Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dystopian Vision

I strongly recommend reading Jose Saramago's harrowing novel Blindness, about which I won't say much on account of believing that novels make better reading when you drop into them without any semblance of a spoiler. But clear yourself out some consecutive hours for it (the book wicked up my entire Sunday, I do not remember the last time I read a book in a single day, There is perhaps a trace of Saramago's comma usage in that effect, One's eyes continue to follow the text, lighting only briefly on the few stopping-points there are, One may be pulled along for hours in this fashion, It is a riveting and effective style even to one who copy-edits for a living, given a measure of open-mindedness, You will perhaps eventually understand what I mean) and don't expect to be made happier by it.

I will say that Saramago (with an assist from the translator, Giovanni Pontiero) has an amazing capacity for investing his characters' various despairing or degrading trials with a kind of humanity, almost through sheer force of prose; it's an unlovely and uncompromising and by no means ever-present kind of strength that underlies the book, and as you read you sense Saramago's hands, potter-like, shaping it in his characters to, I think, an unusual degree. I usually like a narrative voice that dissolves into the scenery, but Saramago is more compelling than that. They made a movie version of this a couple of years ago, but I can't imagine it gets anywhere close. (You could, on the other hand, watch Children of Men on DVD, which shares certain themes and plot elements and is similarly scouring, although I'm probably only saying that since I haven't read that original novel, which is by P.D. James, I just learned, and, OK, on my reading list as of right now.)

The book came to me as a birthday gift from Sarah, admirably unafraid to make a gift out of bleak literature, or at least in Moomin-counterpoise. One of the valuable secondary effects of a newish relationship is absorbing a new set of recommended reading. I'd return more in kind if not for the impenetrable shield of academic ethnographies thrown up by a certain local university's anthropology department.
* * * * *
While I'm on the topic of books, loosely, public thanks go now to Nate for the Mark Bittman vegetarian cookbook he sent me for our birthday. I haven't tried a whole lot out of it yet, but even the improvement it has allowed my past two tofu stir-fries is of incalculable value. Also, unlike the

6 x Radio

The playlist clearing out my head tonight:
Christopher Rouse: Bump (1984) for orchestra
Silvestre Revueltas: Ocho por Radio (1933) for chamber ensemble
Henry Brant: Ghosts and Gargoyles (2001) for flute choir
Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto no. 1 (1917)
Erkki-Sven Tüür: Action-Passion-Illusion (1993) for string orchestra
Rouse: Symphony no. 2 (1994)
I know I've mentioned this in passing before, but Rouse's Second Symphony is a legit modern masterpiece.

It's occurring to me, halfway through the show as I type this, that these pieces are unified in all being somewhwat more abrasive than I tend to remember them in my mind's ear. So I mean that thing about the playlist clearing out my head.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Books vs. TV on the Internet

So my semester is over now, or has been since Thursday afternoon (but I don't go to the internet all that often, and probably even less so now that its summer), which is a big relief, though the impending absence of relief of having no income tempers it somewhat. Also, I tallied up, as best I could, the number of books I read during the semester: 28. That's right, 28 books in 15 weeks. Boo-ya! And not short ones either. Maybe one of 'em was only 250 or so pages; the page count is well over five thousand. So, yeah, I have that as something of an accomplishment, even if it doesn't mean all that much. I'll be curious to see how my reading rate over the summer is affected by the overload of page-intake during the winter/spring. Though, I've always been a reader, so it'll never dip all that far. Especially until I get a job, all I've got is hours to kill, and pages devour hours.

I've also got a fair amount of internetting to do, since I'm trying to soup up my code skills to make a more functional website for the literary journal that will actually be pass-downable to later years of Graduate students, since otherwise, at this point, the thing will die with me, unless they find a way to get someone external to the program to make them websites. But working on said webpage today has mostly just involved watching TV on the internet. Like the new show that Mitchell Hurwitz, of Arrested Development fame developed, a crappy cartoon that isn't very good. And part of a Simpsons episode, which isn't very good either. And some Dollhouse, which isn't terrible, there were several episodes that are actually quite good, and the overall plot seems pretty awesome. But it's enough TV watchin' on the internet to remind me that I need neither internet nor TV at my own apartment. DVDs, that's where it's at.

Oh well, that's all for now. I guess I wish I had more to say since, like, I don't have the excuse of schoolwork to rationalize my lack of posting, or lack of interesting things to say.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mock Draft Action!

The surprisingly nine-and-six Pirates haven't broken our hearts yet but when they do (scheduled for, what, now? Like mid-May?) it'll be time to turn my attention back to whatever the Steelers are doing or, as the case will probably be, not doing. This weekend, though, is the NFL Draft, which seems to become more and more of an event as sports networks try to fill a gaping, football-shaped hole in their programming grids with offseason proceedings and fans try to fill a similarly gaping, similarly football-shaped hole in their hearts with the human resource transactions of a curiously antitrust-exempt sporting industry.

I'm pretty sure that mock drafts between January and April make up 30 to 40 percent of the exponentially exploding quantity of data available to the human species, but against any reason or need I've tried my hand at my own. Results below. Note that because I don't follow the college game I really don't have an informed perspective on any of the prospects. Also, in keeping with the spirit of the Mock Draft I've decided to use only Mock Players. Nonetheless I expect my first-round predictions will hold up about as well as anybody's.

* * * * *

1. Detroit Lions: LawFontayne Jonesmith (RB, Eastern State University)
The Lions won't be able to pass up the most exciting athlete in this year's draft. Scouts breathlessly project Jonesmith to sustain nagging ankle injuries in his first two seasons and be outperformed in the long term by up to three undrafted free agents in his rookie class.

2. St. Louis Rams: Brooster McAphee (OT, University of Texarcana)
Embracing the latest conventional wisdom on player valuation, the Rams will spend the second overall pick in the draft on standout left tackle McAphee, then trade him to the New York Yankees for two class-AA pitchers with career WHIPs under 1.00.

3. Kansas City Chiefs: Brent Brett (projected DT, City University of Waco)
Brett's first-day draft prospects have skyrocketed after an impressive workout at the NFL Combine, despite his having no previous playing experience in, knowledge of, or apparent interest in football.

4. Seattle Seahawks: Ramesh Chang (RB, University of Burlingham)
Chang, a draft-eligible junior, has shown exceptional quickness and agility in three collegiate seasons and is predicted by scouts to run almost 60% as hard once given a guaranteed contract worth millions of dollars.

5. Cleveland Browns: Gaston Borregard (OT, Bayou College)
This unanimously high-rated offensive lineman is a veritable monster at 6'9", 375 pounds, with pointed teeth and deformed, clawlike hands.

6. Cincinnati Bengals: Harbison Baldbull (OLB, Benjamin Harrison University)
The only exceptional linebacker in this year's class, Baldbull would be one of several good potential pickups for the Bengals, who will look to this draft to address glaring deficiencies in their offensive line, defensive line, linebacker corps, defensive backfield, coaching staff, front-office management, and fan base.

7. Oakland Raiders: Joseph Merman (QB, Warren Jeffs University)
Picking up this powerful left-hander will address the Raiders' most pressing need, that being owner Al Davis' deep-seated psychological need to sign a mediocre quarterback with a cannon arm.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Artoo Duggetts (OT, Stapford)
Unlike other collegiate wrestlers turned offensive linemen, Duggetts is a veteran of three WWE Friday Night SmackDown events.

9. Green Bay Packers: Acco Brands (ILB, University of Northern Arkansas)
Though undistinguished and undersized, this linebacker's name nonetheless will be conspicuously present on many teams' draft boards on Saturday, as he coincidentally shares his name with a major whiteboard manufacturer.

10. San Francisco 49ers: Taylor "Tiny" Tyler (DT, Wadsworth College)
Tyler has rung up a number of gaudy accomplishments within his small school's division, though the 49ers will be horrified to discover in training camp that the 5'4" defensive lineman's college nickname is not ironic.

11. Buffalo Bills: David "Ruby" Ruebinger (ILB, Irish University of Bend)
The perseverance shown by this small but determined linebacker has warmed the hearts of NFL scouts of all ages, although some have cooled to him since his disastrous missed tackle on the first and only play of his college career cost his team the Rose Bowl.

12. Denver Broncos: Buster Pickins (QB, University of Southeastern California)
The Broncos will react to seeing the draft's consensus best quarterback fall all the way to number twelve with pure, almost childlike delight, which will seem poignant in retrospect when they bench Pickins, following six sporadically competent rookie starts, in favor of a graying free-agent veteran.

13. Washington Redskins: Duaner Billiams (WR, Burlingham State)
Billiams, an exciting but undisciplined 6'5" receiver with poor ball control skills, will sell more replica Redskins jerseys than would a badly needed pickup at one of several unglamorous positions.

14. New Orleans Saints: Dannquayle Hobbs (CB, Indiana University of Indiana)
Hobbs is an impressively speedy, ball-hawking defensive back whose hands are only slightly bad enough for him not to be a wide receiver instead.

15. Houston Texans: Elishah Walker (QB, West Texas International University)
A classic pocket passer with slightly above-average downfield vision, Walker projects as a middle-aged former NFL journeyman who writes inspirational Christian novels.

16. San Diego Chargers: Christian Cho'aculua (OT, Molokai College)
Cho'aculua is not the most athletic left tackle in the draft but he's an intuitive player whose long arms should allow him to corral defenders at the line of scrimmage -- although some scouts believe that physical asset will be offset by his freakishly stumpy legs.

17. New York Jets: Hayao Tamagunagi (projected G, Izutsu stable)
Casual NFL observers' frequently asked question, "Why don't they use sumo wrestlers for those big football players?", will finally be answered when Jets owner Woody Johnson drunkenly calls in his first-round pick from a Benihana restaurant outside of Newark.

18. Perryville Catbirds: Optimus Washington (OLB, University of Ball)
A talented athlete with a history of legal troubles who could be a valuable pickup for a team willing to keep him on a tight disciplinary leash, Washington was suspended for his entire senior year by the NCAA after his aerospace contracting firm was found to be noncompliant with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: ChuckE Hawster (G, SUNY Utica)
In an unfortunate cross-sport mix-up, Tampa's first-round selection will be assigned to the similarly named Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he will fight a series of pitch control issues and reconstructive arm surgeries before finally emerging as a below-average Major League middle reliever for several months in the year 2015.

20. Detroit Lions: Toddy Fitzcarraldo (CB/FS, Coast Guard Academy)
The Lions will settle for using their second first-round pick on this very solid defensive back, after trying desperately to trade the pick to the Chicago Bears in exchange for letting Detroit win at least one game next season.

21. Philadelphia Eagles: Morriss the Mule (projected K, Blue Clover Farms)
Morriss' ability to boot a field goal from 80 yards out could transform the very idea of field position, although his eligibility to play requires lobbying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to reverse the 22-year-old "Knotts Rule" before the start of the 2009 season.

22. Minnesota Vikings: Chester Le Baron (OLB, University of Moon)
Le Baron is an aggressive, high-motor player capable of a ferocious edge rush, though some team psychologists are troubled by his insistence that he is an anthropomorphic piece of software being forced to live out a football-themed video game by a malevolent "Master Control Program".

23. New England Patriots: Chiz Whiteacre (QB, Louisiana State Omniversity)
The Pats will almost surely look to replace departed backup quarterback Matt Cassel with Whiteacre, an experienced college and high school second-stringer who has not started a game at any level since being trapped behind Bobby Herman, a taller neighborhood friend, at the age of nine.

24. Atlanta Falcons: Brandon St. Ball (WR, City College of Burlingham)
St. Ball is a versatile and iconoclastic athlete who can probably be lured into the NFL with first-round bonus money, although he has unabashedly voiced his preference for accepting an entry-level business analyst position with Accenture.

25. Miami Dolphins: Boje Skrotczak (projected DE, University of Transylvania)
A raw but preternaturally gifted athlete of indeterminate age and national origin, Skrotczak was a three-sport standout at Trans who declared for the NFL Draft after learning that none of those three sports are legal outside of his home country.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Da'Ruckus Manchilde (WR, Northern Viriginia Community College)
Accomplished Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will be uncharacteristically passive-aggressive with the 26th overall pick, stating that "I'm not convinced any of these [draft-eligible college players] are exactly what I'm looking for" before snippily telling Goodell after several minutes on the phone to just pick one out for him, as he doesn't even care at this point.

27. Indianapolis Colts: Ralph Waldo Breece (DT, Vermont)
Breece had generated some buzz as one of the hottest defensive linemen in the draft when he declared after his junior year, though he is expected to fall to the late first round after a disastrous workout at the Combine in which he failed the rope climb and could only do a bent-arm hang from the chin-up bar for six seconds.

28. Buffalo Bills: Mitchell Spreddings (SS, AN State)
Spreddings, who earned a B.A. in sociology, will be described by every TV color commentator as "a bright kid" or "a very bright kid" for managing to actually graduate with a B average from a non-bullshit academic program.

29. New York Giants: B'Nard Forster (DE/OLB, Alabama-Mississippi Bi-State University)
The Giants should find a satisfactory replacement for Plaxico Burress in Forster, who, though a defensive player, is projected to miss team meetings throughout the season before accidentally shooting his own leg.

30. Tennessee Titans: Chaucery Quiltlace (DE, Strarthmore College)
Although Quiltlace is the most aggressive, physical defensive lineman in the draft, the consensus among NFL scouts since the Combine has been that he will fall to the late first round due to his disappointingly un-manly name.

31. Arizona Cardinals: Taylor Crispin (RB, West Carolina)
Crispin has shown exceptional stamina throughout his college career but his stock has fallen somewhat since the Senior Bowl, where it was discovered that he is secretly a pair of identical twins who play on alternating snaps.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Treat Flitcomb (C/G, Burlingham A&M)
Steelers actuaries calculate that the talent and depth Flitcomb would inject into Pittsburgh's offensive line would singlehandedly raise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's life expectancy from 37 to 39.

* * * * *

Anyway. Time for me to hustle off to work; Go You Pirates against the Padres this weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blog to the Future

Let the record show that of mild interest is entering its fourth year exactly as it lived the first three: in a bemused, alcoholic haze.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Natinal [sic] Pastime

News involving oversights in proofreading tends to make its way pretty quickly through my department at work, and someone who noticed this flub follows baseball enough to appreciate the additional angle of it happening to one of the more hapless clubs in the sport, hanging in there at 8 games under .500 as I type this. I really do think they should have retained The Expos as their name: much easier to spell. Also, they should bring back the tri-section hats and powder-blue away uniforms.

As always, the place to go for uniform-related commentary is Paul Lukas's Uni Watch blog, and along with his insight he linked back to a 2007 compendium of all-time great sports jersey typos, which is must reading. Can you spot anything wrong with Joe Carter's uniform, at left? (Ha! Bet he looks back at the early 1990s with some embarrassment.) But the gem is the early-1960s train wreck that was one road jersey for Chicago White Sox slugger Ted Kluszewski, bad enough to prompt the New York Times to engage in some creative typesetting to memorialize the incident.

In more mundane baseball news, Hey, Pirates still have a winning record! Maybe not so mundane. I think the Doumit-related news might sink these fortunes soon enough. At least they're doing better than actual pirates for the time being.

Haven in Treeflower

This picture would have been a lot more impressive yesterday, when the sky was still white but brighter and before all the tree flowers got rained on hard all night. Well, carpe diem. That's just about the view from my workplace window. I think there's a particular New Havenishness to it.

Basically all the local trees came into flower at the same time last weekend, which is fantastic.

New Haven's Wooster Square has a number of cherry trees, and there's a modestly scaled Cherry Blossom Festival every spring. I didn't go to the festival proper (Sunday) but was at the square shortly beforehand (Saturday) with Sarah and two of her companionable friends (Aaron, Sierra) to order Pepe's takeout and nab some beers at an adjacent package store and sit on the grass in the park while the evening spun itself out. This is about as nice as it gets in New Haven. And Libby's afterward for pastries and iced cappuccinos.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Soaked Beans and Broken Glass

There's some part of me that wants to post eight posts a day in the next three days so that our 1,000th post falls on our 3rd anniversary, but it looks to be a bit too far out of reach to get to. Besides, who wants such artificiality when our mildly interesting earnestness has been doing so well all this time. At any rate, it is pretty cool to be coming up on such prestigious markers. 970 posts in 1100 days? Not too shabby.

At any rate, I return today with one of the usual stimuli that push me towards blogging in the first place: another instance where my generally non-superstitious self is pushed towards superstition. With my ever-encroaching unemployment, I've been working on ratcheting down my already minimal budget, to spend as little money as possible. Having already phased out beer-in-non-social-settings, diet soda, pizza-in-non-social-settings, frozen vegetarian novelty foods (the portion of my spending, since turning 21 which can be attributed to beer and pizza alone is rather astounding (though it does consolidate the answers to the questions "Why are you fat, Pete?" and "Why don't you have more money, Pete?")), I realized that the next obvious thing was to switch from canned beans to dry beans. I'm rather embarrassed to admit that all these 5.5 years of vegetarianism I've been eating canned beans rather than cook them myself, but I blame working for Trader Joe's for nearly 3 of those years on addicting me to the convenience of canned beans over having to, like, wash pots and plan ahead (soak beans overnight). But I've now slashed my bean-budget by about 50%. (Also, in a rather dramatic move, I'm considering switching back to plain old not organic brown rice from my ever-beloved brown basmati rice (saving about $3 a bag of rice (and when you eat the pounds and pounds of rice that I do on a monthly basis, that starts to add up).)

With the switch to cooking dry beans, though, has come a dramatic increase in my using my large stainless steel pot (I quit spaghetti back in the fall, so hadn't been using it much (though budgetary considerations are leading me towards un-quitting spaghetti, since eating it plain (which I can manage) only costs like 60 cents a meal)), and using it with its lid. A couple of days ago, it suddenly occurred to me that by using my pot-and-lid so much more often, I was in serious danger of breaking the lid (its glass). This isn't superstitious yet; my tendency to dramatically increase the entropy of all objects that are close to me is well documented. Just by using the lid at all I was dangerously close, so far as I could tell, to breaking it. This became a big concern since I don't know where to go to buy lids these days, and buying a new pot, in order to get its lid, would totally bust all the savings from buying dry beans in the first place. So I was worried.

Then, two days ago, as I was watching a movie (Claire's Knee) in my sitting room, the lid to my pot, in the dishrack in my kitchen, spontaneously shattered. Fuck. So, somehow, I figure, my thinking of the fact that I was going to break the lid caused the lid to break. It seems pretty well documented at this point, by various cognitive psychologists, that people "naturally" attribute unexplainable things to higher powers, if not of the capitalist-monotheistic type, then to some sense of superstition. For someone as rigorously agnostic as myself, then, the temptation is to attribute to myself some kind of extrasensory perception of there being something already wrong with my lid, before it broke, that caused me to worry about its future breaking. Maybe there was a hairline crack in it already, which I only perceived unconsciously, that made me worry about it, and then reached critical mass when I let my large Cape Cod ceramic mug rest to heavily against it (my large Cape Cod ceramic mug--a birthday present to me from my parents on Cape Cod back in 2004--has been responsible for several other dish-demolitions, most notably a French press (the shattering of French presses doesn't really phase me any more, given then number of them I've gone through since switching away from drip-filter coffee in my home-life; the average life span of my coffee presses is about 8 months) and a NERAX (New England Real Ale Exchange) imperial pint glass (in two separate incidences)) in the dish drain.

The question, at least to me, then, is whether or not its reasonable (that is, not superstitious) to try and attribute my worry about the soon-to-break lid to a precondition for its shattering, rather than consider my worry about the just-fine lid as the cause, via self-fulfilling prophecy, of its shattering, or if the more distant, longer view of the incidence, that recognizes that I break everything eventually, is the most accurate.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Let's All Work at Decrepit Kennywood

The positive reviews of Adventureland are right on the mark, and a good thing too, considering the mediocre reports about the adaptation of Mysteries of Pittsburgh -- at least one of the two current coming-of-age films set in the Burgh should be a winner. Adventureland kind of quietly goes about its business -- it's not aiming for being hilarious, but it's consistently very funny; on the dramatic side of the equation, similarly, it's got a plot in the usual shape but one that develops some unexpected turns and keeps the story's momentum going. The Post-Gazette's reviewer noted that the side characters are well drawn and treated sympathetically where it would have been easy to make cheap caricatures out of them, which is very true. It's a very satisfying movie. The mid-1980s setting gives it a little bit of an anti-nostalgic kick (or an ironic-nostalgic one) without going overboard on the period trappings.

Scenery-wise, it's fun to identify the various corners of Kennywood they filmed, particularly the corner over by the Jackrabbit and the Racer. They smartly take advantage of one shot looking over the valley the Thunderbolt dips down into, where the smokestacks across the river are visible in the background. (Kennywood's one real intersection with the industrial character of the city.) It being a movie about a smaller, crappier park, it's by necessity focused more on the smaller, whirlier rides; in particular, the Music Express (which I think is what it's actually called in the park, too) gets a lot of screen time. Actually, if Kennywood doesn't spend this whole summer blasting "Rock Me Amadeus" out of the thing then they're passing up a real opportunity. Outside of the park, Pittsburgh gets a limited amount of exposure, although the 16th Street Bridge stands in for an oft-shown makeout spot backdrop despite its dubious real-life seclusion.

In short: highly recommended for anyone who grew up going to Kennywood and/or enjoys watching a smartly done nerds-coming-of-age flick. Which I'm pretty sure is everyone who could plausibly be reading this.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Short Radio Show, plus Steelers Schedule

Just a short radio show tonight, since Sarah and I are going out with Stu and Julia to see the movie Adventureland a little after 7:30. I've got high hopes, since it's gotten good reviews and it's set in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, with Kennywood standing in as a decrepit amusement park. Western Pennsylvaniana, gotta love it.

So, yes, just briefly, listen to Barber's Violin Concerto and Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos. That is all.

So I've been batting around the idea of going to Miami this fall and obtaining tickets for the Dolphins/Steelers matchup to go to with Pete, but the schedule's out and it turns out that's the final game of the regular season (January 3) which means holiday travel prices and uncertainty about whether it'll be a relevant game, etc., etc., and probably an ultimate thumbs down. But I'll tell you what I like, though, is two games against Baltimore on the Sundays after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Probably about time to watch some of these in a Steelers bar that's actually in Pittsburgh, yeah?

They Took Are Jobs!

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad semester, several thousand pages of Victorian novels, 20th Century literary theory, and Modern American poetry later, is finally coming to a close. I have a final exam on several novels (email me to get me to gripe in full glory about this) a week from today, and a 20 page paper comparing the narrators of George Eliot's Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda due for the same class the same day, but other than that am done. (The paper that I had really hoped to write, at the beginning of the semester "George Eliot: Not a Dude" is, unfortunately, unacceptable.) Of course, that's a pretty gigantic "other than that" but still, somehow, I feel like noting it today. Probably because I've already written a 17 page paper (plus 9 pages of interpolated poems and anecdotes) which attempts to extrapolate a "poetics of failure" from several poems by George Oppen (email me if you want to read it), based on a (mis)application of Derrida's poetics of Paul Celan.

Or, really, my sense of progress comes from the fact that I've now turned in the first of many forms that gets the ball rolling towards my presenting and defending my thesis a year from now. So that's super cool. I'm officially, now, working on my book. And until I actually get a job for the summer, I have nothing but time to work on it. So you may all now start recommending titles to me. It's the same game as coming up with good band names. The working title is currently Final Holiday, but I'm sure it'll change. The dream title is Lessons in Hatred but I don't think I'd be able to pull that one off.

And even if I do get a job (I mean, I'm gonna have to, just to keep from abjectly hemorrhaging money all summer), I should still have plenty of time to work on my "book" for the next year, since this semester also finished off the bulk of my course work for my degree--I only have a fiction workshop and one more poetry literature class to take.

After this semester I can say definitively, in terms of my tastes, the following things:

Victorian novels: Great! They take an obscene number of hours to read, but have turned out to be great great books. I hadn't read much before (which was the reason I took the class, I suppose), but I may actually end up reading more novels from this era "just for fun."

E.E. Cummings: Terrible.

Hart Crane: Amazing.

"Eco-critical" poetry: Fucking terrible.

Literary Theory: Stupid and annoying, but often somewhat entertaining.

Of course, I came into the semester with a pretty well-established attitude towards literary theory already, and didn't find it much changed. It seems useful, in terms of talking about literature (that is, it's helpful to read Heidegger and Gadamer to understand various poets (Hoelderlin, Celan, mostly), but not useful in terms of "life" ("Being" as it were)). It's pretty amazing to me the kind of attitude towards "science" that was actually set up as a straw man in the class by the professor, a weird kind of Science=God positivist model that seems based on Heidegger's misappraisal of science 75 years ago and completely inapplicable to post Einsteinian "science." It's pretty frustrating in general, but, again, at least when focused on an unbroadened notion of "Literature" can be useful to think of various "theoretical" notions of writing.

I guess it makes sense, from a professional stand-point to make the gigantic claims that contemporary (generally "post-structuralist") theorists make (paraphrasable to "everything is Literature" or "everything is Rhetoric," generally). Seems to make their program more viable, since everyone knows, apparently, how essentially worthless books are. Though my problem with this, as someone who has been trying to be some kind of "artist" for most of my life, is that in trying to get at the ineluctable qualities of Being, rather than just focusing on art, literary theorists mostly devalue art and say useless, ridiculous things that are only good for filling academic positions and produce neither profound philosopher nor stunning art. Whereas, were they to accept their limitations, and note that "culture" is an important part of human culture, a quality critical apparatus could function.

Blah blah blah. I dunno. I'm gonna go write some poems.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pete's Easter 2K9

Similarly free of organized religion for this holiday cycle, I, like my brothers, did nothing particularly of note. Except for my trip to GulfStream racetrack and casino to catch the last day of horse races of the season. Nothing like gambling on sprinting human-ridden animals to capture the spirit of Easter! It was actually my first-ever trip to the horse track, so I did nothing but place piddling little bets on each race, trying to learn some of the ropes of figuring out who to bet on (I went to the track with a solid corps of fellow MFAers, all of whom are, again, similarly godless), and did okay; that is, I left the track with the same amount of money that I came in with. So, just "okay" enough to get into the "okay" portion of the spectrum-of-possible-racetrack-outcomes. I was placing such small bets that there was little chance that I'dve made any money. I was up $10 going into the last race, but neither of my horses worked out on that one; though, on some level it strikes me as more aesthetically pleasing to have left the track even than up ten bucks (though, now I kinda wish I had that dough, especially given my looming summer unemployment (is there a job in your neighborhood? Can I sleep on your couch while I work it?).

On Saturday, as a member of the miami poetry collective, I helped open and operate our first "Poem Depot" at the monthly art walk in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. We sold poems and another homemade journal to passersby, in order to raise enough money to produce another journal. It involved writing poems on the spot on topics of purchasers' choice. So, perhaps obviously, not every poem was solid gold, but I think the reaction was generally solid and we definitely made enough cash to put together another journal and do it again next week. Perhaps my crowning achievement was an Elizabethan sonnet (well, the pentameter was fudged, but it was close and the rhyme scheme was correct) about a genomist altering alleles and accidentally producing a new killer disease, but I don't have the memory to reproduce it here, so instead I provide a limerick on infidelity that I improvised out loud, and a picture of me looking like, if not a poet, than some kind of impostor at a typewriter:

There once was a poet name Pete
who met pretty girls on the street
they'd go to his truck,
lie in its bed, have a fuck,
but his wife they never did meet!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter '09

It being an odd-numbered year, I didn't feel any unusual compulsion to try to attend an Easter service this time around (as opposed to the Quakers '06 and the Unitarians '08; also, I am running out of conceivably acceptable churches and feeling more securely agnostic in general) so instead I spent the best and brightest part of the late morning making strawberry pancakes, then locating the chair with the best sunbeam in Sarah's living room and reading another chapter of Foucault's Discipline and Punish, which is surprisingly compelling. Happy Easter!

Later I took a short bike ride through a bracing late-afternoon breeze; there was an actual cyclists' race near East Rock Park so I just took a couple of amateur laps around the neighborhood, including along scenic Edgehill Road with its view of the cliff and its agglomeration of very large houses. Later, a veggie burrito for dinner while rewatching the playoffs portion of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII DVD, plus doing taxes. So, as Nate said, other than that, not much to report.
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The pancakes this morning were exceptionally good, so much that we were wondering what exactly the secret was (baking powder?) -- so the ingredients, for the record:

● 1 1/2 cups flour
● 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
● 1 tsp salt
● 1 tbsp sugar

add to that:
● 1 1/4 cup milk
● 1 egg
● 3 tbsp. melted butter

Mix (with berries or whatever) just until moist, cook with a liberal amount of butter, use the good Canadian syrup, etc.

Time Passes

Well, it seems like I've more or less dropped off of the blog again for a few weeks and Easter Sunday seems as good a time as any to put up a post to at least say "Hey". So, you know, "Hey".

The proximate cause of the past few days' blog absenteeism has been that Kyle is moving to a lovely new apartment -- much larger than her soon-to-be-previous one and about 10 minutes closer to Portland to boot -- and I've been doing the usual boyfriendly duties. Currently we're in the old place and all of the remaining cleanup has been chased into the area between her kitchen sink and her stove, which offers about as much floorspace as an antique bathtub. So we're taking turns with the last of it, one of us scrubbing while the other whiles away some time on her laptop, which is sitting in the otherwise basically empty living room on top of a box lid. Right now I'm on the laptop / box lid shift; because of my own move last year and a lifelong slowness in acquiring new furniture, this feels like a remarkably familiar way to use a computer.

Other recent blog-prohibiting time sinks: Doing taxes; putting off doing taxes; going to Austin (lovely this time of year) for a wedding; slight uptick in work commitments; idly watching updates of real-time Internet box scores of Pirates games; generalized time wastage.

There has been various stuff I feel like I've been meaning to write about here and there but for now my brain's mostly saturated with thoughts related to the weekend's activities, mainly that it would be nice to make oneself thoroughly clean an apartment while one is living in it rather than when one is moving out of it. Also that, after a weekend of eating restaurant food at every non-breakfast meal, having dinner at Ruby Tuesday feels almost as casually self-destructive as I imagine drinking absinthe felt to continental European intellectuals circa 1900, though at least they have a respectable salad bar. Ruby Tuesday, I mean.

Other than that, not much to report. You know, "Hey".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sympathy Corrective

This Guardian article was forwarded around my department the other day, out of morbid interest in this writer's habits with page proofs ("tinkering with and slashing at them" . . . "have looked at previous sets of proofs four times already and fully expect to do so at least once more" . . .) but I think it is a fine object lesson in an aspect of good writing, or at least writing about oneself. A good writer, in describing creative distress, illness, and difficulty in life, should be able to take their own experience and relate it to the similar experiences that we all share, however subtly, thus providing a story that resonates with their readers. (That resonance can be uplifting or bitter or whatever; shared humanity tends the whole pungent garden of emotions, right?) AL Kennedy here, in contrast, blithely ignores the common experience of humanity around her and flatly grouses about having erroneous page proofs and an earache. It's hard not to feel sympathy for someone with an ear infection, but exceptions can be forced. Shame about the headache, too; maybe her editor has some spare Advil in their desk to send along with that sixth set of page proofs.

Or maybe this all seems more generous to other horrible curmudgeons; I don't know. Or maybe it's supposed to be an ironic Gervaisian burlesque.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Scattered Thoughts

In which any and all potentially topical Judeo-Christian religious holidays are ignored:
Johannes Brahms: Academic Festival Overture (1880) for orchestra
Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor (1914)
Arnold Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 1, op. 9 (1906)
John Adams: Chamber Symphony (1992)
Georges Bizet: Symphony in C major (1855)
My friend Dan coincidentally was just writing today how little he likes the Bizet Symphony in C major. For me it's one of those pieces that I always think of fondly because it's got a particularly catchy tune in the last movement. (Refer to the peak-end rule, which applies so much more to classical music than people ever discuss.) But the whole thing is perky and tuneful, and I've always found it pretty thoroughly enjoyable. Bizet wrote it when he was 17, incidentally.

On Jet Lag Disorder

There's a recent entry in the Mind Hacks blog that I think is interesting to a remarkably thorough degree: in not many words, it efficiently traverses of an initially wacky-sounding story that touches on biochemistry, patent regulation, and corporate economic behavior. Maybe Google is just making me stupid, but I like small, information-rich bursts of writing.

To add a linguistic angle to that post, I really think we should have a word "patenteering" to describe that phenomenon.

The Return of Baseball-Related Disappointment

I was keeping an eye on the afternoon-game Pirates/Cardinals score today at work, as I usually do, and damned if I didn't feel disappointed when they couldn't put this one together. Despite knowing full well that a fluky 1–0 lead while you're being no-hit is nothing that you're going to hold on to. Honestly, I thought this would be the season I'd be able to come in without actual hope for the Pirates, and thus avoid disappointment. Instead here I am, considering that if Duke and Ohlendorf can continue putting quality starts back to back, well then, maybe . . . maybe just . . .

Obviously the problem is having these thoughts in the first place.

T-Shirt Retirement

By "retirement," of course, I mean an inelegant throwing away of said articles of clothing. When I "retired" a pair of pants of mine over the summer, before I left Berlin, said motion involved stuffing them into a street-level garbage can in Prenzlauer Berg--it was a good pair of pants, too, in terms of years of service, having lasted from September 2006 all the way until June 2008 (although I mostly wear work pants (with a pair of khakis in reserve for the rare occasions when I need to look "presentable"). I was both concerned for the image that leaving a pair of pants behind in the garbage can of the flat where I was living last summer would make for my Gastgeberin, and also, I suppose, in retrospect, there's some chance that my pants are now enjoying their retirement attached to some garbage-lucky homeless person.

I switched to green work pants when I returned to the States. A change of pace, and a color, perhaps, more appropriate for Miami--it turned out, luckily, also, that it was the same make and color of pants as those favored by the maintenance staff of the office building in Manhattan where I worked in July (this, I suppose, reveals a certain problematic element of my fashion sense, in that, clearly, just because I wear "work" pants doesn't mean that I "work"--I do, however, tend to wear the same pair of pants everyday (I think this fact is already mostly public knowledge), so the sturdier the better, so there's something disingenuous about my pride in appearing working class, since, even though I am just a poor graduate student, I'm still just a bourgeois motherfucker). I made a New Year's resolution (I don't really believe in New Year's as a holiday, but was forced into making one) to switch back to dark blue pants this year, but the green pants are holding up so well that I haven't gotten around to getting a new pair of pants just yet (my disbelief in New Year's, perhaps, can be seen to be the same as a belief, in that the result, the breaking of a resolution, was the same).

But I'm not here to talk about my pants; I'm here to talk about my t-shirts. Specifically, the fact that several of the t-shirts that I've accumulated in my life (the bulk of which, actually, date from high school) are no longer wearable. I have a lot of t-shirts, so this doesn't really affect my ability to dress myself on a daily basis, but part of me is rather sad, since, back in 9th or 10th grade, when I first became aware of the t-shirt-as-affectation (as opposed to t-shirt as that-thing-that-I-wear-most-days-anyway), my arbitrary decision, re: t-shirts, was that to qualify as "vintage" it had to be 10 years old, but now, 9 years since my graduation from high school (13 years from the decision-making), most of the t-shirts that I've had since then, due to abject mishandling in various laundromats over the years, have deteriorated to the point where, even in multiple layers several are no longer wearable (don't worry, though, the double-layer Planet Hollywood t-shirt is still alive and well). The following list is a representative sample of the t-shirts which I've had to retire in the past month:

Mississippi State (maroon ink on grey t-shirt): 1998, Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Cotton Bowl (white t-shirt, corporate logo prevalent): 1998, Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Cherry Blossom Festival (white t-shirt, pink logo): 2000, Cherry Blossom Parade, Wash., D.C.
Medieval Times (white t-shirt, tournament of champions logo): 1998, Medieval Times, Dallas
*Wild Toucan Restaurant (hot pink t-shirt, colorful logo): mid-'90s, family vacation to Arizona

There's more, but again, that's representative. Perhaps the moral of this story is that the biggest perk of being in the marching band in high school is that you wind up with a bunch of t-shirts. The bright pink "Wild Toucan" t-shirt is really the biggest lost, here. I stole the shirt from our father in Senior High, and it featured prominently in my wardrobe up through this year, when it finally became too threadbare and hole-ridden to be affectable, even in a decrepit way. The only remaining t-shirt evidence that I was in marching band is the still-large accumulation of Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood t-shirts that I have (though most of them require an undershirt, due to holes), though they're less distinguishable as marching band t-shirts than as a fashion affectation that I think only I ever "got," in terms of the "joke" that it was to me to wear them everyday (I'm pretty sure there's a shitty Simpsons episode where some old man always wears a Planet Hollywood jacket, that at least somewhat informs the aesthetic at work (beyond just the "be inscrutable" kind of thing that's probably present)). As for t-shirts taken from Dad, I've still got an electric blue Mercy hospital t-shirt that has held up incredibly well and is close to occupying the "favorite t-shirt" spot in my heart, now that the pink t-shirt is dead and gone. For the record, I no longer have any Boy Scout related t-shirts, only three Carnegie Mellon t-shirts (none of which ever occupy the top layer of my clothing). The bulk of the t-shirts-as-such that I have left are beer related, all of which (everything from Coors Light to Saranac to Smuttynose to Rogue) are in good shape and years away from retirement.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Comic Book Roundup, plus Two-Decade-Old Fake Baseball News

I haven't seen the movie Watchmen, but it did inspire me to borrow a copy of the book Watchmen, which I liked a lot. It's the first time I've actually read one of these much-vaunted darker, more seriously textured comics that have been done recently. (Considering Watchmen is from 1985, I guess "recently" means "as long as I have been able to read" in this case.) It's excellently atmospheric and suspenseful, although in this expanding age of literary graphic fiction I think it comes off as decidedly more comicky. (Mild spoilers below, if you prefer your fiction unsullied with advance knowledge.)

The alternate world it portrays is canny and satisfyingly filled out (if the United States had a transcendently powerful superhero on their side in Vietnam, we would have won, and Nixon would still be president in the mid-1980s, and the Cold War would still be just as perilous); the self-referentiality of the superhero world is sharp and true to itself, rather than just cleverly postmodern. Strong characters carry the story far; my big regret about the book is how much the finale abandons this kind of subtlety, pulling out a big climax that's far less believable (on the story's own terms, I mean) and clumsily revealed. On the whole Watchmen packs a punch, though, and backs up its gloomy atmosphere with some legitimate thematic resonance.

Anyway, highly recommended, along with (speaking of comic books) the adorable chronicles of Moomin, an innocently mishap-prone, hippo-like troll drawn by the late Swedish-speaking Finn Tove Jansson. If your significant other did not give you a Moomin book for your birthday, I can direct you in lieu thereof to the Moomin website, which is in Finnish. The cartoon flits battily from plot point to plot point and exudes a cheerful, rollicking imagination. Also, again, it involves an utterly cute hippo-looking character. I'm trying to tie this recommendation up with some kind of an original point, but there's not much more to it than that.
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Late for April Fool's Day: if (like me last week) you haven't yet read George Plimpton's classic Sports Illustrated spoof article about the Mets' supposed Zen phenom of a pitcher Sidd Finch (from the April 1, 1985 issue) then by all means do so, and enjoy.

Opening Day

The Pirates snatch one late from the Cardinals, and we're off and running for another season. Hard to see the ballclub turning out anything worthwhile this season but, hey, why not root for them again.

In early May they're playing the Mets in the new ballpark in Queens (Citi Field*) and so I'll get to see them there. God, I hope it ends up being Maholm's turn that Saturday. Also, hopefully I can catch the Altoona Curve when they swing through Connecticut in June.

Yeah, Pittsburgh baseball. Party like it's 1999! Or 1993, or 2008. Or really whatever year in there. They all kind of blur together. Oh hey, the Steelers re-signed Keyaron Fox today!

*Insert your own sardonic joke!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chess Mister

An unexpected and extremely satisfying hobby of late has been playing chess again (for the first time with any regularity since I was home for a summer from college and teaching Mike to play) with my work friend Alex, who decided to learn recently and has quickly gotten pretty good by reading chess books and playing on the internet. We've managed the last month or so to play a couple times a week during lunch breaks, situated at a newish coffee shop just a parking lot's walk away from the Press (actually, it's where the dear departed gelato shop used to be), which is classy and comfortable and features a very good cup of coffee. Our game yesterday was especially tightly matched; it's surprisingly easy to zone into a chess board for 50 minutes without feeling the time fly by. Makes one not want to return to the office, not to be uncareful about what one wishes for.

I bet the public chess matches make us look pretty intellectual, too, it being the Ivy League and all. Not that I'm generally aware of the outside world during these games.

Nervous Energy

Anxious recently? Twentieth-century classical music will either rile you up further or provide some kind of catharsis. Or maybe you just like spiky rhythms and moderately unhinged harmonies.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 (1945)
George Antheil: Piano Sonata no. 3 (1947)
Alberto Ginastera: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (1956)
Albert Roussel: Symphony No. 3 (1930)
Arthur Honegger: Pacific 231 (1923) for orchestra
I'm crazy about this recording of the Roussel symphony, which has Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic sounding excellently rough-edged in 1961-quality recorded sound.