March 31, 2009

Inspiration Strikes

I'm currently dealing with a leak in the water heater upstairs, so I'm not in the best of possible moods. That said, I've been thinking about this for a while, so I thought I'd get it out there.

My question is this: Is it bad form to want to do a research project about the rhetoric of one's own discipline? Specifically, I'm interested in working with the rhetoric of creative writing. Creative writers and literary critics often have a peculiar relationship (parasitic isn't the right word, but it's close), and they often occupy the same department (or, in the case of my M.A. program, the same students).

As someone who is almost certainly going into composition and rhetoric, I consider myself blessedly outside this loop of production and critique. Still, literary critics and compositionists trade in a certain type of language, a certain way of writing, a certain mode of production, that values completely different things than creative writing does. And yet, literary critics rely upon (to borrow another biological metaphor, prey upon) the literature produced by creative writers.

So, the point of this is: creative writers are given a lot of leeway in their writing processes. Hemmingway is allowed to write naked at a podium. Robert Frost is allowed to throw coffee mugs at undergraduates who ask him what "Two Roads..." "means" (true story!) and just generally be curmudgeonly. In fact, we might go so far as to say that creative writers are encouraged in their eccentricities. They are encouraged to have a very specific place to write (even if that place is anywhere). They are encouraged to drink a butt-ton of coffee (LSD for a new generation of artists).

Most of all, though, they are encouraged to be fickle. I have several creative writers in the courses I'm taking, and the topic of "inspiration" has come up several times. As a compositionist (and former literary critic; damn it feels good to say that), I find the concept of inspiration equal parts baffling and infuriating. Either I have never been inspired to write in my life or I am always inspired to write. Because I know I never have any flashes of ideas. I either produce writing (usually when I have to), or I don't. Perhaps other academic writers have a "muse" and go on long streaks of productivity. Not I.

I am interested, though, in the concept of "inspiration" and how it works in creative writers. There appears to be a dichotomy in the field: some writers say that you must sit down and produce something every single day, not waiting around for inspiration to strike (it's like lightning, see). Others embrace the fickle nature of inspiration and only write when they are "inspired."

Of course, both of these camps recognize the existence of "inspiration." I wonder, and perhaps this is heresy, but I wonder if "inspiration" is not merely a rhetorical device (I will not step over the line and say "an excuse") used by creative writers. This is why I want to do a rhetorical analysis of creative writing, particularly its relationship as a field to the larger context of English studies. I simply do not know. And so I return to my original question: is that bad form?

I doubt very much that I will ever figure any of this out. In the meantime, I'm going to put a bucket under the leak and hope that some inspiration drips out of the hole in my ceiling.

March 28, 2009

Finding Things to Do in Maine

Who says there's nothing to do in Bangor? I suppose I do. But today, I found things to do. Bangor, ME is not exactly known for its cosmopolitan lifestyle, its shopping experience (unless you're one of the Canadian tourists that bus down to take advantage of the slumping American dollar), or its lively nightlife. And yet, I spent a fun and eventful day in Bangor today.

First of all, my beloved and I stumbled upon a Freihofer's bakery outlet on Outer Hammond St. If you have not been to a Freihofer's outlet before, get your butt out to the one in Bangor. And if you don't live in Maine, there's an outlet locator on their website. I love Freihofer's bread, but I usually have to pay $2-3 a loaf for it in the grocery store. In the outlet, the loaves were about $1 each. They also had Thomas' English muffins and bagels (again, about $1). And cakes. And pizza crusts. And all sorts of other goodies. I left with a massive bag of baked goods for about $6.50.

I probably shouldn't be eating most of this, but it's so good!

Two years, and I didn't even know this place existed. As Jenny Boylan would say, "It's possible to live in the same town as a monkey house ... and never even know it."

After purchasing our delectable comestibles, we stopped by the Civic Center for the What Women Want Expo. We weren't sure what it was (I was hoping for lingerie), so we looked it up online. The advertisements featured many pictures of shoes and smiling women (almost certainly happy about their shoe purchases). And, of course, this beauty:

My apologies for the glare. If would like to see better pictures on this blog, you may donate your used digital camera to me. Anything would be an improvement upon my old Nikon, which is the 90s brick-sized cellphone of digital cameras.

The answer to the age-old question? "Extra Money to spend at your favorite stores!" (I'm not even going to go into the grammar issues.) I suppose I should have known, then, that the expo would be bordering on offensive. Still, it surprised me when the very first booths were for plastic surgery. I understand that these companies market to women, but do the Pampered Chef and Mary Kay and other such companies have to rub their sexist assumptions in our face? The entire thing was a shrine to commercialism in all its glory. Trust me when I say that it was spectacular.

Of course, I was one of about seven men in the entire place, and I was promptly ignored by all of the vendors, except for the Pampered Chef girl, who struck up a conversation after K. told her that I was the cook in the family. Also, the very nice lady at the Passion Parties booth explained the whole process to me. I had never heard of them before (in case you're similarly ignorant, imagine an erotic Mary Kay and you have the gist of it), so she explained to me that they do things "tastefully. Sometimes the guests can get kind of wild," she said, laughing quietly and tastefully, "but we don't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do." Good to know.

After the excitement of finding things to do in Bangor, we capped off our night with Spruce Run's silent auction and dessert party. My good friend A. Fiercehair was one of the "local confectioners, businesses, and artisans" featured in the event. She baked miniature strawberry cupcakes, and they were delicious. I overloaded on cheesecakes and truffles and other fancy desserts. There was jazz. And a silent auction! Considering the crowd at the event, I was expecting everything to be expensive, but it was quite affordable. We left with four pictures frames and a floral arrangement for $20.

Ah, the irony of taking a picture of flowers and of a picture frame with a picture of flowers in it.

Needless to say, we had a blast. I'm still a little amazed that such fun can be had in Bangor. Like most mysterious yet good things, though, it's best not to prod too much, lest it all collapse.

Meet the Buttertons

I generally try to avoid commercial recipes older than a decade. There's just something about cookbooks produced in the 70s, 80s, and 90s that turns me off. Perhaps it's the poor lighting and disastrous color schemes. Whatever it is, I'm perpetually afraid that anything I make from an older cookbook will turn out like the Ham and Egg Salad from one of the many 70s Jello books.

So, it took a lot of courage for me to break out some recipes from the DAK bread machine cookbook my mother gave me. I don't think DAK even makes bread machines anymore; either way, the 1992 Guide to Automatic Bread Making is an ugly beast of a cookbook. I've tried some of the bread recipes (both machine and hand-made), and I was none too impressed. Tucked in the back of the book, though, is a recipe for "The Kaplan's Better Than Butter." I was enticed by the highly original name, as well as the vivid description:

"It's frustrating. Bread is filled with fiber and good-for-you wholesome ingredients. But, if you're always dieting as I am, butter and margarine are killers. Well, no more. Forget 100 calorie per tablespoon butter loaded with cholesterol. Forget 100 calorie per tablespoon margarine. Now, just 7 calories gives you a really rich tasting spread that will enhance the flavor of all your bread. Forget thin diet spread. Forget the taste of cottage cheese (which I hate). With this spread, which you can make it minutes, you can enjoy your favorite breads smothered in better-than-butter spread any time."
My bread-loving spouse is on a diet, so I figured I would try the recipe. It's quite a simple thing. You just blend (I used a food processor) a pint of lowfat cottage cheese, ¼ cup water, 4 tablespoons nonfat dry milk, a couple of envelopes of Sweet 'n Low (if you're classy like me, stolen from the local Chinese buffet), and a butt-ton of artificial butter flavoring. The recipe calls for 2 envelopes of ButterBuds, but I used almost half a container of Molly McButter sprinkles. Add more butter flavoring to taste.

At first, I was underwhelmed by the spread. It certainly doesn't look like much. It's rather thin, but the butter taste does mask the cottage cheese taste (and it fits beautifully back into the cottage cheese container). I left it in the fridge for a couple of days and came back to it. I put it on a toasted bagel (I know, I'm weird), and it was delicious! I suppose I should always wait to judge spreads until I put them on things, but I was very pleasantly surprised that the texture worked well with the bread.

So, go out and make yourself some 7 calorie butter. It won't work miracles like DAK would like you to believe, but it is quite tasty.

Besides, I'd hate for you to end up like my spouse's family. We always joke that the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" commercial with the Buttertons is about her family. Every "family recipe" I receive from them involves at least one stick of butter and most likely some heavy cream. Of course, fat makes everything delicious. As Mike Rowe would say, "Fat is money."

March 27, 2009

"Know That I Will Always Run to Greet You"

I've been in a bit of a blog funk lately, overwhelmed by work and life and such. What better way to break out of that than by pretending that I have a larger blog audience (blogdience? blaudience?) than I actually do.

I was listening to a mix in the car the other day, and up came Bishop Allen's "Butterfly Nets." Now, this is one of my favorite songs; it was the less-famous-yet-equally-important "second dance" song at my wedding. Of course, by that point, everyone had exhausted any chance of dancing, especially since it was roughly 9,000 degrees outside. But, this song has a special place in my heart.

This is precisely what I imagined butterfly catching would look like.

I started humming along. It's a short song, and near the end I thought to myself: I'm getting kind of tired of this song. This was a monumental moment, one that made me ponder. How many times do I have to hear a song before it gets old? There are still a few songs that I can listen to over and over again without getting tired of them.

I'm curious to hear what you readers think. What are some songs that never get old for you? What is about those songs that seems to hold up well to repeated listens?

March 22, 2009

Experimenting w/Pesto

In the past year or so, I've become a veritable pesto expert. Last summer, I took a class on reading, gardening, and meditating*. We planted a labyrinth garden, and one of the main crops was basil. We grew six or seven different varieties of basil, so I started making pesto with a hodgepodge of species. Soon after the first frost (you know, in August) killed all the basil, I received one of those fancy hydroponic gardens as a gift. One cannot overestimate the worth of plants in winter in Maine.

*Sounds Zen, right? It was. We totally did t'ai chi. And walked in circles in a labyrinth. And read children's books. And planted plants. And had "snack time" in the middle of class.

At first, I only made pesto every now and then, but I did make it enough to hone my recipe (see below). Then, I bought an entire garden's worth of basil, and now all I grow is basil. I dry some of the basil, but the rest becomes pesto. I give away some of my pesto, but it tends not to freeze well, so I'm getting kind of tired of it, which led me to experiment with my recipe.

I'm in the midst of baking a loaf of sundried tomato and asiago bread (today's my cooking day: pesto, bread, and pulled beef BBQ), so I decided to add some sundried tomatoes to my recipe. The results, if I do say so myself, were marvelous. It was difficult to get the tomatoes small enough to work in pesto, but lots of pulsing in the food processor did the trick. Without further ado:
4 parts fresh basil leaves (you can retain some of the stems but it's best to have only the leaves; one harvesting of my plants usually yields about 1.5 to 2 cups packed)
1 part olive oil (more or less, depending on how thick you want the pesto)
1 part pine nuts (walnuts will do in an emergency)
1 part parmesan cheese (asiago or other cheeses will do, but don't add quite the same flavor)
1.5 teaspoons minced garlic (or, if you have it on hand, 3 cloves fresh garlic)
A pinch of salt
A pinch of sugar
I'm sure there's a certain order you're supposed to add the ingredients, but I just toss them all in the food processor and turn it on for a while. If you want to freeze your pesto, do so before you add the cheese, since dairy doesn't do too well in the freezer.

This time around, I added 1 part (about 0.5 cup) chopped sundried tomatoes.

I like to think there are three layers of flavor in this pesto: first you encounter the traditional pesto taste (basil, garlic, parm), then there's a slightly sweet taste (sugar), and it finishes with a pleasant, salty aftertaste.

I'm going to go package this up and bring it to the office so I can make my Italian friend a very happy person.

March 21, 2009

Internet or internet?

I've been browsing the internet for years, but sometimes I still feel a bit like an online n00b. I still haven't hopped onboard the social networking bandwagon, and I wouldn't have a clue how to Digg something As I struggle with questions about my blog's identity (what should I post? who is my audience and how do I reach a wider audience?) I realize: the internet really is a fascinating phenomenon, and it's almost certainly the defining invention of our time. There are inventions that saved more lives and took more lives, but the internet* has arguably done more to change social interactions and the ways we humans exist as socially constructed individuals than anything since the rise of civilization some 10,000 years ago**.

*Why does the OED still capitalize Internet? Is it a brand name or something? Is it not at the point where we can probably just drop the capitalization? Just asking.

**Complete guess.

There are a number of fascinating things about the internet, the negative correlation between anonimity and civility being one of them*. I'm sure we've all been fascinated by memes, and I'm equally sure we've all woken up in the morning next a meme and realized that something, be it alcohol or staring at a screen for hours on end, impaired our better judgement**. So the idea of an enduring meme is an intriguing one, and it's one that, according to this Slate article, a Seattle-based company called Pet Holdings has made quite a profit from. Pet Holdings own everything from (go ahead, abandon me for lolcats; you know you want to) to Fail Blog and GraphJam.

*While doing some research for a project last year, I came across brilliant teacher and comics author Gene Yang's acceptance speech for the prestigious Printz award. In his speech, he provided examples of MySpace comments about his book American Born Chinese and a discussion on a library's messageboard. He intended the contrast to be shocking, and it was, but I wonder about the worth of the MySpace commentary (Yang implied that it had no cultural worth). How many "Chink" slurs does it take to render someone an idiot and unable to produce any kind of cultural meaning other than offensive noise?

**What is the proper way to spell this word? The OED tells me that it can be spelled with or without the first "e," and I've seen it both ways. Is this some kind of a British/American thing?

If the internet changed human interaction so dramatically, then it only makes sense that it has revolutioned marketing, the field responsible for the quantification and categorization of human interaction. I'm sure marketing execs can explain this one in full, but reading about Pet Holdings makes me wonder how exactly a meme (or, more generally, a website) builds up an audience and maintains that audience. There's absolutely something to be said for tapping into an already potent social network (the Slate article mentions that Pet Holdings does not have any competitors in part because they can advertise new memes through their current websites and generate millions of hits). There's also something to be said for user-generated content. It seems like the most successful websites give users some ownership of the content, even if its only the production of a discourse surrounding existent content (see any number of viral videos).

I don't have much else to say; this is far too big a topic to do more than pose questions and prompt inquiry*. Other than this: speaking of my students**, I find it disconcerting when the internet meets real life. It's a little like those stories about two people dating online, only to find out that they're related. One of my students brought into class Friday an honest-to-God real-live internet meme. He had a leftover container full of water, and one of my other students said, "Show Evan! It looks like water, but it isn't."*** When someone told me to stick my hand in it, I knew what was coming, and I pulled out several what I will call "water balls" for lack of a better word (Google supports my almost-certain misnomer with multiple videos about how to make water balls). Apparently, these things are so full of water that their index of refraction is almost equal to that of water. Science is so cool, no? Anyway, I stared at the water balls for what felt like five minutes but was more likely five seconds****. I was a little speechless, since I had never actually seen in person any of the science-based memes (e.g., Diet Coke and Mentos). What do you say in that situation (especially when said situation occurs while twenty students are watching)? "Oh, that's cool"?! I went with an acknowledging yet hopefully suave "Hmmm," and my student scuttled back to his seat. It was an experience I'm sure neither of us care to repeat.

Google: success. Google Images: not so much.

*I have to say, my students actually called me out for asking questions with reckless abandon the other day. I tend to be very bad at giving answers and very good at asking questions, but I never thought my students would actually call me out on it. Touché, kids, touché.

**Yes, I'm experimenting with asterisks and how we read them. Give me a break.

***My first thought was, "Vodka?"

****Is there a word for those times when an event feels longer than it is? If not, there should be. I'll get right on inventing that.

March 20, 2009

World Baseball Classic

I've been sitting on a long, rambling post about the World Baseball Classic since before this blog even existed. Now that Clemson has promptly bowed out of the NCAA Tournament and my brief flirtation with March Madness is over, that post will see the light of day.

I, like most Americans, have mixed feelings about the Classic. When it premiered in 2006, I found it interesting, but little more than a novelty. As I mentioned in my last post, though, I've started reading more baseball books in the past year, a symptom of my increasing interest in the sport of baseball as a whole, its cultural construction, its history, its traditions (most notably the Hall of Fame), and its future. I used to follow the Red Sox and a few other teams. Now, I follow baseball. And, by God, I love the sport quite unlike I love anything else in my life.

It's 2009 now, and I absolutely love the idea of the World Baseball Classic. Baseball is far too insular, and the chance to see international legends like Sadaharu Oh and young prospects alike is exciting, to say the least. Its execution, on the other hand, is sometimes less than desirable. I know this is a gross generalization, but there tend to be two camps when it comes to opinions on the WBC. There are those who think it is a travesty and a farce, that it has no real significance (with my '06 "novelty" stance as a moderate view). This is the prevailing opinion of the media, which did not even bother to televise the U.S.-Venezuela seeding game. Then, there are those who revere the tournament and what it brings to baseball, but lament America's apathy and criticize American fans and the baseball powers-that-be for not being engaged on the same level as other countries. (This group is very similar to other discourse groups of which I have been a part, where advocacy is so crucial that "immanent critique," or the criticism that emerges from within that discourse, is not tolerated.) I tend to borrow freely from both camps: I love the Classic, but I think that the American apathy surrounding it is as much the fault of the WBC and its setup as it is of MLB and American fans.

The evidence that America considers the WBC an exhibition, part of Spring Training, is ample. Many of the country's best players, particularly its ace pitchers, are not participating. Guys are thrown out there to "get work in," even in high-leverage situations. The fans are equally unconcerned, and one game in Miami drew barely 13,000 fans (roughly a third the number of fans at a practice session in Tokyo). Can we blame them, though? Because of the timing of the WBC, smack in the middle of Spring Training, and its numerous built-in off-days, it becomes difficult for players to get ready for the coming season and still participate in the tournament. When the interests of an MLB club and the interests of the WBC collide, the MLB club will almost invariably win out. Thankfully, a number of American players share my love of the WBC. After the U.S.'s stunning walk-off win over Puerto Rico, players like Brian McCann and David Wright talked about the night as the most exciting of their professional careers. This is the kind of enthusiasm that other countries already have and the U.S. desperately needs.

Unfortunately, this enthusiasm did not carry over to American fans and MLB clubs. Hell, it didn't even carry over to the next game, as U.S. manager Davey Johnson acted like the game didn't matter. Of course, the game didn't technically matter (it was only a seeding game), but as the Japan-Korea seeding game attests, even a trivial game in the WBC is still an exciting international matchup.

While the format and schedule of the WBC is clearly partially to blame for America's apathy, the fans, the media, Major League Baseball, and the culture of American sports in general are also to blame. With a few exceptions, such as the Olympic basketball "Dream Team," American fans have never been particularly enthused by their country’s participation in international sporting events. I find this strange considering the sense of blind patriotism in the country, but, such is the price to pay for not caring about soccer (sorry, football), the only sport to provoke massive riots in international play.

The distinctly American attitude toward international sports goes far beyond that, though. I'm not sure whether to blame the media, the fans, the clubs, or the athletes themselves, but I'm fully convinced that American athletes are expected to be docile, non-confrontational, and, to be frank, stupid.

Remember John Rocker? He was publicly lambasted (in no small part by Sports Illustrated) for speaking his mind and saying that, gasp, New York's subway system is dirty and full of freaky people. The comments that so provoked an entire nation:
"Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."
Now, Rocker was not a particularly brilliant individual, but I have to stretch to find his comments even mildly offensive. Sure, the "queer with AIDS" thing is a problem, but people have said much worse things before.

The proverbial buck does not stop there, though. Oh no, American players are taught not to criticize anyone, including those deserving of criticism. When baseball players talk trash about another team, they are called loudmouths and idiots. When they, heaven forbid, criticize a member of their own team, they are called traitors.

International players, on the other hand, are taught to speak their mind. They have not adopted the dumbed-down, non-confrontational jock-speak of American athletes. One need only listen to the press sessions for other countries in the WBC to see evidence of the cultural difference. I'll provide two examples. After his third base coach made an obviously poor decision to send a runner home at a crucial point in the game, Netherlands left fielder Bryan Englehardt (pictured below) said,
"Maybe the coach needs to stop the guy on third base. After the game, you think about it, and you say that it was one [turning] point."
In America, calling a coach out like that would be unthinkable.

In the Japan-Cuba elimination game, Ichiro Suzuki, one of my favorite players, tried to lay down a bunt. Ichiro, who usually excels in international play, has been abysmal this WBC, and he got under the ball and popped it up. After the game, he said (in loose translation),
"That failed bunt put another crack in my very tattered heart. It was as if I was the only guy on our side wearing a Cuban uniform."
I'm not sure about the combination of "crack" and "tattered," two words that don't normally go together, but I don't claim to understand the subtleties of the Japanese language. Point is, Ichiro wears his heart on his sleeve frequently, but you don't hear him say these kinds of things after Mariners games. I'm sure that's because his identity in Seattle is primarily as a Mariner and MLB player, not as a Japanese baseball player. That's just not the kind of thing you say in Major League Baseball.

Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until 2012 for the next Classic to see if the U.S. can get its act together. I suspect it won't unless some significant changes occur. (What those changes involve, I'm not sure; I just invite the possibility of change.) In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy watching Japan and Korea battle it out baseball's greatest stage. It's nice to see countries actually care about being crowned the best in the world.

March 19, 2009

Buying Books at Borders

I just got back from Borders, where I went to spend a gift card leftover from some occasion or another. Now, I don't buy new books in stores, unless they are of the bargain variety. I mostly buy books used or new on Amazon, and I've been borrowing more and more from the library lately (this semester, for the first time, I got my class books from the library). So, this was an experience for me. Of course, I was overwhelmed by all the gorgeous books on display in Borders, and I left with more than I intended. I went to get Jennifer Boylan's two memoirs, She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You. Borders claimed to have both, but neither a nice salt-and-pepper gentleman (I hope I age that well) nor I could find She's Not There. I had to settle for I'm Looking Through You, but now I'm anxious, since I can't possible read the memoirs in reverse chronological order. That's just not who I am.

I'm excited, though, because Jennifer Boylan will be coming to my school to give a talk. Our English Graduate Student Association, of which I am a part, is bringing Jenny to talk to us about memoir writing. Of course, people can't possibly ignore the fact that she is transgender, so the college's LGBTQ club will have its own separate event with her. Needless to say, I'm thrilled. I haven't read her work yet, but I'm planning to do so as soon as possible. Do you think she'll sign my books?

Borders has ordered She's Not There, but who knows how long it will take.

I succumbed to the buy-one-get-one-half-price table, as well. I bought two books I've been meaning to read:

I absolutely love Nicholson Baker, but I've been putting off Human Smoke since its publication a year ago. It's just so long. Plus, my school contacted Baker to see if he would speak to us about writing (he lives in Southern Maine, so it only makes sense), and his publicist said that he would give a one-hour lecture for $10,000, plus airfare. $10,000? Airfare from Portland to Bangor? The man's no Thomas Pynchon, but he's certainly living like it.

As for Moneyball, I've arrived at the point in my life when it's a must read. For some reason unknown even to me, I only recently, in the past year or so, started reading extended baseball writing. I don't know why I kept those two parts of my life separate, the baseball and the books, but I did. Until now. I've been reading some of Bill James's books, and my wonderful spouse bought me the Hardball Times Baseball Annual from last season. Next up, Moneyball. A lot of people have misconceptions about Moneyball, fed mostly by Joe Morgan and the like. While I'm interested in the Moneyball approach, I think the bigger issue at play in the book is the fight against the traditions of baseball and how deeply rooted in tradition on-field (and front-office) strategy really is.

Now that I'm done with the M.A. exam, I'm hoping that I actually have time to read for pleasure. My optimism is not based in any reality: reality is the dozen student papers that sit untouched on my computer. Perhaps I should get back to those and stop spending time writing about things I'll be reading when I have more time.

March 17, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2009 Boston Red Sox

I just felt a macabre sense of satisfaction and giddiness when I realized, while reading a story about Julio Lugo undergoing arthroscopic surgery, that Opening Day is two and a half weeks away. The story indicates that Lugo will miss 3-4 weeks, "eliminating any chance he had to be ready for Opening Day." This bits of news answers one of the many questions swirling around this year's Red Sox team. Mind you, I love questions of the baseball variety; the anticipation of Opening Day, especially the Spring-time feel that comes with Truck Day, Spring Training, and the WBC, is one of the best things about being a fan.

Here are my other questions about the 2009 Boston Red Sox:

Who will emerge as the Opening Day regular starting shortstop?
Can Big Papi bounce back from an awful (for him) year?
Will Lester reward his lucrative new contract?
Is this Jacoby Ellsbury's year? The Sox front office certain seems to think so.
Which prospect will contribute significantly to the team this year?
Will Rocco Baldelli survive the season? Can Smoltzy return to his former strength?
How early in the season will J.D. Drew bow out?
Who's our biggest rival? I'm not sure I can accept the Tampa Bay Rays as a power in the AL East.

We're in for one hell of a ride this year. Is anyone else as excited as me?

March 16, 2009

Read This Out Loud: Graduate Admissions

As anyone who's been through the process of graduate admissions can attest, institutions of higher learning are some of the strangest, most labyrinthine bureaucracies on earth. And those bureaucracies produce some of the vaguest language imaginable.

The English language is a many splendored thing. Though I suspect it's an urban legend, I've always heard that, like snowflakes, no two words in the English language have exactly the same meaning. (In case you were wondering, according to the Discovery Channel, the snowflake thing is not a myth.) So how is it that the language can produce a sentence like the following?

"You're near the top of our waiting list, so there's a good chance we might be able to grant you admission in April."
This is from UGA, who regret to inform me that, despite my high qualifications, they are not able to offer me admission at this time. They are, however, prepared to offer me a place on their waiting list. What are my chances of admission, then? Apparently there's a high likelihood of the possibility of maybe perhaps being admitted.

We (I) here at Fatally Ambiguous delight in ambiguity, but hate to see the English language rendered useless by pointless vaguery. Read This Out Loud, UGA. Can you find a way to reword it to clarify your point for me?

Cat Café of Bangor

A colleague directed me to an intriguing article today. Apparently, Japan has a thing for cats. I had no idea.

In case you can't be bothered to follow links, the article is about a cat café in Osaka. Considering all the other services that large cities offer, this one makes a lot of sense. You pay about $5 for an hour of cat love (such as it is) with 20 free-range kittehs.

I really want to learn to make cat cookies. As I said, this seems like such a brilliant idea. If I started the cat café of Bangor, do you think anyone would pay to pet this?

Yeah, you're right, probably not. But it's worth a try, no?

Surviving the M.A. Exam

Well, I (somewhat miraculously) survived the M.A. exam. I've never experienced anything quite like it. I've written twenty page papers in a single day, but, as my beloved reminds me, that is a completely different exercise than writing four separate essays. Starting and stopping again had its benefits and drawbacks, but it was nowhere as horrific an experience as I expected. Here's the death toll for my exam:

  • Twenty-four pages, not including Works Cited pages.
  • Nine works, including:
    o Four theory texts
    o One short story/novella
    o One play
    o One collection of poems
    o One epic poem
    o One novel
  • Twelve hours of my life, and far more than that in preparation.

And, visually:

That's a lot of books. Still, there are quite a few more sitting on my desk that I did not get to use. Oh well. The only one that I regret not using is King Lear. I wrote an essay on the right to rule, and it felt almost tragic (get it?) to omit Lear. But, I had already written on Measure for Measure, so I had had enough of Shakespeare. Instead, I chose to write about Paradise Lost and Oroonoko. The other three essays are as follows:

  • An examination of the device of "delayed recognition" in Melville’s "Benito Cereno" and Measure for Measure.
  • An argument for the collaborative nature of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
  • A peculiar yet indefatigable exploration of the demystification of authority and how Edward Said's approach in Orientalism is parallel to the reading strategies at work in Gender Trouble, The Subject of Tragedy, and Sensational Designs.

I give myself a 97% chance of passing, with a 27% chance of an elusive "high pass." Now I get to tackle a long list of things I've been meaning to do after I finish the M.A. exam. On the top of that list is cleaning out the memory card from my camera, a task that yielded such gems as

Cats v. Lobster, and

Stephen King's house, a bit of Bangor localia.

Next on my list? Get some sleep.

March 15, 2009


Since the whole blogging thing is brand new to me, I'll be messing around a lot with the site's layout in the coming weeks. I've taken a good deal of pictures to use as headers and such. Here are a few of the outtakes:

Yes, that's my cat. Yes, he gets in the way of everything possible. He is, after all, a cat.

Expect some fancy new digs every now and then, and expect a post on the M.A. exam tomorrow.

March 13, 2009

Read This Out Loud: Billy Corgan (Updated)

How does one begin an inaugural blog post? If I were making a speech, I might start with, "is this thing on?" which, coincidentally (or not), is the title of my good friend and blog inspiration A. Fiercehair's personal blog.

Instead, I'll start with the first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog. Now, don't expect regular features to be, well, regular. I know theme blogs reach a wider audience than hodgepodge personal blogs, but this blog decidedly falls in the latter category. I will be posting my reflections on music, baseball, teaching, food, and all the other things in my life.

I'm calling this regular feature Read This Out Loud in honor of my first-year writing students. Every time I run aground on one of their sentences, stranded on a sandbar of labyrinthine syntax, I place a nice comment in the margin to the effects of, "Read this out loud. You can hear the cadences of speech in your own writing when you read it aloud to yourself." This is my subtle way of saying, what the hell does that mean?

And who am I telling to Read This Out Loud today? Billy Corgan. Yes, that Billy Corgan, the frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins. Perhaps you've heard of the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger that's all the rage on Capitol Hill lately. The proposed merger would join together the largest online concert ticket retailer with the largest owner and promoter of live music venues, so it's kind of a big deal in the music community. You know the shtick: large corporations band together to increase profits and screw over the little guy. Except, in this case, it might actually be true. There are a number of reasons people are opposed to the merger—too many to go into here—but the overall consensus is that the merger would essentially allow the new company, Live Nation Entertainment, to fix prices and scalp their own tickets, as well as run smaller ticket companies like StubHub out of business.

It's obvious that a merger like this one, which would revolutionize the face of live music, doesn't come along every day, so Congress is investigating the issue. And here's where we get to Corgan, who just so happens to be managed by Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff. Corgan recently appeared before Congress to support the merger, and in doing so, he joins the ranks of Seal, Journey, Shakira, and Van Halen as respectable *cough* purveyors of music *cough* to praise the deal. This concession is part of Corgan's rapid descent into commercialism. I will be the first to admit that I loved the Smashing Pumpkins. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is one of my formative albums, and it influenced my taste in music for years. I still enjoy the album, but Corgan's recent shenanigans—releasing special edition after special edition of the latest Pumpkins album in order to pump up dwindling sales, alienating fans by deriding them for not appreciating the disaster that was Zeitgeist, and now his appearance in front of Congress—have turned me off the band.

Endorsing the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger is quite a reversal for the Pumpkins frontman, as well. In the past, he has avoided Live Nation like the plague, instead touring through independent Chicago agency Jam Productions. He's also spoken out against Ticketmaster. In this light, it's hard to see his open embrace of the merger as anything more than a thinly-veiled plea by his manager, Irving Azoff. That Corgan would allow himself to be used in this way does not make me think any higher of him.

And the best part is yet to come. Corgan also wrote a letter to Congress elucidating the inner workings of the merger. I've posted the letter in full (from the Chicago Sun-Times blog) below:

Dear Chairmen Kohl & Leahy and Ranking Members Hatch & Specter:

The merger as proposed before you on the surface may seem to be too much power in the hands of the few, and I can understand the need for Congress to review this matter. Here I would hope that my 20 years in the recording and touring business will allow me some candid authority on these issues, and would help shed some light for you on some of the nuances that perhaps could easily get missed.

The 'system' that was once the modern record business, essentially ushered in with the meteoric rise of the Beatles, is now helplessly broken. And by almost every account available cannot be repaired. Personally I would add to that a healthy 'good riddance,' as the old system far too often took advantage of the artists as pawns while the power brokers colluded behind the scenes to control the existing markets. This control often saw the sacrificing of great careers to maintain that control. Look no further than the major record labels' intense fight to slow down the progress of Internet technologies that more readily brought music and video to the consumer because they couldn't completely control it. This disastrous decision on their part has destroyed the economic base of the recording industry. It is now a shadow of its former self.

Artists now find a heavy shift of emphasis to the live performance side, and this is where this merger finds its merit. The combination of these companies creates powerful tools for an independent artist to reach their fans in new and unprecedented ways, all the while restoring the power where it belongs. In today's ever changing world, the ability for artists to connect to their fans and stay connected is critical for the health of our industry. Without sustainable, consistent economic models upon which to make key decisions, it is both the music and the fans that suffer.

In short, we have a broken system. This is a new model that puts power into the hands of the artist, creating a dynamic synergy that will inspire great works and attract healthy competition. The proposed merger you have before you helps create those opportunities by boldly addressing the complexity of the existing musical and economic landscapes.

Billy Corgan
Corgan begins his plea by admitting that the merger seems like a bad idea. Wait, wait! he says, not all is as it seems. He promises to "shed some light for you on some of the nuances that perhaps could easily get missed." "Perhaps could"? Are you sure you're qualifying yourself enough, Billy? I'm also extremely dubious of a 370-word letter illuminating any "nuances." I'll give Corgan the benefit of the doubt, though.

That is, until the final two paragraphs. The second paragraph makes the rather ambitious, though not entirely crazy, claim that the modern record industry is broken and irreparable. In fact, Corgan hits the nail on the head with his statement that the industry has battled digital distribution to its own detriment.

Corgan's letter quickly descends into the chaos of vaguery, though. "The combination of these companies," he says, "creates powerful tools for an independent artist to reach their fans in new and unprecedented ways." Really? How, pray tell, Mr. Corgan? Well, it turns out that the merger does so "by boldly addressing the complexity of the existing musical and economic landscapes." Here we return to my original question: What the hell does that mean? Billy Corgan promises us "nuances" and provides only mystery.

The larger question, for me, has to do with the man behind the Pumpkin, Irving Azoff. Is Azoff really the architect of Corgan's sharp U-turn on Ticketmaster and Live Nation? If so, is this the best he can come up with? Is this just empty rhetoric, or are there some real benefits to the merger? I could always turn on C-Span and see for myself, but that would require knowing what channel C-Span is.

Update: Apparently, the whole corruption thing is a lot bigger in the ticket business than I thought. If there's a silver lining in the TM/LN merger, it's the scrutiny the industry is now receiving (prompting even the Wall Street Journal to write about it).