Friday, February 27, 2009

Writing it all down

I realized this week that part of the reason that everything has been stressing me out for months is that I have reached the ends of my memory buffer. I've just started a new experiment in my research gig; this spring I'm teaching a new class that's just at the limit of my expertise; my kids are busier than ever and always pushing into new directions, meaning that their school and activity schedules are increasingly complicated; and I have the audacity to continue to develop my own interests. Plus, you know, we have this house that has to be maintained, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, laundry to do. Summer is coming; I want to plant strawberries this spring, I want to find some way to prepare eggplant that my kids will enjoy, I want to do more canning, I want to do more composting. I'm taking classes this summer in statistics and the sociology of popular culture. Why aren't there more hours in the week, and how can I possibly keep track of the 168 that I've been given?

I'm finally willing to concede that I just can't store it all in my head. I have a history of success with planners, but my last beloved Filofax (old Kensington style, thanks) is completely beaten and ragged and I haven't found anything in the last 3 years that makes me as happy. And I've frequently been resistant to my planners, feeling the tyranny of all that scheduling crushing down on me more heavily when it's presented in text.

I mentioned this to a colleague this afternoon, whining about my demand resistance and my inability to keep track of everything and blah blah blah, and she fell out laughing at me - just that afternoon she'd cited a paper of mine in which I explain the neurophysiological and cognitive limitations to human multitasking.

And I, of course, had completely forgotten that I'd ever written that paper, way way back in 2007.

So I caved and went this evening to buy a 2009 calendar insert for my old Filofax. It looks like hell but it works a dream, and I really need something more that works.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

V. naughty language

...but really, did the whole laughing-till-I-cried thing. Especially loved the System Specs.

If the embed doesn't work for you, go here and play it directly.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ships & Dip V

I still haven't managed to assemble all of the events of last week into a coherent narrative, and I don't know when that's going to come together. We got home Saturday afternoon and had to whip the house back into shape; my parents had done a predictably wretched job of keeping the children on a schedule and the kids are still a bit jangly and out of pocket. This week promises to be a bit of a cluster - I still have to prepare a lecture for tomorrow, and I'm starting to run participants for the new experiment beginning Wednesday and I still have a sick amount of prepwork to do before I'm ready for that - and I'm beginning to get anxious about what I'll be able to remember when I finally do have a spare moment to string two non-professional thoughts together, so I think it's best for me to just suck it up and bullet it out.

  • Right, so the cruise was this.
  • We booked mostly for the Weakerthans because I adore them and Marc is also a big fan. We've been to a zillion Great Big Sea shows, and they're entertaining - Marc likes them a lot - but they're not, like, the band of my soulTM or whatever. There's a... I don't know, maybe a performative cheerfulness? to GBS that sort of grates at me, just a little, but I can have enough fun at their shows, and a decent part of the trip was about how we celebrated the 15th anniversary of our marriage in December (which, just - 15 years! And he's such a lovely man! How is it possible that I am that fortunate?!) and just needed some time elsewhere, just the two of us, to be joyful and quiet and together.
  • And then the Mountain Goats booked, and we were extra delighted.
  • And that was pretty much our cruise experience - going to Weakerthans and Mountain Goats shows. We saw the Barenaked Ladies sailaway show, and the GBS fanshow because Marc is on their mailing list, and he went to a GBS show and we poked our heads into a few other things, but I really wanted to do a lot of knitting and reading and quiet sitting and canoodling, and so we did, and that was good. I fell asleep early the night we had tickets to Sarah MacLachlan and BNL, and that was fine - I don't feel like I missed anything.
  • Turns out that I hate guided tours just as much as I always thought I would - we've never done one before, but thought it might be worth trying during one of our port days and oh my god, are all travelers so univerally assumed to be brainless? Really not to our taste, and it's good to know that we, with our guidebooks and random bits of fiction penned in destinations and the bounty of the internet, are really not missing anything from the professional travel industry.
  • And I was worried about the cruise ship experience, just a little, and it turned out to not be much to my liking, either. Just sort of generally cheesy and prefab and ... not my place, really. Although friends who mentioned that they can be restful were mostly right.
  • I drank a metric ton of mojitos. There is no bad there.
  • Still really really love John Darnielle. Spoke to him briefly about his book, as mentioned here previously, and I also asked him about that show at the Black Cat that some of us went to back in March last year, when they had just cancelled their Australian tour and he was talking about God and was just sort of generally going off the rails. He was v. frowny, said that was one of the worst days of his life but that things are better, talked about it a bit more but generally seemd OK. I felt bad about that - who wants to remind somebody of one of their darkest days? - but I was genuinely concerned because, man, watching someone who is that clearly struggling is just heartbreaking. I remember walking away from that show and thinking that we might have seen the last Mountain Goats show. I'm glad I was wrong.
  • Embarassing love for the Weakerthans at this point. I just... I can't even talk about how fantastic they were without sounding like I'm 15 and drawing hearts on the soles of my Chucks. I had the hardest time going up and saying hi, I was just crippled with this stupid shyness and if I don't have something specific to say there's really no point, is there - at least up until the very last night. They were playing on the pool deck, and it was so cold, so windy and there were just a handful of us at the show, and they played a full set and it was just so great that, yeah, I had to say hi & thanks. Chatted with John Samson about the fantasticness of e-books (he has a sony reader, and I was too busy freaking out to ask him about the exact parameters of its awesomeness, because... well, I mean, we've met me - we know I'm a loser, right?) and got a picture with him and OK, yes - he's adorable and an incredibly brilliant lyricist, but also seems to be a fundamentally decent guy, and that's really quite fantastic.
  • And what is even awesomer is that they are clearly fans of each other. John Samson and Christine Fellows were always showing up at TMG shows, and John Darnielle and his wife were at all of the Weakerthans sets, and then during the last show I REALLY lost my cool b/c John Darnielle got up and did "The Reasons" with them and there they were, my two favorite lyricists right there together. I hope they wrote something together that week, I really really do, so much.
  • Even just writing this I got so excited about those last few bullet points that I had to get up and walk around to shake off some of the awesome.
  • Great Big Sea fan show: really kind of great. The tickets were quite restricted so they were a get and they all took turns doing solo performances and it was a very different kind of show, so that was nice. Marc got video of them singing the chorus of "Northwest Passage". If the two Johns are not my music boyfriends, I could be convinced to keep Murray Foster.
  • People who are NOT my music boyfriend include Steven Page, who mostly came off as kind of a tool. He just seems to be trying so damned hard to be cool and to be happy, and sometimes you can't be both of those at once. (Hi, my name is Carrie.)
  • And that was that. Great week, so very sad to come home and not have rock stars and soft serve ice cream cones at lunch. World still swaying slightly, etc.
  • There is talk all over the boards that there will not be a Ships & Dip cruise next year, talk that BNL may be in trouble, talk that they're going back into the studio. You guys know what fannish rumormongering is like. *shrug*
  • OH GOD I TOTALLY FORGOT THIS AND IT'S THE BEST PART OF THE WHOLE THING! So the day we hit port, Marc and I were walking through the little cafeteria area at breakfast and some girl stops Marc and starts going on and on and on about how fantastic he was last night. There was confusion all around until it became clear that she thought he was John Darnielle. Which, actually, when his hair is a little longer is not that impossible for me to see, except that Marc is quite a bit greyer. Anyway. HEEEEE. Loved that.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I appear to have missed the internet

Also, this made me weep pathetically. I might be feeling a little vulnerable today.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

New blog - and books!

A whole new space, and all evidence suggests that I still won't be v. good about remembering to come back here regularly. But I'd like to - I still keep a regular blog over on LJ but I feel like that blog is very defined by the boundaries of that community, and I'm feeling like I have less and less to say there. Vox is a disaster - the update interface is a mess and I think the site is mostly dead - and I want to beat Wordpress about the head. Let's try this, then. If I make it back here more than once or twice I'll even give the import tool a go.

We're in Miami today, fresh off the boat from Ships & Dip V (more on that in another entry. short version: All Mountain Goats and Weakerthans, all the time. Also, ice cream cones! And mojitos! And people mistaking Marc for John Darnielle, which will never stop being funny) and we still don't have our land legs under us; my inner ear continues to sway and the room obliges it. Neither of us are looking forward to re-entry to DC, and not just because my parents have been spoiling the children and there will be some difficulty reacquainting them with bedtimes and reasonable dinners. We spent a rather sad amount of our time away talking about how very much I am hating work right now and planning an exit strategy, and the thought of returning to my office (even if it is for just a few more months) is very unpleasant.

But I wanted to make an entry about all the reading I'd done lately. I've always been an active reader, but my split focus on my work and raising the kids has taken up so much of my brainspace over the last several years that it's been a long time since I've had a period of such voracious pleasure reading, and then knitting swept in to keep my hands busy and my creative mind occupied. As much as I've enjoyed playing with fibers and color over the last few years, I feel like I'm waking up to the simple pleasure of reading again, and what a delight.

This is a catalog and quick(ish?) review of everything I've read since the start of the year.

33 1/3 series
Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson - I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and am glad I did; I certainly wouldn't have come to it on my own. A recurring theme in the series is the deconstruction of music criticism, and this book might be the clearest distillation of that thread. I also found it compelling because I'm still on this regional culture kick, and found the articulations of Dion's position within working-class Quebecois culture very interesting. I was reading it at the same time as the Tremblay mentioned below, and so there was that beautiful constructive interference between the two; I don't think I'd have enjoyed either quite as much if I hadn't read them together.
Black Sabbath's Master of Reality by John Darnielle - I read this just yesterday morning, and the great but also potentially weakening thing about having read it in a year when I've seen 5 Mountain Goats shows is that the voice was remarkably clear; there was an awful lot of bleed-through for me between Roger Painter and John Darnielle's stage monologues. It made the prose of Roger's journal very familiar (and although I spend time with undergrads, there's a substantial difference between the kind of semi-academic speech I get from university juniors & seniors and the frustrated complaints of a locked-up 15-year-old, and so better access to the speaker's voice was dead useful), but I sometimes thought that transfer got in the way. It got easier toward the end; the clear shift in the narrator's voice as he aged 10 years helped rebuild those boundaries. The story was compelling for such a quick read, and I've spent a good part of the last few days wondering if Roger sent the letter, if Gary wrote him back, and mostly if I WANTED him to. And by the way, I talked to John about the book briefly last night, and apparently he's working on a second, largely on the strength of this first bit of published longer-form fiction. Well done and yay!

Canada Reads 2009, because I'm bitter that NPR doesn't do something similar, and the debates are coming up quick!
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (published under the title Someone Knows My Name in the US) - My favorite of this year's Canada Reads books (this list is ranked, in fact), with a truly compelling main character. Beautifully sketched childhood scenes in Africa followed by one brutal (but not gratuitously described) trial after another. Like most Americans, I knew nothing of the Black Loyalists; in fact, also like most Americans, my history of the Loyalists following the end of the Revolutionary War was sketchy full-stop, so I feel like I learned a lot. I've already loaned this out.
The Outlander by Gil Adamson - I really enjoyed this - the writing is lovely, the character development well-paced, the regional and historical setting exceptionally well-chosen and very alive in the text. That said, it doesn't particularly capture my imagination, and although I think there will be images that will linger, it's not a book that I think will stay with me for a terribly long time.
The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay - To begin with, just an observation that translated novels (unless they're by, like, Milan Kundera or somebody with an amazing publishing history and a contract to match) always have crappy bindings and typesetting and I resent that. I also don't quite understand why French novels always translate into such anti-melodic English prose. I know French syntax well and I've read enough novels in French to think that it's not about French literary style; no idea what that's about. My issues aside, this was a fun, quick glimpse that fleshed out a neighborhood quite fully. It reads like a playwright's first novel, which for me is a good thing; this is a style I'm rather fond of. Very nice piece of urban lit.
Fruit by Brian Francis - Another confession: I broke the binding on this one, too. How is this so hard? This was a very quick read - charming, but I don't think it's something that will stay with me. Young adult fiction inspires something like Chinese Food hunger in me; I enjoy the experience but just never find it very satisfying.
Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards - I should admit up front that I haven't finished this. Frankly, I don't know if I can. It's beautifully written and so I wish I could, but it HURTS and my god, it's been such a dreadful year for so many people I love and my guard is up and so I'm having a hard time falling in love with characters who are constantly getting the crap beat out of them; it's all a bit too familiar. I suspect there is a nugget of something valuable, beautiful, resilient on the other side of the abject misery of the first 100 or so pages (god, I hope so) but right now I don't trust the writer enough to take me through it.

Other Stuff
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - I have no idea how I came to pick up this book - I must have read about it somewhere. And it was fine - a bit thin on specifics and it could have stood a little less generality - but this was written for a lay rather than scholarly audience and I'm not sure we get to count that as a weakness.
Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin - Maupin describes this as not so much another "Tales of the City" book but an independent novel with familiar characters, and I can't quite see why. I mean, what can I say, these are chewy fun books that I've read a million times, and the PBS film adaptations are almost as familiar. I had put off "Michael Tolliver" for a while, but I was in San Francisco for a conference in early January and it seemed an appropriate time to pick it up. Great summer reading.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan - See above note re. young adult fiction. I'd just seen the film (pay-per-view - I was nursing blisters and pouting because I couldn't make it to SFMOMA until the next day) and found Michael Cera as adorable as usual and wanted to check out the book. The good news is that I'd read it again; the bad news is that it's so unmemorable that I'd kind of have to.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows - Entertaining bit of romantic fluff which held my attention for the afternoon when I read it. I knew absolutely nothing about the Channel Islands and so had no idea they'd been part of occupied territory during WWII. There are reasonably good descriptions of post-war London in this book, as well. I find that epistolary novels always have a hard time getting their feet under them; it's hard not to be extra conscious of all the different voices that have to be managed, and it takes a deft hand to make them all sound both genuine and distinct, and I think that this is one place where this book really shines.

Current Reading
Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer - Dense as hell - this is not particularly light reading and right now I'm bogged down in Puritans and wishing that Sarah Vowell would come along and liven the place up a bit. That said, so far I admire his very clear articulation of his thesis and argument; I'm not in a position to evaluate the historical scholarship, but I respect the clarity of his prose and the intellectual honesty with which he writes.
The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol - I read Savage Inequalities a while ago - not that it was necessary reading, because the way that poor kids get screwed is a subject that was already completely familiar. Good complement to that, at least so far.
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich and The Religious Case Against Belief by James Carse - That thing that happens, that thing we ought to have a word for, that thing where all the threads are coming together and all of a sudden everything you hear is about or in reference to or tangential to one topic - that thing right now for me is Reinhold Neibuhr. This is kind of delicious because it's very rare that the writings of theologians become relevant for my life. But he was all over the 2008 presidential election, with both John McCain and Barack Obama claiming him as a beloved writer. He's a major thread in the first book and a point of pivot in the second. The Bacevich is a bit of strong medicine, but so far we're in agreement that Carter was way awesomer than has yet been recognized and Reagan was a disaster; the Carse works against my own childhood religious experiences (I grew up evangelical Christian in the south) and there's a lot of heavy lifting to find my way to his point-of-view. My feelings on liberal Christianity are generally more in line with those expressed in Letter to a Christian Nation, which I also read in January, actually; I have a very rich life of the soul, thanks, and don't quite get why I might want or need to identify myself with a pretty odious religious tradition in order to have that.

You'll note, then, that I'm between novels and the non-fiction on my plate is pretty heavy stuff - I am in desperate need of a novel to sink into. Marc has finally, FINALLY finished Anathem but now I barely remember all of the things he's ready to discuss so I may pick that up again, but I'm trying to stagger my Stephenson reads because the wait between books is so long. If you've a recommendation, though, please do share!