Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hairwatch: day 61, plus Halloween meditations

I have to say, now that the patchy bits above my temples are getting less obvious, I'm liking the do right now -- and I've gotten enough compliments to make me overcome the lingering misgivings. We might be keeping it at this length for a while.

(And for those who are concerned about such things, no, I am not growing back the goatee -- I just need a shave.)

Happy Halloween, all ... driving home from campus tonight I passed the hordes of wee ghouls and goblins out looking for candy. It was raining and cold, and yet there they were -- and so today's Non Sequitur cartoon seemed apt for the climate and context in which I live:

See, this is how I know that I've irrevocably reached adulthood -- steamed clams and lobster claws would be quite welcome in my Halloween loot bag. Though I might find myself complaining "Where are the damned mussels, lady?"

(On the same lines, I stopped at the liquor store on the way home to grab a bottle of wine and was suffused with the desire to walk up to the clerk and shout "Trick or treat!" with an empty plastic bag outstretched ... if that didn't get me arrested in and of itself, when I returned with the moral obligation to toilet-paper the store ... well, I've never seen a Newfoundland SWAT team in action, and don't really care to).

Unfortunately, I did not myself dress up this year -- which makes it now four years since I've done the costume thing. This must change! I miss dressing up ... and one day, I swear it, I will in fact emerge on Halloween night dressed as Postmodernism Man -- fighting for schizophrenia, pastiche, and incredulity to metanarratives everywhere!

I just have to figure out what that would look like, and it's all good.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

On notice!

That's it. I'm mad as hell and I'm just not going to take it anymore!

On notice:

Oh, and please join me on the bandwagon:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Old friends

Looking back now, I think it was at the leading edge of the SSHRC stress that I found myself without any new reading material. I had all my stuff that I needed to read for teaching, all the stuff that I was feverishly working through for the research proposal, but I suddenly found myself sans bedtime reading that was unrelated to both. Sometime immediately prior to when the grant-writing started to take over my life I read The Nine Planets by Edward Riche, a gift from my friend and colleague Danine and a brilliant little satire on the political/literary scene here in St. John's (and only my second genuine sampling of Newfoundland Lit -- I really have to get on that at some point) ... but after that I had no book waiting for me. And as the SSHRC ridiculousness grew, I became really quite frantic for some reading that would take me away from all that.

So I did what I frequently do, which is to grab some old standbys off the shelf and sit them on my night table -- because what I was really looking for was something to read in the half hour or so before I fall asleep.

My first grab was one of my favourite books by one of my favourite SF writers -- The Kraken Wakes, by John Wyndham. That's a name everyone will probably know from grade 9 English: The Chrysalids, anyone? But work past the instinctive high school anti-nostalgia there. Wyndham doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves, to a large extent (I do believe) because we all have to suffer through The Chrysalids in grade 9. But really, give the man a chance. The Chrysalids, when you get down to it, is a pretty decent book. The Day of the Triffids is even betters, and The Midwich Cuckoos is downright creepy. And for those arachniphobes, try out Web: a story about a group of people attempting to found a utopian society on a deserted South Sea island, only to discover that it is ruled by a species of spider that hunts in packs.

But to my mind, the best of the lot is The Kraken Wakes. This is the story of an alien invasion ... an alien species that comes from a planet with (we assume) a masively higher atmospheric pressure than ours. So they colonize the Deeps -- the deepest parts of our oceans, and then slowly assert their dominance over two-thirds of the Earth's surface. It took me years to find a used copy of this novel, because it was out of print. No longer -- when in TO over Thanksgiving, I wandered into The World's Biggest Bookstore, and found that it has be re-issued. Read it. A great dystopian yarn.

But, as with all JohnWyndham's novels, it is not that long, and I soon needed to find more bedtime reading. So I have been returning to one of my favourite crafters of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell. You might know him as the creator of the "Sharpe" novels -- a series of stories set in the Penninsular War that follow the adventures of one Richard Sharpe, a British officer promoted from the ranks by none other than the Duke of Wellington himself.

Cornwell is a master of retelling military history in fictional form. Sharpe's tales take us from the Battle of Talevera to Waterloo and, while somewhat formulaic, are always entertaining and educational.

Alas, though I once owned most of this series, most of them have been loaned or given away. I did still possess two titles however, and they were distracting for a few days. Meanwhile, I have ordered the BBC film verions over Zip.ca, and have been watching those -- some pretty cool made-for-TV movies starring the incomparable Sean Bean as Sharpe (muskets, villainous French, silly hats -- what's not to like?).

My sole two Sharpe novels dispensed with, I stayed with Cornwell, whose ability to produce prolific historical novels of some quality makes me hate him. The Sharpe novels were just his first sally into fiction -- he has also written a four-book series set in the American Civil War, a novel about Stonehenge, a trilogy about an English longbowman during the Hundred Years War, a still ongoing series about the Viking raids on the British coast, and -- my favourites -- a trilogy of novels about King Arthur.

This is what I am now working (or re-working) through. Collected under the moniker "The Warlord Chronicles," the novels The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur re-imagine the Arthurian legends from a rigorously historical perspective. Granting the premise that there was a British leader named Arthur in the fifth century, Cornwell tries to imagine what he might have been like. The Romans have been gone from Britain for several decades: they leave behind their roads, villas, and forts, but the technology they used to build them is a mystery to the British; Christians infest the landscape, trying to shoulder out the British gods; the remnants of the Druidic orders, Merlin among them, fight to re-establish the old religion and reconnect with the old gods; and the Saxons increasingly encroach on British territory, invading from the east. Arthur is the last, best hope: not a king or even a knight, but a warlord whose dream of a peaceful, united Britain flies in the face of the invading Saxons, the internecine rivalries of the British tribes, and Merlin's own vision of a Britain given back to the old gods.

I remembered some time after delving again into The Winter King the pleasure of revisiting well-trodden books. Old friends.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Friendly plugs

Two shout-outs to some of my London peoples today. First, a great big over-the-internet hug to Jo Devereux, who recently sent me all the publicity material for Mrs. Warren's Profession, this november's Big Show for UWO's English Department ... which Jo of course happens to be directing.

Brave woman. I directed a play by George Bernard Shaw once, and barely lived to tell the tale. Mind you, I do sort of blame Jo for that. I wanted her to play Lady Britomart in Major Barbara, but she was "too busy." Please.

So, for all those of you back in London, go see Mrs. Warren's Profession. As far as Shaw goes, it's far less wordy and onerous than most of his plays. It's the story of an unrepetent prostitute and madam (Mrs. Warren) who uses her considerable wealth from the world's oldest profession to send her daughter to school and essentially buy her a respectable middle-class life. And of course in Shaw's hands, it's a lively and very funny dialogue about wealth, morality and capital.

Also, Jo will do a great job with it. It's running at Talbot Theatre on campus from Oct. 27-28 and Nov. 2-4, 8pm, tickets $10 at the door.

In other news, I got an email the other day from Mulligan letting me know he has joined the blogosphere with a site he calls Three Leaves Falling -- a name whose significance I have yet to glean. Apparently it's the handle with which he comments on friends' blogs. I was unaware he comments on friends' blogs, as he never seems to have left his imprimatur on this one. And yes, I'm very hurt.

Nevertheless, I choke back my pain and point to the masthead to the right, where Sean joins the ranks of blogs this blog calls friends. It seems to be a meditation on things philosophical, but I wouldn't let that stop you.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ninety-six hours

Ninety-six hours -- that is precisely the time that elapsed between walking out my door on thursday morning at 4:15am to go catch my flight to Kingston, and walking back into my place at 4:15 this morning after my flight landed at 3:30. A weird symmetry, wouldn't you say?

So I'm back ... four days in Kingston, ON (would that it had been Kingston Jamaica, but I just haven't been all that good at picking conferences in exotic locales). All in all, a very good conference. I would have given my eye teeth not to have gone last Wednesday, but as is the way of these things it proved quite enjoyable and (academically) profitable. And at least I have proven to myself that, as long as I happen to be presenting my paper toward the end of the conference, I can leave with one-fifth of it written and be good to go when the bell rings (though I was literally writing my conclusion at the lectern ten minutes before my session started -- I'm going to feel like such a hypocrite when I run the session on conference paper writing for our grad students this year and sternly warn them to have it finished well before departure ... hopefully none of them find this blog before then).

I feel rejuvenated. SSHRC knocked me out well beyond what is reasonable to be knocked out by such an ordeal -- which is part of the reason I was behind the eight-ball on the conference paper -- but I cancelled classes for today and spent the afternoon recuperating. As luck would have it, I had a slew of DVDs in my mailbox today courtesy of Zip.ca and Kristen, so I've spent my time today watching Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night and the shows K burned for me between catching up on email. And now I feel ready for the semester's second half.

Speaking of good TV, I think I inadvertently made my name for myself among the various delegates at the Canadian Association for American Studies by mentioning Buffy in passing during a question period. There had been a keynote address about witch-hunting in American history, and later, asking a question about I paper on Martha Stewart, I just mentioned in passing -- apropos of nothing -- the episode in which Anya identifies The Martha as a witch, claiming "no one could possibly do that much macrame without invoking the powers of darkness!" Everyone laughed, it relaxed the room, we moved on to more serious matters.

The thing is, for the rest of the conference I kept having people come up to me and say, "Hey, you're the guy that asked the Buffy question!" And we're not just talking grad students, but tenured professors here. I got the knowing nod in the hallway between sessions ... the acknowledgment from fellow academics of being in the Buffy club. It's like being given a masonic handshake.

Interestingly enough, that incident wasn't the only Martha reference on the show. Trying to find the exact wording of the quote (I got it a bit wrong in the session), I found this one:

Cordelia: When did you become Martha Stewart?
Buffy: First of all, Martha Stewart knows jack about hand-cut prosciutto.
Xander: I don't believe she slays, either.
Oz: Oh, I hear she can, but she doesn't like to.

I might have a career at this.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The new digs

So once again, I'm a bad blogger. I'll do my best to post a new Top Five Tuesday next week, but if I fail again, it might be time to put that particular idea out to pasture.

I should probably post today however, if for no other reason than that I'm heading to Kingston tomorrow for a conference (thus maintaining my streak of attending conferences in exotic locales) for four days, and am uncertain of what my internet access with be like. Hopefully there will be wireless in my hotel room. Should that prove amenable, I may even post pics from the conference! Because I know that all you papparazzi followers simply LIVE for pictures from academic conferences on American exceptionalism ...

In other news however, I can finally post pictures of my new office, in all its resplendent colourful glory:

No, your eyes do not deceive you -- that is in fact colour you see on the walls of a university office. I'm still not entirely sure how I managed to finagle that, but I sure ain't complaining. I've been dying to have an office with genuine colour forever.

There's the added bonus that it's almost twice as big as my old one. Seriously. When it was still empty, I felt as though I could play raquetball in here. Maybe I still will ...

At any rate, I do have a fairly steady stream of people who stop and poke their heads in in astonishment at the green -- and I encourage them in no uncertain terms to demand colour on the walls of their offices. I hope to be in the vanguard of a revolution.

It still needs some decorating, but then I'm not in a rush ... I imagine I'll be in this office for a good while, so I figure I'll take my time and do it well. One investment I'm definitely making is a floor lamp or two, and a nice desk lamp ... at which point I'll be able to turn off the flourescent lights forever.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Done done done done

Well, today has felt like the final episode in a season of 24. True to form, my SSHRC application came right down to the wire, and I found myself running hither and yon getting all the signatures I need so that I could get it to the office of research in time for them to include in their mass shipment to Ottawa. Had I missed that, I'd be couriering it myself to get it to its destination by the end of business Monday.

To compound things, I have moved into my new office, which has not had (1) internet, (2) a working phone, and (3) a printer that doesn't leave huge blotches in the middle of the page.

(this last one isn't the fault of the office, but a printer cartridge I need to replace).

Given that part of the SSHRC application has to be completed online, and I'm probably not impressing anyone with a blotchy application, so I spent the better part of today working out of friends' offices.

Of course, now that the application is done and submitted (yes, let's say that louder, it's DONE and SUBMITTED, the beast is DEAD! Hail to the King, baby ...), my internet connection has decided to work. I feel as though I am the victim of a massive conspiracy of technological objects.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A very Morgan Thanksgiving

I'm a bad blogger of late, I do admit. I've missed two Top 5 Tuesdays in a row, and haven't yet given my postmortem on the whole TV appearance thing (aside from obsessing over mannerisms, of course). But then, this past weekend was Thanksgiving, and I was in TO for the festivities -- seeing Kristen, my family, and of course the wee Morgan. Who is getting less wee by the second, and whose walking abilities grow apace. I spent the better part of an hour on monday afternoon watching her chug back and forth over my brother's living room with her popcorn-popper. Pure entertainment. As Matt commented, "Yeah ... we don't watch TV any more."

Look at that face!

Hmm ... something as of yet un-childproofed ...

Under Mom's watchful eye ...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mannerisms I have that I was only vaguely aware of, but now which, having seen myself on TV, I will be very self-conscious about

1. Counting off points of discussion on my fingers.

2. The exent to which saying "umm ..." figures in my verbal thought processes.

3. Leaning my head back and to the right and staring off into middle distance as I try to frame a statement.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stay tuned

Well, this is it folks ... tonight at 8:30 ET on Bravo, I make my television debut. I'll keeping track of my screen time so that I know how much of my fifteen minutes of fame are left afterward.

I'll either come across as reasonably smart, or as a complete knob. I don't think there will be much space in between ... so by all means, enjoy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The grant proposal that wouldn't end

Believe it or not, I'm still up to my eyeballs in SSHRC. I have SSHRC-for-brains. I'm a SSHRChead. You wouldn't believe the SSHRC that goes on around here.

Fortunately, the deadline for submission is, to say the least, a soft deadline. The applications go out mid-october, but we need to get them into our department first ... and that deadline was this past monday, but our grants officer is just as happy if I take an extra day or two, as she's already up to her eyeballs vetting the applications she's already received.

But I'm almost done. Seriously, I'm now talking end of business today. I'm reasonably sure.

In other news, I'm going to be moving offices soon. When two vacated offices came on the market, I put my name in ... but given my utter lack of seniority, I figured they'd be snatched up by profs higher on the food chain. In the end? Not so much -- people seem pretty happy with the offices they have, and I certainly wouldn't have bothered if it weren't for the fact that the office I nabbed is, swear to god, twice as big as my current one.

AND -- I managed to get it painted an actual colour! That's right. A colour. Goodbye institutional white. They put the second coat on yesterday, so my new digs are good to go. I brought my digicam to campus, so I will be documenting the moving-in process.

Any guesses to what colour it's been painted? Stay tuned.