Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hockeytown, South Florida

I went with a friend to see the Penguins play last night here in South Florida. It was nice to see a Pittsburgh sports team that was able to pull out a victory (3-2, in OT) in the final minutes of the game despite missing several key defensemen. But fun in general to go see the Pens play. The arena was crowded, but far from sold out (typical for the generally disinterested in all professional sports South Floridians (though I guess the Dolphins are selling out no problem this year)), and there were a fair number of Penguins fans there, many in jerseys and gear (I considered wearing my (mine only through proactive hand-me-downing) "Killer Bs of the 'Burgh" shirt, in some kind of Pittsburgh sports camaraderie, but thought better of it at the last second--I was still wearing the Pirates cap I wear most every day, so I had something going for me, anyway).

It is pretty fun to be an out-of-towner and then show up for an event where a bunch of other out-of-towners of a similar inclination all show up. And it was my first time seeing Sidney Crosby playing in person, and that was fun too. Hockey is a good sport to watch live; quick paced, easy enough to follow. With the occasional hard hit and a fight here and there. Good times. Hooray sports!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chiefs 27, Steelers 24

Oh, for the love of !$@#*%!!@#%#&!*!!!

Push It to the Limit

The weekly film screening on campus this Friday was of Scarface, which had been on my to-watch list for a while. It's a good flick to see in gritty 35 mm glory.

For all its iconic crazy Pacino, I thought the most glorious revelation in the movie was its fantastic '80s montage sequence. I didn't know Scarface had a montage this good! I'm all pumped up now. (It's not on YouTube in decent quality, but you can watch it on this, um, Slovenian video website. Always a good idea to browse those.) Anyway, it's good life advice. "Push it to the limit! Walk along the razor's edge, don't look down, just keep your head." Words to kick ass by, for sure. DISCLAIMER. Pushing it to the limit may cause death by climactic gun battle.

I feel like all you hear about Miami these days is its poetry scene. It's nice to see some attention devoted to its criminal underbelly for once.

This was a date night, by the way, and her idea no less. I was wondering whether Scarface would turn out to be at all acceptable as a date movie, but if you get a drink afterwards it works fine. Or maybe our whole generation is just desensitized. I think the film is over-the-top enough, and with enough fabulous early-80s synthesizer music, to keep it from being truly disturbing. It also helps the romantic mood when any chainsaw dismemberments are kept tastefully off-camera.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not Intended for Use in Policy Decisions

I have to say, I love Josh Marshall's formulation of Sarah Palin being not a "politician" but a "non-office-holding politico-celebrity." I think that nails a perfect disclaimer-like tone, kind of like "pasteurized processed cheese product."

And with that said: back to the usual strategy of ignoring Sarah Palin until she goes away. Not like it feels like that's working during a week when she releases her book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wii Fit!

Hey, there's a study that says playing Wii gives you some real exercise! Awesome. It's a Nintendo-funded study, so it's not worth anything, but hey! I had a healthier Saturday night than I thought. I drank two beers while playing all that Wii, but hey, exercise does make you thirsty.

I'm not sure if we'll burn the same calories in our traditional family-holiday Dr. Mario contests, but I'm sure it makes you smarter or something.

Book Festivities

I don't think I could have spent more time away from my apartment without being out of town as I did over this past weekend, as I manned the exhibitor's booth for both my literary magazine (well, "my" in that I'm the editor; it's "my program's" magazine) and for the poetry collective of which I am a founding member. The booths were both half-booths, but were sharing the same whole booth, since so many of us staff one or the other of the organizations. The collective's half of the booth was partially sponsored by the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, who had their information on display as well, creating a mega-booth with all-the-information-you-would-ever-care-to-encounter about our three groups.

But the weekend was almost entirely a success. Gulf Stream designed and implemented a "Reducticus" version of our first online issue, which were about 2" x 2 1/4" big, with brightly colored card stock covers holding 16 pages of small-font xeroxed content. People loved them, and we gave out somewhere around 450 of them (it took a few hours during a couple meetings to fold, cut, and assemble all the Reducticuses (Reductici?)). Also managed to sell a handful of back issues, though the main point was just to remind Miami that we exist, and we were certainly successful on that count. If even a quarter of the people who got a free Reducticus go to the website, that'll be a success. (Our next online issue goes live Dec. 15th, mark your calendars.)

More or less, the actual size of the Reducticuses.

The poetry collective was selling its latest anthology, the 5cent journal (our fifth such journal; we've hiking up the price with every issue), and also gave a reading Sunday afternoon of a large group poem, "Eventually We Noticed the Smoke: a poeme-fleuve". An official, on the schedule, part of the International Book Fair reading, so that's pretty amazingly awesome to have done. For that reading we made a special broadside/insert print version of the long poem, which I co-designed with a local artist/collective member and also did the text editing and document design for (page layout/typesetting via InDesign, I'm not sure what the correct verb for that is). The broadside met rave reviews so that was incredibly cool as well. I really feel like I've been very involved and making things down here in Miami this year. So, though busy, and increasingly angsty about post-school considerations, it's been a good time.

In addition to the Powers reading which I already blogged about, another highlight was seeing Dan Chaon read from his new novel, Await Your Reply. I'd read his book of short stories, Amongst the Missing back in college and seen him read at Carnegie Mellon as well, so it was cool to hear him read again. The novel, based on the three excerpts he read, sounds pretty awesome, so there's a second book on the Cosogifexcel list. I also had the chance to to talk to him a bit at Granta magazine's cocktail party Saturday evening, which is also fun to have done.

Between this and last weekend at the FLAC conference in St. Augustine, it's been a quite literary past couple of weeks, and super-busy as well. And it does really let up, either, as the semester is now avalanching toward its completion and the next online issue of Gulf Stream awaits its coding.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bengals 18, Steelers 12

[text message exchange, ca. 4:08 pm]
NATE: Guess they're doing it the hard way this year
JACK: Yeeepp
OK, I'd still feel better if we knew what was up with Polamalu's knee. Still, it's not like if Polamalu goes down then the offense should just grind to a halt. Usually you feel pretty good if your defense gives up 12 points, one of those on a drive starting inside your own 20.

We had a couple of games like this last year, right? . . . just none that kicked us out of division contention. I mean, what, we beat Baltimore twice now and we can talk, but before then . . .

Anyway, I still like this division better with the Bengals bringing something to the table. You know, you man up and you hope you get them in the playoffs and beat them at your own game again. Bob Smizik pretty much says it.

More to the point -- as a fan -- man up, watch them next week. "Eli's on Whitney" is the bar up in Hamden where we went to. They draw a pretty big crowd of Steelers people, but only if the game isn't nationally broadcast. But they don't sell pitchers of beer for some reason. What gives with that? Anyway, Stu made it, plus Andrea and Andrea's friend Suzanne.

Maybe next week it'll be time to head back to the bona fide Steelers bar in Fairfield. That place was rocking between the Woodley and Keyaron Fox touchdown runs a couple of weeks back.

In any case, lovely evening, and now it had better be time to do those dishes and sober up enough to freelance copyedit 10 pages of grant proposal for someone in the med school. Awesome!

Street scene (blurry). Does not do the atmosphere justice.
Also, before we forget this: how good is it to see Ryan Clark cracking someone upside the head to stop them a yard shy on third down? Way for Ryan Clark to not play in Denver and stay alive and everything. Love the whole D, really. Brett Keisel is a man possessed this year.
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Also, if you want to cheer yourself up, check out this awesome Washington Redskins play. If it's a Redskins highlight, you already know it's an unusual thing.

Wii + Borscht = Happy

The game night I had planned for yesterday evening, a modest and deserving plan if ever there was one, was largely derailed because Stu was feeling sick and thus he & Julia couldn't make it. Meanwhile, my friend Emily's roommate, who is always writing her thesis, decided not to come so that she could continue writing her thesis. But Emily came, and it being just the two of us we just played Wii for about 4 hours. This is when it's really good to have a Wii.

Actually, it was super-satisfying, since I want to play Wii with my friends a lot more often but I'm too embarrassed to say to any of them, "Hey come over and play Nintendo with me." And we had beer and delicious production-editing cocoa. Much better than that game night I tried having a couple years ago that was completely canceled due to an ice storm, leaving me alone in my apartment with no friends and no place to go.

Also, I made borscht yesterday! And a giant latke. Is just like in old country, if by "old country" you mean "Mark Bittman vegetarian cookbook." Mark Bittman writes that his grandmother used to cook one giant latke, rather than a bunch of individual latkes. Go figure, but it works surprisingly well. (I will, at this point, basically do anything that Mark Bittman tells me to do.) This is the biggest latke I've ever cooked! This is the only latke I've ever cooked. Borscht is great, too, and I love cooking with beets, even if they give you Lady MacBeth hands. And even though beets seem like they should be really nutritious but really only contain sugar and purple. No, I haven't done enough beet cooking lately. Beets improve your mood so much! And they give such a distinctive rosy tint to your, um, mood.

The kitchen is still a war zone of beet spatter, dill, and cocoa powder, but let's just put off the cleanup a little longer.

Meanwhile, Stu is feeling better today, so he's about to swing by so we can drive up to Hamden and watch the Steelers/Bengals game with Andrea. The rest of the country can take their Patriots/Colts rivalry; just give us an AFC North slugfest.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Thank Your Production Editor

I'm all for placements in the acknowledgments, and plugging my name into Google is beginning to turn up more and more book-search Thank You one-liners. But this week a pair of coauthors sent me a thank-you package with some premium hot chocolate mix and a thingy of Dark Chocolate Covered, Cocoa Dusted Almonds. Yes! -- no manuscript editor is in it for the glory, but now and then it's good to be in it for the chocolate. I shared the almonds around the department. Fridays are better when there are delicious empty calories on the conference table. The hot chocolate will be coming out at the game night I'm hosting this evening, and will no doubt enhance the late-autumn Speed Scrabble experience.

A couple of years ago, another production editor in the department unexpectedly received a package from an author (I think of a language textbook) that turned out to contain three or four bottles of wine. That also is a good way to thank your production editor.

If you know anyone who's getting a book published, spread the word.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Week in Awesome

So, as with my brothers, I haven't had a whole lot of cause to blog recently, but that streak was broken tremendously last night when I went to see Richard Powers read at the Miami Book Fair International. As I've mentioned on the blog before, I've read all of Powers's books, and many of them rank among my favorite books. He has a new book just out, which he was reading from, which I've yet to read, so it's exciting to have (a book to not buy now, but rather to ask for for the Cold Solstice Gift Exchanging Celebration). But I don't think there's a writer whose books currently mean more to me than Powers's (I mean, Pynchon's up there too, I suppose; the only other (prose)writer that I can think of at the moment whose new books I would leap at, at the moment, is George Saunders, but his books are less meaningful), so my expectations were wildly high.

And met resoundingly. Powers is just as intelligent and open as he seems via his novels. My tiny literary magazine had contacted his publisher hoping to get an interview with him while he was down here for the book fair, but learned that he only does a small handful of appearances per year, and we weren't going to be one of them. But, seeing him in person giving his reading and discussion, it's clear why he wouldn't want to do to many, because he was just really into it, fully involved with discussing his new book, giving a reading from it, and answering a few questions from the audience (he actually seemed willing to talk way longer, in fact).

I haven't really been to that many readings ever; I mean, more than a few, but not a ton, and this may well be the best I've been to (I can think of a couple poets that I really enjoyed seeing, but for overall impact I think this was the best). Powers was a very good speaker and a great reader of his own work. The passage he read from his new book was great (it centered around a massive TV personality and the machinations of the way her internationally televised show was produced).

As a credit to the audience (I think Powers being who he is weeds out a lot of the folks that normally ask really oddball questions at most of the Book Fair readings; his was also, apparently, the smallest yet of the marquee readings), the questions asked during the Q&A were the best I've heard at any event, and Powers met them with sincerity and enthusiasm, geeking out over science-based questions, but also provided answers that involved him personally, and also answered a couple more literature-based questions deftly. I had several questions I'd have loved to ask, but didn't go up to the mic.

As another added bonus, the icing on the cake to the evening, which would already have affirmed near-hero-status of Powers for me (though chronologically, this happened at the opening of the Q&A portion): Powers doesn't sign his books. And rather than just saying that he doesn't sign books, he actually explained why. His reasons happened to line up rather precisely with reasons I've maintained for years for not getting books signed by authors, so that as he finished his explanation (dealing with the themes of his first book as well as how we construct meaning and use-value, and how that pertains to what kind of aura-of-specialness an author's signature gives to a book), saying "...how we find meaning in the age of mechanical reproduction," and trailing off a bit. I was compelled to applaud, which really doesn't happen to me very often. My two friends joined in a bit, and a couple other folks in the hall, but mostly people just looked over, wondering who the hell was clapping. But Powers looked too, so that was great.

As a concession to the signature-desiring folks, Powers did agree to sign postcards made with the design of his book. There's a picture of me over at the Book Fair flickr page sharing a rather intense-looking moment with Powers: here. I am saying here, (rather hurriedly, as the two older women behind me rather inexplicably were accusing me, more or less, of line-jumping), more or less, "I don't need a signature, but wanted to meet you, I've read all your books, and thanks for your reading and it was great and loved what you said as well." And he's making eye contact and thanking me incredibly sincerely for reading his books.

The Worst Symphony in the World, and Other, More Fruitful, Recent Concerts

Friday night came the East Coast premiere -- drawing together the university Philharmonia, two vocal soloists, and three separate choirs -- of Aaron Jay Kernis's "Symphony of Meditations," which is very possibly the worst piece of new orchestral music I've ever heard in concert. Kernis is a very well established and often-performed composer, and he's on the School of Music faculty here. So he had the opportunity to write this eighty-minute sprawl, for the Seattle Symphony, and to have it performed a second time, with him conducting.

The Meditations are in translation from Solomon Ibn Gabirol, 11th-century Spanish poet. Kernis sets them with admirable fidelity, or at least an unwillingness to abridge them so that the symphony would be less than eighty minutes long. Kernis describes the work as a spiritual testament, necessary to him despite a generally secular life, and I respect that. But the entire span of the thing completely sags under these meandering, operatic, kind-of-tonal vocal recitatives. The orchestra provides a generally plusher upholstery but nothing substantially more ear-catching. The best parts of the symphony suggest Britten's "War Requiem" without the tunes; another minute-long span in the second movement gloriously knocks off Adams's "Harmonium" closely enough that you can escape in your mind to a better piece. There's no excuse for any of this.

The third movement, which is itself 40 minutes long, thanklessly hands a dire Supplication to the baritone. ("I'm ashamed, my God, ashamed to be standing before you," it starts, and continues on like so.) There's no large-scale dramatic arc, so the movement quickly bogs down. The program indicates an "aria" section in the middle someplace that sounds exactly like the rest of the recitative. There's a little bit of slightly fresher air at the very end.

Woolsey Hall doesn't do any favors acoustically (and for some reason they'd closed the second balcony, which is where the best acoustics are), and I'm sure it offers a little more life with better sound. Still: awful, awful, awful. I went with a musicology grad student (studying Britten! she would know from), and afterwards we had one of those tentative exchanges where you're making sure the other person didn't actually like it, and then we both started ranting about it being directionless and excruciating. Good times.

For further reading, here is local classical writer and blogger Dan Johnson giving a rave review, and here is another good review from the Seattle premiere earlier this year.

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On the plus side, a couple of weeks ago my musicologically informed college friend Dan (in Ann Arbor) tipped me off to a young British vocal ensemble on an American tour: they are Stile Antico, and they came to New Haven shortly after Dan heard them. And the concert they gave, up at the Divinity School's chapel -- a back-and-forth of Thomas Tallis psalter stanzas and William Byrd motets -- was absolutely lucid and magnificent. Pure and seemingly effortless voices refresh you like sunlight does.

The program was brilliant: the Tallis works, Protestant and English, are short, direct, and homophonic; the Byrd pieces, Catholic and Latin, are wide-ranging and intricately woven. Stile Antico instilled it all with both precision and humane liveliness. Description doesn't really do it justice; music should always be so satisfying.

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There's more -- the Philharmonia put on a very good Mahler 4 a few weeks back, for example -- but it's 12:30 and I think I'll need another night to describe anything else.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brisk Comments about Fall Weather

Writing about the weather seems like it will be inherently boring, but seriously, we're having better late fall weather up here than we had early fall weather. More of it, at least. Even when it's overcast it's the kind of mild, white overcast that makes the yellow trees stand out. I never knew late fall weather like this, or else I've managed not to observe it. It's like discovering a new season that's half fall and half winter. Usually when I think late fall I think of Thanksgiving in Rochester and all the freezing rain it involves. We had maybe one cumulative great week of early fall weather this year. Late fall is making up for it, which I didn't see coming, and I'm already in a good mood anyway.

Like Friday night, around 5, the sky pitched into this silvery pale purple, streaked with clouds, and there was that enthralling wintery calm, but still the autumn crispness. I had to leave my desk and walk over to the Green and just observe it for a few minutes. People walk through it on the way home from work but don't pay it any attention. The city has its big Christmas tree up on the Green now, but they haven't decorated it yet. It's not a commercial season.

Saturday I went hiking up at Sleeping Giant with my friends Emily and Sarah (different Sarah from the one who might not be spoken of again). Up there about the only foliage left lingering is the slender, ovalish yellow leaves of some tree that is very familiar but that I can't identify, on account of not knowing my trees. The trails were padded with crunchy brown leaves. It's satisfying to tromp through them, and it reminds me of being a kid again. We had beers and pork sandwiches in town afterwards. It was a good day! You stop caring that the sun sets at 5:15 this way.