White flags and name tags

I think I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that I am too overwhelmed, both personally and professionally, to keep this up in good faith.

Next week is the MLA, though. What a year it’s been, eh?

I’ve decided I will wear my nametag this year, specifically so you — yes you — can make this virtual arrangement a real one. That is, if you catch my name in the corner of your eye — or come to our panel, Friday at 7:15, Columbia Room, Hyatt Regency — please, come up and introduce yourself!

Will I pimp my ride. . . ? We’ll see. I’m bringing the kids; I’m sure my daughter could work some glitter magic.

In the meantime, have a restful and joyous holiday.


Viva la DiNucci

I’ve been slacking, I know — and holy crap, I realize I kept misspelling Jemaine! (call it fitting or ironic, but moving to Canada has messed with my orthography . . .) — but if you’re catching this, try to catch the Tournament of Champions on Jeopardy tonight and tomorrow, when one Celeste DiNucci (former grad school crony) will by vying for the big prize. You’ll recall that I featured her performances during her regular season run. Invited back for the Tournament, she squeaked through the quarterfinals, entering the semifinals as a wild card. Then, in a Jeopardy first, they held a tiebreaker for her semifinal game, and Celeste prevailed with “The Children’s Hour.” Pretty exciting viewing, even with Alex Trebek around to keep it all subdued . . .

The Jenny McCarthy [Autism] Book

[X-posted in my own section “On the Spectrum”]

Yep, I’ve read it. Downed it in a one-er, as they say at the pub. I need a day or two to figure out what I want to say publicly about it, but the fact that I couldn’t put it down until I finished says something. Of course, the pile of papers I was supposed to be marking probably said alot, too. That, and, unlike Michael Berube, JMc is not going to take you down the road of special needs by way of Soren Kierkegaard.

But there were moments of recognition whose immediate and powerful effects I could not, and did not, deny (fear and trembling notwithstanding). Such as the studied and inevitably disquieting flashback, upon diagnosis, to all the “signs” of autism that were there to see — had one been in a position to see them as such. The staggering pressure of being the primary wage earner, and thus responsible for paying for any and all therapies, when you’re also the foremost expert in how to care directly for your child. Where Jenny confesses that she squeezed her cleavage in order to expedite a photo session and get her son to an appointment with a specialist, I know that I need to show the goods, too (whatever the scholarly equivalent here in academe), so that my son will be able to receive the kind of care I can’t give him. (You could say that’s why I’ve been such a no-show here.)

Then there’s the weird dread of “friends” turning up at the door unannounced: what is it about this condition that makes the door bell feel like a friggin’ death knell? Is it a bunker mentality, the byproduct of depression at the prospect of facing down your child’s dia-/prognosis? Or the fact that social interactions with our little autists are so much more uneasy, if not fraught, and require energy in short supply under even the most ideal of circumstances? (My son almost invariably has a meltdown whenever someone benignly stops by; it just messes with his head, and I wish people would understand that. But it’s hard to tell people what they’ll hear as “you’re not welcome here,” and I haven’t found the right language yet.) McCarthy doesn’t answer these questions herself, but I tensed with her every time a DING DONG appeared (just like that) at the head of a chapter.

Weirdly — though this is all pretty unprocessed as of now — what I liked most about the book was the swearing. Sure, she swears a lot by God. But she also cusses: lots of fucking this and that. You could say it was sensational, but it does take a certain conviction to swear openly and abundantly in a “parenting book,” given the treacly conventions of the genre. And if parenting a special needs child doesn’t make you want to swear openly and abundantly from time to time, I don’t know what does.

That’s right, fuck this shit.

But I liked how she swore at people, and admired her willingness to forego all propriety — damn the tabloids — and tell people what she needed them to hear (especially in the hospital, when staff members were not administering the care her son urgently needed). I’m still on eggshells with a lot of this, figuring out the right language to describe my son. In this respect, I have come to see how *we are all the autists, struggling for the right words; but I know this is also me, too, and that I haven’t yet come to terms with a child of mine having difficulty with language. (Indeed I have come to see how much I agreed with the sixteenth-century humanists I study, who think facility in language the utmost measure of intelligence.) Whether or not Jenny McCarthy has really shouted back at people who have thought our kids’ behaviour an indication of poor parenting — “He’s autistic, you asshole” (that’s on page 151) — I confess I thoroughly enjoyed the vicarious experience.

The Globe and Mail led an article on autism this past Saturday by recounting how one mother carries a card in her wallet to tender to people — “My child has autism. He may communicate in ways that seem unusual to you” — on such occasions. Ach, I dunno. Not there yet. Not sure. As Ollie spoke in tongues to yet another bewildered waitress last week, I wondered what the real problem was in letting her walk away confused. To whom do we owe what, you know?

Still more to mull over on the Jenny McCarthy book, especially on the vaccine/diet issues. Very tough subjects.

But overall, pretty good for the market it’s trying to reach, indeed in moms for whom Michael Berube’s reflections on Foucault might not be so soothing as they are for this academic. Besides, I’m not sure that I remember Berube swearing all that much.

Shameless cross-post

I wrote this in the comments below, but then thought it might be a good idea to post it for real, just so’s you see something happening in here.

I’ve been gone a long time. Totally missed the month of October. Tough term, lemme tell ya.

On the matter of Bret and Jermaine, however, I’m afraid I’ve been swayed by the delicious preciosity of Jermaine’s *total self-absorption.

Bret (“Brit”), flipping through his novelty music rag, distracted by the prospect of being “too small”; Jermaine, lowing, rambling, in baritones, about whether or not he “still likes penguins.”

Jermaine suddenly cocks a square head: “Brit, I’m doing all the work in this conversation, do you think can you help me out here?”

Later Jermaine, in a stroke of homosocial compassion — in a scene where we learn that Mel is the “junior psychology professor,” her husband the former “senior psychology professor” (!) — asks Mel to boost Bret a little, to tell him “he’s hot.” Mel goes a little too far, of course, for Jermaine’s brittle self-regard. Later, Jermaine to Bret (now buoyed): “Do you really think my features are too deep-set as to be classically handsome?”

Of course there’s the Coco episode, in which Jermaine accompanies Bret on all his dates until Bret threatens to leave the band. Bret: “You’re not calling her a Yoko?!” Jermaine: “Oh, no.”

(So bad it’s good.)

But my favourite bit has to be that stretch after Bret dogged Jermaine in the alley. Bret, trying to prove his friendship, approaches Jermaine with two hot cups of tea, asks Jermaine to grab one, and says something like “I’m managing this all on my own.” Jermaine, nary a beat (plucking his bass, doesn’t look up): “yeah [yih], I had to learn [lihn] that a long time ago.”

(I really wish I’d saved that one — I don’t remember the exact lines, just the tone of the delivery: priceless.)

But you know, if Murray comes up with yet another boffo bell-shaped seventies hairstyle, we may need to widen our scope of inquiry here . . .

Bret or Jermaine?

I can’t decide.

(And yes, this is the jelly my gray matter is reduced to this week.)

Mac v. PC (breakdown edition)

My MacPowerbook died a rather spectacular death this week (if you’ve sent me an email prior to Wednesday, chances are I won’t reply). 

I sensed I was in trouble when the hard drive started to squeak and hiss. . .  geez, all I did was “command” it to print (insolent appliances!  though the worse ones nag: the washer and dryer, my cell phone, even the coffee machine, they’re constantly beeping at me. . . gimme some peace!). 

But when I had to take a butter knife to the monitor (don’t ask), well, I knew I’d be fitting my briefcase for a new machine (it’s on order).

I’m writing from the kids’ PC desktop now, and it’s amazing to me how different the online world looks on a PC.  I rather like the green on the new Jardiniere (more forest, less olive), and the font is more readable, though less elegant (I will make it more readable for all of us — I’m straining, believe me).   It’s like hearing a recording of yourself, and thinking, “that’s what people hear?”  It’s disconcerting — and strangely exciting — that the vast majority of people see this not as I see it.

With all this work we’re doing now on the “history of the book” and “technologies of reading” and so forth, I wonder how the two interfaces are constructing different reading experiences.  Someone somewhere must be writing a thesis on it.

One of these things is not like the others

I transplanted the blog here for a number of reasons.

Sure, there have been things I’ve wanted to do — ways I wanted to organize material, both conceptually and visually — that I have had in mind for some time.

Next, we all know that I’m always this/close to shutting it all down, because, let’s face it, my life is a little complicated (as is everyone’s, in their own way), and I do have other things that I need to spend my time writing (er, tenure, anyone?). I started blogging as a non-academic outlet, a way to wind down from (feverishly) writing my dissertation revisions, to get things out in the ether that I wanted to communicate (but didn’t have the time or energy to pursue editors to publish), and to practice writing in less formal style (so as to loosen up my truly stultifying academic prose). (I do think it has helped.)

Over the past year, however, I grew concerned that blogging sapped energies that I should be devoting either to my academic writing or (more critically) to my family. (A family that needs to be as *connected as possible should not have a mom regularly tuning out on the laptop.) But I’ll tell you the reason I recently came this/close to checking out.

Two words: graduate students. (Hi, guys.)

As I devoted myself (utterly) to putting together my graduate course, I grew increasingly concerned about my academic persona (here and elsewhere) — you know, my “authority in the classroom” (that old chestnut). Remember, I don’t write anonymously (I hadn’t thought this through when I started blogging, about how it would matter once I was teaching again). And all I could imagine was the attention I would have poured over my profs’ blogs (if they had had them in the digital pleistocene era) when I started grad school. Grad students are, of course, a highly — and deservedly, in most cases — scrutinizing bunch. And while I’ve been very concerned to “get it right,” and know that any course, like a hypothesis, is a work in progress, subject to revision, I want to stand behind this particular course I’ve developed (more soon on that: what it is, what I’m doing with it).

In lieu of shutting the whole blog down, however (for fear my graduate students would discover . . . well, who knows, right? paranoia has no real foundations in reality), I elected to launch the new site with the formal features that I had wanted for some time, and to write posts that elevated the discourse somewhat, and were more befitting someone of my position.

Well, so much for that.

I was on MTV (Canada) this week.

If you recall, last weekend I had a birthday (and my anniversary is on the day after as well). I had initially hoped to go to Toronto for their music festival (Virgin Festival, or V-fest) on the 8th and 9th, to see a Montreal band, Stars, I like. Stars were playing on the Sunday (the day before the first day of classes — and a “school night” for the kids — ) and so I realized that that wasn’t a smart decision. Then I discovered that the band was playing that Saturday in Montreal for the Osheaga festival (indeed, that the Osheaga and V-Fest were largely trading Saturday and Sunday). But it wasn’t really going to work, for various reasons.

Hoping to discover another option, and googling the daylights out of Stars (you can imagine everything that comes up), we learned that they were playing a performance for MTV this very past Tuesday, and that getting tickets was a click away. We merely had to turn up at the Masonic Temple in Toronto between 5 and 5:30 on Tuesday.

Which we did. Were led inside. To see immediately that this wasn’t the “Soundstage” or “Austin City Limits” scene — that is, a speciously music- , and not personality-oriented, presentation of capital M music (that’s right: I want my MMMMMMM-TV!) — I was hoping for, but the Canadian equivalent of TRL. (Indeed: this was “MTV Live” on the Canada MTV. Carson Daly, with an eh.)

Preciously small set, under bright lights. Preciously few — if any — audience members over 20. And they seat us down front. Suddenly my anxieties about teaching my graduate class are nothing compared to my mortification at being televised on a national cable program amid high schoolers on their way home to finish their pre-calc problem sets. (No joke: some still had their school unis on.) As I told the floor manager — who, thankfully, looked as though she had also seen MTV when it launched in 1981 (I think “My Love’s In Jeopardy,” by the Greg Kihn band, was the first video I saw) — no amount of facial concealer was going to help me blend in.

I requested that we move somewhere off camera, to give someone in their intended demographic the face-time they no doubt sought.

Me, meanwhile, I’m the one who lets up a spirited whoop! and a clap in the background when Torquil Campbell (Stars’ male lead) makes a joke about a music festival open only to those over 40 (a girl’s gotta dream).

Stars performed four songs (only one went on live, though two others are online, including “Midnight Coward”) — and for free (save for the cost to my reputation).

Overall, then? Worth the trip.

Of course, that bottle of ’04 Barbera d’Alba at Bar Mercurio on Bloor Street helped the evening go down smooth — and funny enough, I didn’t get carded. . . (age does have its mellow, plummy, and full-bodied benefits sometimes).

Opening Day

In more ways than you can imagine.

Welcome, everybody. Nice to see you over here.

First Day of School (Canadian edition)

My daughter starts grade two (not second grade) today, the day after Labour (not Labor) Day.

We dutifully, even cheerfully, purchased her school supplies, which included familiar items such as erasers, a pencil box, pencil sharpener, and glue sticks.  As for “school shoes,” the kids here have “indoor shoes,” shoes they keep inside at school, so their “outdoor shoes” don’t make a mess of the place once the weather turns. Fair enough.

But some mystifying items also appeared on her list. First: “pencil crayons.” Are they pencils? Or are they crayons? We stood in the lobby of S & R (one of those classic old department stores: what a smell!), searching for a box that said “pencil crayons,” and feeling duly disoriented.  Were they those newfangled crayons you twist like a mechanical pencil? (So I thought.)

No, they’re coloured (not colored) pencils. Pencil crayons. (We got a box of 24.)

Next: duotang, one green, one red. Any of my U.S. readers care to venture a guess? (Of course, I write this, and noone even knows I’m here at WordPress yet. Must get on that, telling everyone. Everyone that’s left, that is.)

My son starts Senior Kindergarten, a.k.a. “S.K.,” tomorrow (another post entirely!) . . .

Course planning

It seems like ages ago — sometime around when I submitted my final grades — that I planted the front beds for spring, and now — just as I’m finalizing my courses for this coming year — I’m already having to think about fall clean-up.

The front beds look nice . . . er, from a distance. That is, compared to the unkempt and motley condition in which I found them a year ago, they have filled in nicely, and make the lovely soft statement of grays and blues that I hoped they would. Up close, however, you’ll see that the artimisia has flopped all over the miniature mums, that the perennial baby’s breath sprawls indelicately on to the sidewalk (more like garden halitosis), and that leaf mold is withering the back line of the border (something is rotten in the state of delphinium).

In our gardens, as in our courses, the syllabus is perpetually subject to revision. The stakes always seem so high at this point, at the onset — as if the firmament will shake and collapse if I assign this particular Wyatt sonnet instead that one, or if I were to select yet another unseemly plant to displace that promiscuous baby’s breath. But we make our choices, and we make it work.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of what I will replace in the front — or on my syllabus! — I finally committed myself to digging up the beds around the house and in back (there’s a lot of space here). More specifically, to removing that which I have now distinguished as foe (from friend), which is pretty much the whole of it. For even the perennials that appealed (again, from a distance) seemed mostly spent, if not perennially tormented by some pernicious garden pest. (Those fire-engine red beetles on the Asiatic lilies? After munching their way through the fronds of the foliage, they laid their eggs at the stem, and protected their future progeny by covering the sac with a thin film of excrement. That’s right, bug shit! Bluh. The lilies are outta here, all of ’em).

I’m leaving the magnificent bleeding heart, as well as a couple of the hostas, which appear to have fended off the local slug population, and now rival the bleeding heart (now dormant) in height and spread, and so give the remaining space some structure.

I’m ordering peat and compost aplenty to replenish the exhausted soil, and will then turn to reinventing those beds. I’m planning an edible garden . . . dare I say potager? (bien sur) . . . for the beds on the side of the house. I will plan more extensively for next spring, but will try to get some lettuce and squash in for the fall. As for the back beds? Well, I think of them as something like my second or third book: they may seem more tantalizing to work on at the moment, but there are other tasks that are more pressing.

Such as finalizing that poetry syllabus. . .