Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The congress that was

You gotta love a conference that features a beer tent. Of course, they called it a "hospitality tent," but we all knew what it was. And for an hour and a half on sunday afternoon, a slew of film studies types, myself included, roasted slowly in the egregiously hot sun while throwing back some frosty Steam Whistles. Kudos to my friend Aaron, who went from there to deliver his paper without displaying any ill effects.

I love academia, sometimes.

However, being new to the whole Congress of the Humanities ringamarole, I was caught out a bit by the fees levied on participants ... first, the overall conference fee of $150, which essentially just gets you in the door. Then, the various fees for whatever society you happen to be a part of -- in my case, another $60 for the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC). And then, because I wasn't a paid-up member (oops) I had to pay my membership fees -- another $60.

So, $270 poorer, I proceeded to rather enjoy the conference, along with the complimentary canvas bag and travel mug that came with the original registration. I did however, considering what seemed to me a rather exhorbitant cost for a few days of sitting through academic papers, compile a list of alternative Congress freebies that I think the organizers should consider for the future:

1. Complimentary Congress of the Humanities alcohol, specific to fields of study (mead for medievalists, beer for Canadian Studies, wine for the various francophone societies, Irish whiskey for Film Studies -- not because Irish whiskey has any significance to film, it's just what I would want).

2. The Official Congress of the Humanities Hot Tub Party.

3. Licensed massage therapists ... say, one to every three delagates.

4. Express helicopter service from downtown (had this been in place, the whole TTC fiasco wouldn't have even been a blip on the Congress radar -- something to consider!)

5. Congress of the Humanities Personal Valets (easily gotten cheap -- how? Three words: poor grad students).

6. Free books, especially from the really small and struggling Toronto presses. ;-)

To be fair, there were some pretty swanky receptions, replete with free sushi and assorted crudites. Cash bars, though; I do think however that the cash bars had less to do with expense than with some organizer being bright enough to realize that the equation of HUNDREDS OF ACADEMICS + FREE BOOZE + CROWDED SPACE = POTENTIAL DISASTER. It's true -- I've seen that particular calculus in action.

Also, I had more money than expected this past weekend, because on Friday night, for the first time in my life I actually won money at poker. My brother Matt hosts Texas hold'em tournments about once a month, twenty-five dollar buy-in. I usually do rather pathetically -- I love poker, but am reeeaaaallly bad at it -- but actually came out of this game splitting the pot with my brother.

I cannot claim any skill in this co-win, however ... my cousins Jeff and Alex had to leave a bit early, and so when their ride arrived they tried to commit chip suicide by going all in. My brother called them ... and so did I, having the incredible luck of having drawn pocket aces. So I quadrupled my chips, which put me into a good position for the rest of the night (to say the least).

Which was fortunate, considering that the next day I was to end up dropping my insane conference fees. That, and do a lot of drinking with friends and colleagues. Let's not forget the necessities, which also get a bit pricey ...

Thursday, May 25, 2006


It's been a few weeks of finales, television-wise, and I have to say it has left me vaguely annoyed. Or in the case of last night's Lost finale, actively pissed off. What was that? I have finally joined the ranks of other Lost fans disillusioned with what promised to be a really cool, weird, and innovative show, only to be steadily worn down by a season of deferals, tangential storylines, and overt digressions, never giving us anything approaching closure on any of the various narrative spurs that have been running off madly in all directions.

All of this leading up to last night's two-hour craptacular exercise in wasting my time. OK, so a few things did happen -- we found out (sort of) what happens when the button in the hatch doesn't get pushed, there was a halfway-decent showdown between the traitorous Michael and Jack & co., Michael got Walt back, and Jack & co. were captured by the Others. But seriously -- those things could have been dispatched in twenty minutes, not two hours.

I return to my original thesis about the show: it was launched with the expectation of a quick cancellation; when it became a big hit, the writers were left scrambling, and have essentially been playing a delaying game. Get it together, guys! What's wrong with setting a finite timeline on the series?

The other finale that annoyed me was The West Wing ... here's a series I loved beyond what I think an academic is technically allowed to love a TV show, and followed it religiously from the beginning, even suffering through the dreadful fifth season that I think was trying to compensate fir the loss of Aaron Sorkin by being poorly and humourlessly written. It redeemed itself through season seven somewhat, reclaiming a bit of the frenetic pacing and humour of the Sorkin years (more the former than the latter, alas).

But the series finale? Nothing happened. Toby got a pardon, CJ got a lot of job offers, Jed Bartlett spent a lot of time looking soulfully out windows, Santos was sworn in, and Debbie got an inordinate amount of screen time (which could have been spent more profitably with Sam Seaborn) harranging Bartlett about getting dressed for the Inauguration.

Not to harp on the Sam Seaborn thing, but seriously: he was everyone's favourite character, why wouldn't you use him more in the last few episodes as long as you've got Rob Lowe on the payroll again?

In the season premiere, we got a brief glimpse of the future in which a few things were revealed: Toby was a prof at Columbia, CJ was married Danny Concannon, Charlie was doing something at the UN (and had an icky moustache), and Will Bailey had been elected to Congress. Would it have been so painful in the season finale to have had a proleptic montage in which we see these characters we've come to love doing these things???

I think I am retrospectively pissed off about these questions, because this past week I've been working through season five of Six Feet Under on DVD. Now that was a series finale! Be warned, if you haven't yet made it to season five: by about two thirds of the way through, it will take you to depths of despair and desperation you didn't think was possible for a television show. But the final episode redeems all, and for a show that was frequently dark enough to be painfully depressing, it ended on a transcendent note of hope without being cheesey or trite ... and managed to put all the travails of the characters in perspective. Truly, a television high point.

Here's my thought: now that the writers on Six Feet Under are out of a job, let's fire the Lost writers and drop them in. Are you listening, JJ Abrams?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Step into my office ... that would be the second booth on the left in the Grad Club ...

Well, I've been in London a week now, and it is rather nice to be back. It has been strange being here after almost a year away -- it feels on one hand like I never left, and on another like years and years have past. I think one (rather wonky) part of my subconscious half expected to find the place deserted and overgrown with trees and brush like some Rip Van Winkle post-apocalyptic nightmare. But no ... just the same as I left it, ivy-covered faux-medieval architecture and all.

I should probably offer two apologies: first to friends here in London I have not yet contacted, and people back in St. John's I really owe an email or two to. To the first group: coming soon! I've spent the last week getting settled, and getting into something resembling a routine. I think an evening of beer and Rick McGhie at the grad club is necessary, but I also want to see people on individual bases ...

That being said, it is perhaps unsurprising just how many people I've seen just sitting at the Grad Club. Sooner or later, everyone comes through ...

Because yes, in the absence of something resembling office space, I have more or less ensconced myself in one of the GC booths, where I spend mornings and most afternoons reading and making notes ... reading and making notes ... interspersed by visits to the library and a lunchtime workout. Not a bad gig, really ... I saw my former student Sarah on Tuesday while working away, and then again this morning while in more or less the exact same place and attitude, prompting her to ask whether I had actually moved in all that time. I should probably pay the GC rent or something.

I'm liking this whole research term sans teaching thing. It's lovely to be able to devote my whole attention to a single (well, three) projects ... I feel studious again for the first time in a while.

And what projects am I devoting my time to, you ask? (Actually, I'm fairly sure you didn't ask, and I'm fairly certain you don't care, but hey -- who's blog is this, anyway?) Three big ones, and a few odds and sods ... first off is my next major research project, for which I have to submit a fairly hefty grant proposal in September. And I thought the SSHRC doctoral fellowship application was intense! This one, wow. Danine was kind enough to give me a copy of hers from this last year, and it was only as I was flipping through that MASSIVE sheaf of papers that I fully appreciated the task.

So that's number one. I'm also developing a web-based course on modern American poetry, which I've been having fun with. And I have to return to my thesis, and get serious about getting into book form in order to shop it around to publishers ... a process that I look toward with about as much anticipation as I would a root canal, but it must be done.

Occupying my attention this week and next however is one of those typical academic corners we like to paint ourselves into, the writing of a conference paper based on an proposal written months ago. It never fails -- we see a conference we'd like to or feel obliged to attend, whip up a 500-word abstract, get accepted as a presenter, and then forget all about it until a few weeks (or days) before the actual conference ... at which point we're looking at what we proposed and slowly realizing that this subject might not actually be workable.

Ack. Well, I can happily say my paper isn't in a situation quite so dire, but it's still experiencing some rather nasty birth pains. Fortunately, it's a fun topic ... I'm doing a paper at the Congress of the Humanities under the auspices of the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC) on that lovely 1960 film The Apartment, directed by the inimitable Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot) and starring Jack Lemmon and a disturbingly gorgeous young Shirley Maclaine. I won't bore you with the details, other than to say if you've never seen this film, rent it! And then rent Double Indemnity. Seriously. Good for the soul.

So anyway, I hope everyone has a great May TwoFour ... K and I will be keeping a low profile and relaxing at home with good food and good wine. The weather -- she don't look so good for the weekend. So cocooning seems in order. We will of course be thinking of The Laura, who for reasons passing understanding agreed to go camping with some people from work. When the weather reports looked not happy, she decided to back out, but Oh! Got guilted into it. Alas. So we'll be drinking our coffee tomorrow morning and looking out at the rain and thinking of Laura's sodden sleeping bag with something approaching smirks on our faces.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Day 'o da moms

Just a quick blog today in honour of Mother’s Day—a paean to mothers everywhere, but especially my own, who is possibly one of the most amazing people I have ever known.

While Kristen and I drove up to see her mom today here in London, we passed a lot of people very obviously on the same sort of mission: the tall young woman precariously balancing a large flower arrangement, numerous people at the Superstore mobbing the flowers kiosk, and one big burly biker-looking guy walking down Adelaide with a 24 of Canadian slung over one shoulder and a carton of cigarettes in one hand.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that this guy wasn’t en route to see his mom, and the beer and smokes weren’t Mother’s Day gifts, but I prefer to be optimistic on this. And anyone who’s ever been east of Adelaide here in London recognizes the distinct possibility.

So: to mothers everywhere, but especially to my own, happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Road listens

As already mentioned, I spent much of my time on the road this past week in silence, lost in thought, reflecting on both the year past and the one upocoming. I didn't spend it totally in silence however; I also passed a great deal of time listening to dramatic CDs ... not music for the most part, but a great selection of old-fashioned radio plays courtesy of my friend Gregg and the good people at his operation at Decoder Ring Theatre.

I've blogged about Gregg's stuff before; the original six episodes of The Red Panda still stand, in my mind, as a classic homage to The Shadow. Gregg and his peeps are now up to episode nine of what I guess are the prequels: in the days before the Red Panda was Canada's greatest elite Nazi-busting spy, he was a superhero keeping the streets of Toronto safe with his sidekick the Flying Sqirrel.

And as an additional treat, he's also created six episodes (so far) of a hard-boiled series titled Black Jack Justice, which follows the noirish exploits of private dick Jack Justice and his partner Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective.

All episodes downloadable from the Decoder Ring Theatre website, link provided at the right here. A strongly recommended listen -- it certainly helped the miles fly by.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Journey's end ... almost

Day 3 - Monday, May 8
Edmundston to Montreal

There's not much to say about this leg of the journey, except that the stretch of highway from Riviere de Loope to Montreal retains its title for most soul-destroyingly dull drive ever.

Seriously. Though my drive time was only slightly more than half as long as my previous two days, I was starting to go snaky after the first two hours. It felt as if it was a ten-hour drive, whereas my two previous ten-hour drives passed quite quickly and happily. This was exacerbated by my rude re-introduction to traffic ... after two days of blessedly empty highways, I was suddenly jockeying for position with hundreds of cars and trucks. It was enough to make me claustrophobic.

The payoff however is that this stretch of highway does ultimately bring you, however excruciatingly, to Montreal .... Montreal, where the rude re-introduction to traffic continued and I realized just how accustomed I had become in the previous nine months to the streets of St. John's and that city's particular dimensions. I was staying with my friend Amanda, who works as a manager at the downtown Chapters on Rue St. Catherine ... trouble was, I couldn't remember exactly where on Rue St. Catherine the store was, so I essentially circumnavigated the city center for about an hour until I found, after two abortive attempts, parking in the general vicinity of the Chapters. A hour of city driving ... in which time I could have crossed and recrossed St. John's about six times.

And to think, I used to be an urban driving pro ...

At any rate, destination found. I arrived in the city at 2pm local time, and found parking by 3:00. Amanda got off work at 6:30, so I went in search of lunch -- having a lovely sandwich at Cafe L'Etranger -- and then set myself up in the Chapter's Starbucks with my laptop, a latte, and a good view of the street below. As I expected, Amanda eventually saw me as she wandered past, and, taking my bag into the back room for safekeeping, sent me out for wine for dinner.

Amanda's partner Michael (the guy on the far left in the picture in my post about Jer) is in Shanghai on business (the business of designing and testing video games -- jealous anyone?), and her mom was there to help out with their daughter Sarah. So we had a very hearty dinner (cheese and onion pie!), and then sat up fairly late working through the wine and talking.

Amanda's one of my favourite people, another alumnus from the notorious Richard III production mentioned a few posts ago: costume designer extraordinaire (also working on the Macbeth I directed in 2004), den mother for helpless actors, and great friend. We can, and did, talk for hours ... and with a significant amount of wine in our systems, it made for a rather groggy morning as I drove her to work and then continued on to TO the next day.

Departed Edmunston: 10:00 am (local)
Price of gas: $1.15
Price of gas in Quebec: $1.13
Arrived in Montreal: 3:00 pm (2:00 local)
Found parking: 4:00 pm (3:00 local)

Total distance: 541 km
Total driving time: Five hours exactly (more or less, not counting city exploration)

Day 4 - Tuesday, May 9
Montreal to Toronto

Everyone will have noticed by now that I have been keeping track of gas prices. This is because it seems that the farther west you go, the cheaper it gets -- to the point where, gasing up just outside of Kingston, the price had dropped as low as $0.99 a liter. That's a twenty-one cent difference between St. John's and Ontario. My point? People in Ontario aren't allowed to complain about gas prices to me this summer.

The last leg of the journey was uneventful ... the biggest excitement coming in simply trying to get out of Montreal, as my St. John's driving mentality again caught me out unprepared. Rush hour in St. John's is between 8:30 and 9:00 ... I'd forgotten that rush hour in a big city like Montreal effectively starts at 7am and basically runs until ten. So leaving Amanda's place at 7:30, I was thinking to myself in satisfaction that I'd be ahead of the madness.


It took me a little over an hour to make it past the city limits.

Departed Montreal: 7:30 am
Left city: 8:35 am
Price of gas: $1.08
Price of gas just over Ontario border: $0.99
Arrived Toronto: 1:50 pm

Total distance: 535 km
Total driving time: Five hours, twenty minutes

Distance: 2959 km
Time: Twenty-nine hours, twenty-five minutes
$$$ spent on gas: $271.40

But as my title indicates, the journey isn't entirely over ... the last leg awaits on Saturday, a mere two hours to London. So hear that, London peoples! I'm back in town soon. Let the kegs be tapped! I'll be sending out an email soon to everyone with contact info ...

And as for the TO types, I'll be back in town for five or six days for the Congress of the Humanities at the end of the month. More updates to come.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

30 hours on the road

OK, so my original plan had been to give updates all the way along, posting from whatever computer was available. And it's not that those opportunities weren't there ... I just found, oddly, that after ten hours behind the wheel my preferred activity was motionlessness.

I write now in my parents' study, having pulled into TO yesterday afternoon, the end of the fourth of four days of driving. It was as if the world had suddenly turned green; the leaves and buds in St. John's hadn't yet emerged, and the landscapes alongside the highways I drove, especially as I got closer to Ontario, were generally blasted and dun-coloured. So turning off of Bayview Ave. and into my parents' neighbourhood -- an area very well-treed -- was to be dazzled by the depths of the greens and the sumptious spectrum of flowers and buds in the many gardens. It was like a very sudden shift from early spring to mid-summer.

It's good to be home.

And now for the much-delayed travel log.

Day 1 - Saturday, May 6
St. John's to Port-aux-Basques

In spite of reports of rainy and foggy weather for the weekend that had been looming, I couldn't have asked for better weather for the cross. The only nastiness came in the form of a brief but extremely thick bank of fog blanketing the isthmus connecting the Avalon Penninsula to the rest of the Rock, and then in the last hour or so driving into Port-aux-Basques. More on that in a moment.

I stopped for lunch in Grand Falls-Windsor at 1:00, and spent some time driving around in search of a lunch that would be something more substantial than merely fast food. I finally stopped at a sort of skanky-looking pub called Kelly's Inn, but then I've often found that, pub-wise, a skanky exterior sometimes disguises some halfway-decent local colour.

Walking in, we went abruptly from skanky to skeezy, and for a moment I feared for my life as the denizens -- a group of guys slumped around a table crowded with empties, all of whom made the Trailer Park Boys look like the cast of Seventh Heaven -- swivelled the heads to stare at me. No, there was no food to be had here (thank god). The one woman at the table, who I took to be the one actual employee of the place, helpfully made some eating suggestions, and I exited as nonchalantly as I could.

And found myself a mere block or so away at a lovely little bistro called the Bluefish, eating braised BBQ beef on a crusty bun with a garden salad. Talk about going to extremes.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the drive was quite pleasant, and I made very good time ... it only started to drag a bit toward the end, in the last hour or two as I made my way to the south-western extremity of Newfoundland. It was at this point that the weather changed rather dramatically: where the temperature had oscillated between about eighteen and twenty degrees all day, it suddenly dropped to seven, and I found myself driving through a chill, acrid fog that got thicker as the sun went down. Driving at ten o'clock from the Hotel Port-aux-Basques to the ferry docks was a wee bit scary, as there were no streetlights, and the rain that was falling through the now-impenetrable fog did not wash off the dead bugs on my windshield so much as smear them in a translucent film that diffused what light there was into bewildering hazy shapes.

But I made it, and after a short wait was loaded onto the ferry. I very fortunately had a cabin, and so slept the way across.

One of the typical views to which you're treated through the eastern half of the island:

A tunnel of birches:

An initial view of the more mountainous west coast:

Departed St. John's: 8:20 am
Price of gas: $1.20/L
Arrived Grand Falls-Windsor: 1:00 pm
Departed: 1:45 pm
Arrived Corner Brook: 4:15
Departed: 4:45
Arrived Port-aux-Basques: 6:45

Total Driving Time: Eight hours, forty minutes
Total Mileage: 928 km

Arrived at ferry docks: 10:20 pm
Boarded ferry: 10:45

Day 2 - Sunday, May 7
North Sydney to Edmundston

I was woken up in my cabin at 6:30 by the announcement that we would be pulling into the docks in an hour; so I dozed for another twenty minutes, and was in the process of getting myself together when the half-hour warning came on. I dragged myself out of my cabin and down to the cafeteria to wake myself up with a coffee that tasted something like warmed-over battery acid while the gray water slid by outside. I was rainy and foggy still, and would be all the way through Cape Breton.

There's something very cool about driving on and off ferries. I'm not entirely sure what the novelty about it is, unless it's the odd feeling of "docking" your car with a larger vessel ... sort of like boarding the mother ship or something. Anyway, there was a sort of sense of satisfaction in watching the vehicles beside me driving off and down the ramp onto the highway, and then following them myself.

The fog and the wet lasted exactly as long as Cape Breton lasted -- emerging as I did finally into sunshine just before the Canso Causeway that takes you across to the mainland. It was a bit of a shame that the beautiful Cape Breton landscape was shrouded in fog, but there was something haunting about it, too ... making it rememble Scotland just that much more, perhaps.

The drive to Edmundston was pretty uneventful. I stopped for food and gas in Amherst, just short of the New Brunswick border, and for gas again in Fredericton. I had planned to play this leg of the journey by ear -- to see how tired I was before pushing on past Fredericton. I was feeling pretty energized still however, and so decided to go for it and make for Edmundston, almost right on the Quebec border.

It was a long drive, but it didn't feel long ... I spent much of it with the music turned off, just sort of being in my head and thinking. The Trans-Canada through New Brunswick parallels a series of long lakes connected by rivers, and I couldn't help thinking that the highway's architects wanted us to think of the original water routes that explorers had to take ... barrelling along at speeds unimaginable only a century ago, it's rather humbling to think of how much we take the ease of travel for granted. My most significant preparation for travel, besides packing, was to buy a cell phone in the event of a flat tire or similar breakdown ... an inconvenience of a few hours, as opposed to the catastrophes of weather and landscape and food stores that confronted our predecessors. (Though given the predominant food offerings along the way, scurvy could still be a very real factor).

I made it into Edmundston at 5:30, and holed up for the evening in a Comfort Inn that was perched on a promontory like a castle or fortress.

If I owned that particular franchise, I would consider dressing it up like a castle or a fortress ... it could become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Drove off ferry into North Sydney: 7:50 am (7:20 local)
Price of gas: $1.16
Arrived Amherst: 11:45 am
Departed: 12:30 pm
Arrived Fredericton: 2:30 pm
Price of gas: $1.14
Departed: 3:00
Arrived Edmundston: 5:30 pm

Total Driving Time: nine hours, fifty-five minutes
Total Distance: 955 km

More tomorrow!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Across the Rock

I write this entry on the computer in the lobby of the Port-aux-Basque Hotel. Pulling into Corner Brook -- where I'd planned to spend the night, then push on to Port-aux-Basque tomorrow to catch the evening ferry -- at 4:15, it occurred to me that I had made great time, the weather was amazing and it was too bad I didn't have the ferry booked for tonight. And then I remembered -- bookings can be changed! What a wonderful world we live in.

So I called Marine Atlantic and switched my ferry ticket to tonight, hopped back in the car ... and here I am. Killing time in a hotel bar doing the Globe crossword and looking out at a very foggy night.

I'd been told by numerous people that the drive across the Rock along the Trans-Canada is mind-numbingly dull, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise. Oh, don't get me wrong -- there are some painfully long sections of forested blandness, but they are fortunately punctuated by some lovely scenery. The drive is such that you frequently catch glimpses of picturesque inlets and coves and lakes; it's kind of like Ontario cottage country for about the first two thirds, and then once you're into the more mountainous western region starting around Deer Lake, it becomes more consistently beautiful. Pictures to come.

As I said, I made good time ... I looked up three different estimates for the duration of the drive from St. John's to Corner Brook: MapQuest, Google Maps, and the time/distance guide on my Rand McNally map of Newfoundland. MapQuest was the closest to the actual time it took me at 7:44. Google and Rand McNally, on the other hand, would seem base their estimates on the likelihood of the driver being a 90-year-old man driving an antiquated Dodge Dart: 9:56 and 9:11, respectively.

My driving time, not counting stops? 6:40. Add a further two hours even on that from Corner Brook to Port-aux-Basque, and I fell just short of a nine-hour day of driving. And yet, it flew by. Quite the pleasant outing, if I do say.

Plus, I saw a moose.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Thoughts before departure

On the eve of departing for Ontario, I find myself reflective. Leaving somewhere for three months requires a lot of thought, particularly when a significant part of my transportables consists of research materials. One way or another, I know there's a significant book or file I've left behind ... but then, I guess that's what libraries are for.

It feels odd, returning to London for such a long stretch of time. It will feel even odder, I'm sure, going back in August, as I'll be returning to St. John's at more or less the exact same time a when I first arrived in the city last year. Full circle.

As for now, the feeling is that of a year come to an end, my first year at MUN and my first year as tenure-track faculty. What's heartening is that I leave this school year extremely excited about next year's prospects ... heartening that after the growing pains, hard lessons and occasional near-exhaustion of the past eight months, I'm not looking at this summer as recuperation so much as simply continuing on a somewhat different tangent.

I feel as though I switched gears mentally at some point, and finally shifted out of the part-time mentality that by necessity worries incessantly about the next period of employment and, because of that, has difficulty visualizing long range plans. Or, I suppose I shouldn't generalize: that's how my mind worked in that situation.

(As an aside, I was quite surprised by the quasi-firestorm my entry on tenure issues touched off. Kind of cool, actually -- I never know what subject matter is going to push buttons. I do love starting a vigorous debate! A number of people here who follow my blog were quite intrigued by the whole interchange).

Anyway ... part of the reason I'm stoked about next year is that we're starting to see the faculty turnover happening in a serious way. MUN's Department of English is seeing twelve full-time faculty retiring in the next three years, this on the heels of some more substantial retirements that have happened in the years previously. We've hired a new Americanist (yay!) with whom I'm looking forward to working; and we had the great good fortune of having a spousal hiring dropped in our lap (for the non-academic: when someone with a spouse in academia is hired into a tenure-track position, he or she can make the hiring of their partner into whatever is his/her discipline a part of the contract negotiations; such hires, when and if they go through, do not cost the home department anything and do not count against future hiring considerations). In this case, MUN's Math department wanted to hire a new professor who happens to be married to a friend of mine, whith whom I'd done my MA at U of T. Nancy, a protege of Linda Hutcheon, is a remarkable young scholar (I look at her CV and suddenly feel the intense need to work 20-hour days), and an extraordinarily cool person too.

So the posse forms. Next year we'll be hiring (we hope) at least two, preferably three new people ... and after that? It's an odd feeling to know that by the time I qualify for tenure, I'll effectively be senior faculty.

Also, we've been interviewing candidates for the position of Dean of Arts, all of whom have to deliver a public presentation to the faculty. My thoughts of late have been turning to issues of curriculum and change anyway ... but listening to these people coming through has added a certain amount of fire to these thoughts.

This, I think, is the best part of this job -- by which I mean this job at MUN specifically, as opposed to academia generally -- that is, that the radical change and renewal that is happening at universities across the country is particularly magnified here. And I get to be a part of that.

Which is a comfort, knowing that I'll have a lot on my mind as I drive the 24+ hours from St. John's to London ... I'll have a lot to think about.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Leeaaavin' ... on a jet plane

Not me, but Clarence ... this was my last view of him this morning at about 5:30am as the Air Canada Cargo guy took him away to await boarding his 7:15 flight to Toronto. The poor guy! He looked simply bewildered as he was carted off. I felt like Dr. Mengele.

But as it happens, he made the flight without incident, and my Dad picked him up at Pearson this morning. Apparently, he's still a little freaked out ... when my Mom got home from work and tried to pat him, he ran off to hide under their bed. Very un-Clarence like behaviour. He's usually a suck for the affection, and when he's not he lets you know with his claws. Not a run-and-hide kind of cat.

Though I miss him already, there's an upside in that as I clean my apartment in preparation for leaving, he's not underfoot. Any time I scrub the bathtub or do any similar kind of cleaning here, he's right at my elbow, getting in the way, watching what I'm doing with fascination. It's almost as if he's unaccustomed to seeing me engaging in such activities ...

I leave on Saturday, not to return until August ... spending the balance of the summer back in London, ON. This, as I've said before, is the sweetest part of the full-time gig: the fact that when I received my teaching assignment this time last year, the summer term was simply designated "research." It will be the first time in recent memory that I haven't had to worry about summer teaching to pay the bills. Three months (well, three and a half -- two and a half in London, one in St. John's, and two weeks in between to take in the sights in a more leisurely fashion when driving back out) of dedicated research time! Be still my heart.

So, I get to get reacquainted with the Weldon Library and, more importantly, I get to make use of the Grad Club again. And while I'm there I will be scheming to figure out a way to uproot it by the foundations and have it shipped to MUN.

So all that remains is the packing and the cleaning and getting my subletter settled in. And then -- road trip! Two days across the Rock, then three to TO with a stop at Montreal along the way. I'll have my digicam handy and keep a photo journal along the way ... hopefully I can fin hotels with wireless so I can post while en route, as opposed to all at once at the end ....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stephen Colbert should have a constellation named after him

Oh. My. God.

Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner? It rivals Jon Stewart on Crossfire.

"I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out of plastic for three cents a unit."

"So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, 'Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.' First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!"