Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Ramblings

My love of the holiday season is well-documented (see here and here for last year's treatises on the subject of Christmas). So I won't go into things at length again, lest I grow repetitive. I'll only point out that, in fine Dubs' family tradition, our Christmas tree was appropriately removed from its natural habitat and put to far better use in our living room, where it will glitter and gleam and slowly die for our holiday cheer. (Those of you with facebook can see the latest conquest of nature in my profile picture. No, this is not in Madison. Sadly.)

Over the course of past week, I learned several things, which I shall enumerate in no particular order.

1. I am a 13 year old girl. As proven by my great enjoyment of the movie Enchanted, which is just so danged earnest that it avoids being sickly sweet.

2. You know how they say that if you've just lost weight, it's easier to put it right back on? That's true. Damned delicious stuffing.

3. Pine tree sap doesn't wash out of anything easily.

4. It's really weird to go back to places you frequented as a child. I discovered this when I entered my old parish church for the first time in about eight years, and immediately felt like I was back in sixth grade.

5. New coats are fun.

6. I apparently don't age. Or, if I do, then I'm retrogressing. I was told I still look 18 by my cousins, and the man in the grocery store nearly didn't give me a free sample of wine, despite the fact that my gray-haired father was right next to me. For further proof, see the aforementioned Christmas Tree / Facebook profile picture, where I look like I'm frakkin' twelve.

7. New episodes or movies of Battlestar make me want to say "frak" more often. So far, I have resisted this urge in public. But BSG: Razor was pretty cool.

8. "Pushing Daisies" + Pee Wee Herman = Awesome.

Nothing much else to add. But for a diversion, I'm throwing the floor open again to Christmas songs worth listening to. I have an extensive list from last year (see above), but here are a few that I either just discovered or neglected previously. (Through the miracles of our age, videos provided for your enjoyment. Per usual, watch the videos at your own risk. I just pick 'em for the songs.)

-"Snoopy's Christmas" I love this song. No real logic behind it, other than it's Snoopy.

-"Donna and Blitzen" by Badly Drawn Boy. Last year, T. made me a CD of some truly excellent Christmas songs. I think this one is my favorite, despite it's unclear connection to Christmas itself, or really any logical progression in the lyrics. The music itself overcomes all that. (Sadly, no video.)

-"River" by Joni Mitchell. Largely known for her ability to teach cold English housewives how to feel, she also gave a great Christmas song that I had never really heard before late last year.

-"Song for a Winter's Night" by Sarah McLachlan. Not technically a Christmas song, but still a winter song. Beware the video for egregious fangirl King Arthur clips.

-"Spotlight on Christmas" by Rufus Wainwright. Another from the T. collection. Contains the wonderful description of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: "And they were each one quite odd / A mensch, a virgin, and a God." Again, no good video.

-"Maybe This Christmas" by Ron Sexsmith. Third and last I'll mention from the T. collection. Peppy little tune, apparently used on "The O.C." (hence the video, and though I've never actually seen "The O.C.", I hear good things about this Chrismukkah thing).

And that's it for me. What are your suggestions? New songs that need to be explored? Old favorites that need to be rediscovered? Anything else Christmas-related? 'Tis the season, and I'm a sucker for it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

We've Got Boston, South America, the Good Part of Ireland, and We're Makin' Serious Inroads in Mozambique, Baby!

Listen Jack, I'm a Catholic, which means I'm a cheat and a liar.

No, wait.

That's something else.

I'm a Catholic, which means I'm a sexist and I like to subjugate indigenous peoples.

There, that's more like it.

Back where I come from, St. Louis, there were basically two options as far as my small suburban world was conceived. You were either a Catholic, or you went to public school (what my mother would refer to dismissively as "dumb school" [you can basically understand my entire personality if you consider the fact that the greatest danger of my young life was going to school with stupid people]). I went to a Catholic grade school, and a Catholic high school. And though there was a time in college in which I and Holy Mother Church parted ways (due to my laziness rather than any profound ideological schism), I today continue to go to church every Sunday. Not out of habit, but out of belief.

Plus, as the oldest of the Christian sects (I wouldn't hesitate to use the word "truest"), it also appeals to my sense of snobbery. Many's the joke I've had at the expense of my Protestant friends (who I've affectionately referred to as "the damned" on myriad occasions). But largely, my knowledge of the Protestant world comes from what I hear on the streets or read in books. Before college, my world was very insular; I had met Protestants, at one point or another, but never actively associated with them. And I knew that "Jews" existed somewhere, but I never actually met one until college (the closest I came was when a Jewish film festival nearly kept my father and me from seeing Crimson Tide together).

I bring this up because my Catholicism has been brought home to me in several ways these past few days. (Well, two. But that's enough for a blog post, don't you think?) First, recently over the course of an evening of alcohol and alcohol-related festivities, I was grilled rather earnestly by one of the opposing team, who seemed completely incredulous at my professed belief in the HRCC (that's Holy Roman Catholic Church for you noobs out there). A serious amount of alcohol was involved, so the conversation was already a bit skewed, but I believe at one point I had to counter the claim that Catholics prayed to nuns. (As if nuns were saints, I imagine. Anyone who ever met the knuckle-slapping nuns at my grade school would know that was not the case. Well, except for the Flying Nun. She had superpowers.)

I do not bring this instance up to mock or show offense taken on my part, as the conversation was mainly highly literate and intellectually intriguing (or as well as can be after several drinks). Not to mention a lot of fun. Instead, I merely bring it up as an example of the great disparity between some of our fellow Christian faiths and Holy Mother Church. And as an excuse to blog. Because I always need those.

Oh, and the other instance that brought my faith home? Tonight, at mass, someone had put gum on the pew I chose to sit in. And now I have gum all over my sweater. Thanks, God, for looking out for your faithful. (Seriously, who even brings gum to church, let alone sticks it on the part of the pew people lean their backs against?)

And so, as a Sunday meditation, a list of reasons why Catholicism is superior to every other religion ever:

-Nobody says ceremony like a Catholic. If you try, we immediately play the Latin trump card.
-Catholic history is much cooler than other histories. Great Schism, Pope and Anti-Pope, etc. Seriously. Anti-Pope. Whereas the nearest Protestant equivalent is just one more group of splitters.
-The Popish Plot. I don't know what it is, but I know the British were afraid of it for the better part of three centuries. I think it meant the pope was going to blow up Parliament.
-In case of vampire attack or demonic possession, my Church is prepared to seriously whoop some undead ass. You just keep telling yourself that faith alone will save you. Now, faith combined with a giant jug of holy water and a priest consecrating the actual body and blood of Christ? Bring on them vamps and demons! Cause a Catholic priest is the Batman of the undead battlefield.
-As addendum to the last point, all the secret rites and rituals for dealing with vampires and demons that you know the Church still has secreted away somewhere. Bust out the Latin, bust some undead heads back to Hell.
-That priest in Dead Alive. "I kick ass for the lord!" Even though he bites it in the end, he does it in style.
-Jesuits. Like the Popish plot, the Jesuits instilled fear and terror in the hearts of Protestants everywhere. You never knew where the Jesuits were going to strike next. Maybe as part of a Popish Plot.
-The Flying Nun.
-That little dude who does the chant at the start of Easter Vigil mass every year. I love that guy.
-The Popemobile. Not to mention the Pope's Awesome Giant Hat.
-Saints: The Action Heroes of the Dark Ages.
-The Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch.

That's enough for now, I think. I'd say that my irreverant attitude will get me condemned to Hell, but then, I'm Catholic. Absolution, baby.

In conclusion, two videos for your perusal. The first, our ass-kicking, zombie fighting priest:

The second, a very moving and stirring song about self-acceptance in this harsh modern world. (Author's note: I only steal the YouTube clip for the music. I advise you not to watch the movie itself. Indeed, you'd be better served closing your eyes, or opening another window, lest you inadvertantly watch part of this video. Don't encourage people to set their photos to music, or they'll start to breed.)

(Seriously. Hit play then look away.)

(Ok, I warned you.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Please Let Me Die

Ah, nothing like long days of student conferences to really sap the life out of you and make you envy the dead. Often in grad school, you fantasize about being injured, so that you won't have to write that paper or meet that deadline. ("Man, if I got hit by a bus and put in a full body cast, I bet I could get an extension.) But only after meetings with loads upon loads of students do you truly pray for your existence to end.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. Damned if I know what it is.

My students have papers due, so naturally, they all have waited till two days before the paper is due to contact me. So for the past two days, I have been answering about a hundred e-mails, meeting with about 20 of my 34 students, and generally not accomplishing anything else because they keep pestering me and destroying my will to live.

Plus, of course, I've had my Writing Center shifts these past two days, where I get to look at even more student writing. I swear, by the end of tonight, I just want to start setting papers on fire and kicking undergraduates who get in my way. Why can't that be some kind of law? Or a tacit agreement? "I'll look at your paper, if I can kick you on your way out the door." That'd be sweet.

The lows:
1. One student came in and claimed he was nearly done. I then pointed out that he had not a single debatable claim in his entire paper. He has since asked for an extension.

2. Multiple students cannot understand that The Sound and the Fury is a tragedy, and that Caddy is not a figure of hope for the modern woman in escaping the evils of traditional values.

3. Someone is actually writing on McTeague. After I hinted very strongly that I wanted no papers on McTeague, as it sucks.

4. People writing on Malcolm X seem to think it's ok to just tell me about all the different things he did. Or to claim as a thesis that "Malcolm X was a very important figure."

5. Some people can't seem to grasp that when I say "You might want to consider this other viewpoint", what I'm really saying is "Your reading of this text is quite wrong. Please change it before I have to fail you."

The highs:
1. Today, one student seemed to arrive quite unwittingly at the Aristotelian definition of tragedy. Without ever having studied tragedy before. Made my morning. At least until the next student came in.

2. I cleaned parts of my apartment. This was very therapeutic for me, as it did not involve any conscious thought.

3. I think I finally found an intriuging way for a student to write about Caddy Compson without being trite or cliche. I shall now use this idea as the foundation for any teaching I do on The Sound and the Fury in the future.

4. I've been so busy with others' work, I haven't had time to be nervous about my CLC dissertation workshop on Thursday. (That will change tomorrow.)

5. Today, at the Writing Center, someone was writing about a character named Socrates, and he pronounced it So-crates (a la Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure's So-crates Johnson). I've never read the book he was discussing so for all I know, it actually is pronounced that way in that text. But I still nearly laughed out loud as he read his paper to me. Best part of my entire day.

Now if only I could see papers about Bob Genghis Khan, Dave Beethoven, Maxine of Arc, Herman the Kid, Dennis Frood, and....Abraham Lincoln. Ah, that'd be excellent.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Because Undergrads Can't Understand Althusser

I'm not sure which is more disturbing. That:

A. I used The Usual Suspects as a way to start talking about The Autobiography of Malcolm X and ideological state apparatuses today in secton...


B. Only three of my 18 students knew what I was talking about.

I mean, I figured it was a no-brainer. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he didn't exist." Malcolm calls us "white devils." And what is ideology but that which we convince ourselves doesn't exist? Sadly, my brilliant foray into the realm of pop culture is about six years too old. I mean, I remember when you couldn't go a week in college without seeing Usual Suspects somewhere, usually in someone's dorm room starting around 2am. So once again, my students made me feel old.

In a fit of spite, I spoiled the twist ending for them. I think Malcolm would have approved.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Because then I might freeze to death.

Batman and I, in a fit of pride, have yet to turn on the heat in our freezing apartment. We have to pay for it, you see, and gas prices tend to skyrocket in the winter here. As we are poor (or at least I am, and all of Batman's funds are clearly going into his crime-fighting apparati and the facade of his playboy existence), we choose to save money by slowly freezing into corpsicles.

Of course, I did just watch a wonderfully fun movie that seemed to offer a lifestyle not entirely incompatible with this level of cold. Granted, it was set in California, but this movie advocated that constant night activity, a casual disdain of the ways of the world, and a willingness to break the "rules" and "social norms" can lead to a fulfilling life amidst the chaos of the world. The name of this movie, if you haven't yet guessed, is The Lost Boys.

Yes, in between my Netflix shipments of "Freaks and Geeks" (which is excellent, by the way), I've been getting horror movies to celebrate Halloween (even a bit belatedly). I had never seen Lost Boys before, and I heard it was quite the celebration of all things '80s. Well folks, this is quite true. Vampires with mullets, and Kiefer Sutherland as a Billy Idol-esque punk biker vampire. And, apparently, vampires aren't that bad. Sure, they may kill the occasional fat boardwalk security guard, and they may generally cause a disturbance, but before they were provoked, whom did they viciously mutilate? Beach thugs! Listening to Run DMC! Clearly drunk, and possibly on drugs! These vampires aren't evil, they're just hardworking, decent, Reaganite Americans.

As I'm sure every child of the '80s but me has already seen this movie, I won't take the time to unpack it further or mention many of its obvious absurdities. Ok, two more. First, why did the vampire dying in the bathtub cause all the pipes, sinks, toilets, etc. to start spraying blood? Physics seems to imply that that degree of force would have exploded outward (i.e. out the top of the tub) rather than generating a massive, water-main disruptive shockwave that not only exploded the pipes but managed to change all the water to blood (I won't even touch the metaphysical implications of that one). Second, the theme song? Children singing the ten commandments? Used at multiple points throughout the film, and linked with a bodacious hair-metal power ballad? Awesome. It was hilarious camp, and it's making me seriously contemplate turning to the undead side of life. If nothing else, I'll no longer feel the cold. (For further justification, see 30 Days of Night.)

(Again, sorry for lack of interesting posts. Since TGD switched CLC spots with me for next week, I've been frantically revising my dissertation chapter to make it suitable for presentation. On the plus side, I now have 31 pages of my dissertation written.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Overheard in Madison Today

Girl on cell: "We should totally do it, because we never got our bellybuttons pierced."

There are days when walking down the streets of Madison can be quite fun. I believe I spent the next ten minutes after overhearing this particular snippit pondering just how many different ways that conversation could have started. Granted, the thing they plan to do is probably something cliche like get a tattoo or another piercing. And yet a part of me wonders about the causal relationship implicit in that statement.

"We should totally do it, because we never got our bellybuttons pierced." (emphasis mine)

What, exactly, would not having a pierced navel allow to come into play? On the one hand, I immediately imagine some bizarre form of liposuction, in which the navel is untied and excess stomach fat is pumped out through the umbilical remnant. Or, perhaps, some kind of surgery to turn an innie into an outie, or vice versa. Or, given the dual nature of the conversation and the emphatic "we," it could imply some procedure to conjoin two people at the navel, where one person's nutrients would be spread out into two bodies (some kind of reverse-engineered pregnancy, where you're eternally pregnant with another living, conscious, similarly-aged person). What the benefits of such a procedure would be, I can only begin to imagine.

Or, we could hope for the dream: Care Bear implants. Some mad scientific process, enacted upon an unpierced abdomen, could possibly lead to both the creation of an intricate Care Bear tattoo and the insertion of ungodly powers into said tattoo. And if that's the case, then sign me up. I'm totally going for the Care Bear with the shamrock on his stomach.

(Sorry folks, been a while since I blogged, but I got nothing new to report. Got drunk at the Halloween party, graded exams, wrote more dissertation, watched more tv. "Pushing Daisies" still rocks, "Chuck" seems to be getting better, "Heroes" is still lame-ish, though this week was better than most this season. Oh, and on "Smallville" today, Clark Kent just watched a man get gunned down without batting an eye. Granted, he was an evil government agent torturing Supergirl, but still. Way to be the hero, CK. Otherwise, Batman thinks our apartment is haunted, since it's constantly colder inside than it is outside. I don't yet disagree with him.)