Monday, December 29, 2008

Anniversary Unnoticed #2

I've begun to wonder what it is about the fall and winter that leads more than a few of us to begin blogs in those months. Most recently, Phil celebrated his fifth anniversary of airing reflections publicly. Similarly, Buck recently celebrated the completion of his third year of a blog that, stylistically, has more 18th-century echoes than he probably even knows (and he doesn't strike me as the sort of person to sit around reading Samuel Johnson in his spare time, so I'm guessing those elements bleed over from an earlier career, 'dear reader,' whatever your views on that topic).

No doubt there are others whose anniversaries fall in this time frame, but which I've missed through sporadic reading or because they, like me, missed their own anniversary. 20 December was the two-year mark for They Rode On. It slipped by in a flurry of holiday activity.

On that particular day, I was busy flying to Colorado to spend holiday time with my daughters. That I even mention that here attests to the chameleon nature of such an enterprise as this. There are blogs where most of the readership is composed of people who are largely strangers to the author. There are others where the readership is almost wholly family and acquaintances. And there are many, I think, like this one--hybrids of sorts. I know there are strangers who read here, likewise there are family members and old friends. Best of all, perhaps, there are also people who were strangers once, and whom I've never actually met in the flesh, but whom I've come to think of as old friends. The life of the mind may be unique in that way, in its ability to bond people firmly and in a short time. There's less opportunity there to be swayed by superficial things.

And the beauty of a blog is that it allows that sort of yoking of dissimilar things. I had thought that eventually this would evolve into one sort of thing or another. Instead, it has remained as eclectic an endeavor after two years as it was on day one, perhaps even more so. To all of you who've come along for the journey, thank you and welcome to you. If anything, I would say make yourself more at home. Comments are the alms of the blogger. Some of us would write regardless, but it's always nice to know that someone's reading and to know that maybe what we've written makes them think, or smile. More than once, I've left nothing more than a smiley face as a comment at friends' places, just to let them know it wasn't the great void they were sending their missives into.

So, again, thanks to you all for tagging along, for commenting, for inspiring, and for tolerating. I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and is looking forward to an exciting new year. I think we are all going to find ourselves somewhat victims of that ostensibly Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Soon enough, I think, our answer to that will be a confident, if somewhat jaded, "Been there. Done that."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thought for the Day

Joy is not a thing we come to after a long and tiring search; rather, it is a thing we allow to find us, once we have evaded it long enough. When it comes, we recognize it was within us all along.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Model Falls

I know that it's not right to laugh at someone else's misfortune, but if you can watch this, and not laugh, you're a better man than I. I laughed so hard I thought my contacts were going to pop out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Let me give you some advice. If you're thinking of going to see the remake of the 1951 movie, here's a better plan. You'll need a DVD of WALL-E and an airsickness bag. Watch WALL-E with the kids. It has the same "Humans are a virus," message as The Day the Earth Stood Still (and Agent Smith from The Matrix, oddly enough), but it has the benefit of a really cute robot. If, at any point, you begin to think maybe you should have gone to see the new Klaatu after all, stick your finger down your throat and retch into the airsickness bag.

There you go. Now you can be beaten over the head with the same environmental message and experience the same emetic effect you'd have gotten if you'd gone to see the remake. But this way, you get a really cute robot, as opposed to a giant plague of robotic locust held together temporarily by Gorilla Glue (I love that stuff).

You can thank me later.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Audible: Jim Dale reads Harry Potter

One more quick note about listening to books. This one especially for parents of children of the age to read the Harry Potter series.

My oldest daughter began the series when it first came out. She was all of 11, maybe 12. Only a short way into the first book, she proclaimed, "Daddy, you really should read this. It's great!" Well, it was, if nothing else, a phenomenon. I was resuming teaching duties as an assistant professor of English, after a five year hiatus, first as Federation Liaison to the Klingon Empire at Camp Pendleton, California, then as a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. I didn't have a lot of time for leisure reading. But I do believe in staying involved in my children's intellectual lives, and I did know about Books on Tape (these were my pre-Palm, pre-Audible days). So, I gave the first book a listen.

Whatever objective judgment I might ever have made about the "literary" qualities of J. K. Rowling's work were lost in the delight of Jim Dale's ability to breathe life into every character and scene. I was hooked. I've listened to every book in the series. I have, officially, bought for myself, more of these books on CD than DVD's of movies, of any sort, ever. My daughter would read the books, and then listen to the CDs. Sometimes more than once. We would listen to them as a family on long road trips.

Jim Dale has won just about every award there is for his work on this series, and he has deserved each and every one.

Bottom line: if you have children reading these books, you owe it to yourself to enter their world and share it with them, and there is no better way than through the audible versions and the phenomenal work of Jim Dale.

For those who might be interested, I am currently listening to the second book of the Twilight series because my youngest daughter is a fan of that. Listening to it simultaneously with The Age of American Unreason. Now there's a contrast. You may also be interested to know that within the college English department where I used to teach, there were at least half a dozen of us who were fans of Rowling's work, including at least one I can think of with no children at all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008 II

It's II because I did a post on this topic back in February of last year. (I swear I don't get kickbacks for this.)

As an English professor, I read a lot. More importantly, an important part of my job, is to at least attempt to make "lifelong readers" of my students. As with so many other aspects of our lives, technology is changing the definition of "reading." I'll be teaching All the Pretty Horses later in the spring semester, so early in the term, I'll introduce the class to the book by playing the first few pages via my Audible account, either over my Treo, or from a CD I've burned. About the time we're going on spring break will be about the time they'll need to begin the novel in earnest. I've no doubt that a few will choose to listen to it as they drive wherever. I have fond memories of listening to it as I drove along Highway 53 in Virginia during my time there. Of course, I'd already read it in print twice by then.

That was fun, but little has ever compared to listening to The Road as I traveled the route more than a year ago.

My point before I got distracted was going to be this: if you think you don't have time to read, you need to get hooked up with Audible, or Books on Tape, or Recorded Books more than anyone. Do you commute? Run? Iron or fold clothes? Rake leaves? Wash your car? Ride a bike, stationary or otherwise? If you do, then you have time to read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beer Launcher

If I just had one of these, I could get through grading these essays so much faster.

From the made me laugh out loud bin:

Hat tip: JPL

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making the Rounds

In a virtual reality, web-based sort of way, of course. It's finals week. I am typically not entirely human during this time of the year. Remember that Holiday Meme and the answer to question #13? It's a little less true this year, but not much, and only thanks to my ordering a few gifts online. Christmas shopping is the reward at the end of the semester grading crunch. Not there yet.

In the meantime, while my students were taking an exam this morning, I sat here and surfed a little, catching up on some of my friends in the blogosphere (also something I fall woefully behind on during "the grading season"). Some of the highlights (most worth a post of their own with commentary, but those damned essays and finals . . .) need sharing.

"Bob is an honorable man"

Over at Jay's place, Piper does the bard proud with a riff on Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, countrymen" monologue:

Friends, Romans, football fans, lend me your ears:
We come to bury Urban, not to praise him.
The evil that Gators do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Urban. The noble Bob
Hath told you Urban is ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Urban answered it.
(Here, under leave of Bob and the team –
For Bob is an honorable man;
So are all Sooners, all honorable men )–
It goes on, and it's worth the read. :-)

On Writer's Block

At Kate's, she's discovered a wicked tool for overcoming writer's block. I'll be adding this to my list of tricks I teach students when they're having a hard time getting started.

The idea is to instill in the would-be writer with a fear of not writing. We do this by employing principles taught in Introduction to Psychology. Anyone remember Operant Conditioning and Negative Reinforcement?

Negative Reinforcement "strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior."

  • Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
  • Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (that is, your time is up or you've written you wordcount goal or both)

I'm not sure I'll be using it myself, but anything I can suggest to my students increases the chances that something will be the ticket for them.

The Intertwining of Math and Language

Lastly, for the students have all turned in their efforts and left me alone in the room, there was this interesting post and discussion over at Chap's place days ago that I've been too long in getting to. I found it particularly interesting in light of frequent stories about the math challenges a friend is facing with an eight-year-old. I'm wondering now if the problem isn't rooted in language in that case too. If you have children struggling with math, Chap's post is worth a few minutes.

Grading: Do Not Disturb

Everyone has his or her own way of saying it. Chap says "Rig Blog for Heavy Workload." Barry, "Blogging Will Be Light to Intermittent" We are all in the same boat this time of year. I'll try to post something in the days to come, but don't be surprised if I seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. I try to plan my assignments during the semester so that two courses don't turn in graded work at the same time, but the end of the semester comes at the same time for everyone. All in all though, the last four months have been the most fun I've ever had teaching, despite the chaos in my own life. I have good reason to hope the next will be even better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Build Your Own Hell

Here's mine.

People who plan meetings during the last week of a semester
Circle I Limbo

Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

General asshats
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

The Inventor of Hand Drying Blowers
Circle IV Rolling Weights

The Inventor of Voice Recognition "Help" Lines
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Folks who drive in the left lane (at the same speed as the person beside them in the right)
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Osama bin Laden
Circle VII Burning Sands

Qusay Hussein, Uday Hussein
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Saddam Hussein
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Hat tip: Laura

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Doghouse

Too many papers to grade this time of year to be original. This is good for a break though. Stay out of the doghouse.

Hat tip: Laura.
(Apparently "to" many papers to grade to proof my own blog text too. Thanks Buzzard.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Livermush: Good Eatin'!

It's funny how some things you grew up with seem normal to you, but strike others as strange. Livermush is one of those things. I love it so much my mom usually makes a point of having some on hand to fry for breakfast when I'm home.

I've always known it was a distinctly southern thing, but imagine my surprise the first time I went to the grocery in Charleston and found no one had even heard of it. Not at Publix. (Okay, no surprise. They started in Florida, that geographically separated province of New York and Cuba.) Not at Bi-Lo. (A little more surprising, since this is a chain more restricted to the area of the south I think of as home.) But most surprisingly, not even at Piggly-Wiggly, which, really, even if it has spread to seventeen states, you'd think would proudly carry anything made from pig.

For the uninitiated, here's the Wikipedia entry on this "poor boy's pâté":

Livermush (or Liver Mush or Liver Pudding) is a Southern United States foodstuff composed of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. It is commonly spiced with pepper and sage. Vaguely similar to scrapple, livermush was most likely brought south through the Appalachian mountains by German settlers from Philadelphia. Livermush is colloquially known as poor man's or poor boy's pâté.

Shelby, North Carolina hosts an annual Livermush Exposition, which began in 1987 to celebrate the unique delicacy. In that year the Cleveland County Commissioners and the Shelby City Council passed resolutions proclaiming that "livermush is the most delicious, most economical and most versatile of meats." Other towns in North Carolina that have livermush festivals include Drexel and Marion. Sonnys Grill in Blowing Rock, NC is famous for its livermush [1]

It is commonly prepared by cutting a slice off of a prepared loaf and frying it with grease in a skillet until golden brown, much like you would Spam. At breakfast it would be served alongside grits and eggs. For lunch it can be made into a sandwich with mayonnaise or mustard, either fried as above, or left cold. As livermush's popularity rises, it is appearing as a primary ingredient in dishes such as omelette and pizza.

And for the literary-minded among you, Wikipedia included a link to a Christian Science Monitor article with this jewel:
Some of its fans enjoy publicizing the unusual meat. Jan Karon, author of a series of books set in fictional Mitford, N.C., has her characters eating livermush in almost every volume.
And finally, for even those who grew up with it, here's a great little video clip from Mark DiCarlo's Taste of America series, on a visit to Shelby, NC:

Bottom line for me? I'll be carrying "home" to Charleston at least a couple pounds of this poor boy's pâté every time I visit Mom and Dad from here on out.

That's all I've got for this morning. Time to go fry some livermush and scramble some eggs. Mmm mmm!

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The "Two Tramps in Mud Time" post brought the following from Con, not in a comment, but an e-mail. Too good not to share.

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. -Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

A day begins in delight and ends in dedark. - Connelly Simmons, wiseass (1959 - )

Friday, December 5, 2008

King Lear: When, "F*** You!" Just Won't Get the Job Done

Prepping for tomorrow's Brit Lit class, I was reviewing Samuel Johnson's, "Preface to Shakespeare," and had to restrain my pen, lest I underline the whole thing. But this in particular struck me tonight:

Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion; even where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue is level with life.
I had my students read King Lear this past semester. I love that play. One of my fondest things to do with it, in an attempt to point out to them how much the language really has lost in our drive to abbreviate everything to the size of a text message, is to ask them to sally forth with their most vicious curse, no holds barred. I needn't tell you that "F*** you, you motherf***ing SOB," is about as eloquent as it gets. And then, I tell them this true story.

Back around 1996, a suitor rejected by one of the women I claim some relation to decided that a potential avenue back into her good graces lay through my intervention on his behalf. The first time he called, I politely told him that this was his battle to fight, sorry, I couldn't help. I was kind. I didn't tell him I thought dumping his sorry butt was among the smartest things she'd ever done. Then I learned he was stalking her. Then I learned he was harassing my parents. Then I learned he'd filed charges against a member of my family for offering to perform a random rearrangement of a number of his joints if he didn't leave the entire family alone. Then he called me again. Idiot.

This time, I didn't mince words. I didn't even have the right words. But I knew where to find them. As soon as he'd finished with "Hello," I said, "Hold on a minute," and reaching over my shoulder to the bookshelf behind me, I pulled down my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare. I turned to King Lear. I turned to act 2, scene 2, to be precise, lines 13-22, Kent expressing to Oswald the exact sentiment I needed. Picking up the phone, I said, "I don't think I did a sufficient job of conveying to you what I really think of you the last time we spoke. Let me be more clear. I think you are:
A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stockign knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.
Clear enough?" I asked. Silence at the other end. He never called again. Go figure.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gorilla Glue

Okay. I love this stuff. Duct tape now has a partner. After Armageddon, if we can find enough of those two things, maybe we can put the world back together.

Over the break, I fell out of a chair. Yes, fell out. Leaned back in the wheeled chair at my father's desk and it shot out from under me like a horse with a bad attitude. On the way down, my Treo case caught the arm of the chair and the force literally ripped the belt clip right off. (Chinese thread isn't that sturdy anyway.) Dad took one look at it and said, "I've got some Gorilla Glue. Think that would work?" "Can't hurt," I replied.

Dude! Ten wicked horses in a team won't separate the belt clip from that case without a machete.

So I come home, and the first shower I take, the wooden-handled back scrubber comes apart and I stab myself in the back as used to happen about every three or four days. Not any more. A quick trip to Wal-Mart made me the proud owner of my own small container of Gorilla Glue. Nothing short of Darth Vader's light saber is separating that brush from the handle again.

Today, the wire rack on my shoe shine box came undone at two of its three attachment points . . . for the last time. That's what I'm talkin' about, Vern.

Gorilla Glue. Get some.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Start With Your Heart

Some four years ago, I was the deputy head in a department west of here, when my boss complained one day of having a problem seeing. And a headache. And numbness in one arm. I promptly informed said boss, a full colonel, that she was going to the clinic with me, post haste. When she resisted, I offered to get the Dean of the Faculty, a brigadier general, to accompany us.

Stroke is not a thing to be taken lightly. I scares the bloody hell out of me.

North Carolina takes it seriously enough to create a Task Force dedicated to it. Complete with helpful videos. They're even entertaining. Sweetness and light.

But the best part? That guy hosting the "game show" in the awareness spots below? He's another of those few that Robert Penn Warren aptly termed "the friends of our youth." Governor's School of North Carolina alums, we were to be roommates at UNC-Chapel Hill, had I headed that way instead of west to the Colorado School for Wayward Boys and Girls.

Enjoy. (Left clicking on the icons will open the video in a separate window.)

Hat tip: Connelly

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guest Artist

I remain swamped with teaching and grading, leaving little time for writing here. But I received this piece the other day from a mother some of you know, who finds herself balancing the demands of parenting with those of renewing her teaching certification, finding employment in a job market devastated by Wall Street's implosion, supporting herself and two children, and rebuilding a life devastated by another's deception. The Art History class that she's taking is, thankfully, challenging and rewarding. Having had the pleasure of reading a few of her submissions for homework assignments, I expect the course's instructor is finding this particular student at least as rewarding as she finds the class. In nearly every course, there is always one student, sometimes more, who makes it possible to remember why you liked teaching in the first place. (I've been more blessed in that regard this semester than ever before.)

The assignment was to write a creative essay about one's following of a certain style in art. The students were encouraged to push this idea as far as they could take it. What follows is one result. When one invites creativity from the offspring of English professors, the results are seldom boring. Enjoy.

Over the last two years, I have been a close follower of my son's style of eating. Jackson, also known as The Savage, mastered the fine art of solid food consumption before his first birthday and has since explored a variety of techniques for exploring, testing, tasting, and on occasion, actually digesting the meals provided for him.

His initial suppers served a la high chair always came with the requisite spoon. At first this spoon was used merely as a tool of entertainment or as a missile and his finely minced meats, vegetables and sauces were as finger paint to the palette. Most items designed to journey to his belly were smeared ferociously about the high chair tray, his hair and face in a method most German Expressionist. Jack's direct approach to the deliberate plastering of his food in thick heavy strokes directly mirrored not just his curiosity, but his angst and rebellion with having to follow the traditional rule of sitting quietly while eating.

As Jack's fine motor control increased, so did his desire to control the quality and taste of his media. However, the fervor with which he enjoyed his meals developed a more Abstract-Expressionist quality. Food was dumped from his plate immediately and then flung, spattered, dotted in decided rows of clumps on the floor or in random spatterings on the window behind his chair. Experiments with the translucence of food as a result of smearing or of the effects of layering the various colors and consistencies—such as red beans and rice over applesauce-- became direct parallels to his study of Jackson Pollock prints from time spent perusing my bookshelf. The spoon and fork became more forcefully used instruments to push, scrape and splay tasty material. Even his cup, between being thrown forcefully and retrieved, would be used to practice inking and stamping a circular shape of mashed food, the symbolism of importance only understood by the little artist himself.

In the past few months, however, Jackson's style of consumption has had a massive overhaul and new direction. The spoon, fork, and cup are now used in a more traditional manner and the tasting and digestion seems to have a more naturalistic approach. He executes more restraint keeping his colorful meals on the plate and prefers to keep the colors from touching or blending. Violent heavings of food upon floor are less frequent, as is the aforementioned flying cup. His tray, once heavily impastoed, remains only slightly delineated with crumbs or sauce bits. His face, however, still retains the lean toward the free-food painting of the Expressionist eater. While Jack is not alone in this current trend, his enthusiasm and pervasive public restaurant displays make him a pioneer in this final style, which I call Realist Nouveau.

The styles of Jack's dining have traveled through various courses of exploration, one set of standards building upon the next. One can only guess the duration of his current food study and the progression into a following, unnamed, undecided phase. This critic thoroughly hopes, though, that the spirit of Jack's eat-ability and the joy he brings to table continues to influence not just fellow consumers, but to inspire onlookers to loftier heights of parental appreciation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quote for the Day: Frost

I'll inaugurate a new label for posts today: "Quote for the Day." Often circumstances or events bring to mind some appropriate passage or other from some work tucked away in a fold of my brain or a shelf of my office. I may as well share them.

Today's was brought to mind by a conversation yesterday with a dear friend whom I left behind with so much of my life in Colorado. He had opportunity over the holiday to spend time in the woods engaged in physical labor of the sort that being voluntary makes a sort of church. As he described it, a poem by Robert Frost came to mind. The entire poem is short enough to read in a few minutes, and well worth the time, but a short quote will suffice here to get the main point across. Frost's point and my friend's--Robert's point in Robert's words:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

From "Two Tramps in Mud Time," by Robert Frost.