wife got up with postnasal drip and a bad a sore throat, gargled salt water, fumbled around in the medicine cabinet for a Benadryl, then went back to bed, very unhappy with her lot.

That's the working hypothesis, anyway.  When she gets up, we'll see if I'm right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Assorted Updates

Good moods holding, more or less.  Everything well within acceptable parameters--I feel like I'm back on an even keel, moving forward.  Not sure what to credit for this, but it's quite a relief.


One sign of things doing better:  I've done a little scholarly reading.  Started with a book on American Jewish culture (background for a poetry piece I mean to do in the fall), and a bit of Robert Archambeau's The Poet Resigns, a collection of essays about poetry and criticism in contemporary America.  Oh, and Jennifer Kloester's biography of Georgette Heyer, for a talk I give (checks his watch) today!

More on that anon.


On the instrument front, for a Father's Day present I decided to put a new tailpiece on the mandola and start playing it with the klezmer band.  The bandleader wants me to keep doing chordal accompaniment, rather than melody, but down the line perhaps I can do some duets with our mandolinist, if I get good enough.

I'd hoped to put in a pickup, to make playing with the band less cumbersome, but the repair shop told me that an internal one wouldn't work; something with the bracing, evidently.  I can buy an externally-mounted pickup down the line, if I decide that's needed, but for now I'm just going to play into a microphone and see how that goes.

In any case, the instrument really sings, now.  More sustain, richer tone, a real pleasure to hear.  And the whole process of getting the tailpiece turned out to be a pleasure:  the visit to the little storefront folk instrument shop, the email exchange I had with the luthier who made the mandola, Walt Kuhlman, the simple prettiness of the shiny new gold (plated) addition to the instrument.

Now I just need to start practicing chords.  Dm, Am, E7, on the upbeat, to start.

"Dm:  it's not a key, it's a lifestyle."  --Naftuli Brandwein (I think)


Another sign of the upturn in my mood:  I've started reading the Stupid Motivational Tricks blog again.  Fewer motivational tricks in the recent posts, but I'm working my way back through them, to find useful nuggets.

More on those anon as well.  Now, off to the conference!

Friday, June 07, 2013

On Leave! (First in a series, no doubt)

Technically, my research leave from DePaul doesn't start until fall term, but in practice, it started yesterday.  I won't be in the classroom again until January 6, 2014.  A quick check online tells me that this makes 214 days without teaching, and I hope to make the most of them--although what that "most" will mean remains to be seen.

Yesterday I mostly just cleaned house, and not in a figurative way.  My father-in-law had been visiting for a week, so there was laundry and shopping to be done, and plenty of trash and recycling to be taken out to the alley.  It's altogether too satisfying to do such work some days, since it takes the place of reading and writing and editing and grading, but I'd rather do it at a time when I enjoy it than put it off and grumble about it later, so that's what I did.

By 5 pm, when I'd done many a load of laundry, run a couple of shopping trips, and taken an assortment of children (my own and friends) to various places, I'd started to regret spending the whole day doing nothing but chores and errands, but in retrospect, that may have just been hunger creeping up on me.  An hour's exercise class and a good dinner set me right, and I slept unusually well.  A day well spent, I think.


I'm typing this at 8:30 or so in the morning, walking on the treadmill, staying away from email.  I took a gander at my "to do" list, and it was pretty overwhelming, but I'm going to keep the goals for the day somewhat narrowly focused, so that I leave time for some reading.  My biggest regret during the school year this year--and, indeed, for the last few years--has been that I haven't spent nearly enough time taking new information and ideas in, and I'd like to make that a priority for this time away from the classroom.

So:  10 papers to grade, and one of the overdue JPRS tasks, and then maybe I'll get to sit and read a while.  I don't know that I'll be able to do those all at once, and my dropbox keeps making that "popping" sound as new JPRS info is added--peer reviews are coming in!--but we'll see.  Small achievable goals, that's the plan.


(11:00):  finished the 10 papers.  Taking a break, then it's time for a JPRS task.


Well, the rest of the day didn't go as expected.  Hadn't quite finished the JPRS task when my wife wanted to take a break for lunch.  By the time that was done, it was time for me to hit the road to DePaul for the end-of-term party; by the time I got home, the work-day was done.  Shopped, cooked, watched an episode of The Hour with my family, and that was that.  Hm.  If I'm going to do any reading, I'd better do it now (after 10 pm).


Oh, no!  Complication in the instrument world.  I planned to put new strings on the mandola, then take it in for a trade-in or consignment sale.  As I put the first new one on, I saw that the little brass brad it hooks onto, down on the tailpiece, was bending up and ready to snap, just as another one had done a while ago, and a second brad was already alarmingly bent, even before I'd gone to work.  This instrument needs a new tailpiece to be playable, or even presentable.  The question is, do I need to pay to put one on before I can do anything with it?  Or can I sell / trade it in as is?

That's going to take an in-person visit to the music store, and I don't think I'll have the chance to do that until a week from now.  Maddening to wait, but so it goes.  In the meantime, I should note that I'm getting enormous pleasure from my main electric guitar these days, which I paid to set up with smooth-wound  strings before I started the jazz lessons.  A pleasure to both fingers and ears.  That was money well spent.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Devices and Desires (and Daffodils)

I wrote this on Monday:
More good days, mood-wise.  Per Laura's taxonomy, for most of the past week I've felt quite like a daffodil, with plenty of family celebrations and a visit from my father-in-law to keep me busy and happy, even jocund, now and then.  This means, of course, that I'm falling father and farther behind on reading, writing, editing, and so on, even as my brain begins to buzz with new ideas (a consequence of the upbeat mood), but all of this business should wind down in another couple of weeks, and I'll get caught up eventually.  If falling behind is the price of this good feeling, that's a price I'm happy to pay.
Tuesday, as luck would have it, was pretty weedy:  R slept only about 3 hours, and my own sleep was interrupted by horrific snoring (you know it's bad when you wake yourself up!) and by her getting up at some ungodly hour of the morning.  Stressful, unhappy morning, but by the late afternoon things were looking up, and the evening was actually quite pleasant.

To continue the horticultural metaphor, I'd say that my moods are quite dependent on environmental conditions:  sun, rain, good soil, etc.  The striking thing about yesterday, though, was the way that having a few good thoughts in mind--how well the past few days had gone; those funny flower terms--kept me from getting entirely caught up in my own sad mood.  I was watching it as much as feeling it, if you know what I mean.  So when the sun came out (so to speak), I was ready to feel it.


I've always loved the P. D. James title Devices and Desires--which is also the title of a history of contraceptives in the US, evidently.  It's been coming to mind for the past few months as I've thought about a series of purchases I have and haven't made.  First there was the month of agonizing over which tablet computer to buy.  I ended up picking up a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, rather than an iPad, because the iPad I wanted (a mini with a retina display) didn't exist yet, and although I've been reasonably happy with the Note, I realize in retrospect that I've enjoyed it just a smidge less than I might have enjoyed the Apple product, because I can't chat with my colleagues about apps and so on.  (They're all Apple users.)

Evidently there's a potential social pleasure that I didn't take into account as I thought about the purchase, which I need to think about next time.

In any case, there were weeks of fretting about and then regretting the purchase, during which time I was really preoccupied with All Things Tablet--after which that obsession seemed to fade, to the point where I can't imagine running out and buying the retina-display mini when it comes out, because I'm not sure I need it anymore.  My default mode with electronic devices seems to be a fairly low level of desire:  I don't really enjoy looking at them in stores or imagining having them, and I find the whole process of buying them quite stressful.

When it comes to instruments, of course, my default mode is much greedier!  My plan for the summer, at least for now, is to trade in four or five of the ones I'm no longer playing (one or two mandolins, the mandola, a guitar and an amp), and then, rather than try to get cash in return, to get one or two things that my son and I can enjoy together during his last year at home.

The things I have in mind are relatively inexpensive:  a small tube amp, which my son has asked for, and which will sound better and warmer than either of the ones I currently have (he can take it to college when he goes); and a Telecaster, which will replace my Godin solid-body electric, which I never play nowadays.  Nathan's said many times that he'd love to play one, and I think it would come in handy for the Alte Rockers as well.  (It was also the kind of guitar I had first, when I was a teen.)

The other instrument I'm thinking of now is a Yamaha "Silent Guitar," which would let me play a nylon-string / classical style instrument through an amp, and would be more resilient in the face of Chicago weather (and AC / heat indoors) than an actual classical guitar.  It would be useful both for the klezmer band and for the jazz lessons, especially when I start to learn bossa nova, and I think it looks fun, too.

That said, given all that I want to do this summer, the simplest thing is to hang on to the instruments I have and do nothing with them for a while.  As I've said before, when I turn my attention to playing a new piece, my itch to buy another instrument falls away quite rapidly, and I have a few new pieces (a Jobim number, some old standards, a klezmer song my daughter sings, etc.) that I'm practicing for my current round lessons.

I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good Days (Memo from the Fingers Crossed Dept.)

There's a joke about the seasons here in Chicago:  "What do you call two good days in a row in Chicago?" "Spring."  I've been thinking about that joke all weekend, because I've had two, and now three good days in a row, which feels like some kind of new local record.  Blues dissipated Saturday, late in the morning, and haven't come back since.  Well, maybe a touch right now, but I can feel it as hunger, rather than a mood thing--mind's not plunged into a "negative thought bog," as I've heard it called, and that's a great improvement.

What accounts for the change?  I'm not sure, really, but part of it may be that Saturday morning I went to a truly lovely and fun bat mitzvah celebration: one that gathered some friends from earlier parts of my life, and one that did a wonderful job of assuaging a lot of the unhappy feelings I've had about my synagogue and my relationship with all things Jewish, which used to be a big part of my personal and professional life.  If I were a religious man I'd credit divine intervention; in practical, secular terms I think what happened is that the round of unhappy thoughts about Jewish stuff that is a part of my brooding, blue mood got very effectively interrupted, displaced by older and far happier ideas and associations.  After which I came home and cleaned house, smiling at the symbolism.

The other change that may be helping, although I'm not sure what the causal loop would be, is that I've gone off Facebook and Twitter, at least for the summer.  Said my farewells last Friday, and then deactivated the accounts; perhaps that had something to do with the good feeling I had on Saturday and since?  Who knows.

In either case, though, yay!  :)   It's nice to feel happy again.


After that post, I was away from the computer all day--called away unexpected in order to go buy a new car.  My 1997 Toyota Corolla had long since given up the ghost, and was a rusty, battered remnant of its former self.  It's now been replaced by a new Honda Fit, also red, which I'll get to drive to work tomorrow in all its glory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Yesterday a very "weedy" day--in the sense that I woke up with the glums and felt like "a weed by the wall," as Emerson says, well into the evening.  A few bright points, though, including some good hard work out back in the garden, digging post holes, and a very pleasant guitar lesson, which I'd originally planned to cancel, since I hadn't had time to practice.  Evidently the focus I need to play "Blue Monk," even quite badly, is enough to take my mind out of its blue grooves.

Today, by contrast, I woke up in a rather chipper mood, and have managed to keep myself fed and watered well enough to be, if not a "God in nature," at least a hardy and flourishing and cheerful sort of weed.  A dandelion, perhaps.


My popular romance class meets from 2:40-4:10 pm.  It's not a particularly lively time slot; in fact, many of my colleagues avoid it, because the students tend to be sleepy, as do their professors.  Monday I had that problem, despite the lovely Thai iced coffee I'd had for lunch, or maybe because of it.  (The timing was off, I suspect--caffeine peaked too early, then faded mid-class, and the sugar rush wore off as well.)  Today I had a lighter lunch and brought a mug of coffee right into class, to sip as I taught, and things went much better, at least at my end.  The one thing I forgot to do was check my little pedometer before and after class--I'm curious how many steps I take, pacing about as I teach!

Even though many students hadn't finished the novel we were wrapping up this afternoon (Beverly Jenkins' Something Like Love), I had a fun day teasing out some ideas about it with the ones who had, and I came to some new insights about the book as well, on the fly, which is my favorite kind of class.  Two of those ideas were quite unplanned and unnoted (in my own notes, I mean), so I think I'll put them here for safekeeping.

The first has to do with the way this novel displaces the "Point of Ritual Death" from its central love story--which never really seems in danger--to the secondary plot revolving around our heroine's parents.  At least, I think that's what happens:  I said so in class, but I was speaking off the cuff; I'd have to reread that portion of the novel to check, but it's worth investigating.

The second is about the way this novel ends up being as much about its father / daughter plot as about its central love story--"about" in the sense of "emotionally centered on," I guess I mean, and I should add that this means "emotionally centered on, for me."  That plot takes up very little of the novel, page for page, but it's quite interesting, psychologically, and of course since this was the first romance novel that my own daughter read, there's some personal resonance as well.


Most sessions in my Teaching Popular Culture class this quarter have had a guest speaker, and tonight's is no exception:  it's a talk on teaching non-fiction prose (journalism, etc.) in popular culture, with an eye to the new Common Core standards that schools are adopting.  I have no idea what our guest will say, but she's an alumna of my poetry teaching seminars, and has visited my classes in the past to talk about teaching poetry through performance.  The tricky part will be what to do with the final 90 minutes of class--I really have no idea what we'll discuss, so I've run off a piece from about the literary status of books with "likeable characters" and will fall back on that, if need be.

Time to make a cup of coffee and prepare!


Eileen was wonderful--details to follow.  Very good end to day. :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Moods, Shoes, Feet

Three or four days a week--sometimes more--I slog through what feels a lot like despair.  I say "feels like," because it's really a physiological thing, caused by a bad night's sleep, or not eating enough, or both.  A nap and / or a meal will fix me up, or at least get me out of the slough of despond.  When I'm in it, though, that simple cure is hard to remember, and when the mood passes, as it eventually does, it's hard to remember why I ever let it grip me so long.

"Our moods do not believe in each other," saith the Preacher (OK, saith Emerson, in "Experience"),
To-day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to–morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.
Got a good night's sleep last night, and woke up feeling great; now I'm getting "weed by the wall"-y again.

Time for second breakfast, I guess.


I clock about 3.5-5 miles a day on my feet, walking, and even when I'm not walking, I'm often standing (as I am when I write this, for example).  Two weeks ago I went for a lovely run with my wife, a little more than 4 miles, but the shoes I chose weren't nearly supportive enough of my ankles and arches.  As a result, I had to hobble around in pain for about 11 days, and even today my right foot feels a bit wonky.

Like most things, this had a silver lining:  I tossed out a lot of old, worn, ill-fitting shoes that I'd put up for years, mostly out of laziness, and I'm gradually acquiring some spiffy new footwear, all of it suited to my increasingly delicate "pedal extremities," as Fats Waller calls them. A sobering reminder, though, that I'm not the lad I once was, able to leap tall buildings--or, at least, to jog around them--without injury.


Here's a Neruda poem I discovered back in my teens--translation by Donald Walsh, if memory serves.

"Tus Pies," por Pablo Neruda

Cuando no puedo mirar tu cara
miro tus pies.

Tus pies de hueso arqueado,
tus pequeños pies duros.

Yo sé que te sostienen,
y que tu dulce peso
sobre ellos se levanta.

Tu cintura y tus pechos,
la duplicada púrpura de tus pezones,
la caja de tus ojos que recién han volado,
tu ancha boca de fruta,
tu cabellera roja,
pequeña torre mía.

Pero no amo tus pies
sino porque anduvieron
sobre la tierra y sobre
el viento y sobre el agua,
hasta que me encontraron.

Your Feet

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.

Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.

I know that they support you,
and that your gentle weight
rises upon them.

Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses, my little tower.

But I love your feet only
because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

(One quibble:  my Spanish isn't great, but doesn't this translation lose the snap and surprise of the linebreak in the final stanza?  "But I don't love your feet / Except in that they walked..."  That's too stilted in the second line, but you need, I think, to preserve the flatly negative "no amo" somehow.)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Here's How it Happens...

Here's how it happens, sometimes.

I'm noodling around on my mandola, and notice (again) that the fret edges are kind of rough.  Not an uncommon problem, especially in climates like this where you have very dry, heated air in the house many months of the year.

Also notice a little rattle on the low C string, though I can't tell where it's coming from, exactly. And, come to think of it, there are some broken brads on the tailpiece, and I'm missing a string.  Poor thing could use a little  TLC, couldn't it?

Now, if I get all those things fixed--a new set of strings, a new tailpiece, a fret job--that's going to cost...well, I'm not entirely sure.  Somewhere between one and two hundred dollars, I'm guessing.  If I don't do them, though, I'm much less likely to play the instrument.

In fact, if I put a little more into the instrument, adding a pickup, I might even play it more, since I could do the rhythm parts for the klezmer band on it.

But wouldn't I rather spend that money on something else, like some vocal lessons?  In fact, I've thought a lot, over the years, about selling this mandola, not least in order to help finance (and justify) buying something else.  And I don't enjoy playing it quite as much as the mandolin.  Never have.

But would it sell if I don't put some work / money into it?  

So I can spend one to two hundred on it, or try to get roughly the same amount out of it.  Which is the better plan?

10, maybe 15, 20 minutes gone!


I'm listening to The XX on my computer, and Rhapsody, the service I'm using, flashes a little description of the band on screen.  It mentions that you can hear echoes of this or that artist in The XX, one of whom is Chris Isaak.

Instantly, I think of Chris Isaak playing a big hollow-body guitar, and the thought comes to me: "what kind of guitar was that?"

A moment later, as I open a web browser to look up Chris Isaak's guitar--I think it's some kind of Gretsch--I'm picturing myself playing that sort of instrument, wondering whether I'd ever use the Bigsby vibrato on it, and recalling a guitarist I saw once, my sophomore year at college, playing a hollow-body guitar.  Was that a Gretsch, too?  What did he play? (It was for a production of some Garcia Llorca play, I remember.)

This triggers another round of associations.  One of my colleagues has a Gretsch, at work, I think.  Billy Zoom played a Gretsch, but not a hollow-body.  Wasn't there a signature model?  Click and check:  yes there was, but it's hideously expensive.  And would I want to play something that flashy?

Picturing myself with it, playing with the Alte Rockers, reminds me that I don't play on all that many songs, because I'm not really all that good on the instrument.  But it would be fun!

That's five, maybe ten minutes I could have spent practicing the lovely instrument behind me.  I have a piece I'm trying to memorize, and every five minutes helps.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

To Be Read?

I quite like the title of this book by Michael Wood:  Literature and the Taste of Knowledge.  I don't know how useful it will be, and not knowing that, I'm not likely to read it, at least under current circumstances, but it's a title worth savoring.


My friend and colleague David wrote up a list for me of "50 good books of poetry published this century, and two that are forthcoming."  I don't know when I'll get to these, if ever, but I'd like to preserve & publish the suggestions.

52 21st Century Books
Paige Ackerson-Kiely, In No Man’s Land
Cynthia Arrieu-King, Manifest
Beth Bachman, Temper
Quan Barry, Controvertibles
John Beer, The Wasteland and Other Poems
Jaswinder Bolina, Phantom Camera
Joel Brouwer, And So
Suzzane Buffam, The Irrationalist
CM Burroughs, The Vital System
Ashley Capps, Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields
Arda Collins, It Is Daylight
Eduardo C. Corral, Slow Lightning
Olena Kalytiak Davis, Shattered Sonnets Love Cards and Other Off and Back     Handed Importunities
Michael Dickman, Flies
Lidija Dimkovska, Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers
Russell Edson, The Tormented Mirror
Graham Foust, Necessary Stranger
John Gallaher, The Little Book of Guesses
Hannah Rebecca Gamble, Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast
Stacy Gnall, Heart First Into the Forest
Gabriel Gudding, A Defense of Poetry
Saskia Hamilton, As for Dream
Matthea Harvey, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form
Terrence Hayes, Lighthead
Bob Hicok, Animal Soul
Jay Hopler, Green Squall
Laura Kasischke, Space, In Chains
Suji Kwock Kim, Notes from the Divided Country
Jennifer Kronovet, Awayward
Katherine Larson, Radial Symmetry 
Ben Lerner, The Lichtenberg Figures
Sandra Lim, The Wilderness (forthcoming)
Cynthia Lowen, The Cloud that Contained the Lightning (forthcoming)
Sarah Manguso, The Captain Lands in Paradise
Anna Maschovakis, You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake
Malena Morling, Astoria
Meghan O’Rourke, Halflife
Cecily Parks, Field Folly Snow
Patrick Phillips, Chattahoochee
Kevin Prufer, National Anthem
Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Srikanth Reddy, Voyager
Kay Ryan, The Niagara River
Brenda Shaughnessy, Human Dark with Sugar
James Shea, Star In the Eye
Zachary Schomburg, Fjords, Vol. 1
Frederick Seidel, Ooga-Booga
Richard Siken, Crush
Tracy K. Smith, Life On Mars
Peter Streckfus, The Cuckoo
G.C. Waldrep, Disclamor
Jean Valentine, Little Boat

As long as I'm listing books to read, here are some award-winners that the PCA just announced--not the whole list, but a trio that I might want to come back to, on leave: 
Ray and Pat Browne Award Best Reference/Primary Source Work:  
Sianne Ngai
Our Aesthetic Categories: zany, cute, interesting  
Harvard University Press 2012 
Susan Koppelman Award Best Anthology, Multi-Authored, or Edited Work in Feminist Studies:  
Alma Garcia
Contested Images: Women of Color in Popular Culture
AltaMira Press 2012  
John G. Cawelti Award Best Textbook/Primer:
Timothy D. Taylor
The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture 
The University of Chicago Press 2012

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Afresh, Afresh, Afresh

As I walked around the park with my wife this morning, we noticed that the trees were finally leafing out, some quite exuberantly.  This poem came to mind, by Phillip Larkin:
The Trees  
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief. 
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain. 
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
I hadn't noticed until now the pun that links stanzas two and three:  "grain," as in the grain of a piece of wood, setting up "thresh," which is what one does to grain after it's been harvested, as well as a lovely bit of onomatopoeia for the way those leafy branches move in the wind.  The same way that a Nativity painting will often subtly foreshadow the crucifixion, Larkin's spring poem foreshadows the fall.

Not sure what to do with "castles" yet, but it will probably come to me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

All this Happiness

I took a few weeks off from blogging and other on-line life--a little longer than I'd planned, actually.  Meant to come back a week ago, but a nasty virus really walloped me just as the school year began, and every moment I didn't absolutely have to be doing something (teaching, prepping classes, family business) I pretty much had to lie down and sleep.  At one point I tried to sit down and get some things done, and I promptly fell asleep in the chair:  it was one of those bugs.

Anyway, I felt a little better yesterday, and this morning the swollen glands and awful fatigue are both fading, so here I am. Huzzah!


The Christmas break was taken up with lots of nicely physical projects.  We redid my son's bedroom, giving it a new coat of paint (a lovely earth-tone called "toasted cashew," instead of the pastel he'd had since childhood) and buying him some new furnishings to go with it.  My wife and I then swapped work spaces here at home, as I've urged her to do for several months now.  That was a bigger job:  my son and I had to get a treadmill down two flights of stairs, and the whole family pitched in to bring her files and computer equipment upstairs and mine down, along with doing another fresh paint job.  Very joyous work, though, and since R works at home, it's a real transformation of her day-to-day, hour-to-hour life.  Me, I'm snugly situated back on my treadmill, my body in the basement and my mind in cyberspace, surrounded by twice the bookshelves that I had upstairs.  Improvements all 'round.


Today, one more make-over is on the agenda:  a new couch!  One of my wife's friends from quilting turned out to be selling a lovely matching couch and easy chair, both leather, both quite out of reach for us, new, so we're off to rent a truck and bring them home.  We've practically worn through our current couch, which we've had for about 15 years, so the timing is fortuitous.  Nice to have a strapping nearly-17-year-old son around for these big moving jobs, though--I gave my lower back quite a hard time, doing the study-swap.  Might need to focus on strengthening that, rather than on pushups or pull-ups, in the coming year.


Well, the couch moving went quite well, with lots of handy activity associated with it (driving a truck, taking screen doors off hinges, etc.).  When it was done, though, my son needed to drive off to school to work on lights for an upcoming dance concert.

A short while later, frantic ringing on the doorbell:  my son had been in an automobile accident on the way to school.

No one hurt, thank goodness, but the other driver's car needed to be towed, and he'd been so flustered at the accident site he'd locked himself out of mine.  My daughter was on our phone at home, and neither R nor I had our cell phones on us, so we'd missed his calls and texts.  Finally, the local police had simply given him a ride home to get an extra key.

I gave him one, and they drove him off, back to the cars, to get things sorted.

What a slender thread it all hangs by, all this happiness!