Thursday, December 30, 2010

I have been working on this chapter intensively for the last 3 months, albeit while teaching a challenging but rewarding composition class. Before that, I was working on it while trying to work on a research grant in sort of, but not precisely, the same area.

Before that, I was working on it in the sense that it's highly connected with the subject of another chapter. On good days, I think of them as the Wonder Twins; on bad days, as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

It remains to be seen whether the agony that I've put myself through in trying to weave the arguments together is worth it; whether it will convince my committee. Though I'm very hopeful. I stopped, right around Christmas, because I was too exhausted, and too stressed, and was only making myself more upset and less able to progress than the reverse.

I went back to it 4 days ago, and I'm pretty sure I've just gotten the whole damn thing sorted in terms of order, so that it appears to be a human form, as opposed to a leg and an arm attached to a giant ear. Or a mostly human form with an extra arm protruding from its arse.

Today, for whatever reason, I'm tending to think of it in terms of Doctor Who romance fanfic. This results in various metaphors that I shouldn't record here in public. But we'll see if my giddiness gets the better of me as I finish putting the sections together.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express

I have been watching this in tiny installments since Christmas, and only recently finished it. The Guardian didn't care for it much; and I had low expectations, because the script rewrites on some of the adaptations have been rather horrendous.


It was riveting, and made me want to go out and watch the whole Suchet-Poirot canon from start to finish (well, so far) -- there aren't that many more to go, and as far as I know Suchet is planning to go up through Curtain. If this was any indication, he's read the rest, and knows what is coming. This installment was Poirot both brittle and strong as iron; it made me think of him both as intensely human, in a way I can't remember feeling before -- but also as akin to the Doctor. Am I seeing Timelords everywhere?

It shouldn't have worked. The source material is charming, but flimsy; the scriptwriters put in a Hammer of Symmetrical Foreshadowing early on that should have made me turn it off in disgust. But Suchet is incandescent; the rest of the cast (Eileen Atkins and Barbara Hershey among them) are none too shabby either, but they would fall flat if they had a lesser incarnation of Poirot to face off against.

Disclaimer: I haven't read Orient Express lately; I cannot and am not commenting on the precise fidelity of the adaptation of the novel. But when I finished the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in 3rd or 4th grade, I went straight into Poirot; he was childhood and adolescence for me; and it's with that certainty that I say that this was an entirely true vehicle for his character.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I will get back to the Midnight Folk.


Tonight, though, I watched the season finale (well,the final two episodes) of Tower Prep on the Cartoon Network. I was kvetching about the show a couple of weeks ago. It started strong (The Prisoner, but set in a prep school), and then the four main characters seemed to turn into lazily written flat characters: the jock, the clown, the pretty girl, the slightly less pretty girl -- and they got lazy, and the two girls seemed to be only interested in boys. BOOOOOOOOORRRING.

But I did keep watching. Last week's episodes were much better, in that we started to learn more interesting things about the backstory of the school, and the relationships between the characters started to become more complicated.

This week's episodes were wonderful. They worked really well, because the plot lines, honestly, were simple, and so the complexities between the characters themselves became what moved the story forward. In previous episodes, there's been a tendency to do the opposite -- to have an intricate story that really leaves no room for anything more than four flat archetypes. We saw, for the first time, major tension between the Fab Four, and it had little to do with who really likes who (and thus it escaped falling into the realm of cliche).

If you have a tween, or teen who likes adventure shows, I think s/he might enjoy this. You both might get a little annoyed at the mid-season, but maybe you won't -- or maybe only you will. And the last five episodes pick right up and fly.

I really hope it comes back for a second season.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Matched, by Ally Condie (with brief spoilers in ROT13)

My friend Els mentioned Matched as the hip new teen dystopia on Facebook.

I was only mildly curious -- a dystopian teen romance? Again? I don't remember teen romance being the dominant plot complication when I was reading YA fiction in jr. high and high school. When I read the excerpt on my Kindle, I appreciated the fact that the Society still seemed to allow choices between being a Single, or Matched, and that even after being Matched, the marriage was not a sure thing.

I appreciated the fact that Cassia, the female lead character, does something early on that I found both wrenching and cowardly. She's also allowed to enjoy food, be angry, and a bit judgmental at times. She's also realistically short-sighted, while still being very good at her job, meaning that she has plenty of autonomy. I was a bit less impressed by both the male characters who form the other two angles in the love triangle: Xander is blonde and mostly perfect; but SPOILER BACHELOR #2, while he's of a different status according to the laws of Society, is so perfect that he's able to carefully manage the degree to which his perfection is visible.

I'm afraid that the characters do tend to feel to me like detailed calculations of People Who Live In a Perfection-Based Dystopia And Are About To Realize That It's Problematic. That's one of the major challenges of this genre, I suppose, if not THE major challenge -- you have to write characters who appear perfect enough that they're comfortable with life as it is, and thus have somewhere to go in the course of the story. I'm resistant to the idea of comparing books to other books directly -- stories are usually too different to be so easily compared. But when I tried to think about a story that had presented a family in a perfection-based dystopia well, one did immediately occur to me, and what I remembered was that the book had opened with the mother cursing, loudly enough, it's implied, to wake her sleeping children.

Of course, now that I think about it, that story is about a family who ends up on the wrong side of the dystopia immediately and knows from the start that its society is problematic, so the novel is a slightly different species than this one.

While the characters feel a bit too smooth, I have a good deal of admiration for the worldbuilding, which involves plenty of nice details, not all of which seem likely to be Key Plot Points, and some which might. There are a few different plots being woven together, and I couldn't predict throughout precisely what was going to happen next. There are almost jokes, though not quite, and I realize that this is what I'd like to see: a dystopian novel where the Big Bad Authoritarian Euthanizing Society is also capable of laughing at fart jokes. I don't think that's a contradiction in terms. I guess I have to give Condie credit, though, because she comes close. And I really did appreciate the portrait of a group of individuals slowly cracking throughout the first part of this trilogy.

In summary: you'll probably enjoy this if you a) like YA romances, b) would be interested in reading about one individual discovering that her world has more flaws than you realized, or c) like government conspiracy stories.

You probably won't enjoy it if you're hoping to be genuinely startled by anything in the plot, and are turned off by fairly traditionally gendered characters. At least, there's nothing surprising in this volume. I did start thinking right away about a couple of things that would make the story more interesting -- and whether they are entirely my own invention or subtle clues planted by the author, I don't yet know -- and I'm putting them in ROT13 for the sake of the unspoilered:

1. Rneyl ba, Xl nccrnef sbe n oevrs zbzrag gb or zber bs n cynlre/syveg guna Pnffvn unf gubhtug. Vg jbhyq or hggreyl snfpvangvat, naq ragveryl oryvrinoyr (gb zr) vs guvf jrer gehr, naq vs ur jrer gryyvat uvf fgbel gb ng yrnfg bar be gjb bgure tveyf.

2. Yvxrjvfr, jr qvfpbire rneyl ba gung Knaqre naq Xl obgu xabj rnpu bgure, nf jryy nf Pnffvn. Knaqre xrrcf na rlr ba Xl orpnhfr ur frrf uvz nf n cbgragvny eviny sbe Pnffvn'f nssrpgvba, naq urycf uvz yngre ba, nccneragyl bhg bs ybir sbe Pnffvn. V guvax vg jbhyq or zhpu zber vagrerfgvat, gubhtu, vs shgher abiryf erirnyrq gung Xl, naq abg Pnffvn, jnf gur pragre bs gur ybir gevnatyr. Ohg nf sne nf V pna gryy, guvf vfa'g n jbeyq jurer ubzbfrkhnyvgl rkvfgf, naq fvapr Pbaqvr unf n uvfgbel bs jevgvat abiryf jvgu n eryvtvbhf orag sbe gur YQF nhqvrapr, vg frrzf hayvxryl gung gung jvyy unccra.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas memories

I've grown bored with the #reverb10 prompts, but saw someone else (now I can't recall who) blogging about family Christmas traditions; and reading the post made me realize that I should put down a few of mine, rather than assuming that I'll always remember them easily.

What I remember about getting the tree, and decorating it, is that it brought on inevitable arguments between my parents. We had a living room with gigantic ceilings (20 feet?), and so, traditionally, we cut a tree from the 5 acre parcel of property that the house stood on. But getting the right height, and getting it in through the front door (and then getting the lights on) was often a challenge. The benefit of such a tree, however, was that there was always room for all the ornaments. No need to pick and choose.

A lot of what I remember involves the lead-up to Christmas, and our anticipation, which was such that my brothers and I used to wake up and tear downstairs at 3 or 4 in the morning to open stockings, and then try to get our parents up by 5. This, they informed us, was strictly not on, and a rule was made that we could not go downstairs before 6. Reliably, we were awake by then, and congregating in one bedroom, staring at the clock as the numbers blinked forward, before practically falling down the stairs at 6 in our hurry. It's a wonder no one broke bones on Christmas morning.

Not knowing how stockings worked in other children's houses, I never stopped to think of whether our traditions were odd, but now I look back and think that they were an indication of our being a foodie family, or maybe an early indication of my own foodie-ness. We had tangerines and chocolates, as is traditional -- but one year, I asked for a stocking full of Granny Smith apples, and got it, and was duly thrilled. I was equally thrilled to find a whole can of black olives. I can't remember whether I requested those specifically, but saw it as a great treat, and not any sort of mediocrity. To have a can of olives that it was not necessary to share, and which one might eat however one pleased (i.e., first mounting each olive on a finger tip) was highly satisfying.

I think we got other small trinkets -- wind-up toys, hair scrunchies, micro machines, marbles -- but what I appreciated most was the food.

Friends in elementary school loved the film A Christmas Story, which my parents informed me was "vulgar," but we loved watching the Disney special "Mickey's Christmas Carol," and to this day, I find that I have the whole thing memorized in my head, and when I watch it on YouTube, I know precisely what's coming a few seconds before it does.

One year, when things were particularly bad financially, we got presents from a charitable organization. My parents felt (rightly, I think), that they were more generous than we needed them to be, but I did NOT appreciate the fact that what they gave back on my behalf were a bunch of Sweet Valley High books, which I would have liked to read, trashy or not.

The most horrifying Christmas, though, that I can remember, is one that I thought wouldn't happen. Christmas Eve, I was wearing cowboy boots, and my brothers and I were outside, and the eldest of the three (2 year younger than me) was whipping me with a thin branch switch. When he wouldn't quit, I pirouetted round, and kicked him in the stomach. My mother, furious, told me that Christmas was canceled, and I, horrified, believed her. I spent most of the evening in my room, crying into my pillow. The next day, all was forgiven -- but the memory of thinking that I had ruined/lost Christmas is still vivid, and terrifying.

5 things make a post

1. Not quite a year ago, I was in Philadelphia, newly aware of my gluten intolerance, and appalled at the prospect of baking with multiple types of flours. F-ck bread, I said to a friend, more than once. I don't need it, and my life is better without it.

Fast forward to now, and I have upwards of six different varieties of flour in my fridge, and I have made three batches of cookies using Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern's AP flour mix. I think the most amazing ones so far have been these cranberry-pistachio rounds, which are very like shortbread, and are pure heaven straight out of the oven. I don't know if they'd be equally good with plain old white flour, but you should probably try them that way, and find out.

2. This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special is the best one ever. I might even watch it for a second time, just to appreciate it. Also, if you're new to Who, for the most part, this is a good entry point. You'll miss one of the running gags, but you'll see the brilliance of Pond and Eleven, and then you can go watch Series 5, and by the end, you'll understand the previously obscure gag about the centurion costume.

3. Sadly, the adaptation of M R James' "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is as stupid as Doctor Who is brilliant. I like non-traditional adaptations (see my rapturous endorsement of the Doctor Who Christmas Carol above) -- but this is really just "Who's Got My Hairy Toe?" with James' name and title stamped on it; and John Hurt and Gemma Jones doing a Very Special Story about dementia. It's nicely filmed, and nicely staged, by which I mean that sea foam green is a good color for connoting creepiness, and that the prop bust that features heavily in the story is genuinely creepy (did they make it, or find it, I wonder?) But James is never maudlin the way that this story is, even if I appreciated the symmetry of describing someone with dementia as "the opposite of a ghost," a physical remnant of a dead person, rather than a spiritual one.

4. This review of Bush's Decision Points in the LRB is wonderful. And also horrifying.

5. Chicago writer Cliff Doerksen has died; and in celebration of his life, I offer you his take on the American history of mince pie.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brave enough to be wrong.

I'm not sure I am, yet; but I would like to be, because the alternative is like running on top of a barrel in a fast stream.

This is me, just stating that for the record, that is the level of courage to which I aspire.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reading "The Midnight Folk", by John Masefield

I shall get back to #reverb10 posting at some point.

This morning, I started reading John Masefield's The Midnight Folk, so a few observations on that:

I remember, the first time I read The Box of Delights, feeling confused by the presence of Caroline Louisa, and the Joneses, who were clearly so familiar to Kay Harker, and yet so unfamiliar to me. (It wasn't that I couldn't get a clear sense of them; I could! But I was still on the outside looking in, in comparison with Kay and the omniscient narrator.) I thought, at the time, that the problem was that Masefield was being a little careless because novels weren't his normal territory. This was lazy thinking on my part, since a glance at Masefield's Wikipedia page proves me wrong. So does his first novel featuring these characters. I haven't met either Caroline Louisa or the Jones family yet, but as I'm learning more about the characters so far, I'm moved to wonder at what point it became necessary to assume that in sequels and series books, authors needed to provide background material in case readers were new to the characters. Masefield does nothing of the sort in the sequel to Midnight Folk.

He also doesn't address physicality in the way that I think of as standard for children's books now -- the passage where we learn that the main character has a thin, plain face, or is not pretty, but striking; or where we learn that an antagonistic adult figure is going to be either fat, or so skinny as to be bony. Instead, I give you the passage where we learn more about Kay's governess:

The governess's Christian names were Sylvia and Daisy. Kay had read a poem about a Sylvia, and had decided that it was not swains who commended this one, but Mrs Tattle and Mrs Gossip. He loved daises because the closer one looked at them the more beautiful they seemed: yet this daisy was liker a rhododendron. She was big, handsome and with something of a flaunting manner, which turned into a flounce when she was put out.

It's a lovely bit of double character development, because we learn not only about Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, but also more about Kay Harker as well: that he loves daisies, and why, and that he thinks of other people in terms of flowers. Though there are clear delineations of masculine and feminine characteristics, the idea that femininity is anathema to males isn't there: a memorial for Kay's great-grandfather describes him as "manly in Fortitude, womanly in Tenderness."

On a related tangent, I tickled to learn that Abner Brown, the main male villain, is something of a landscape enthusiast -- as he explains, "I fell right plumb in love with this green countryside, so full of real old buildings; so I just didn't rest till I'd taken Russel's Dene, that Queen Anne Mansion, in the oak wood, where tradition says the Druids once practised their rites." Acquiring the building is certainly tied in with his own occult proclivities, but that's not the whole of it. How many villains can you think of who admit to falling in love with their surroundings?

One final note, for now: this is the first novel that I've read that seems to be centered around postcolonialism: in this case, the colonizing activities of Spain in South America, and the struggle of the South Americans to break free. Uncomfortably, this novel is about the treasure of the "great cathedral of Santa Barbara," which consisted of "church ornaments, images, lamps, candlesticks, reliquaries, chalices and crosses, of gold, silver, and precious stones," and I'm all too aware of the complacency with which these things are assumed to be unquestionably the property of the priests and bishops, rather than the rebel natives. On the other hand, Masefield writes that "the South American States were then breaking loose from Spain" without any trace of criticism or questioning of why they would want to do so. I'll be curious about how this develops as the story moves forward.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas reading: John Masefield

In my last #reverb10 post, I vowed to start the day off right, rather than with the Internet, in bed. It felt very good to allow myself to wake up by reading for half an hour; and I realized, as I read, that I was freeing myself of some of the pressure to keep tabs on everything else going on, and allowing myself to start the day more gently. I didn't really realize that I felt such pressure -- but perhaps I do.

And I had a good book to read. When I was about 8, I stumbled on a PBS Christmas special, made the year before for the BBC. I'm quite certain that I was no more than 8, because I remember how careful I was to remember when the second part would air, a week later than the first -- because we had no VCR. (By the time the Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations that I loved so much came on in 1987, we did.) Here is the opening that I loved on sight:

You can actually find the whole series on YouTube, if you are patient about watching it in 10-minute increments.

I understood that it was based on a book, though I thought it surprising that the book was by John Masefield, whose poem "Sea Fever" I already knew and loved. (I cannot remember whether Star Trek introduced me to that poem, or whether "The Ultimate Computer," the episode in which it's first mentioned, was one of the first I saw, and which confirmed with no more doubt that Star Trek was the Best Thing Ever, to quote a poem about the sea.)

But it took me a long time to find the book that The Box of Delights was based on. None of my library systems seemed to have it, nor did anyone suggest anything like interlibrary loan to a 10-year-old elementary school student. I knew it must be a good book, because even the alternate title, When the Wolves Were Running, felt strange and wonderful -- how clever, I thought, to make the title of a book about a when, instead of a what. It wasn't until grad school that I found a copy in the library here, at the university, and read it through. I wanted my own copy, but had a terrible time finding one that wasn't horrendously expensive. Then the New York Review of Books published an edition, and my heart leapt, only to learn that it had been abridged. It was only on my recent trip to London that I was able to get hold of the unabridged version, published by Egmont, along with The Midnight Folk. And both illustrated by Quentin Blake! It couldn't get much better. I thought the latter was a sequel, but realized differently, this morning, as I read, that Kay Harker recognizes the name Abner Brown:

'So it's Abner Brown and his gang again,' Kay muttered. 'I am up against Magic, then, as well as Crime.'

I reprint this sentence purely because the casual recognition of fighting foes on two levels is part of what makes the atmosphere of Masefield's novel so lovely. But this morning when I stumbled over it, I frowned, and got out of bed to check the publication date of The Midnight Folk. Sure enough, it's the first of the two, so I shall put down The Box of Delights, but only to read Kay Harker's adventures in their proper order. There will still be time to reach the second (and watch the BBC series) before Christmas.

Note: The Guardian is featuring The Box of Delights as part of its Season's readings series -- if you, like me, are a fan of Christmas stories, take note!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Very Personal Ads, #1

Havi Brooks, who created the website and accompanying life curriculum at The Fluent Self, is a professional destuckification consultant. Her business partner is a duck named Selma.

Seriously, what's not to love about that?

I've been peering at The Fluent Self periodically for over a year, but only recently am I getting frustrated enough with my own obstacles that I'm ready to start actually experimenting with Brooks' strategies. One of them is asking for the things you want. No, no, not in the Prayer of Jabez "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" way. Things that can't simply be solved by money at the outset. Things like figuring out a way to accomplish something, or finding a collaborator, or just getting over obstacles of the self. Or asking for the perfect house to find you, which was apparently the impetus behind the first Very Personal Ad. Brooks writes that she needed "to make a regular practice of trying to feel okay asking for stuff. Even when the asking thing feels weird and conflicted."

I think I should experiment with the same thing. Seanan McGuire writes letters to the Great Pumpkin, that serve a similar purpose. I might try something like that, but I think I'll start without limiting myself to one addressee.

And for now, I'll start small, or at least, start short:

1. I have this bizarre habit of having a realization that clears up something I've been working on (most often in a dissertation-related context), and then having a strong instinct to get up and do something else, rather than following through. It's almost like I'm trying to prevent myself from actually taking full possession of the idea, once I've found it. Was that me, sneering at Emerson and his awareness of intellectual property a couple of days ago? Well, if I was sneering, then it was because I've been exhibiting the polar opposite tendency -- to refuse to even attempt ownership of the idea.

I'm getting better at not allowing myself to do this; at making sure that I get the clarity of the revelation down on paper -- most of the time. But I would really, really, really like to start aggressively taking possession of my own ideas and working with them, rather than running away from them.

And that's it for this week, in terms of VPAs. I'll look back at this one and write a new one next Sunday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 11: a very messy set of answers

December 11 – 11 Things What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

You can see by now that I can be awfully lax about these prompts when I choose to be. I'm not sure I can write the answers that I want to this one, but I can start.

1. Crushing self-doubt: I'm increasingly conscious of the fact that part of me has given up on myself. At the same time, I'm aware that this view is distorted -- and I can think of instances, in the very recent past, that prove to me that it's wrong. But there are also times when I'm surprised at myself; at my mere ability to focus. Friday I worked all day long on an editing project, moving steadily through 70 pages of text; and at the end of the day, I was both delighted and surprised, because I realize that I'd concluded from the start that I was wholly incapable of that level of focus.

2. A deep-seated fear that the work I do doesn't contribute to the rest of the world, or rather, isn't the contribution that the world needs most. With everything I see happening, from the hunger of people on the streets, to an increasing inability to use analytical reasoning, or willingness to display compassion, why does the world need me to dig up perspectives on economic development in 18th and 19th century Britain? It sounds, I know, as though I've read too many of those "the humanities are worthless" articles in the mainstream media. It also sounds as though I'm beating myself up for not being capable of being Christ himself on the cross, right here and right now. Not really a valid thing to beat myself up about, honestly, or even a good one, because that bit of scripture in Matthew (25:40, I think) about "even what you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me") can be interpreted, I think, as being also applicable in that even the least good things are still important.

I need to keep on exploring this one. Part of it is clearly just depression, but part of it *is* about my own engagement with the question, "What do the humanities have to offer the world today?" and I do have an answer to that. I'm just terrified to explore it, or not sure I'm capable of doing so (see item #1 above).

3. Less clutter. I think that the Christmas present I give myself should be an entire day for sorting through old papers, and getting rid of stuff I don't need. I've gotten better about not acquiring more junk, but I need to get better at divesting myself of old junk that remains.

4. Too much work at the wrong time, or not enough of the right sort of social activities. This is a complex one, all tangled up with the first two parts of this list, but also with my own shyness, and the problem of not feeling especially at home in this city. I've felt out of place here for years. This doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the marvels of living in a town with good options for gluten-free groceries, farmers' markets almost every day of the week (if you know where to look), and a poetry bookstore. But I'm conscious, especially now that I'm back from a quick trip to London, of how much I miss not only the SEL, but also the city itself.

I have friends here, who I like spending time with. I am lucky to have them close by, and I should take advantage of that fact. Setting up social activities is not procrastination by default.

That's four things. Supposedly, I need seven more. I'm not sure that I'm quite self-aware enough to identify the other seven.

5. Too much internet at the wrong time (or, maybe one of the things I don't need is a SmartPhone). I first started using the internet as a wake-up tool during my senior year of undergrad, when I would wake up, and crawl from one end of the bed to the other, where my desktop computer was, and dial up the internet to read Slate first thing in the a.m. Now I check my email, a couple of blog listings, and a friendslist on LJ, and Facebook, and Twitter. I'm embarrassed to admit that there's a bit of voyeurism in this: I want, quietly, to see the world bustling about. But doing this tends to start off the day with distraction, with an attempt to escape myself. It might be better if I started off the day by allowing myself to read a chapter of a book in order to wake up. That's still a form of escapism, but it's escapism where I feel more present, and not less. I think that I should try doing that for a week, starting tomorrow.

6. Cripes. I have no idea. I think I'll stop here, because the five things above are things that I *can* begin to deal with; and I suspect that as I deal with them, other things will become more clear.


7. New Kid's post for today mentions jettisoning distance from family. Like her, I don't have a magic way of just choosing to end the distance between Seattle and London and the SEL, so I don't know how to do this. But I'd like to find a way, so I'm putting it here, for the record.

Tower Prep Review

I usually manage to watch about one 50-minute hour of television per week. In winter/spring that's Doctor Who; in early fall it's the Sarah Jane Adventures. I used to be a devoted Criminal Minds fan, but the writing has declined, and after they dropped JJ Jareau and made plans to minimize Emily Prentiss, there just wasn't enough there to keep me watching.

And this was why I was so excited when Seanan McGuire started blogging about Tower Prep.

It seemed like a great show at first, for all the reasons that Seanan mentions: atypically gendered roles, pretty good jokes, an intriguing plot: pretty perfect brain candy. I didn't mind if it was geared towards younger viewers.

But the plots of each episode have gone in directions that don't seem to be connecting, and aren't being followed up on. Each episode is a standalone that then just gets casually referenced later on. And the characters, who I originally liked, seem to be falling into fairly flat rotations of shtick, and turning into whiny, self-absorbed students. The most recent episode, Field Trip, featured them plotting to make their lab partners do all the work on an assignment so that they could work on their escape plan. Maybe I'm still bitter from being the lab partner who ended up doing most of the work in high school, but I wasn't impressed -- nor was I delighted with the continual mocking of geeky, opera-loving Fenton.

To be fair, there was a scene between Ian and Cal that was thoughtful and interesting, but it seems unlikely that we'll get that dynamic again, given what happened. Will we find out why Cal chose what he did? If we do, I'll be delighted, but I'm not counting on anything.

For me, the moment that said everything about how the show has fizzled since its opening was when Ray, Emily, and Fenton put their heads together at the end of Field Trip, and I thought "Man, I wish Tower Prep were about these three teaming up!"

I don't suppose the writers are going to humor me and change focus; but if they do, or even if Team REF does continue to work together, I'll be back. Otherwise, so long, Tower Prep. You are not even worth my $1.50 per week on iTunes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 8 - Beautifully Different; or, Capitalism is Everywhere - a lecture-rant

December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Author: Karen Walrond)

The students in the political theory class for which I teach a linked writing course were really excited about reading Emerson's "Self-Reliance," because it showed "how important it is to be yourself, and to be different."

They hear this message everywhere. I'm not blaming Emerson for it. On the contrary, "Self-Reliance" is a wonderful illustration of why the cliched fetishizing of being special is subtly insidious. It's the backbone of modern capitalism. I don't see this being discussed very often, so today, I'm adapting the lecture that I gave my students several weeks ago. All citations are taken from the Dover Thrift Edition of "Self-Reliance and Other Essays."

At the close of "Self-Reliance," Emerson rejects "the reliance on Property" as "the want of self-reliance," which might appear, on the surface, to be a very Marxist position. But as he clarifies, Emerson explains that what he hates is inactive property, which "merely lies there," while "that which a man does always by necessity acquire" and which "perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes" is not only acceptable, but ideal (37). Power, he wrote earlier, "ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state" (29).

This is Marx's definition of well-used capital; the bourgeoisie's constant revolutionizing of the instruments and means of production. Revolution doesn't mean only revolt, in this sense -- but also revolve -- the maintenance of a continual cycle.*

Emerson's very first example of the importance of being true to one's own individuality defines individuality in the terms of intellectual property: if we fail to take possession of our own ideas, then "to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another" (20).

The shame has nothing to do with being right or wrong in one's thought -- it's about someone else having claimed it as property, and taking control of how it's shared out. Self is the ultimate capital, the "plot of ground which is given to [man] to till" (20). One of the things that makes Emerson remarkable as a voice of capitalism is that his assertions so easily reinforce the positions of both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.** "Accept the place the divine providence has found for you" sounds like humility, but then he clarifies we "must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner .... but guides, redeemers and benefactors" (20).

Emerson's real ideal is to speak from a position of wealth and power: youths are not just to be accepted because they are self-sufficient, but capable of making their elders redundant (21). This is the humility of the capitalist system: the people who are to be revered are the ones who are capable of making you obsolete. The ideal man who does interact with society does so in the following way: he can "utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear" (21). In other words, making other people fearful is not only his prerogative, but his responsibility. The risk of entering society in more communally-oriented ways is that one might have to give up or reduce one's ability to be seen as superior to others. Dick Cheney would love this guy. Why haven't we heard yet about how Emerson is his ideal of American patriotism?

If the self is capital, then virtue is expenditure (22) -- monetary charity to another who "does not belong to me and to whom I do not belong" is a waste; to act virtuously is a penance, a payment. To ally yourself to dead capital, rather than focusing on the importance of renewing capital, is not just to make an unprofitable economic choice, but to obscure the self. This is what makes "Self-Reliance" insidious, and what makes it the embodiment of capitalism -- of personal worth and identity being commuted into exchange value. It gives lie to the earlier statement about aspiring to be a redeemer or benefactor.

Nor is Emerson merely expressing an emotional mood of capitalism that simply affects how one thinks about oneself and how one thinks about others. There are significant ethical ramifications as well. People love to quote Emerson's aphoristic statement that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" -- most often, I see it referenced in regards to piddly grammatical errors, matters of less and fewer. It's appropriate in that context, but Emerson is invoking it in regards to past words and acts; rejecting the judgment of the eyes of others. There's wisdom in that, to be sure, but Emerson's rejection of caring about whether you are wrong, or misunderstood, looks different if we think about it in conjunction with Marx's description of the cycle of commercial crises brought on by the bourgeoisie:

It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. [...] The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented. (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

Emerson's rejection of foolish consistency is a rejection of responsibility, justified by the possibility that to be responsible for others would be a violation of one's self.

Is there social justice in "Self-Reliance"? Emerson says that "We want men and women who shall renovate life and or social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, [and] have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force" (32). In other words, they're ineffective at exerting power and managing their self-capital successfully. Naked self-interest becomes all in all, and greatness is to be able to claim that nugget of intellectual property and control how it's shared among others. "Every new mind is a new classification," writes Emerson, and a truly great mind is the one which "imposes its classification on other men" (33).

That's the social justice that results from making nonconformity the supreme virtue.

Like Marx, Emerson sees society as "undergoing continual changes" -- we have changed in vulnerability from the New Zealander (who has far less property), in technology (the coach, the watch), and therefore, the institutions that define how property is owned and protected (37) are equally ephemeral. A man is better than a town in that a town, by Emerson's definitions of the ways that people organize, cannot really bind together as equals to accomplish anything. Not only is his perspective of the importance of exerting power over others contra to Marx, but his view of the inability of others to organize effectively explains why he would have put little or no faith in Marx's proposed proletariat revolution. To assume "free development for each" and "free development for all" would require a conformity that is unacceptable.

I think I've gone on quite enough, and less stylishly than I'd like to, because this is a very hurried adaptation of lecture notes. But when I hear "what's different makes you beautiful," I can't help but think that it has opposing meanings, depending on whether it's taken in a private or public context. Everyone I love is beautifully different, and the privacy of the way that I perceive that difference in each of my friends is what keeps me going, especially when I'm stressed and freaked out over one thing or another. But in a public context, "what makes you different is what makes you beautiful" is, all too often, just another way that capitalism is all-pervasive.


** And yes, I'm aware of Emerson's seeming opposition to capitalism, in that he was opposed to Smith's division of labor. I stand by this argument.

Monday, December 6, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 6 - Making!

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

Things I've made recently:

1. Cookies, for myself, and crackers, and pizza dough -- this is the first time I've really gotten into gluten-free baking, and I am dying, if only metaphorically, to try out this recipe from the Gluten-Free Girl for GF gingerbread.

2. A last-minute trip to London, to be part of the Blake Society's 25th Birthday Party at Tate Britain.

3. A surprise present for a friend, because I was picking up a book in London that I knew we'd both want, and that she was unlikely to have (she didn't). These sorts of surprise packages are one of my favorite things to make. They don't have to be expensive -- just something unexpected.

Things I'm in the middle of making:

1. A dissertation

2. A hollowed-out Loeb Classic wallet, for my friend Kate. This will be the second one I've made, and I'm improving some of my design choices from the first version. So far, so good -- but I need to finish it!

Things I want to make:

1. Dorie Greenspan's Hachis Parmentier

2. Braised Pork With Chiles and Cumin, by the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef -- but doing so would require me to have a slow cooker, and I haven't got one. Bah.

3. A syllabus and course plan for my Political Theory juxtaposed with YA Lit course. Not saying anything more about that is the best thing here -- because it puts more pressure on me to actually write the whole thing, and get it out of my head.

#reverb10 - Day 5 - What I gave up.

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I'm a little bit behind, which I don't mind, but it's worth it to me to try and stay on the tail ends, rather than falling further.

This summer, I gave up what felt, at first, like part of my independence. Serious stuff for someone who self-identifies as feminist. I lived, for the first time, with my Splendid English Lover (SEL), across the pond, while working on a research grant. It was a very new thing for both of us, as we've always been long distance with short visits that for reasons I won't go into here. (no, nothing scandalous; just not my story), haven't actually included spending the night under the same roof. It was a very new thing for me, since I've never lived with anyone with whom I'm romantically involved, and haven't lived with family of any sort for more than ten years. I haven't even had roommates for the last four, excepting the kitty, who has yet to pay the rent.

I figured that I would buy groceries, buy a lot of my lunches out -- not add tremendously to the expenditure of the household (and by tremendously, I meant "as little as possible") -- so I was rather taken aback when the SEL proposed that I should raid the fridge for lunches, and let him know when I ran low on GF cereals, crackers, etc. It felt foreign to me to allow someone else to buy those things for me; moreover, it made me think of living as a teenager with a controlling family whose rule was "as long as you live in our house and we provide for you, you follow our rules."

I wrote a couple of days ago that not providing for myself and being completely independent made me feel like I ought to be shot or shoved off of a tube platform, or even that I ought to jump myself. Before you tell me to check myself into a mental hospital, stat -- no, I wasn't about to accede to the little voices in my head. Hearing them, acknowledging them, and dismissing them is what I've found to be the best strategy. Writing today, though, I can acknowledge that crumbs! -- that PTSD from a difficult adolescence is still with me.

And so I found it rather challenging to accept the SEL's caring for me. He made me gin & tonics when I came home from the archives, baked me gluten-free puddings; fried eggs for me some mornings (though he also taught me to fry my own*). Other mornings, if I seemed to be forgetting that I was allowed to have fresh fruit from the fruit bowl, he'd simply slice a plum, and offer it to me.

Does it sound bizarre to you that I would forget that I was allowed to have fresh fruit? I suppose it does, but I often did. I thought of it as the best food, and thus that I should not allow myself to partake of it. No one had suggested anything of the sort, of course, but my subconscious, it is mighty and twisted.

I even found it nervewracking that he would make us both dinner at the end of the day. What if I like this too much?, I thought. What if I find that I'm incapable of cooking for myself afterwards?

I didn't find that allowing someone else to make me dinner destroyed my own ability to cook, or reduced me to some former shadow of myself. That shouldn't be surprising, though it is to me, sometimes, when I contemplate it. It's an index of how thick some of my mind-forged manacles are; how difficult it is to finally allow them to slide off my wrists, even when they've been unlocked for years.

I could write much more about this** -- but I mustn't -- there's too much to do. What I did find, though, quickly:

1. the SEL is a wonderful cook, and not coincidentally, wonderful at plating. Apropos of this, gooseberries are the best summer fruit ever.

2. Power and equality in a relationship are far more complex than I had previously thought; there is no calculus that will simply measure equality based on who is cooking dinner and who is chopping vegetables. It is wonderfully relaxing, by the way, to end the day by chopping vegetables, without having to worry about what is going to happen to them or when they have to go into the pot. It is lovely to make dinner with someone else; lovelier still to be a test case for things like whipped cream spiked with single malt whiskey. Beauty is someone who will allow you, every once in a while, to fry him an egg in the morning.

3. I am defined by much more than my own ability to be traditionally domestic. This is a very good thing for me to learn, because honestly, when consumed by research and dissertating? I'm not a great domestic. Dishes sit around unwashed; and I eat raw veg, cheese, and fruit, and crisps, because they're quick. There's nothing wrong with this -- as a diet, I could do a lot worse -- but I know that part of my consternation this summer was feeling that I wasn't meeting standards of femininity; and feeling that I ought to be able to excel simultaneously in both areas (careerism and domesticity) at once, even though I resent mainstream patriarchal culture when it suggests that I am failing by not being able to do this.

In short, what I gave up wasn't my independence at all, but instead some lingering stale gender traditionalism that benefited neither me, nor the SEL. His abilities and instincts for caring and cooking ought not be marginalized merely because of his gender. I gave up, too, some old nightmarish mind games from my past -- preconceptions that were only hurting me, when I didn't even realize that they were still so much a part of my everyday existence. I fear they're not wholly gone -- when I am my own enemy, I am at my most tenacious -- but I am more free of them than I have ever been before; and that is something that I want to remember.

*Yes, as appalling as it will sound to those of you who know how much I love to cook, I had never learned to fry an egg, and always been rather terrified of getting it wrong. A study in contradictions: that would be me.

** I should certainly, by some logic, explain how I was fitting into the household, since I had my own domestic work to do -- but that is another story for another time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I am extraordinarily edgy about the current section of dissertation. I'm not precisely sure why -- but then, there may not really be a good reason -- it may just be overflowing edginess. (If neurotic energy could be converted into heat, I'd have a cozy apartment.)

I might as well say something about it here, and maybe that will get me over the obstacle. I write about 18th century English poetry that engages with economic development. (I write about 19th century English poetry that does the same thing, but we'll save that for another day). Perhaps, when you read the above, you thought, "Oh, she's dealing with Pope and Swift, or Johnson and Gay" -- but you'd be wrong. I deal with Young, and Blair, and Beattie, and Yearsley. I'm exhuming the Graveyard School*, and sorting out rather wilder, more mixed economic perspectives. Critics have usually dismissed them as being little more than continuations of 17th century Puritan spiritual commerce metaphors, exhibiting little more than an obsession with the binary of earthly and eternal value, and a desire to frighten readers into conversion.

I've got plenty of material to hold a discussion suggesting that it's more complicated. I'm even discussing several reasons why we've failed to see the nuances within this poetry as relevant to economics.

What makes me really nervous is the stance that I'm taking in regards to capitalist thought. Late 17th - early 18th century England is seen as a turning point in capitalist development. Whether you argue (as Appleby and Weber tend to do) that it's the turning point, or whether you're aligned with Sombart and others who see capitalism emerging much earlier in the Mediterranean states, it's hard to deny that capitalist thought is present in England at this point. I certainly don't want to deny that. But capitalism doesn't suddenly take hold universally. To analyze reciprocal exchanges, pursuits of profit and loss, and attentiveness to economy as capitalism is, as Barbara Herrnstein Smith notes, both ethnocentric and reductive. This sort of analysis tends to group everything that progresses towards modern capitalism as important, and everything else as less relevant.

It's easy enough to be wary of this pitfall when analyzing non-Western societies or ancient societies without clear connections to the rise of modern capitalism.

However, I'm taking the position that it's just as important to be cautious of such reductionism in looking at texts from 18th century England, because it's unwise to assume that merely because capitalist economics were on the rise, all or most individuals exhibited capitalist views. Being incautious of middle grounds in economic thought (that are arguably not modern capitalism, but that are also arguably not mercantilism, either) is part of what's led us to contemplate two possibilities for economic development. 1): the homo economicus, for whom all commerce is instinctive and natural, or 2), what Herrnstein Smith (though she's certainly not the only person to draw this distinction) refers to as the "fall into Commerce," wherein all economic behavior becomes earthly and temporary, and all value is classified as sacred or profane.

The Graveyard School is practically created by the opposition between these two possibilities. I'm being a bit extreme, putting it like that, but I'll stand by it. It's more like a combination between the two, but if analyzed in terms of whether it's progressing towards capitalism or not, then it looks as though it isn't, and immediately gets shunted into woo-woo-divine-economy territory.

I suppose that taking this position makes me nervous because in some ways, it's a pretty basic error.

Let me be clear -- I'm not saying in the least that all critics of economic lit have botched this, or that it invalidates analyses of Swift, Pope, etc. -- though the commercial satires themselves did contribute to this problem, because they set a precedent that imaginative depictions of finance would be seen by later critics as mocking and sharply criticizing economic structure, instead of being considered as theorizing about the structure itself.

Back to the basic error of studying through the lens of "capitalist/smart" vs. "not capitalist/primitive," it excludes a lot of data that's relevant to economic decision-making. And even if it is primitive (because arguably, in a number of cases, it is), the problem is that primitive, in the case of these poems, has been synonymous with Not Worth Studying. To be fair, there's pressure from the econ. side of things, where ideas and principles are constantly churned, with the new replacing the old. This is just one of the factors that contributes to a fractious relationship between humanities and economics.

This largely why the position I'm taking makes me jittery, I suppose. In asserting that certain aspects of the way critics have handled the history of economics have been reductive, I'm also pursuing knowledge that the discipline of economics would not consider relevant. That's not the end of the world, though.

The other thing that makes me nervous is that it feels challenging to set up a useful framework for discussion for texts that I'm claiming are middle ground. Pre-capitalism isn't necessarily the best description for them. In some ways, it's accurate enough, and maybe you could argue that to link them with capitalism would be useful in expanding what capitalism is, and how it developed. Maybe. I don't think so at the moment, though. In the poems that I'm working with, it makes much more sense to me to describe the authors as working to construct different forms of economic authority. I really do think that's the best way of characterizing them; it finds a common feature (which I know, I'm not fully explaining here), and yet gives me room to discuss how each author establishes and wields this authority differently. But it makes me jittery, because, after all, I'm not trying to construct an argument that they do so in a capitalistic fashion.

Getting that off my chest was useful.

* Why yes, it is risky of me to use one umbrella for all of the poets who've been classified or associated with the graveyard school! Bear with me, though. For now, think of it as including poems that prominently feature the opposition of eternal and earthly value, and a moralistic, scolding commentary on commerce and consumption.

Friday, December 3, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 3

Prompt: Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Ali Edwards)

I'm often put off by "pick one moment" prompts, partly because if there's a moment, or moments when I felt most alive, chances are pretty good that I'm reluctant to put it on the internet for all to see. And the moment of being alive has such a cliched association with happiness. And sometimes I'm most alive when I'm cranky, or pissed off. But there's no rule in the prompt that says I couldn't discuss one of those cranky moments, is there? Or tired moments?

I can't deny that I am acutely and uncomfortably alive when writing a conference paper; that doing so captures both the highs and lows of living. There's the point at which I am unquestionably a living mess, the point at which the mess begins to transform itself into something coherent, the point at which I remember that I am a single living thing among many, and then, afterwards, the blessed release of wonderful, unconcerned lightness. I was in a hotel in Oxford, and so happily free of encumbrances that I almost answered the door to room service while wrapped in a tiny towel. And the moment when I realized what I was doing? Oh, yes, that was very much a moment of feeling alive, too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 2

December 2 – Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

It's a measure of how stressed I am of late that when I got this prompt, I wanted to throw up my hands and say "I have no idea. Everything." It's taken all day to come to something like an answer with more perspective, and even that perspective is uncertain, because I feel like I don't know the answer for certain. I can block out the internet with apps like Leechblock, Chrome Nanny, Freedom, and Self-Control; or I can let it in, because I find that I feel that I'm writing less in a vacuum when I can periodically chatter a bit on Facebook or Twitter.

Neither one helps, really: I still feel like I have to work harder, and harder, while feeling at the same time that I don't know how to work any harder than I already am. The result is that sometimes I have days like today, where I'm so tired I can't focus at all. I should take breaks before I reach that point of exhaustion, but it never feels like I've worked hard enough to earn them, and the result is that each time I take one, I despise myself a little bit more.

This really doesn't work well.

I have a friend who is ruled at times by jealousy. I was ruled by jealousy once, several years ago, and found the process dismaying enough that I swore up and down I'd never be again. But if I've let myself feel a tinge of pride at the fact that I've succeeded there so far, then I need a bit of a comeuppance, because I'm easily ruled by self-doubt, more, perhaps, than the friend ruled occasionally ruled by jealousy.

The result is that I feel that I have to check everything, over and over; that if I step away from my work for a day, I feel as though I've forgotten my place entirely, and have to start over again from the beginning. This is because I tell myself that I know nothing; I am entirely unwilling to countenance the thought that I might learn. In my head, I am incapable of learning, of change. And yet I know this isn't true; I can point to areas of my life where I have grown and changed in the last five years, where I feel more human, and less isolated than I have for most of my life.

What can I do about this problem? I love my subject, but it is difficult to transform that love from contemplation to action, when my concept of my own activity is soaked with self-loathing. And I'm skeptical that I can just slough it off the way I beat jealousy, if only because this is a problem that has been with me for far longer; which has shaped who I am. In moments of clarity, it occurs to me that much of the hardest work I have done has emerged less from love than fear.

That last point is hard to face. I don't like evaluating the balance of my life using it, because I know how much lands on the side of the scale marked fear.

And yet, I can remember clearly the end of my sophomore year in college, staying up most of the night to write an essay on Euripides' Medea, without relying on caffeine, because I loved it enough that I didn't feel I needed it. (Also because I was young enough that I didn't need it.) And that same love has characterized my research of the last few years. If I had been wholly ruled by fear, I wouldn't have been able to stay as calm as I have throughout, I think. I think.

So, what can I do? If it's not possible to simply regain freedom from self-doubt in one fell swoop, then can I establish a few guidelines for better combatting it? I think I can. So, how do I set up concrete steps to act from love, rather than fear?

1: I need to go to the internet because I want to, not because I'm feeling inadequate. Doing this may involve setting Self-Control the night before, so that I'm blocked in the morning, in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

2: I need to acknowledge that a balance between work and leisure is healthy; that it serves a purpose of allowing me to examine ideas freshly.

3: I need to believe and know that mistakes, when I make them, can serve a purpose. Right now it just feels like they slow me down, and that's bad.

I'm going to stop this here for now, with the resolution that I'll come back to this post and keep exploring.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unfamiliarity and Perspective

This year, I'm taking a crack at doing #reverb10. Care to join me? Details here.

December 1: One Word:

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

I think the best word for the previous 11 months is unfamiliarity. For the first time, I've lived with a major food allergy, one that has meant being the person with special needs, the one whose health requirements have a potentially major effect on others. I finished a dissertation chapter (and hope to finish 1 or 2 more before this year ends). I undertook my first major unsupervised archival research project. I lived with someone with whom I'm romantically involved. I lived in London, which, even for only 2.5 months, is much different than being there for 2.5 weeks (my longest stay previously). I let someone make dinner for me each night, which is certainly unfamiliar in the context of my adult life.

Some of the associated unfamiliarity I've dealt with well; and it has unquestionably been good for me to learn what it feels like to be the one who has to ask others to adjust their choices. I don't enjoy doing that; and sometimes I've felt downright angry when my gluten allergy makes me into an inconvenience -- but I have an inkling of what other people with more challenging disabilities feel in similar situations. I hope this allows me to be more empathetic with them.

Other aspects of it, not so much. Being taken care of at all made me acutely aware of my own self-negativity: I thought, at various times, that someone ought to shove me off a tube platform, or simply take me out and shoot me. Yes, I know that this is disturbing. I've internalized the view that George Bernard Shaw presents in this video extraordinarily intensely. This is partly the product of my upbringing in a conservative Christian family, and perhaps also more broadly an aspect of American socialization: I think of dependence as fatal, and fear it.

The unfamiliarity of dissertating is also a challenge. Writing arguments? That I've done. But blending literary, historical, and economic perspectives presents a greater challenge than I've faced in the past. Or maybe that's not quite it: what's unfamiliar is the sense of the potential importance of the work, combined with the sense that it's simply a hurdle I have to climb over to finish.

I need to finish this up if I'm to have it done on schedule.

For next year, I hope the word that resonates throughout it perspective. I need it desperately, as I did this summer. I found it this summer, but I found it in desperation, as I struggled to learn to read documents written in Chancery hand, realizing that my research grant would be the start of something that might last years, rather than being completable in three months. What I need is to allow myself to have perspective from the beginning, as I make decisions about balancing work and leisure; as I evaluate the way I spend each day, determining what I have accomplished. I need to remember that not every day will be characterized by breakthroughs, and that the lack of constant breakthroughs does not mean that I am a failure.

And I am seeking perspective, too, as I think about the worth of the work that I'm doing, the reasons that I'm pursuing a series of arguments about the imagination in economics, and in literature that's more than a century old. It doesn't always feel like digging through old poetry is the best way to develop insights that will serve a purpose in today's chaotic economic situation, though I very much want to produce something that will be of interest to more than just members of the literary academy. And yet my primary responsibility is to those texts -- not to creating something that's immediately and remarkably relevant today. Perhaps in being faithful to them, rather than trying to be both a lit scholar and an observer of contemporary economics at the same time, I can find the way forward.

“Perspective,” he would mutter, going to bed.

“Oh che dolce cosa e questa

Prospettiva.” Uccello. Bird.

And I am as greedy of her, that the black

Horse of the literal world might come

Directly on me. Perspective. A place

To stand. To receive. A place to go

Into from. The earth by language.

Who can imagine antelope silent

Under the night rain, the Gulf

At Biloxi at night else? I remember

In Mexico a man and a boy painting

An adobe house magenta and crimson

Who thought they were painting it red. Or pretty.

So neither saw the brown mountains

Move to manage that great house.

The horse wades in the city of grammar.

--Jack Gilbert