Friday, July 28, 2006

Chapter MCMLXVI: In Which Our Hero Crosses a Meaningless Milestone and Ruminates on His Profession

Everybody have fun tonight.

Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

Today I crossed off the one hundreth entry on my prelims reading list. Granted, there are one hundred and fifty entries on there, thus making one hundred only two thirds of the list. Also granted that of that one hundred, only twenty five are poetry (out of fifty two). Still, that one hundred feels pretty good to me. Hence the Wang Chunging. And my little 100 Dance, which was quite amusing, if constricted by all the books on my floor. Now, to further celebrate, I'm going to "read" one of the entries that I've already read in the past. As far as novels go, the only ones I have left are ones I've read before or ones I don't plan to read at all (I don't care how good it is, I'm not reading Meatless Days, a collection of short stories about living in Pakistan.) So perhaps I'll celebrate in the quiet madness of The Crying of Lot 49. Or just go nuts and skim through Storyteller, which I've taught multiple times. Do I know how to have a good time, or what?

Yesterday, before the giddiness and the dancing, I read Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, an elegantly simple novel about friendship in 20th century America. This book is not very complicated, but is very heartfelt and touching, and I count it one of the gems I've discovered that I hadn't imagined before. The novel is particularly interesting as the main characters are either academics or the wives of academics, and they all teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1930s. So they go to parties on Van Hise (where the head of our graduate program lives now), they rent a boat from the Union and nearly drown in Lake Mendota (that's what they get for not having Fangirl as their sailing instructor), and they travel up and down State Street, among other things. I am pleased to note that many things have not changed in academia since the '30s. They still drink a ton (although I was disconcerted by the repeated instances of the wives getting hammered whilst pregnant), they still complain about grading papers, and they still worry about getting jobs and tenure (I guess the Depression is comparable to today's glut of the market). And, as an historical side note, the English Department offices used to be in Bascom Hall, apparently, before Helen C. White (our current home) was built.

Part of me enjoyed this reading because of the familiar references and literary discussions, in a kind of academic masturbatory way. Part of me also did not need to start feeling fear of being an academic failure, as one of the characters is, right before I take prelims. It was just close enough to home to really add to the nerves. Of course, he became a rich and successful novelist, but I don't really see that in the cards for me. But then, I guess that means I won't have a polio-stricken wife, either, which kind of balances the scales. Still, it was an enjoyable read, straightforward and honest, and well-written. Rather different from most of the other things I've read thus far.

Ok, back to the paper grindstone. Good luck to all my fellow readers out there, and to my boys and girls from elsewhere, raise a glass for me when you get a chance. I'll do the same for you tomorrow when I'm out drinking. Except for Hubris and Batkodez. You know why. (And Ford Madox Ford isn't on my list, so nyah nyah.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sweet Jesus! The Books Are Finally Talking Back!

"The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it's you I'm addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction. You've read me this far, then? Even this far? For what discreditable motive? How is it you don't go to a movie, watch TV, stare at a wall, play tennis with a friend, make amorous advances to the person who comes to your mind when I speak of amorous advances? Can nothing surfeit, saturate you, turn you off? Where's your shame?"

Clearly Barth had never heard of prelims, which conquers all desire and shame. And sanity, for that matter, which makes Lost in the Funhouse a delightful read.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stepping Up to Do My Part

After having read a lot of Adrienne Rich today, I have decided that I'm not doing my part to oppress women. Sure, I may make the occasional joke or snide comment, but am I really doing all I can to keep women in their place, oppressed by the rightful patriarchy of America? Do I do my best to make marriage an oppressive institution that can only be rectified by the widespread acceptance of lesbianism? We all love lesbians, right?

Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, it sounds horrible at first, to consider throwing away the decades of progress we've had since Rich was writing her poetry and her essays. Yes, sexism was a problem and remains one to this day, leading to unfair working conditions, salary disparities, sexual harassment, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm anti- all that.

But at the same time, look at the benefits. Men got to feel superior and dictate what was good and what was bad. The notion of the Old Boy's Club was in full swing, and created a community in which men could share ideas and speak a language they all understood. As any theorist can tell you, community-creation is a good thing. Furthermore, oppression gave rise to Rich's own writings, and her quest for female community apart from patriarchy. It allowed for passionate and vitriolic prose and poetry, which sparked people to new levels of consciousness. It allowed for the contemplation of an alternative language, of a questioning of the basic tenets of our society. Through the pain of oppression, her work gained meaning and power. Is it so wrong to want to empower people like that again?

The greatest advances in American thought have always come in the face of great adversity. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to help create that adversity by reasserting my rights as a member of the American patriarchy. Those of you interested in more information, please contact me via my secretary, if she isn't too busy laughing at my inappropriate jokes or fetching things from low cabinets around the office.

(Also, reading Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, which for some reason I'm envisioning as a zany Jane Fonda Barefoot in the Park-esque farce, despite the fact that I know her spirit will be crushed in the end. But then, maybe that just shows my own views of what's funny regarding women, as stated above.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Urge to Kill Rising...Rising

The house next to our building has taken it upon themselves to throw a day-long barbecue, complete with live music.

I wish to murder them.

(Oh, and Cane is vile drek, made only viler by the Phish-like music coming from across the driveway.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Found My Thrill...

A voicemail I received last night:

Brownsox: Dubs, it's Brownsox, what's up? I miss you buddy. And man, we are... we are dying here, because...there are blueberries in my beer! Listen, here's Quantum, he'll tell you the same thing. Quantum!

Quantum: There are blueberries in mah beer!

Brownsox: Do you see what I mean? This is what we have to work with Dubs! Come out to the East Coast so you can help us! Because we need your assistance. We love you, Dubs baby.

Quantum (from background): They're in mah beer!

Brownsox: They're in his beer! Say it again.

Quantum: They're in mah beer!

Brownsox: They're in his beer. Help us, Dubs, help us. We love you. Buh-bye.

I..... I don't really know what else I can say about this. I just wish you could hear how earnestly sad they are, and slightly befuddled.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chapter CLXXI: In Which Our Hero's Orderly Life is Disrupted

This weekend, for once, I did not have to go to my friends. They came to me.

A friend of ours from college, hailing from the tiny picturesque hamlet of Lake Mills, WI, was getting married. As this village (Pop. around 4500) is only about 30 minutes from Madison (20 the way I drive, as I found out when we rushed to the wedding), my friends Bluesman and Memi were both staying with me rather than pay for hotels. I eagerly anticipated this, as I have a long history of crashing with friends, and felt delighted that I could reciprocate for some of my oldest NU gang.

Memi was coming in Saturday night for the bachelorette party, and the wedding was on Monday afternoon. This was all the information I had at the start of Friday morning, though I knew Bluesman was coming to the wedding itself, and I offered him my place to crash, which he accepted. I had been cleaning my apartment periodically throughout the week, whenever I took a break from reading, and planned to do glorious battle with the months of dust and debris in my living room on Saturday morning. I did not expect to survive, but the apartment would be clean for those who came after me, at least. I anticipated finishing Paterson on Friday eve, and getting a small amount of reading done on Saturday, then writing off Sunday and Monday. Seeing as how these are my "Old People Friends" from Northwestern, however, it couldn't be quite that simple.

On Friday afternoon, shortly before my eye appointment, Bluesman calls and lets me know he's on his way up, and would like to pass the night in my home. This provoked a frantic burst of cleaning, the total abandonment of Paterson, and the fortuitous cancellation of my study session with Nittany Lion, which all culminated in a clean living room, kitchen, and bathroom, an epic feat that shall be sung for ages to come, given the state of disarray I started with.

Saturday we two spent the morning downtown breaking our fast, and killing time until Memi's plane arrived (delayed, of course, courtesy of the good people at Northwest Airlines). We deposited her at the bachelorette party, and dined with Nittany and Red Headed Stepchild at a local beer-dispensary establishment named after a grandiose canine. (Side note: the bachelorette party spent the evening at Brocach [sp?], then returned to Lake Mills to celebrate further. I must wonder about the sanity of women who find the Faux-Irish Pub on the square to be the height of Madisonian Haute Culture.) We tried, later, to watch fireworks, which were thwarted by rain.

Sunday came and went, and for some reason still beyond me I drove 45 minutes to go to a drive-in movie showing of Superman Returns. The experience itself is worthwhile, but it isn't quite how I anticipated viewing the Man of Steel's return to the silver screen. And, because of these plans, I missed the rescheduled fireworks. Sadness. But it was fun nonetheless.

Monday, the wedding itself. Made the drive to Lake Mills in about 19 minutes, because my houseguests are chronically slow (sorry guys, but it's true). And Memi, if you're reading this, no noise about me being the last one ready. You'd be the last one ready as well if your houseguests were in your bathroom for an hour and a half, leaving you roughly seven minutes before your scheduled departure time. And it's my blog. So nyah nyah nyah.

The wedding was quite nice, if a tad short for my Catholic standards (25 minutes altogether). Readings from Whitman and e.e. cummings, showing the excellent taste of our friend the bride, who teaches high school English in Minnesota. Though I did have trouble keeping a straight face throughout, as during the vows I kept hearing Homer Simpson's wedding vows. In Rev. Lovejoy's monotone, "Do you take this man, in richness or in poorness, (poorness is underlined), in impotence and potence, in calm tranquility or blasting along the alkali flats in a jet-propelled, rocket powered... and it goes on like this!" Between that and flashbacks to various scenes from Wedding Crashers, I nearly lost it several times throughout. I tried to turn my stifled guffaws into some kind of faux manly sensitivity at the beauty of marriage, but I don't think anyone noticed.

Reception: Open bar + Ketel One = Happy Brian. Plus, the bride and groom are avid swing dancers, so the music was an eclectic mix of pop favorites and swing tunes. Though no power ballads. Seriously, what kind of wedding is it if there's no Journey or Bryan Adams? But the dancing overall was fun, as I like to dance quite a bit at these things, particularly after a few vodka tonics. And we did prove that "I Want it That Way" can unite a reception into a display of buffoonery unparalleled. Also, the Chicken Dance is apparently on the cusp of fame in India. Who knew?

As of today, my houseguests are gone, and my life is once again back on its orderly track. Read me some Sun Also Rises and Rez Sisters this eve, and looking to get back into the swing of things. Hemingway in particular is good after weddings, largely because his hatred of women really fights those sappy romance feelings one tends to get in the wake of events such as this. Papa H., combined with a strict moratorium on romantic comedies and love songs for at least a week, helps deny those destructive musings that make me feel actual feelings, instead of the cool self-deprecating comedic irony I coast through life on.

To close, three great moments of the long weekend:
1. Methodists as pixies, complete with pixie dust, or in street parlance, "meth." How we got there is unimportant. The point is we got there, and Memi was laughing for at least four straight minutes.

2. Mashed Potato Martini Bar. Quite exciting.

3. My in-depth analysis of Beowulf for the other guests at our table, in which I used my Master's Degree to prove that the poem is actually about the mutually destructive combat between Beowulf and a Zamboni Machine. Article forthcoming.