Thursday, August 31, 2006

Won't Somebody Please come to my Office Hours?

Office Hours. I've begun to loathe them. I hold them at the end of a long day of teaching, and today they are at the end of a long week of teaching. I sit in my office at the end of a long hall.

And no one ever comes. Except the week before papers are due or the week after they have been handed back. Then they all come and camp out in the hallway.

I don't know how people do this. I just can't keep still sitting in one chair for that amount of time. Next week I'll bring work and try to get some of my own writing done, but for that I like to get up every 15 minutes, swing my arms and pace around the house. How anyone as fidgety as me got into academia is a source of bewilderment.

I've got about an hour and fifteen minutes left before I can go home. I'm sitting here doing teaching prep for my upper level seminar in Renaissance poetry, looking out at the rain (today's forecast on NPR was that we would have a 100% chance of rain).

I'm preparing to teach Shakespeare's sonnets. I know the students will want to know about the biographical controversy, especially since this is coming on the heels of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, a sonnet sequence that does have a fair amount of contemporary biographical information on display. Was Shakespeare gay, straight, bisexual? Who was Mr. W.H., and who was the dark lady? What happened to make the speaker change beloveds 3/4 of the way through? I'll try not to spend too much time on those mysteries. I'm tempted to use Stephen Booth's terse answer, though it kind of takes all the fun out of the mystery:

"HOMOSEXUALITY: William Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. The Sonnets provide no evidence on the matter."

Ha! So much for that. Now we'll have to focus on the materiality of the text. No Anthony Burgess or Stephen Greenblatt for you.

Is Burgess' book even in print any more? I remember I had to check it out of the library in order to read it when I was 17. I wonder if I'd still like it. Maybe I should teach a literary historical novel course and assign it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Missing Montreal

I think I'll always miss Montreal. Food was what I missed third, after people and culture. But now that I miss food, I miss it acutely. Adjusting to suburban American life, I've realized I no longer have ready access to yummy things like good baguette, Montreal breakfasts (les oeufs benedictine at Cote Soleil and Cafe Fruits Folie), Blanche de Chambly, Coup de Grisou, pate, Portuguese grilled chicken, and goat cheese. Yes, even goat cheese. Chavrie is sold at the supermarket chain here, but it's $6.99. Fucking Six Ninety Nine! Oh well, at least good California wine is cheap and abundant here. And North Carolina wine too. Stop laughing.

I probably missed Montreal even while I lived there. The city frequently gave me sunny arm-swingy euphoria-inducing stomach-flipping days, especially in my last five weeks there. But sometimes it showed its melancholy side too.

This is one of my favorite storefronts in the Plateau.

It's from an old Jewish owned shop that sold "Planters (Biggest Name in Peanuts), Stationery, Candy, Twine, Etc."

Just what does the "Etc" stand for anyway?


I had planned not to indulge in weekly KB, also known as "kitten-blogging." But I couldn't resist just this once. Saffron is finally settling in to her new surroundings. One of her favorite spots to sleep is inside her mod circle-in-the-square cardboard scratching post.

A cat's ability to be blissfully comfortable in any kind of container always impresses me. Look at her dangling outstretched paws!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Bookish Post

So I've been thinking about the book questions, the ones Common Smartweed answered on her blog, Nice Belt.

It's a basic set of questions about books I've read and books I've liked and why. But answering such questions is hard when you're an English teacher. Because a) I don't really get to read many books for fun anymore, it's all mostly Renaissance texts and criticism and early modern documents and the like and b) I have this fear that because I'm an English teacher I'm actually supposed to know something about literature and therefore people will take my answers seriously. Which they shouldn't.

Which book/s changed my life?

Pale Fire and Mme Bovary. I read them both when I was 16. Up until that point I had been devouring novels right and left and delighting in living in the imaginary worlds they proffered. No longer. I guess I just hadn't realized that books could hide nasty secrets. But I love that they do.

The Goldbug Variations, because no one writes like Richard Powers, and no one tells a double-helix story as well as he does, here. You might as well give up on double-helix stories, because this is the best and final one, like Beethoven finishing the sonata with Op. 111 (in Mann's Dr. Faustus). Powers basically created and finished the double-helix story with The Goldbug Variations: there is nothing more to say on that subject.

And finally, Hamlet because if I had never been a 14-year-old Ophelia, I probably never would have become a professor of Renaissance English literature.

Which book/s have I read more than once?

Everything by Jane Austen. It's quite curious that something with such a predictable plot could continue to give so much pleasure again and again, and could compel me to keep turning those pages in anticipation. Why on earth is this? We all know she gets him in the end of every single book. Maybe it's something metaphysical about Austen's prose, maybe it's the way her knowing narrator includes her audience in the dryness of her jokes. I don't know, but I think it's a little bit weird.

I've also read The Rape of Lucrece probably about eighteen times in the last three years. And the damned article still won't get accepted. Oh well, I'll never tire of reading that excellent and terrifying poem, so I guess I shouldn't be so upset at having to continually revise my critical entry into it.

Which book/s would I like to have on a desert island?

I don't know what function desert island books are supposed to have. Are they supposed to comfort me in my hour of need, or are they supposed to be something that never bores me? I guess Paradise Lost would probably fulfill the latter function, but only Don Quixote could do both.

Which book/s made me laugh?

Don Quixote, Titus Andronicus (macabre humor: I love it), Crying of Lot 49, Hero and Leander, the last act of Poetaster, and a certain novella I read recently.

Made me cry?

Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, all of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins books (but especially the last one when she goes away for real) and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Children's novels do it every time.

Do I wish I had written?

Since I'm just a humble English teacher and not a writer per se, critically speaking, I'm still in awe of Patricia Fumerton's Cultural Aesthetics and Bourdieu's Distinction. There are a lot of scholars I'd like to be able to write like. The transparency of Margreta de Grazia's prose resembles cool, clear spring water. And Simon Schama's historical prose is impossible to resisit. And I suppose I wish I had cashed in on the medieval/renaissance historical murder mystery. Because I wouldn't have had to do any extra research, and I'm immodest enough to say that I think I could have done it a lot more imaginatively than almost every one I've read, with the exception of Ross King's Ex Libris, which is kind of like a 17th century Crying of Lot 49. I also wish I could write like Thackeray. There, I said it. Put away your puppets children, our play is done.

Do I wish had never been written?

The Da Vinci Code

Am currently reading?

I should probably lie and say that I'm reading something great but right now I'm heavily into teaching prep as I start the day after tomorrow. So I'm reading Chaucer, Sidney, Lydgate, and Holbein's illustrations to The Dance of Death (also known as the Imagines Mortis). Actually, the Holbein is pretty cool: dancing skeletons in various stages of decomposition, mocking their living counterparts.

Wanting to read?

Gilead. Because Common Smartweed makes it sound really good. Pearl, because my mother says it's really good. But definitely not the next brilliant break-out novel by some guy named Jonathan or David with glasses who lives in Brooklyn. Seriously, there are at least five of them. Shouldn't we be worried?

And now it's time for me to pass the baton, because it seems to be customary with these questions. So I pass it to Jonathan (Super Bon!), Skookumchick (Rants of a Feminist Engineer), and Pantagruelle. Have fun, guys.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Views

Here are some early views of my apartment.

First, on the left is the the vast living room, sans couch, which will be arriving between October and November. Not pictured: three Billy bookcases, almost full of books and cds, and the window on the other side of the fireplace. If you look closely, you can see the museum plexiglass in the fireplace. My landlord had it installed after the cat in the chimney incident. It reminds me of those museum pieces that beep if you get too close.

Next, you may peruse the almost empty dining room. I think I need a bigger table and definitely more chairs. I'm still waiting for my giant cuban movie posters to arrive, and I've got to get a frame for my Metropolis poster too.

Finally, we have the messy bedroom. Three windows but precious little light, as they all face North, and there are only patches of sky in the tree-filled back yard. The bed is unmade because Saffron is curled up under the quilt at the bottom and I did not wish to disturb her.

Not pictured: kitchen, front hall, breakfast nook, study. All too ugly and unfinished for your eyes as of yet.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

George and Ira Gershwin were Effing Brilliant

Here's why:

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no they can't take that away from me

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no they can't take that away from me

We may never never meet again
On the bumpy road to love
Still I'll always always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you've changed my life
No no they can't take that away from me
They can't take that away from me

It's a cyclone!

A cyclone of activity, that is.

I've been driving around, getting used to driving and having a car, rushing about on campus , moving into my office and into my home.

It took me two and a half days to completely unpack, but it was exhausting because I could only unpack in the afternoon and evening, after a full day's orientation on campus.

But thankfully I am now set up with a spanking new laptop, printer, and office. With a big window that looks out on one of the quads, the one full of giant Southern magnolia trees, some of which have decided to be in bloom, though sparsley. There is a nice old oak tree in front of the window.

I'm still physically exhausted from unpacking, moving boxes around, and getting rid of empty boxes, not to mention depleting the rain forest and wasting bushels of crumpled up paper. Nothing tones your arms better than shoving tons of crumpled up paper into giant black trashbag after giant black trashbag, sitting on said trashbag to compress the paper, then shoving in some more, and then carting six of said giant black trashbags down three flights of stairs to the garbage cans at the side of the house.

From what I've seen of the social scene here in this town, it is nil to negative nil. Thankfully this is not so on campus amongst the faculty. Already I've become friendly with two new history profs, a dance prof and a large number of 3-year visiting assistant English profs. Two of whom (the historian and the dance professor) live 2 blocks away from me.

It's pretty unfair how ghettoized the visiting assistants are, though. They all have to have offices in the basement with no windows, they get older computer models, and they didn't get much moving funds either. I'm sure the space thing is due in part to a shortage of office space on campus, on every campus everywhere. Hell, as a postdoc I didn't even get my own office. And while there were windows, lovely lovely windows, I still had to share with two other people, one of whom was doing administrative work and was on the phone frequently. So I never went to the office more than 4 or 5 times (and my office mates are probably reading this and only remembering 3 or 4 times). But creating an automatic distinction between tenure-track and visiting assistants does nothing to integrate departments. I'm doing my best to include them and to introduce them to tenured and tenure-track faculty. Aside from the fact that I think they will make up more of my social group because we're all around the same age and they are really cool, I am also struck by the thought that it could easily have been the other way around, with two of them upstairs on tenure-track jobs, and me and the other new tenure-track prof downstairs in the basement. The English job market is notoriously arbitrary, unstable, and dessicated in particular areas for a number of years. It's no accident that most of the visiting folk are late 19th-early 20th century scholars. This particular field has had a negligible number of openings on the market for the past three years, whereas my own field has experienced a bit of an expansion, going just by numbers.

This weekend I am working on my lesson plans and syllabi. In between short breaks to hang pictures and repot plants. One of the benefits of living in a highly suburban area is the high number of garden centers nearby. I now have a small conservatory of green friends in my vast livingroom, which includes a 4 foot rubber plant, a long-leafed weeping ficus (like the one I gave Amy), a button fern and a curly bostom fern, a china doll, and a hoya. Not to mention the thyme, rosemary, lavender and basil sititng in the kitchen window.

Once it's all set up I shall post a few photos here, just to gloat at what I can get for $675 a month down South.

Saffron has finally calmed down and has taken to sleeping under my quilt and purring up a storm all night (the bedroom is chilly from the air conditioning, so she likes to get under the covers to stay warm). Right now she's asleep in a sunbeam on my living room rug (a new purchase, huge, gorgeous so-called Bakhtiari, cheap, thank you ebay).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow

I have finally made contact with my driver. His name is Giles (not the British way, the French way). ZJeeel. He will deliver my things tomorrow (Tues) at 1pm. Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow I have a 4 hour new faculty orientation which I think will be just a bunch of people giving powerpoint presentations about benefit offers. In any case, I'll need to leave at 12:30, get in the car, and high-tail it home to meet the movers and let them in. Then, when they're done, I'll load up the car with boxes and posters and high-tail it back to campus to move into my office.

It's going to be a long day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Caution: Ranting about my Move

If only I could rewind and start the move over again. In all of one week, I managed to lose my wallet and everything in it, the movers haven't come and have missed their projected window, the movers overcharged me and my school (who refuses to pay for the whole move), and the cat somehow managed to crawl into the chimney and then got stuck and refused to push herself out. Not even a handful, and I mean a whole handful of smoked salmon could tempt her to squish her furry floppy body back out through the narrow opening. Finally when I attempted to block off her ascent with a large piece of cardboard, a torrent of falling soot distressed her enough for her to get out. Then she ran into the closet and stayed there for 24 hours. I think I was pretty traumatized too, but not as much as I was when I discovered my wallet had fallen into a trashbin that was emptied the previous morning.

I've basically been making trips to Target (tahr-jay, which is suburban bourgie shopping paradise to the uninitiated), slowly buying up duplicates of things I already have but need now because they are all with the movers until my cash runs out and my credit cards arrive.

Funny thing about the movers. As you know, my things left my apartment and were loaded up onto a moving van last Thursday. I was told they would arrive in 2-8 days, but once the van was loaded, that window would narrow or become more specific. Or so they said. Today I learned that although the shipment left the Montreal warehouse yesterday (a week after leaving my apartment), it hadn't crossed the border yet today at 7:15pm. And Montreal is half an hour from the border. They keep bullshitting me when I call, too. Yesterday I called to try to get some information and they told me the guy in charge was in the toilet and they had lost my file. Then they called me back about 3 hours later and had me speak to a new guy who wasn't clued into the fact that my file was soi disant missing. "We never lost your file, I have it right here," he said innocently. There is a website for me to check the status of my move, but it doesn't have any updated information. In fact, it places the estimated time of arrival between a week and 5 days ago.

It probably goes without saying, but just for extra emphasis: If I had known it would take the movers this long to deliver, I could have stayed in Montreal an extra week. Which would have been grand.

So basically here I am waiting for my replacement drivers license to arrive by overnight mail (it was in my wallet), waiting for my clothes, books, cooking utensils and furniture to arrive by van and praying that it will arrive all in once piece and with nothing missing . . .

I've got a little under 2 weeks before I start teaching. But I've got orientation activities all week starting this Tuesday and I'm supposed to move into my office too.

I've been being extra nice to strangers, hoping a little karma will come my way.

At least I read a really good novella the other day.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Airport Wireless

L'Aeroport de Montreal has wireless! I'm sitting here, looking out at the gorgeous blue sky and blogging from the airport, as I wait to fly to the States in about an hour. I'm such a cyber geek right now. I just updated my ipod after importing some new songs to itunes, some of which are very funny (thank you for the CDs my dears), so I'm listening to my ipod, giggling and blogging. I'm wearing my new Montreal Perdu t-shirt (available here). I am such a hipster cliche.

Well, I would be, except that there is a drugged cat sitting in a carrier at my feet, my clothes are covered with cat fur, I haven't brushed my teeth, my hair is a mess and my eyes are red and a little puffy. I sure look put together. Oh well, it's a little late for tears. I guess I can't change my habit patterns.

So far, the move is going as well as could be expected. Saffron was very brave, though it took longer than half an hour for her drugs to kick in and she trembled and shed handfuls when the security guards made me take her out of her case and then forced us to wait several minutes before going through the metal detector. When I put her back in the carrier I could feel her little heart beating hard and fast. Or maybe it was mine. But now she has sleepily snuggled down in the cat bag.

I knew it would be hard to leave Montreal and to leave you (all the "you"s in all the songs, abstract and specific), I knew I would be sad, so I'm just letting it happen, letting it pass through me. I feel things very intensely and I like feeling things intensely even if it hurts. It feels good to feel.

The Grammar of Quebecois Curses

So, one of the things I did on my last night in Montreal was go to a very Quebecois film, Bon Cop Bad Cop. Which is a Canadian farce or buddy action flick about two detectives, one from Montreal and one from Toronto, who meet on the border between Ontario and Quebec where the victim is discovered slumped over the "Bienvenue a Quebec/Welcome to Ontario" sign. The move is in French and English and it's all about these two totally stereotyped guys who of course loathe one another but eventually learn to put aside their cultural differences and solve a crime. Of course the future of the Canadian national sport is at stake (it's in danger of being hijacked by the US). And of course all the film ends up doing is reinforcing every stereotype imaginable about both provinces.

But it was rather entertaining. Mostly because I know that a year ago I would not have understood half of the humor, the jokes, or the French dialogue (and we went to a French cinema, so there were no English subtitles for the French Quebecois dialogue).

And I learned a lot about Quebecois swearing, too. I mean, I always knew that the most vituperative curses in Quebecois are words associated with the Catholic mass-- Host, Chalice, Tabernacle. But in the film the Quebec cop gives the Toronto cop a lesson in canting grammar, which was very edifying. Many curses, like tabarnac for example, function not only as a nouns, but in various constructions and declensions as adjectives, as objects as well as subjects (Hien, ce calice tabarnac! and Je lui ai donne un tabarnac), and as reflexive verbs (il s'en tabarnac).

Every anglo living in Montreal should see this totally stupid and somewhat gratutiously violent film, if only for this scene.

Oh, and I also went to Schwartz's. I can't believe I never went there before. I'm kicking myself!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

En Attendant Doldrum

I'm waiting for the movers to arrive to start packing. They are already an hour and a half late, but what else to expect from a company with a name that rhymes with "doldrum"?

Saffron seems less anxious, now that I've stopped pulling things down off the walls and ceilings. I've turned the bathroom into Kitty Headquarters, complete with bed, favorite toys, carrier, food, water, and facilities. I've even plugged a little jar of feline essences that are supposed to make cats calm into the outlet. But right now she is more interested in taking a tour of the kitchen counter.

The movers are loading tomorrow, and I shall be Southward Bound by Sunday morning. I hope it all goes well.