Friday, December 14, 2007

Thoughts on shovels and pipes and the joys of home ownership

"You shovel like a champion ... but that doesn't make you a superhero."
--Mystery Men

Well, I beg to differ ....

In case we weren't sure before, winter decided to make its presence rather emphatically known yesterday, and I was treated to my inaugural digging-out-the-car-after-the-plough-has-been-past.

Conflicting thoughts running through my head as I spent over an hour bending my back to the task: "Good thing I don't have a nine o'clock class this morning"; "Why couldn't this happen when I have a nine o'clock class I could cancel?"

Ah well ... next term, I'm sure there will be a number of cancellation opportunities. I suppose I could make a point of getting up an hour earlier, but that doesn't seem likely.

Thought running through my head this morning when I saw that the plough had deposited a fresh load of snow against my car: "Sysiphus had it easy."

Still, I was quite proud of my shovelling, and made a point of taking some before and after pictures.

Further contradictory thoughts running through my head mid-shovelling: "Wow, I really need to get back to the gym." "If this happens frequently, I'll never need to go to the gym again."

And in the category of "Sometimes Stupidity Reaps Unexpected Benefits": When I came outside to take the "after" photos, I accidentally locked myself out of the house. D'oh! But fortunately my neighbour with my spare key was home. My front door has proved difficult of late, not accepting the key when it freezes up; not wishing to stand outside with my hands over the doorknob until it thawed, I let myself in through my back door.

My back door leads into my sun room, which is not well insulated. I opened the door to an odd hissing noise. Then I saw the water pooled on the floor. Then I saw the burst pipe near the floor that was gushing water about a foot up the wall. Then I dissolved in despair and panic.

Thoughts running through my head upon seeing the burst pipe: "Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck."

Locking myself out was actually a stroke of luck ... I'd been planning at that point to leave for the day, and conceivably would not have noticed the burst pipe for hours.

My sunroom has a door in the floor that leads down to my basement/crawlspace, which is also where the shutoff valve is ... which, as I discovered, lacks a knob but is instead a short piece of metal with stripped threading. The water at this point was cascading down in a rather impressive waterfall that I had to duck through several times to get the water shut off.

Interesting mathematical equation: sweat from exertion of shovelling + uninsulated room + cold water + 1.5 hours of heavy shovelling = really really sore back this morning.

I took a picture for posterity's sake, but it unfortunately doesn't show the water well. If you look closely you can see the ripples in the deep puddle at the base of the stairs.

At any rate, I guess you could say it was an eventful day, with several important lessons -- the first one being, keep the heater on in the sun room, however much more I'll be spending on my hydro bill this winter.

The second one is that I should have become a plumber. $160 for five minutes work replacing the pipe. I'm tempted to calculate what my hourly wage worked out to this past semester, but I think it will just make me depressed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Another great thing about CBC One ...

... is that occasionally you flip it on in the car to join it mid-sentence. Such as this evening, when I heard:

" ... a study to ascertain why pregnant women are so difficult to tip over."

I love the human-interest pot-pourri that our national broadcaster treats us to.

Said study, as it turned out, was to come at the end of a program, and I missed it while having dinner with friends. If I may speculate on the study's findings, however: "After lengthy clinical trials, scientists have concluded that weebles wobble, but they don't fall down."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The saga of the backhoe

One of the greatest changes wrought in my daily life in moving from an apartment into my own house has been the banishment of television to the fringes of my day. Instead of putting the television set in the living room downstairs, I put it in the third bedroom upstairs. The upshot of this rather simple shift is that I watch far less television, simply by dint of the fact that it is no longer the center of my principal living space.

In both the two-bedroom condo I rented for my first two years here in St. John's and the one-bedroom apartment I lived in for my last few years in London, I had open-concept kitchens and a living space that centered around the living room. Not being someone fond of silence while making dinner or otherwise puttering around the apartment, the TV tended to be on a lot -- not necessarily something I was focused on or even paying more than passing attention, but still an inescapable presence. It was particularly bad at my condo on LeMarchant here in St. John's, especially after the busier parts of the semester when I'd get home and become one with my couch.

Since moving into the house and banishing the TV to the upstairs, I have replaced the drone of the tube with CBC Radio One ... and let me tell you, I don't think I have had more entertainment from any medium than when I have taken days to work at home and followed the various building news stories from across Newfoundland -- the most recent of which was the saga of the ATM robbery that recently occurred just outside St. John's by Paddy's Pond, in which the entire machine was lifted and carted off.

The hourly news updates kept me posted as the day went on, from the initial report of the missing ATM as I had my morning coffee, to speculations an hour later on how an ATM could be stolen, with various theories being advanced. One report noted that there had been a backhoe stolen somewhere on Kenmount Road ... could there be a connection? And then! Some time just before lunch, it was reported that a backhoe had been discovered partially submerged in the Manuels River. The RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) acknowledged that it might be the backhoe stolen from Kenmount Road, and might well also be the tool used to steal the ATM ... but the spokesman demurred any further speculation, stating firmly that at the present moment, there was no solid evidence to connect the abandoned backhoe to either theft.

See, this is why we need a CSI: Newfoundland. I suggest Rick Mercer in the Gil Grissom role, with Mary Walsh as his Number Two and Shaun Majumder as the geeky put-upon lab tech. But only if it could air on CBC Radio One.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


We had our first messy winter day yesterday ... not a massive dump of snow, but still enough to remind me of a key lesson of the Newfoundland winter: always have whatever work you need to be doing on you.

I woke up yesterday to a white neighbourhood and the sound of the wind blowing the snow sideways. It would have been a perfect day to work at home, to make coffee and camp out at the dining room table with my ongoing stack of marking ... except that I'd left that in the office. Ack. So I slogged up to campus, but quickly turned around again when all I could see was white out my office window. I have learned from hard experience that when visibility goes down to zero, it is best to vacate the office before the snow accumulates to levels best negotiated by tracked vehicles. Fortunately, it did not come to that -- the weather was clearing by the time I got home -- but it was pleasant to spend the rest of the day at the dining room table with tea and comfort food to take the edge off the grading process.

I should add that we got off easy in St. John's. The Bonavista Penninsula got absolutely creamed by a blizzard that knocked out electricity, and kept it out for over twenty-four hours -- and in some places, it's still not up and running. So I don't think I'll complain (much) about the few inches of snow I shovelled off my walk this morning.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Deep, deep disappointment ...

About half a dozen of my students are currently on exchange in England at our campus at Harlow. They make frequent day trips into London, and I ask you, none of them was there for this:

U2 play surprise gig in London
Band dust off rare track for acoustic show
NME, November 23, 2007

U2's Bono and The Edge played a surprise gig tonight (November 23) at London's Union Chapel. Playing as part of Mencap's Little Noise Sessions, the duo surprised the audience with a four song set which included rare track 'Wave Of Sorrow'. The identity of the 'special guests' was shrouded in mystery when introduced by host Jo Whiley as "a new band with a lot of potential: "Dave the guitarist is very nervous...If he makes a mistake forgive him, he's new. The singer is very shy."

The band opened with 'Zooropa' track 'Stay (Faraway, So Close)' with Bono reading the lyrics off a sheet on a music stand. The singer changed the lyrics: "You can go anywhere/ Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast and Berlin" to " You can go anywhere / Miami, New Orleans, Belfast and Islington," which was met by roars of approval from the crowd. After the track finished The Edge said : "I hope you like our new direction."

Launching into 'Desire', Bono ad libbed parts of INXS' 'Need You Tonight' into the track. He sang the lyrics "I've got to let you know / You're one of my kind." He started clapping before taking out a harmonica to play on the track's distinctive finish. Bono introduced 'Angel Of Harlem' by saying : "This is our only Christmas song." After a false start which saw the singer sing the start of 'Like A Rolling Stone' by Bob Dylan over The Edge's riff, the duo continued.

Bono then introduced the next track by saying : "So about 20 years ago we started a tune on 'The Joshua Tree' and yesterday we just finished it. This song is based on the experiences that my lovely wife Ali had in Ethiopia. You forget that this was the land of the Queen Of Sheeba...I was 25 and it was an extraordinary time to be there ... It was an overwhelming experience. This (song) has never been played before. Just don't tell Larry (Mullen) and Adam (Clayton) we're doing it ... Oh Adam's here! This is for you sir."

They played 'Wave Of Sorrow' with The Edge playing the keyboards. Bono said : "Thanks for being so generous," and The Edge said: "I hope you didn't notice there were a few mistakes but I was told that was okay...I felt the love."

I am deeply, deeply disappointed that none of my students serendipitously happened to be at exactly the right place at exactly the right time to witness something I had no idea was happening to watch a band they probably don't like and send me pictures.

Obviously, I have failed in my pedagogical mission to inculcate young minds with a nigh-clairvoyant obsession with U2 that allows them to sense when and where the band will play surprise gigs. So much for getting tenure, now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Adventures in the local cuisine

It's been a comfort food type of weekend here in St. John's, with a grey and rainy saturday and a bright but cold sunday, the kind of weekend where I spend more time in my pyjamas than not. And while in an ideal situation that entails sitting in front of a fireplace with a favourite book, I alas have no fireplace and instead have a mountain of essays to grade. It is probably good that I do not have the former when I have the latter. (To any of my students stumbling across this blog entry: that was a joke. I hardly, hardly EVER think about burning essays. Hardly.)

Still, it is very pleasant to lounge around the house on a chilly sunday when dinner is cooking away in the crock pot over a slow nine hours. I love my slow cooker. I camped out at the dining room table all day with the aforementioned stack of grading and multiple pots of tea while the stew I prepared at ten o'clock this morning filled the house with its savoury, peppery fragrance (I like pepper in my stews).

The above picture, alas, doesn't do my stew justice ... in fact, it looks a little gross. I need smell-o-vision.

At seven pm the buzzer went off and I ladled out a bowl of one of my favourite comfort foods for a cold evening, beef stew. And to get just the exact measure of comfort, it must be served on top of a slice of white bread (the kind that's really bad for you -- I'm talking wonderbread here), with a second slice put aside to sop up the juices after.

But the carb level in this stew was somewhat higher than usual, thanks to the addition of a local ingredient I bought recently on a whim and have been since stumped as to how to use it. I'm referring here to hard bread, or "brewis," a staple of the traditional Newfoundland cuisine left over from the days before refridgeration.

Now, I have to explain something: I have now read a respectable number of novels of Newfoundland historical fiction, and one of the recurrent meals mentioned is "salt fish and brewis." I think it's one of those things you have to include (a lot) if you want to be seen as writing authentic historical fiction about Newfoundland. And when I walk past Velma's Restaurant on Water Street, a homey little eatery specializing in traditional Newfoundland fare, "fish and brewis" is there on the menu (alongside the cod tongues, jigs dinner, lassy mogs and figgy duff ... no, don't ask).

The trouble is, I've never had any frickin' clue what "brewis" is, and I certainly never connected it with the bright red bags labelled "Purity Hard Bread" that are ubiquitous in all the grocery stores here.* That was, until I bought a bag out of sheer curiosity.

Now let's be clear on something: to call this product "hard bread" is misleading. Really, to be accurate, it should be named "rock bread" or "titanium bread" and come with warnings that this product should never never be used as a weapon, for it might cause serious harm.

I've read enough C.S. Forester novels to know that the British Navy subsisted on hard biscuit that they would have to dip in water to make them even gnaw-on-able, but my first attempt to nibble on a piece of Purity hard bread probably would have led to an emergency dentist's visit had I persisted. Happily, the instructions are pretty clearly and neatly laid out on the bag: break up bread into smaller chunks (I have, fortunately, a very serviceable cleaver), and soak overnight (at least) in water. Keeping them in the soaking water, bring them to a near boil -- but stopping short of an actual boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

See, here's the thing: they were kind of yummy. I was pleasantly surprised. Even after sixteen hours of soaking and then being nearly boiled, there was substance enough to the bread to be al dente, and while bland in and of themselves, a little salt and pepper -- and, I discovered, a few dashes of white vinegar -- made for a nice snack. Now, the full preparation as described on the bag called for the preparation of scrunchions, another traditional Newfoundland dish -- fried pieces of pork fat -- along with a gravy made from the drippings, plus the requisite salt fish.

I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. The pork fat gravy, maybe, but my preferred way to eat salt cod is fried in a fish cake or in a fish chowder.

HOWEVER ... While preparing the stew this morning, it occurred to me that hard bread, broken up sufficiently small, might make for a nice addition to the stew's broth -- sort of like dumplings, but with a bit more substance. And what do you know? Nine hours of simmering sped up the soaking process, and the bread absorbed the broth to become very flavourful ... it almost made my requisite slices of white bread redundant. Almost.

Sometimes when I think of my alternative academic paths, I imagine I might have become a military history. On days like today, I think perhaps a food anthropologist ... like so much else here in Newfoundland, the traditional cuisine speaks more powerfully to a concrete, lived history than almost anywhere else I have ever been. Hard bread, or "hard tack" as it's also called, is of course a holdover from the days when baking aboard ship was simply impossible. Brewis (which gets its name from the process of breaking it up for soaking, or "bruising" the bread) would not spoil for weeks, indeed months. And in a place of deep, isolating winters, a large stock of hard bread would keep a family in good stead for a very long time. That it is still so ubiquitous in massive corporate grocery chains here makes me happy.


*A note for mainlanders: "Purity" is a traditional Newfoundland company specializing in baked goods, of which hard bread is merely one of many offerings. Walking into a Dominion Superstore here is pretty much like walking into one anywhere in Canada, which is why I'm always cheered when, upon walking down the cookies & crackers aisle, I am presented with a wide span of shelves all in the trademark deep red of the Purity products, such as the "Jam-Jams" and their quite excellent cream crackers. It is the grocery store equivalent of walking into a liquor store here and seeing an entire wall given over to Lamb's Rum. Seriously.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The every morning drama

One of my grad students, Ruth, sent me this video -- it's something anyone who is owned by a cat can empathize with.

Though I'm removing blunt objects from my room after watching it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Autumn in St. John's

Today was one of those brilliant St. John's autumn days that approaches the sublime, where the air is crisp yet oddly warm (for November), the sky is perfectly clear and the air itself energizes you. Autumn in this city is infinitely changeable (had it gone from brilliant sunlight to fog and rain in the space of a half-hour it would be par for the course), but capable of truly stunning beauty. I think autumn here is our trade-off for the pretty uniformly springs we get ... I keep getting warned that winter can make its first appearance by late October, but thankfully my time here hasn't seen that happen yet -- thankfully I've seen these amazing autumns stretch into December, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that to happen a third year in a row.

Today's weather was made that much nicer by the fact that I now have a backyard. The view from my office window:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The status game

As I was leaving the house this morning, my mind in its random ramblings replayed a few bits of the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch. "Lovely bird, the Norwegian blue! ... 'E's not dead, 'e's pining for the fjords!"

The upshot of this being that my status line on Facebook says "CJ is pining for the fjords."

Of all the various crack-like elements of Facebook (they have online RISK through Facebook now! I am so never getting work done again), one of my favourites is the status line. Scanning through my friends at any given time offers a range of status updates ranging from the hilarious to the absurd to the genuinely informational. Sometimes all at once, as in my fellow-CAAS member Jennifer's, which currently reads "Jen is wondering if getting teary-eyed at the sight of coffee is a bad thing." Given that I happened to read that one before I'd had my own first sip of java, the empathy in me was overpowering.

And the hated IS ... if there is one thing that unites regular status-updaters, especially those who like to be funny or creative, it's a hatred of the fact that we are constrained to using the present-tense passive verb ... leading to sometimes awkward locutions (which as an English professor can be really galling), and the delimiting of possibilities.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a random sampling of status lines that were current as of a minute ago ... leaving out names of course in the interests of whatever privacy may actually be left in the age of Facebooking.

... is not being aloof, friends, just insane with overwork.

... is confused.

... is calling it karma.

... is one letter away from a scream.

... is even more useless than yesterday.

... is I hate when people just write random stuff here without following the proper grammatical sequence that follows the conjugated verb "is."

... is wickey, wickey, wha, wha.

... is what I'm trying to say.

... is no longer ill. All praises be.

... is the eggman.

... is aspiring.

... is paid the dollar, sidekick rings what's up holla!

... is Lessing, Schiller? Definitely not Hegel.

... is perpetually baffled.

... is finding out that it is actually possible to eat too much pastry!

... is itching for a new razor.

... is pale in intensity with good legs and a long, dry, clean finish.

... is lacking bounce-back-ability.

... is driving to Ottawa. Home of the shitty-ass Sens.

... is as she appears to the left.

... is on a midnight train to Georgia.

... is a winter wonderland!

... is genuinely excited about her horoscope.

... is at the level of barely functioning.

... is exceedingly drunk, and is pondering the beatific benefits of red wine.

... is trying hugs AND drugs.

... is oh so quiet (shh! shh!).

... is walking a very fine line.

... is gonna pick the meat from the big city bones, because the hot is getting cold.

... is too cool for school.

... is in a plain brown wrapper.

... is a source of nine essential nutrients.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'll put $20 on Derrida for a fourth-round knockout ...

One of the things I've been doing this term is schilling for my second-semester special topics course. Given that our department doesn't currently have a course in literary theory prior to fourth year -- and even then, it's only the students taking the honours degree who have to take it -- a few of us made the case last year for an intro course at the second-year that would be mandatory for English students. So as a trial run, next semester I'm offering a second year special-topics course on the subject.

The trouble is, getting most students to study literary criticism (like poetry) is a little like getting them to eat their vegetables. It helps if that's the only thing on their plate. Or if it's mandatory. Or followed up with dessert. And given that if should I get less than a certain number of students in the class it will be cancelled, a fairly aggressive marketing campaign was called for.

So I went to classes pitching my course, telling them why it would be beneficial. Also (this is the "dessert" part of the vegetable pitch, if you like) that we would be only doing one book in conjunction with the various essays, which would be used sort of as a "control"--a single work that we'd workshop in class in by way of the different critical schools under consideration. The book? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

So in addition to my traveling salesman schtick, I've also been putting up posters of this kind around the building:

I have a whole series of them: Harry vs Lacan, Harry vs Roland Barthes, Harry vs Aristotle; at the prompting of one of our profs who wished for some feminist content, Hermione vs Helene Cixous and Hermione vs Virginia Woolf; also, given recent "revelations," Dumbledore vs Freud; and just to round things out (and at Loman's suggestion), Draco Malfoy vs. Karl Marx.

The things I do for the sake of pedagogy, I tells ya.

I was actually pleased with my campaign. There's now a buzz about the course, and if as one anonymous commentator suggested, the posters are "gimmicky" (this was scrawled atop one of the posters on a colleague's door) ... well, meh. I wasn't about to get bums in the seats with the ever-so-sexy course title "An Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism."

Also, there's a method to my madness: I want in this course to approach a text that students will likely (a) be very familiar with, even if they haven't previously read it, and (b) if they have read it, probably have not done so with a critical eye. And out of all the Harry Potter novels, Azkaban has the most interesting stuff happening in it while still being mercifully short.

I sent the Harry Potter vs Aristotle to a friend in philosophy, thinking he would get a kick out of it, and he promptly sent me back a revised version that was utterly hilarious. I was going to post it too, but then thought better, considering it has adult content and the friend in question is currently going on the job market (plus, I am untenured). Suffice it to say: Harry Potter vs Plato. With an, um, interesting photo of Daniel Radcliffe from his appearance in the play Equus. 'Nuff said? Heh.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Reading Sickness

I'm glad I re-launched the blog today, because now I can post this little gem ... starring two of our grad students, Tom and Kyle. I was absurdly gratified that the book Kyle's reading is what we're doing next week in my course, though I suspect it was chosen for the title.

Breathing space

This semester has been a perfect storm. And while I might blame Facebook for its depradations on the blogging world (and mine in particular), the fact of the matter has been that I quite simply haven't had the time and/or brain power to be a particularly good blogger. Or even a passable one.

I make no promises that this will change much, but I do promise to try. I miss my old blog here, truth be told. As do some people who have told me so in no uncertain terms. So I'll get myself back on something resembling a regular regime: I'm thinking once a week won't break the bank, especially now that I feel like I'm finally on the downslope of the semester.

The hump I had to get over was this past weekend: I was in Montreal for the annual Canadian Association of American Studies (CAAS) conference, an organization I renewed my membership in at last year's conference in Kingston. Unlike last year however, when I was just a participant, I found myself this year in the thick of organizing the conference ... which meant a significant amount of work smoothing out details, increasing (exponentially, it seemed) the closer we got to the actual conference (which incidentally included the writing of my own paper). This conference, I might add, would not likely have happened this year at all without the long-distance work done by a handful of some of my truly amazing colleagues. As it turns out, not mentioning any names, the one person we were relying upon to organize stuff in Montreal turned out to be a little bit of a tool. And when I say "a little bit of a tool," I mean the Platonic form of human-toolness. Normally I wouldn't be so impolitic as to vent such professional grievances in my blog, but this was an extreme case and I kind of hope the individual in questions stumbles across this entry. Not likely, but entertaining to imagine.

The upshot being that there was a lot of frenzied running around and brushfires to be put out by the conference committee, and from wednesday through sunday I think I got a cumulative total of twelve hours sleep -- between the going out with colleagues in the evening, and the insomnia that had me up at 4:30 most mornings.

That being said, the conference went off quite well, and I was privileged to see a significant number of truly amazing papers. I was also pleased to see that a lot of the good presentations were delivered by grad students, including at least one former Western student.

And now I'm back, and staring at a stack of marking that has come to feel like a really bad credit card debt, one for which I'm paying interest on until the end of term. But without the conference looming over my head, I feel as though I can breathe a bit more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Facebook killed the radio star, um, blogger ...

OK, OK ... So much for a more active and updated blog. I will eventually get back onto a regular posting schedule, I swear! But for now everyone will have to be patient, at least until I get the Intertubes connected at the new house.

That being said, here's a short update on my life the past few weeks:

  • I have moved into the new house, though because the school year has started in earnest, I'm still more or less living out of boxes. Why did I think the beginning of September was a GOOD time to buy a house?
  • Classes are good. This being my third year, I now go up to a full teaching load -- so I have three courses this term. Though two of them are courses I've taught before (FINALLY, I get some repeats) so at the least the prep routine is not dire.
  • The third class is a graduate seminar, which is my second now. I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.
  • Clarence spent twelve hours being utterly freaked out by the new living space, then discovered my narrow, steep stairs. Tearing up and down them at full speed is his new favourite thing, and I've nearly died when he's been underfoot several times.
  • The faculty union and the administration have a tentative agreement, which means we won't be going on strike, and we're looking at an actual substantial pay raise (there's also something in there about needing to publish five books to get tenure, but I didn't really read past the $$$ bit). Woot, indeed.

That's it. Don't I lead the most spectacular, exciting life? I'll post pictures of the house once I've cleared out the boxes ... so, some time around May.

Also, I'll add something just for fun. In my grad seminar yesterday, we were talking about bad poetry, and it turns out my students had never heard of the illustrious James McIntyre, the famed "Ingersoll Cheese Poet." McIntyre, a resident of southern Ontario in the late nineteenth century, turned his finely honed poetic sensibilities on many topics, but had a peculiar affinity for cheese-related themes. On break, I went to my office and printed out his masterpiece, which I then read to the class. I nearly made it through, but lost it on the final verse. So close ...

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world's show at Paris.

Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, o' queen of cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

More of McIntyre's brilliant verses can be found here. I think McIntyre made that common mistake in interpreting the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the cheesemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God."

Friday, August 31, 2007

WTF happened to August????

And so I find myself clawing onto the very last day of August so that I will not have let the entire month go by without a blog entry.

I do apologize to my reading faithful, who could be forgiven for assuming my untimely death these past five weeks. Apologies especially to my anonymous ex-student who recently commented on my last post to testily state that he/she was still waiting for my thoughts on the final Harry Potter instalment, having taken my pop culture class when I taught Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Sorry -- I did in fact offer my two cents, but it was in the form of my own comments on a friend's blog here.

So. Big month! I offer no lame excuses for my bloggish inactivities, other than the fact that Kristen was here for a week and a half at the beginning of the month, and then I followed her back to Ontario for a week and a half after that.

I was home in part to attend the wedding of Robert Hamilton, who was my best friend through high school, undergrad, and a good chunk of grad school as well. We lost touch when he moved to Japan to teach English -- and then stayed. He first went out there, if memory serves, in 1999 ... and now teaches Japanese university students about Japanese culture and history. Cool, eh?

Anyway, not having spoken to me in some time and not knowing where I was at, Robert sent a wedding invite to my parents' address, who dutifully forwarded it to the Rock. Was I going to miss one of my best friends ever's wedding? I don't think so.

Also, I bought a house.

Yup. I am now among the ranks of the mortage-carrying, debt-ridden bourgeoisie. My parents have been visiting these past few days, helping me with the closing and with getting the place ready for the move. The way things worked out, I have my apartment until the end of september, while taking possession of the new house yesterday. So I can move incrementally, and take a weekend or two to paint and prep the place. Here are some pictures of what the place looks like prior to any modifications:
Again, more detailed posts soon. I'm looking at the clock, and midnight approaches. I want to get this online before then so that I have at least one August post.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A very avuncular day!

I am an uncle now twice over!

Zachary Matthew Anthony Lockett was born this morning at 9:15, weighing in at a quite respectable 8lb, 8oz. Michelle is doing very well and recovering nicely; Matthew is overcoming the new father coronary.

Isn't he perfect?

It makes me very sad that I can't be there like I was for Morgan. I'll be back in TO in a couple of weeks though, so I won't have to wait too long to meet my new nephew.

My brother defies the laws of nature. It still amazes me that this:

Somehow had a hand in the creation of this:

And this:

Sort of makes you believe in the stork all over again, doesn't it? Or at least in my sister-in-law's uber-genes ...

Friday, July 27, 2007

You know you've been watching too much "Hell's Kitchen" when ...

I was out the other night for a job candidate dinner at The Casbah, one of my favourite St. John's restaurants. My usual habit is to order their steak specials -- they do beef very well there, especially the tenderloin. The special that night was a NY striploin with cracked black pepper. I ordered it rare ... and it came medium! I was rather disappointed. I wasn't, in that context, about to send it back, but I kept having Gordon Ramsay flashes ... imagining taking it back to the kitchen screaming "You fucking DONUT! Is this rare?" And so on.

I might have to stop watching that show. Food and rage have never been conflated for me, until now.

It WOULD have been funny, though.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My predictions for Harry VII

Two inane headlines this morning, courtesy of the slackwits writing the MSN news feed. The first: "The Beckhams Bring Sexy Back to Hollywood." Well, I'm relieved. I was getting very bored with Hollywood's dowdiness and frumpy clothing.

And my fave of the day: "Harry Potter Makes Lots of Cash!" At this stage in the game, this is akin to predicting the sun will rise in the east. Not really a story, is it? If the new Harry movie tanked at the box office, now THAT would be a story. Not a very interesting one, mind you, but at least odd and unexpected.

Which brings me to my post du jour: my predictions for the final instalment of the J.K. Rowling retirement fund. It's good to see her scraping by, isn't it?

But yes, I have been an avid Harry Potter reader. Even if I weren't impressed with the series, I'd still be eagerly anticipating the final novel for the simple reason that I'm a narrative junky. I must learn not to get caught up in a fantasy series until all the books are actually in print. At least Rowling has generally managed to crank the books out with some dispatch -- the other series I'm currently hip-deep in is George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, which started in 1996 and, like the Potter books, is a seven-novel series. Unlike the Potter books, Martin has only reached number four (which came out almost two years ago), with number five nowhere in sight. Given that I read the first novel in hardcover, I've been dealing with that particular agony for a long time, all the while praying that Martin doesn't have a heart attack or get hit by a bus before he finishes.

So I'm glad to see the Potter series at its end. In anticipation of the final instalment, I picked up number five again the weekend before last, thinking to spend the two weeks before number seven hit the shelves refreshing my memory as to where we were at. Two weeks idly reading? Ha. I spent most of that weekend sprawled on the couch burning through both Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince. Two days.

See, this is what I'm talking about. I think I have a problem. A well-told plot-driven story is like crack to me. Add the absorbing characters, dastardly villains, imaginative flourishes and sense of humour that Rowling provides, and I ain't putting it down. Even as my marxist leanings and innate professorial snobbishness recoil a bit from this populist consumer juggernaut, they just get ploughed under.

So anyway ... when I got to the end of Half-Blood Prince, I was starting to form this post in my head. There has of course been an endless amount of speculation about how the series will end, fuelled in part by Rowling's own rather macabre promise of two deaths. Who will die? seems to be the question on everyone's mind, with Harry Potter being the even money choice.

Well, I don't think so. Actually, I don't think any of the holy trinity will get killed off -- Harry, Ron and Hermione will all survive. At least, they'll literally survive. I wouldn't be surprised if Harry suffers a symbolic death, in the manner of Frodo ... withdrawing from society while his friends go on to illustrious careers, living a quiet reclusive life. After all, his life's work will have been completed by the age of eighteen.

I also don't think he'll die for the simple fact that the prophecy made clear that it's him or Voldemort.

Anyway, I say it's 6-5 and pick 'em whether Harry lives on as a prominent Auror or goes the J.D. Salinger route. I give long odds against his death, 10-1 say.

As for the aforementioned careers -- Rowling has said that the final chapter tells of what all the main characters go on to do with their lives. I think it's even money that Hermione becomes headmistress of Hogwarts, and ditto that Neville becomes Minister of Magic. I don't know about Ron ... which is why I think that, if any of the holy trinity die, it will be him.

And what about the deaths? If not Ron, I think one of the Weasleys will have to go, with my money on Arthur -- Ginny if Rowling decides to be particularly cruel.

I do think that one of the two deaths will definitely be Snape -- who will turn out to be a good guy after all. There won't be any reconciliation between him and Harry though. I predict he'll die saving Harry, but will say something really nasty with his final breath.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Inspired absurdity on a rainy Tuesday

This is quite possibly one of the funniest things I have ever seen -- Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. Performing -- wait for it! -- The Scottish Play.

Just one of their many postings on YouTube. They also do Resevoir Dogs, A Christmas Carol, Doctor Who (which includes a lengthy argument over the proper spelling of "dahleks"), Romeo and Juliet and a respectable cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Monday, July 09, 2007

10 things you probably don't know about me

I'm currently kicking around an idea for a blog post about the culture of narcissism, so I thought it weirdly appropriate that I post something right now all about me. This is in imitation of my friend Matt, who recently did the same thing on his own blog. Plus, I've let this blog lag an unconscionably long time; I have a few posts in mind, the aforementioned one on narcissism, plus I'm formulating my own list of predictions for the final Harry Potter novel. Those ones need to simmer for a while still though, so here you are: ten obscure and possibly interesting facts about yours truly.

1. Apparently, I didn’t speak at all until the age of two, when I started talking in complete sentences. According to family lore, my parents would hear me practicing in my crib, but when they’d enter my room and try to get me to repeat what they’re heard, I’d clam up.

2. Further to the previous note: many people assume that my rather professorial (read: pompous) manner of speaking comes from my years of study in English. Actually, I’ve always spoken this way. When I was young I would introduce myself to people very seriously and carefully, saying “My name is Christopher James Lockett” and offering to shake their hand.

3. When I’m having difficulty falling asleep, I think of sword fights, especially the one from The Princess Bride. I find the rhythm soothing.

4. My parents always assured me, through my kindergarten years, that I would learn to read in grade one—a point I was very anxious about. I came home from school after my first day of grade one in high dudgeon because, after one day, I hadn’t yet learned to read.

5. I am never quite so calm or at peace as when I can see water. Even sitting by a creek in the summer is quite recuperative for the soul.

6. Though I am not a morning person, my favourite time of day is early morning, especially in the time just before the rest of the world wakes up. I like being into the office early, especially when it’s still slightly dark, and I can turn on my desk lamp and collect my thoughts in a pleasant pool of light.

7. I talk to myself a lot, especially if I’m out walking. When trying to work through a particular question, I stage imaginary conversations with someone taking a contrary position. I frequently win these arguments.

8. My earliest memory is of five-pin bowling with my paternal grandmother. I remember tottering down the lane, staggering under the weight of the ball, and dropping it with what felt like an earth-shattering crack.

9. The first music I ever spent my own money on was a 45rpm single of “Come on Eileen.” My second purchase was “Jump” by Van Halen. The third was “The Reflex” by Duran Duran.

10. I love fog and mist. One of my favourite sailing experiences was on Lake Ontario when we raced in fog so thick you couldn’t see more than twenty feet in any direction—but the fog also only went about twenty feet up, so we could see the masts of all the other boats in our vicinity. Every so often we would see a masthead approaching, and a sailboat would materialize, pass in front, and disappear again.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

More reading

I'm playing hooky today. Just sort of seemed the thing to do -- I woke up, reflected that I really didn't feel like going into the office, then remembered that I didn't have to.

Which rates in my top ten reasons why I love my job.

Well, I'm not totally playing hooky -- just changing the scenery. I spent the morning having my coffee in the living room and reading, and I'm heading downtown momentarily to have lunch and camp out in a coffee shop with my ever-so-slowly evolving Rome article. But it also occurred to me that I hadn't updated my blog in over a week, so here I am. Time to update the "recent reads."

Last summer when Kristen and I were driving from Ontario to St. John's, we listened to Isabel Allende's most recent novel, Zorro, on CD. Lately I'd found myself recalling parts of it I enjoyed. Not really wanting to listen to the twenty-odd hours of its reading, I bought the book and re-read it ... or read it for the first time, I guess.

First of all, I just want to say that if you've never read anything by Allende, you are missing out. A Chilean novelist (actually the niece of Salvador Allende, whose assassination by Augusto Pinochet precipated that dictator's brutal seventeen-year reign), she writes in the manner of such magical realists as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes; her first novel The House of the Spirits (1981) is breathtakingly beautiful in its scope and texture, telling the story of Chile's transition into the twentieth century by way of four generations of the patrician Trueba family.

If you're like me and a fan of the Zorro stories, the combination of those overstated adventures and Allende's gift for storytelling will be stunning. Even if you're lukewarm on the whole Zorro saga, it remains a beautiful novel. It gives us the prehistory of Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro ("The Fox"), from the meeting of his parents in Alta California through his childhood growing up as the child of an hidalgo gentleman, to his education in Barcelona, where the alter ego of Zorro first makes its appearance. It's sort of a Batman Begins for Zorro, but one that takes in a great swathe of American and European history and is set in the context of the political and religious upheavals taking place at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Allende paints a gorgeous historical landscape, and we encounter cameos with some great historical luminaries.

I'm currently about halfway through Jonathan Schell's reconsideration of "power, nonviolence, and the will of the people" (as it says in the subtitle), The Unconquerable World. I've been reading it in fits and starts, which is odd, because every time I pick it up I'm rapt. Schell, a journalist and public intellectual, looks at how warfare has evolved in the modern age and makes the argument (or I think he does -- I'm only halfway in) that nonviolent resistance ultimately has more traction and efficacy than does violent revolution in the modern moment. This book is no pacifist tract: his military history is spot-on, and the first third of the book is a brilliant reading of Carl von Clausewitz's pivotal text On War. Schell tracks the changes in military convention through the industrial revolution and points to the rise, on one hand, of the impervious military juggernaut (the British Empire, the current American military, e.g.) and the rise of the "people's army" (Spanish partisans in the Penninsular War, the Viet Cong, etc) on the other, and the incommensurability of the two. The former can never be defeated militarily by the latter; the latter can never be defeated politically by the former ... a situation we see getting played out all too obviously in Iraq right now.

I'll comment again on this book when I've finished it; suffice it to say that Schell's arguments are compelling and his prose is amazingly lucid. For all the complexity of his argument and depth of his analyses, the book reads very smoothly.

As should be obvious from my many posts on the subject (such as the one just above), in the parallel universe in which I'm still an academic, I'm a military historian -- something that manifests itself in this life as a mania for books of military history and, even more glaringly, a love for historical novels. I'm a devoted reader of all of Bernard Cornwell's various series (especially the Sharpe novels), as well as George MacDonald Fraser's brilliant funny Flashman series. And I've recently started what is perhaps the most loved of British military novels: C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower books. I'm now three deep into the eleven-book series ... having dispatched Midshipman Hornblower and Lieutenant Hornblower, I'm now in the final pages of Hornblower and the Hotspur. What I love about these novels -- which is the same thing I love about Cornwell's -- is the attention to detail, the accuracy of the representation not even so much of the historical sequences and context as the minutiae ... the attention paid to the day-to-day necessities of life aboard ship, the near-slavery of being a sailor in His Majesty's Navy -- from the captain down to the lowliest seaman. And as a sailor myself, I especially love the language of seagoing, the shipboard terminology and the nautical details. It makes me want to be aboard a ship -- though preferably one in which I wouldn't have to dine on salt beef and weevil-infested biscuits.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of icebergs and glacial writing

I'm sitting in my office, looking out the window at a thick bank of fog that has rolled down the hill over the houses in the distance. Now, I love fog -- but I've got to ask, in some exasperation, What happened to our summer?? The past week, and this weekend especially, was beautiful: twenty to twenty-five degrees, sun, a light breeze ... giving way to misty rain, fog, and sub-10 degree temperatures (though it still manages to be stiflingly muggy inside -- I open and close my window about every twenty minutes, alternating between clammy cold and sweltering humidity). I complain, but am met with stoic smiles: "Ah, that's Newfoundland in June."

My comfort is that this weather can at least turn on a dime. Summer came on us with startling suddenness. Everyone had told me that summer happens all at once ... and they weren't lying! About two weeks ago, over a twenty-four hour period, we went from temperatures below ten to over twenty, but more startling was the fact that the trees went from winter-barren to being totally in bloom in the same period of time.

Anyway, I'm whining about the weather because I'm taking a break from what has become, for me, an agonizing writing process. I think nostalgically of the days when I could whip off a twenty-five page paper in a day or two ... you'd think the writing process would get easier the farther up the academic food chain you move, but not so much. I'm still working on my Congress paper -- the plan being to turn it into an article for publication, which means doubling its length and inserting all the theoretical context and critical history that you leave out of conference papers. And I'm doing what I always do with these things: that is to say, TOO MUCH. I hit critical mass yesterday, and am actually making some progress today -- because today I'm returning slowly to sanity, trimming the fat and streamlining what was threatening balloon into thirty-plus pages into something more manageable.

In more entertaining news, we've had our first icebergs of the year -- I walked up Signal Hill on Saturday and snapped some pictures. It's really quite amazing the first time you see them; even though these ones were relatively small, there's a majesty to them that's quite profound.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why I think Shakespeare should sue Rebecca Eckler

I have been following the Rebecca Eckler-Judge Apatow saga with great amusement and great exasperation. My friend Jen, aka Nikki Stafford, has published some absolutely hilarious commentaries on Ecky and her ilk generally, and this issue specifically (here, here, and here), and there has been a groundswell of writing in the blogosphere taking Ecky rather sarcastically to task for her narcissism and the generally inane nature of her lawsuit.

(For those unfamiliar with this comedy of errors, the erstwhile National Post and Globe & Mail columnist is launching a lawsuit against director Judge Apatow—he of The Forty Year Old Virgin fame—claiming that his recent film Knocked Up plagiarizes her memoir of the same title. I won’t rehearse the details of her claims here; everything you need to know is pretty much covered in the posts of Jen’s I link to above).

While on one hand this lawsuit doesn’t really deserve the attention it’s getting—a petulant, self-indulgent salvo from a narcissistic, not-very-smart “journalist” on extremely flimsy legal ground—on the other hand I agree with a number of people who worry about the implications this kind of frivolous lawsuit has for copyright law. It reminds me of that woman who took J.K. Rowling to court on the charge that Rowling had stolen the word “Muggle” from her.

Here’s the question I asked then: even if it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rowling had stolen the term, what kind of damages could the court reasonably award? Did this woman truly think that the success of the Harry Potter series hinged on a single word?

There’s an old saying that someone should take the time to educate Ecky, Muggle-woman and others of their ilk about: “Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal.” Now, as an English professor, I’m death on plagiarism, but when we enter the creative realm we’re in different territory: can you imagine how many of our great writers wouldn’t have gotten out of the gate had they had to face Ecky-charges? Certainly T.S. Eliot would have spent all his time in court with the estate of Jessie L. Weston, Richard Wagner, Joseph Conrad and dozens of others. James Joyce would never have made it past the first round with his editor’s lawyers. And we’d be denied the genius of the greatest plagiarizer of all, William Shakespeare.

This of course is not to suggest that Judge Apatow is a great artist, or even a mature one for that matter (certainly The Forty Year Old Virgin would suggest he’s rather gleefully immature). It is however to observe that most, if not all narrative tends to proceed from the realm of common experience. Artists steal: they steal from other artists, from other people’s experiences, from the newspaper and from history books. I was once at a book launch party in Toronto, chatting with a bunch of people I didn’t know, two of whom were apparently novelists. One of the people in the group was telling a particularly funny anecdote about himself. When he finished, one of the writers turned to the other and asked “So do you want that one, or can I have it?”, much to the discomfiture of the storyteller. I once saw a play in the Toronto Fringe written by an ex-girlfriend, one of the characters in which exhibited a number of personality traits I recognized as mine (when I asked her about it after the play, she said airily, “Oh, he’s partially you, but he’s mostly the guy I dated after you”). And then there are those rather accomplished novelists you meet, whose keen glance as you’re talking to them has you wondering uncomfortably if they’re evaluating whether you’d make a good character in a story.

A professor of mine at York liked to claim there were only five stories, and that all narrative literature—as well as a great deal of history writing—are just variations on them. Other structuralist critics would say seven, or four, or ten. Joseph Campbell said there was just one.

The point, again, being that all narrative art, the high and the low, does not exist as hermetically sealed autonomous texts, but presupposes familiarity with certain stories, myths, conventions, situations, ideas, experiences, etc etc. Where do you think genre films come from? Can you imagine Francis Ford Coppolla suing Martin Scorcese for stealing his idea to do a mafia film?

So when Rebecca Eckler claims that her experience of pregnancy and motherhood is somehow singular to her, you can pretty much hear mothers all around the country exclaiming “Whaaaaaat?!” As Jen, aka Nikki says rather eloquently, “This is a perfect example of Rebecca Eckler's self-centredness... she's the sort of person to burn her mouth on coffee and think she's the only person on earth to have done it. But only after she's run outside to tell everyone she's discovered a new substance called coffee.”

(Jen: please notice I put your words in quotation mark and cited you. Don’t sue me!).

Friday, June 15, 2007

My niece the diva

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille ..."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fun with Google Maps, or How the CIA Sees St. John's

This was kind of entertaining. Sorry about the writing -- I should have made it bigger.

St. John's, the god's-eye view:

My place:

MUN (or part of it, anyway):

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fall classes

Given that I had to order all my books for the fall term this week, I took this opportunity to rough out a thumbnail sketch of my course schedules. Or two out of three of them, anyway.

Fall term will be busy, given that the course remission I receive as new faculty expires this year and I go on to the standard 3/2 load -- i.e. five courses over the year, which unless you want to teach in the summer (I don't, yet) tends to translate into three classes one semester, two the next. And after two years of not teaching the same course twice, I finally reuse some lecture notes! I'm slotted in the Fall to teach 2000 (British Literature to 1800) and 2213 (Twentieth-Century American Fiction, both of which I've taught before ... and in the case of the latter, I'm forcing myself to make minimal changes. My inclination is to completely reinvent what I did this year, which is easy enough -- six novels over twelve to thirteen weeks of a semester doesn't exactly represent a significant chunk of the last hundred years of American fiction, and I could teach this course a hundred times over and never teach the same novel twice. And given my love of building new courses from the ground up, it's a struggle not to throw six entirely new texts on the sylabus. As I'll likely be teaching this course, or variations on it, a lot from now to my retirement, I've set myself a rule for the first few years: only two substitutions allowed each time I teach it, until I have compiled a pretty hefty library of lecture notes. My reading list this past year was:

Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon.
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.

So out of that I'm dropping Ellison and Hemingway, and inserting James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.

I've made even fewer changes to 2000, and those mostly in the form of cutting and streamlining. When I taught it for the first time last year, I tried to do too much. Now I'm breaking it down into seven units: Prosody (the sonnet), Medieval (Sir Gawain), Early Elizabethan (Marlowe, Dr. Faustus), Shakespeare (Othello), Metaphysical Poetry (Donne), John Milton (selections of Paradise Lost -- would that I had time to do it all!), and 18th Century (Pope, "The Rape of the Lock"). This is likely to be the general shape of the course for me from here on in ... about the only thing I'll be switching up next time will be the representative Shakespeare (last year it was Henry V, and next year? I'm thinking either Richard III or Julius Caesar).

I knew I was getting kind of tired and punchy yesterday afternoon when I started giving each of the units "funny" titles that I think were channeled directly from my father's sense of humour -- the nadir being "Moor Jealousy with Othello!"

Shut up.

And finally, I'm doing our grad students' mandatory theory course, which I'm very excited about. Whoever teaches it tends to make it over in his or her image, focusing on a specific theme that allows the students to really dig their teeth into a series of theoretical and critical issues. After some consideration, I've settled on "Theories of Mass Culture and the Role of the Intellectual" -- starting with Matthew Arnold, through Ortega y Gasset and T.S. Eliot, Adorno, Horkheimer, Raymond Williams and the Frankfurt-Birmingham debate, and ending with a consideration of theories of the role of the university, past and present.

Good times.

It just occurred to me that this post is really just me thinking out loud and probably isn't of interest to anyone outside of me or students thinking of taking my course. At least you got an Othello joke, though ...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Congress post-mortem

Well, after an excruciatingly long day yesterday -- left Saskatoon at 9:30am, on a flight that went Saskatoon-Calgary-Halifax-St. John's, landing finally at home at 11:30pm (and to add insult to injury, the in-flight movie was Norbit) -- I'm back, and even back in my office ... though I'm really not intending to accomplish much today beyond shelving all the books I bought at the Congress book fair, and generally getting myself organized for a solid month of research and writing.

And writing a blog post, of course.

So as you can see from the photos above, U of Saskatchewan campus is in fact absolutely gorgeous. I snapped those two photos on the Sunday ... which as it turns out was the last day of good weather. Monday got cold, and Tuesday and Wednesday positively miserable with rain and gloom. Which I guess made everyone more amenable to sitting inside and listening to academic papers; had the weather been like the photos above all week, I imagine my own session attendance would have been much lower.

Congress 2007 highlights:

(1) Seeing a ton of friends, and seeing a broad range of papers in different disciplines. I decided this year that I would make a point of seeing my friends' presentations, and then pick and choose other sessions depending on my mood (which on one memorable afternoon meant eschewing papers entirely to sit on a patio: see below). Because I have friends in a variety of fields, this meant that in addition to English and Film Studies papers, I also got educated on Aristotle's thought experiments (Sean) and conscientious objectors in WWI Canada (Amy). This, for me, is the best part of these kind of conferences: never having been inclined to hoe a single furrow intellectually, I love learning stuff from other disciplines. This can sometimes be tricky at academic conferences when papers get so caught up in their own disciplinary jargon or preoccupations that they can be hard to follow, but when you get good presenters it can be truly educational.

(2) Sunday afternoon on the patio at Louis' pub -- I ran into Sean Mulligan (soon to by Dr. Sean as of mid-June when he defends his thesis -- huzzah!) at lunch, and we migrated to a table on the gorgeous and spacious patio depicted below. The day was amazingly bright and sunny, to the point where I developed rather a nice tan. This was at about one o'clock, and I'd had vague plans to attend some papers in the afternoon, but that resolve pretty much evaporated as we went through four pitchers in three hours (I think it was four).

(3) Seeing former students doing well. I mentioned this in my last post so I won't belabour it, but it was extraordinarily gratifying to see students I'd taught at Western holding their own at Canada's largest academic conference in the humanities.

(4) My panel. As mentioned, I was extremely pleased with how my paper went, and our panel of two papers meshed surprisingly well. Did I say surprisingly? I should say "bizarrely," given that the other presenter was speaking about Irish-language television. And yet we managed a useful dialogue between the two topics.

(5) Having lunch with this past year's Pratt Lecturer, Susan Gingell. Susan, a professor in U of Sask's English department, is one of those amazing academics who manages to be both exceptionally talented and intelligent but really down to earth and human. Suffice it to say, the Pratt committee (on which I served) fell in love with her, and I was told rather sternly by the other committee members that I had to at least have a drink with her while I was there. And a good measure of what Susan's like? In spite of her insanely busy schedule at the Congress, as both organizer and delegate, she make a point of coming to see my paper.

Congress 2007 lowlights:

(1) Spending five nights in a grotty Howard Johnson's. Now, this isn't the Congress' fault, obviously, but mine for having booked late ... but still, it does colour the experience a bit when you feel very strongly that you should avoid touching surfaces in a your hotel room as much as possible. I took comfort in the fact that I was not the only one in this predicament: I think most of the hotel were delegates. Misery does love company.

(2) The dearth of cabs. I don't think Saskatoon was quite prepared for the volume of people who descended on the city for the Congress, in excess of five thousand. By Monday morning, cabs were more or less scarce, and you were looking at an hour's wait if you called after 8am (if you could even get through, which wasn't guaranteed). Thinking I was being smart by calling a cab on Wednesday at 7:15am, I still did not make it up to campus until 8:15 -- by which point the lobby was crammed with delegates. Now, this is sort of the Congress' fault -- a problem that could have been alleviated somewhat by the arranging of campus shuttles to the major hotels, and having airport shuttles leaving directly from campus.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Congress diary part three

Last day ... and I finally delivered my paper. Presenting on your last day at a conference is only a blessing if you're still writing your paper when the conference begins -- and this year I had mine done well in advance (well, I wrote my conclusion last night, but that was all of two sentences). So it was nice to finally make an end, there.

And it went well, I am pleased to say. It was one of those nice conference happenstances where one of the people on my panel withdrew at the last minute, only leaving two of us to present. Given that my paper was pushing the twenty-minute mark and I was prepared to omit my last page and a half (including my hastily scrawled conclusion) if I was running long, it was nice to not have to worry about that and just take my time -- and to have the freedom to make jokes and extemporize.

So for the curious, I presented a paper on the HBO series Rome .... and as per what I was focusing on, I might as well quote my opening preamble:

To frame this paper, and where it comes from: I have become a massive fan of HBO's programming. Beyond my own mere enjoyment however, I believe that it poses a series of questions for the always ongoing mass culture debate insofar as it represents what not long ago would have seemed an oxymoronic concept: intelligent mainstream television, television whose production values--especially in terms of the writing--is of startling quality, and which challenges (or at the very least complicates) a strictly Adornian conception of the culture industry.

I would suggest that this new wave of intelligent, well-written and well-made television poses interesting and important critical questions for film and media studies, and cultural studies more generally, which can in one way be summed up in the question I have posed students in my popular culture classes: Can television be art? And if so, how does that change our perception of art? My consideration of Rome today emerges from an ongoing engagement with such questions: I am seeking to read in the series a subtle counternarrative to the generic conventions of the "historical epic" and the received history of the Caesarian narrative. And to that end, I will be looking at that apotheosis of low cultural expression--graffiti.

Yup, my paper was all about graffiti -- Roman graffiti that is, some of which in the series is really quite filthy and obscene (to which end, I now have the distinction of having used the phrases "giant ejaculating penis" and "Atia fucks everybody" at the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences -- truly, I have arrived).

Anyway ... I'm happy to be done, pleased with the reception my paper received, and relieved that I can now truly relax for the remainder of my time here. I will post pictures when I'm back in St. John's ...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Congress diary, part two

Well, our good weather gave out for about half of the day -- gray and rainy this morning, but the sun's trying to burn through. Not that that's too much of a burden: even rainsoaked, this campus is still quite lovely.

And it has a great gym! I was proud of myself that I managed a workout this morning, making it in at 7:15 to do some weights and a short run on the treadmill ... which unfortunately had left me a bit dehydrated, so that I'm dying of thirst by the end of the sessions I've been sitting in on (though the fairly constant beer intake might also have something to do with that).

It's been wonderful seeing people I haven't seen, in some cases, in a number of years ... and also kind of pleasing to see some former students, now doing graduate degrees, presenting quite accomplished papers here. Andrew deWaard and Aimee Mitchell, both of whom took classes with me at Western, are here presenting at FiSAC (Film Studies Association of Canada) ... and if that's not enough to make me fee old, I recognized a woman whom I had TA'd in my first ever year at Western -- ten years ago! Ack. Still, it makes me feel sort of fatherly. Or at the very least, sort of big-brotherly.

More later ...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Congress diary part one

Greetings from Saskatoon! I flew in yesterday morning and have been reconnecting with many many people I haven't seen in ages. It's sort of Old Home Week. So many academics all concentrated in the same place. At Pearson Airport yesterday morning, waiting for the plane to board, I played "spot the academic" in the departure lounge. Conservatively, I think half the plane were Congress-bound types, at least gauging by the number of people feverishing still working on papers.

Not me this year ... I decided that this time I wanted to have my paper done well in advance, principally so I could enjoy my time and see friends. I still have a few sentences to write in conclusion, but that's always the case. I'll talk more about my paper in my next post.

For now: I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by Saskatoon, and floored by just how beautiful U of Saskatchewan's campus is (I'll try to post some pictures soon). The weather has been beautiful, and they certainly don't exaggerate about the prairie sky.

That's it for now -- just a quick teaser. I'm off to see a friend's paper, and then to lunch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's that, Lassie? Tigger's in jeopardy? Down at the well?

Oh ... Tigger's ON Jeopardy, and presumably she's doing well.

Just a reminder, sports fans, that everyone's favourite stage manager and trivia freak will be asking Alex Trebeck questions tomorrow night -- that's Thursday, May 17. And for those who get their Jeopardy courtesy of CTV, you might have to do some creative channel flipping b/c those idiots are showing a rerun of Lost for some reason. The Jeopardy is out there though ... you just have to look!

And a wee preview that Tigger emailed around:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mutual of Omaha presents ...

Today, a treat for my gentle readers: the first in our series of English Professors Observed in Their Natural Environments: Burrows.

Yes, the burrows of English professors (or "offices" as they insist on calling them) are as varied and idiosyncratic as the individuals who inhabit them. Consider for instance the burrow of the Nancy Pedri (Comparatus Wordnimaginius), a recent newcomer to the hills and dales of Newfoundland:

Note the spare, even Spartan arrangement of space, the careful placement of discrete objects; the Nancy herself sits poised in imitation of the image on the wall behind her to confuse and intimidate possible antagonists.

Conversely, we consider the burrow of the Andrew Loman (Hawthornica Americanus), also a species only recently introduced into this environment. Note the barricading effect of the books and papers that the Loman surrounds himself with, a labyrinthine defense that only the deftest of predators can negotiate:

Tune in next time as our intrepid wildlife photographer attempts to enter and photgraph some of the more dangerous burrows in this remote wildlife preserve.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cleaning off my desk

OK, so it's not quite as dramatic on film as it is when you have to sit in the midst of it, but I took a good chunk of this afternoon to clean off my desk and organize my office.



Sorry about the long blog lag. I've been in a headspace where every time I think about writing a new post, I honestly can't think of anything to say -- at least, nothing I feel like writing down. So in the interests of keeping everyone more or less up to date, here's the highlights of the last two weeks:

  • I've bought a barbecue. Of course, I have no space for a barbecue, so I'm keeping it in Andrew Loman's backyard for the time being; and the last two weekends we've had bbq parties -- the first one in the midst of snow and sleet, which is a testament to just how desperate I was for grilled food. I'll post some pics from that one when I get them.
  • Facebook is getting weird -- or weirder at any rate, at least insofar as I've reconnected with a host of people going all the way back to elementary school.
  • One of the friends from grad school I've reconnected with is Jen Hale, aka Nikki Stafford -- a name known to Buffy fans as the author of the book Bite Me. I've posted Jen's/Nikki's blog to the right here. Anyone who's a fan of Lost or Heroes, or really any TV at all should check it out for her hilarious commentaries.
  • Independently of Facebook, I've also reconnected with Robert Hamilton, my best friend through high school, undergrad, and a good chunk of grad school. We lost touch when he moved to Japan to teach and then stayed -- but I recently received an invitation to his wedding in August (!!), fortunately to be held in Richmond Hill and not Tokyo -- which means I can afford to go. His blog / wedding lead-up chronicle is also posted to the right here.
  • I'm in the midst of my travel plans to head to Saskatoon for this year's Congress of the Humanities, which also means I'm feverishly trying to write the paper I'll be presenting. I'll be stopping off in Toronto and London for a week beforehand.

That's more or less it, aside from the fact that spring is slowly, slowly showing its face here in St. John's after a few tantalizingly false starts. The temperature today is fifteen degrees and sunny, which after the past week feels positively sauna-ish.

And just for variety, here's a couple of pictures I took while walking home from work the other day. It had been a gorgeous day -- the dark clouds in the distance caught up to me about five minutes from home and managed to dump a significant amount of rain on me.

And to end on a cute note, because I haven't posted any pictures of Clarence recently, here he is enjoying a recent discovery of his -- the exhaust fan on the back of my computer. Whenever I've worked in my office at home, Clarence keeps me company ... except now I'm more likely to be presented with his butt while he leans down behind my CPU to feel the fan blowing through his whiskers ...