Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reading Week Two: Electric Boogaloo

Well, I survived the birthday drinking, and am now officially 26 (as opposed to biologically, which doesn't count). Highlight was definitely when the director of the English graduate program bought me a glass of bourbon, which knocked me over the edge after all the other drinks I'd had. (Apparently, claiming you want to stay with beer so you can last longer is really an invitation for people to buy you shots and hard drinks.) Again, if you put it in front of me, I drink it quickly. As usual, memories fade after that last glass, causing me to lament my faulty genes and horrible memory. (Note: It isn't just drink. I have a horrible memory for my own past events. I don't really remember any of my childhood before seventh grade, excepting occasional flashes and moments. And yet I can remember intricate plot points of the novels I read. Does that seem right?)

Friday's festivities made Saturday's hell, as did my reading load. We're doing modernist drama this week in my study group, which means O'Neill, Williams, and Miller. If you ever want to feel great about being alive and the potential this world has to offer, stay as far away from these men as possible. If you want justification for suicide, however, start reading them all, one after another. On a Saturday. While hung over. In oppressive humidity. On little sleep.

Now don't get me wrong. These gentlemen are fine dramatists. I love Williams (still prefer Streetcar to Glass Menagerie), and Miller's fine as well. O'Neill, though, goes above and beyond. I'd read Long Day's Journey before, but just now for the first time read The Iceman Cometh, which for reasons I can't begin to articulate struck me more powerfully than anything else I've read so far. It's profound, shocking, and deeply moving. (Maybe more so since I too am accustomed to hanging around with a bunch of drunks, talking about the past. I believe it's all theatre majors do.) I can see why people say Long Day's Journey is the better play, as it is more concise and has a purity about it, but Iceman just hit me on a gut level, so I had to stop reading after I finished it.

(And yet Nittany Lion argues that Miller is the better playwright. Thoughts from the readership?)

I now have hung on my door the complete prelims list, all 13 pages of it, next to each other. Each time I finish an entry, I cross it off in red. Its ghostly white presence haunts my room, and is the first thing my eye is drawn to every morning when I awaken, and one of the last things I see before I sleep. This may reflect a severe unbalance in my mind, or a need to torment myself. I personally see it as akin to the photos that Rocky puts up before a fight, only to tear them down right before the bout. By removing them, the Italian Stallion sees no longer his enemies, but himself. Of course, he's looking in a mirror, not a wooden door, but I enjoy my metaphor. And I hope the tape doesn't hurt the door or the paint. Either way, I plan to dance and sing along to "Eye of the Tiger" just before the test.

Until next time, here's a list of things I've learned this week:

Family is pain.
Friends are just those that help sustain your own lies.
Women are liars and whores, or mentally unbalanced.
Destructive forces win out.
I become too invested in plays with idiots. (I have had repeated fantasies about traveling back in time to the Salem Witch Trials and just shooting the judges with a Glock. Thank you, Mr. Miller.)
If you have dreams, they will be crushed and you will be crushed with/by them.
The South is a funny place.
Except when it destroys you.
Southern Catholics are particularly conflicted.
Holden Caulfield is more annoying now than when you're a teenager yourself.
Saul Bellow is longwinded and full of himself.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pigs on the Move

Prelims (n., pl.):

1. A series of essay tests taken, over the span of two days, covering 150 works of literature and criticism.
2. A rite of initiation that allows the graduate student to finally begin working on his or her disseration.
3. The locus of pain, rage, anger, and hatred for all things academic in a graduate student's life. The stealer of souls, killer of free time, and death of innocence.

There. For my non-Madison friends, that's what I'm doing this summer. The test is at the end of August (21-22, or 22-23, sometime in there). I have 150 plays, novels, books of poetry, and critical articles to read before then. All of us grad students have to do that, so if you feel sorry for me, feel sorry for my friends as well. And if you don't, well screw you. I'd like to see you do it. Except those of my elders who already have done it. You are the shining stars that give us hope.

By my calculations, if I want to finish the entire list, I have to read 1.67 entries per day. Today was Rabbit, Run (1 entry) and the Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo, two plays, one entry). Luckily, I've seen both of these plays before (the movie of GGR and Bourbon and Teach's AB), so the topics are familiar. But these are all very depressing works about the crushing nature of modern life, so my day has been kinda bleak. Later tonight, I plan to read some Capote and contemplate causes of murder in In Cold Blood. I have yet to start reading any actual poetry, as I am terrified of it. Seriously terrified.

Apart from prelims reading, it's been a fun few weeks, so a quick update. Back in StL, had fun with the folks, had a truly phenomenal steak dinner, tried to go to a Cardinals' game, failed, and toured the A-B Brewery instead, leading to pre-noon drinking of free beer. Good times. And who knew Busch made a stout?

Saw Wicked on Tuesday for my birthday. Red-Headed Stepchild and I drove to Chicago to see it, with fairly decent seats. Sadly, the elderly ladies next to me felt the need to discuss everything as it happened, including the priceless revelation that the one with the green skin was, in fact, the Wicked Witch of the West. They didn't realize this until after she had been onstage for about ten minutes, despite the cover of the program clearly showing her and the fact that everyone knows this already, as it is the entire concept of the play that she is different because she is green. But God bless them, it's elderly people like that who go to the theatre simply to buy seats closer to the center of the audience than my own, preventing me from fully appreciating the sets in ways they never could. But a wiser man than myself once said that there's a special Hell for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre. I can only pray he's correct.

On the drive back, due to an offhand comment of Red's, I am now contemplating a one-man play entitled Pigs on the Move. So far, it involves pigs attempting to better themselves, and a farmer's constant upbraiding of his no-account son for letting the pigs get further in life than him (the son). Look for pre-production come the fall.

And finally, I'll be a TA for Captain Americanist's lecture this fall, which is awesome.

Look for updates containing words of wisdom from my reading throughout the summer, as I can't imagine much else will be going on here. So far I've learned this:

-People in the '20s drank more, made more money, and generally got laid a lot more than I do.
-Jews are not entertaining (Sorry McJew, but read Awake and Sing! and you'll see my point).
-When white people write about sex, it's smut (Updike). When Native Americans do it, it's amusing cultural difference (Erdrich).
-The working world stinks, but if you curse a lot and hate women, it'll at least amuse others.
-19 page one acts are the greatest gift you can give a prelim student.
-Vietnam was, in fact, not a fun place to be.
-Education is the reducto absurdum of all human experience. And no battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. (Now that's an enheartening lesson to start the summer with.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In which I defy augury

Longer post later this week. Just taking the moment to point out that, as of midnight, I am now 26. Back at Northwestern, we never planned to live past 25, seeing the obscene amounts we drank and the horrible Midwestern fried foods we ate (we seriously feared scurvy at one point). So this birthday is a milestone, in that I am the first of our drunken cadre to defy Death (at least this particular Death, as Quantum already surpassed his private death date, and my hat off to him).

Seeing Wicked in Chicago with Red-Headed Stepchild, then massive bar-hopping on Friday. Good times ahead, despite the reading load.

And if you're in Madison and reading this, and I haven't already invited you, you're invited to drinks this Friday night. Talk to me for details.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be...smelly.

There are times I loathe the internet. This is one of them (ironic, since I'm using it to complain).

In my research, I much prefer to actually read a text than find it online and read a computer screen. It's just me. I like the tactile presence and the ability to underline and jot notes in the margins. But, as I grade papers, I realize most of my students strongly disagree. They find online, read, quote, use, whatever, all without leaving their dorms. And I hate it. Because apparently this means that they don't have to cite page numbers when they quote, because there are no page numbers online. This is the type of thinking that leads to bad papers, irate teachers, and consequently, lower grades. And by irate I mean fuming, throwing things across the room, stopping grading so I can blog about it.

Rant over. Please continue on to read my previous post, which is much longer and far more interesting.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Baby Don't You Wanna Go...

I've recently reread The Count of Monte Cristo, and I've come to the conclusion that our lives are not so dissimilar. We both underwent extremely harsh educations in stone prisons. And we both plan to use our knowledge to revenge ourselves upon the world (except he punished the guilty, while I plan to punish future students). In other words, it's been finals week here, and I had to write a long, ill-prepared paper and take a laughably easy final (maybe not easy, but laughable in the amount of work I put into it). So now summer is here, and escaping the Ivory Tower is, in its way, not unlike Edmond Dantes' escape from the Chateau d'If.

This is my long way of saying I haven't posted because I've been busy. So this post will be mostly highlights of the past few weeks, including tales of the sublimity of sleep, editing at the mechanics, and many instances of the truly bizarre.

First, the wonderful. I passed my Spanish for Reading Knowledge Test with an Advanced Proficiency. (For those of you not in the know, we at Madison need two foreign languages for the PhD. This test officially counts as my second, and I got a higher proficiency than I needed.) Of course, this is odd as I believe my translation included the fact that Hemingway led an elite band of guerillas into the heart of Paris during WWII. But who am I to question the wisdom of our teacher? Or of Papa H, for that matter? Further proof that he could so take Henry James.

That same morning, I saw two homeless men get kicked out of McDonald's for rolling joints on the counter. The management took offense to this, and apparently it wasn't the first time, as the manager told them he'd warned them about that before. Still, it was testament to the egalitarianism of the homeless, as the one had no weed, while the other was willing to share his excess. Truly, the meek shall inherit the Earth.

That evening commenced our grad student conference, which continued all weekend. It went well, though it occupied the majority of my time. Our keynote was fun, and I actually managed to pay for her expenses, something I was fearful of (I am treasurer of our little group, for my out of town folk).

That Friday, following the conference reception (wine and keg, small bits of food), we took the keg off to our friend Sarah's place (you may think this isn't a nickname, but oh, you'd be wrong. And it's even a nickname with layers). I, sadly, was staying somewhat sober, as I had my car with me. That night was perhaps the most surreal party I've been to in a long time. I had dropped folk off, went to get dinner, and returned. Upon arriving, I found my cohorts shooting at each other with a toy bow and arrow (yet with metal-tipped arrows). Sarah, when told I had gotten my own dinner as opposed to ordering pizza with them, seemed to believe I had ordered my own pizza, and asked for money to pay the guy when he got there. Repeated explanations did not help, but led to the following:

Me: I didn't order pizza.
Sarah: So how much money do you owe?
Me: None. I got McDonald's.
Sarah: Did you pay for it already?
Me: They generally don't let you leave without paying there.

We eventually got that settled, but the hilarity continued. Now this next section involves several folk I can't come up with good nicknames for, as I don't really know some of them that well (or well enough to know personal quirks and habits to mock). I'll just list several things, as any attempt to impose linerarity will be antithetical to the tone of the evening. In the course of the night, these things happened:

-The Norwegian shot Winter with the arrow, who shot her back in the neck, at point blank range (child's toy, no harm done, though the Norwegian would not shut up about it, as she was drunk, along with everyone else).
-The Norwegian, Winter, and UnionMan all played leapfrog, until the Norwegian's necklace broke and scattered in the grass, except for a few pieces, one of which UnionMan ate in front of her mockingly.
-The Norwegian and Winter tried to drunkdial me while I was standing right next to them, but they didn't know the last four digits of my number, so they called four random people before getting the sequence right.
-I broke the bow and arrow, as the string slipped off and it fell to the concrete, which was apparently too much stress (but it survived all the drunks pulling on it just fine). I then gave it back to the child, while Fangirl tried to explain how some carpenter's glue would fix it right up. My suggestion of duct tape was summarily ignored.
-Winter kicked UnionMan in the face. Because he asked her to.
-I got monster hiccups (again, while sober), which continued for almost half an hour and which I used to punctuate important points in the conversation.
-I believe we terrified some poor guy from Dartmouth, friend to Fangirl and her partner, who was visiting.
-I heard numerous repetitions about just how "carnivalesque" the party was, all of them from the Dissertator.

I can't remember much else, just the general surreal atmosphere of the night. If anyone recollects other choice moments, feel free to comment.

After the conference, things settled down. I wrote a 17 page paper in about three days, and edited it the morning it was due while I was at the mechanic getting my car fixed. Then I slept a lot. This weekend, having finished the only hard thing I had to do and thus nearly ending my semester, I decided to read Monte Cristo, a 1500 page epic, thus proving I am truly a nerd. Between that and replaying KOTOR 2, I've managed to waste the better part of a week. But I did study for my history final for a whole hour and a half (I had to read about the Carter and Reagan years for one of the essay questions). And I managed to sleep in till 11:30 today, only leaving the apartment to get dinner.

Now, I have to grade 12 portfolios tomorrow, as I am going to Chicago on Friday. I'm going in to see the Freshman 15 show (my old a cappella group), and to hang with Bluesman on Friday, brunch with Memi on Saturday, and then drive to the old homestead on Saturday to spend Mother's Day with the folks and recuperate for a week in St. Louis. I'm going in early, taking the Norwegian to O'Hare, thus freeing up the day for some fun Chicago stuff (Liquor Barn, Herm's, etc.). If I come back with a bottle of Napoleon Brandy shaped like Napoleon, all the better.

Next post, I explain to my out of town friends exactly what the term "prelims" means, and how exactly I'll spend my summer vacation. Start praying now.