Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yes, another post about waterfowl...

On the way home last night I walked past the group of ducks I normally walk past. I wasnt paying much attention but when I looked up I saw they were actually trying to chase me. No joke. They were acting like geese, with their tongues out, hissing. It freaked me out a little and then made me laugh a lot. This morning it happened again. (Although with a little less hatred than yesterday.) Then when I got to work there was a duck sitting in the parking lot, staring at me.

Clearly my life is a parody of The Birds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hello, my name is...

I was hit with kind of an epiphany today, but I guess it was more like a surge of altruism. I was thinking about something that happened the other day and realized that I have a huge change to make in my life. On Wednesday a boy sat down at the table where I was eating breakfast and proceeded to talk to me. It was a great conversation, one of the best I've ever had with a total stranger, and yet it has been bothering me a lot the last couple of days. I am bothered by the fact that I did not get his last name or number because I'm sure he would make a great friend. But what bothers me most of all is walking around campus and feeling so anonymous and alone when there are literally thousands of people all around me. No one had ever sat and talked to me like that, and I have never done it either. And I think what the nicest thing about it was that he wanted to talk to me. It wasn't like being forced into a situation with people like at work or in a classroom (or on a date). He didn't have to talk to me, and yet he did. It wasn't awkward because we weren't trying to fill in silence, we were just getting to know each other. I'm bothered because I want that to happen again, all the time. I want to know everyone. I want to feel like I'm part of a community, not a stranger. I think I'm socially retarded because this comes to me as something completely novel and amazing. I can actually talk to strangers and hold good conversations? What? Really?

So I've made a goal. I'm going to make at least 2 new good friends this summer from talking to random people. Friends I hang out with, not just facebook friends. And as a short term goal I'm going to go up to campus tomorrow to study and I will eat my lunch with a random person and get to know him or her. I'm getting really bored with just hanging out with me all the time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the boy least likely to...

I just got the new album by The Boy Least Likely To, and I want to hate it but I just can't. It's adorable. It's disgustingly adorable. I loved the first album, Best Party Ever, because of its cuteness, because of the xylophone and the banjo and all the weird little toy sounds. I loved songs like "Be Gentle with Me" and "I See Spiders when I Close My Eyes" and "My Tiger My Heart" because they are about the insecurities and fears of growing up when we are forced to let go of not only childhood toys but also childhood ways of thinking and seeing the world. The Boy Least Likely To manages to keep that childlike perspective. One of my favorite songs from the first album, "Be Gentle with Me" has lyrics like "I'm happy because I'm stupid, scared of spiders, scared of flying. If I wasn't so happy I wouldn't be so scared of dying. So just be gentle with me, and I'll be gentle with you." And from "Papercuts" there are lines like "Nothing stays the same, I wish I could remain the color of the cherry blossom tree, I've always been in love with you. I used to read before I went to sleep, now I just pass out watching T.V." It's sad and sweet and honest, but pretty cutesy. And so a second album I knew would be just too much, especially if they kept up with the same style and type of childish songs. And they did, and it is too much. But I love it. I can't help it. I roll my eyes and tap my feet and relate to the coming of age silliness.

I tend to be a little bit skeptical of sophomore albums, especially if the first one was a bit of a success. I don't want the band to find themselves stuck in a rut because the first things they did worked so well. I feel like they lose something, some genuineness that was there in the first album. And so that's why I want to hate this album, and why I roll my eyes when I listen to it. It's really more the same stuff. We have songs like "The Boy with Two Hearts" and "A Balloon on a Broken String" and a song about a cat called "Whiskers", and lyrics that stick to the theme of being a childlike grownup: "If I want to feel something I stick pencils up my nose." Yup. And there's a song about making lemons into lemonade. The xylophone, banjo and toy noises (cogs and whistles) are still there. And like I said I can't help but love it, in an uncomfortably cynical way. It's weird. I particularly like the song "The Boy with Two Hearts". Set to tinkling xylophone and a "oohmp oohmp" tuba are lyrics like "I know I'm not much fun to be with, but you love me all the same. And someday i can hopefully just go back to being myself." Hmm. I can't say that I necessarily relate to this, but I see how it expresses the struggles of a young person in a relationship. My favorite song on the album, however, is "Every Goliath Has Its David". Hand claps and high pitched strings accompany "And I know [rest 2, 3, 4] Kung fu [rest 2, 3, 4] and I'm not afraid of you!" It's an anthem to the underdog.

There used to be this genre of pop music in England in the '70s and '80s called "Twee" and this reminds me of some of those bands. If The Boy Least Likely To is not as twee as f**k I dont know what is.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


As I frequently advertise I am not a huge fan of reading. I don't love it and I never have. In fact, I faked loving it as a kid so I could look smart. But I still read. It's important to me, and I find it to be rewarding work at times but never "fun". I'd rather be watching tv or skinny dipping or something. I have read/listened to a few books in the last 2 and a half months, and I'm trying to keep better track of what I read, so I thought I'd write about them since the experiences I have with books (and media in general) usually notably affect me and how I look at the world. Most of these books were for my World War I class and the others were books I listened to at work.

The first book I read this year was Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, a memoir detailing Brittain's life during the first World War as a volunteer nurse. It's a heartbreaking story as she loses the men in her life; her best friends, her brother, her lover. I was inspired by her will to work, to do everything she could to help the war effort as long as her friends were out fighting. A volunteer nurse's life was not easy and she managed to make it through 4 years of service, working in London, Malta and finally on the Western Front in France, right behind the lines. She had to deal with trials specific to her sex, the fact that she was torn between duty to family and duty to the war effort. She lost everyone she loved and yet she kept going. She was as much of a soldier as any man. She made me realize that as a woman I have as much duty and ability to go out into the world and make a difference as any man. She taught me that losing yourself in work, even for the most selfish reasons, can make enduring pain and suffering possible, and that hard times are what form us into remarkable people.

Rebecca West was another remarkable author from the Great War period. Her book Return of the Soldier was written before the end of the war and takes place just before the Battle of the Somme. It is about two incredibly selfish women who are thrown a curveball when the husband of one (the other woman is his cousin) returns from the war with shellshock and amnesia. I hated those women. They only saw themselves as objects in this man's home, prized possessions. The great part is when they find out that he had been in love with a poor woman years before and he can only remember her. He only wants to see her. We learn they had had a misunderstanding and an argument and had become estranged (she never got his letters for some reason). So they find this woman and bring her to the house and he is like a boy again. And he hates his annoying wife. They figure out what might bring his memory back and the question is raised as to whether or not they should try it. If he does get his memory back he will go back to war and likely die (especially, as the author and the readers know, the Battle of the Somme will begin immediately in his future, a battle with one and a half million casualties). But the annoying wife doesn't care. She is simply jealous of this other lower class woman in her home and would do anything for her husband to be able to remember her, his wife. It's a sad little novella, but I loved it.

I bought this book on audio after seeing the author, Sarah Vowell, on the Daily Show. I loved how geeky and smart the she was and I knew I'd appreciate her enthusiasm with the assassination of presidents. She goes on a veritable pilgrimage to anything associated with Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield and their assassinations, and while a lot of times I thought "Why another boring plaque in some obscure part of Washington??" I loved Vowell's commentary on American history and how eerily repeatable it is. (She spends a whole chapter pointing out how similar the situations leading to the Spanish American war and the Iraq war were.) I also loved how she made these trips all over the Eastern United States just to experience the things she had so easily read in history books. I want to do that. I also learned a lot about American history, which is always valuable.

I also listened to High Fidelity while walking to an from work for a couple days. It was a fast listen, and I appreciated how messed up and unromantic the characters and plot were, how relationships take work and effort and energy to maintain. I of course liked all the music and pop culture references, and the whole thing wasn't much unlike the movie, which I kind of love.

I most recently read another short novel by a woman author from the World War One era called Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Kathrine Anne Porter. It is a fiction, but based on the author's experiences at the end of the war when she caught the Spanish flu. Much of it is written in a stream of consciousness style that reflects the fluidity of the character's dreams while suffering the flu. She is a journalist in Denver and meets and falls in love with a soldier named Adam. She falls ill and he stays by her side until he leaves to get food and people come and take her away to the hospital. They never get to say goodbye and they won't allow him to see her in the hospital. She almost dies; in fact, Porter was in the same situation where she was so ill that they initially left her on a gurney in the crowded hospital corridor to die. Somehow she recovers after weeks of delirium. I loved most the liminal space she finds herself after coming out of her delirium. She dreamed she was dead, she accepted that she was dead, and suddenly she was forced back into the living world with everyone congratulating her for not dying and she didn't want to be there. After her experience Porter said that she had died already and wasn't afraid to do it again. Another incredible woman.

Well, so those are some of the books I've read since the new year. I also read Watchmen, but I don't really have much to say about it, so I'll refrain right now. The notable thing about that experience was that I read it in one 7 hour sitting. I knew I wouldn't finish it otherwise.

I bought 3 more audio books today and I'm excited to get through them and write about what I thought. One is called Stiff and it's about dead bodies, another is The Story of Philosophy and the third is called This is Your Brain on Music. Looking forward to all of them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

academic persuits

I have had an intense couple of thinking days this week.

After convincing myself for the past year that a PhD. is simply not for me and trying an alternative future path, I'm suddenly back to where I was before I got to be so bitter about academia. I've realized what an incredibly horrible attitude I have had, how I've fallen into a habit of super negative self criticism and how this bitterness and negativity has held me back from what I've always known I wanted to do. I don't know what happened that made me so bitter towards school and my abilities, but since this is my last semester taking classes I know that my attitude has changed a lot and I'm seeing now how much I love school, how talented I might actually be and how much I have really learned in the last two years. I can't believe how far I've come in two years. How much my character has grown, how much my skills as a writer, researcher and teacher have been honed. I notice that I no longer shake uncontrollably when I am put on the spot, that I can write a paper with an actual plan from the beginning, crafting the words to make a very particular point (rather than throwing something out there and realizing at the end what my point actually is).

So I see how good this has been for me. I see how I might actually be able to succeed in a PhD program, but I worry about overcoming the negative habits I have fallen into. Can I really have confidence enough in myself to do a PhD program. I used to ask myself all the time "Would it even be worth it?" and for some reason the answer came to be no. But now looking at it, how can it be no? Not only have a grown a lot in the last two years, but I'm also seeing now just how much I have left to learn. A PhD would be difficult but would ultimately be worth it, even if I don't find an immediate, tenured job in academia. Should I give up the talent I possess, the talent I have been honing over the last 7 years? I do one thing well and that is writing academic papers. I am insightful and know how to make connections and am incredibly detail oriented. It's what I do well, why should I not continue to do it?

I should. I need to be more positive and I need to be much more assertive. I attended a panel yesterday with all the women in my department (there are only five) and I learned a lot about what I will have to do in the next little while in order to find myself a good PhD program. Well, most of it wasn't actually new to me, but I feel a new resolve to just do those things and push forward.

I need to research the professors in programs I am interested in, read their works and email them. I am so open right now with an area; I can see throwing myself into any number of topic, time periods, theories.

I need to learn French. This has actually been bothering me for some time now, and I should have been working on it these last two years, but I can still start soon. I'm going to sit in on some French classes this spring and summer while I'm here. I should also look into learning German. If I get into a program, really any program in the humanities, I'll have to take proficiency exams so I can't be lazy about this anymore. I know how to learn a language.

I need to catch up on reading, especially theory. I need to read Nietzsche (for some reason that seems pressing to me). I need to read feminist writings. I need to read journals in my field and see what's coming out right now. I need to read journals from other areas (like art history, comparative literature) to get ideas of what kind of area I want to start focusing on.

I need to try to go to another conference this year and get involved with the ones going on here. There's a Mormons in Academia conference coming up and I think it would be really great if I got involved somehow.

The main point is that I can't sit around on my butt being all bitter and negative anymore. It's ridiculous and it's only holding me back. I love to teach, I love to research, I love to analyze, I love to write and I am good at those things. I can't throw that away.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It seems weird to me that I haven't posted in over a week. I guess nothing has been intriguing enough to write about this week, although it seems all kinds of things have been happening.

First, I did not get accepted to work for Teach for America, which I am totally cool with. A huge part of me did not want to do it, but I think I would have talked myself into it if I had got it, so I'm glad I don't have to now make a tough decision.

Instead I'm going to apply to go to school in Louisville Kentucky. Yep, that's right. Kentucky. The PhD program in Humanities looks awesome, and I've realized that what I really really want to do is teach Humanities. I love the Humanities. It's what I do and it's what I'm good at and it's what I want to continue doing. Kentucky looks wonderful.

So I'll take my time this summer and defend my thesis in October, graduating then in December. I'll work on making an awesome application for the University of Louisville and try to save up some extra money because in January i will be checking off one of the things on my life's to do list and move to New York for a few months while I wait to see if I get accepted to grad school. I'll do some odd jobs and hang out. I even already have a place set up for me to live.

Also I got this nifty little pedometer for like 2 dollars, and so I used it today just because I'm curious how much i walk in a normal average day of hanging out at school, and it says that today I took about 8006 steps. I wonder how accurate it is, but it's kind of cool to think that I made 8000 steps. I wonder how much it will be for when i go to school and work on the same day.

Monday, March 2, 2009

a few things

First, I was walking to campus today and the kid in front of me had some envelopes precariously tucked in to his back pocket just waiting to fall. "Great," I thought, "I have to keep up with him now in case they fall out so that I can get his attention without running to give them back to him." So I quickened my pace and stayed a good safe couple of feet away. The envelopes slipped more and more until only a small part of the corner of one remained in the pocket and the rest was flopping. Any second now, I thought. I was fixed on this envelope. Just before the fatal moment the guy reached back and grabbed them. "Oh thank God." I said. My visible relief probably would have been pretty funny if anyone happened to be watching me fixated on this guy's butt. It was a pretty intense moment.

Second, the power went out today in class. That's always funny.

Thirdly, I went to talk to a film professor who is usually pretty mean to me. She thinks my whole zombie thing is a joke and scoffs at me when I talk to her about it and about how I want to incorporate zombie films into my paper on cinematic transcendence. But today was different. Today she was extremely nice to me. She complimented me on my writing, on my knowledge of zombie films, on my teaching skills (since I gave a presentation in class last week that she apparently thought was wonderful) and when I left she said something about what a hoot I am and how she's happy she got to know me. It was a relief because i was in no mood this morning for derision.

Fourthly, Wendell Berry is coming to Salt Lake to speak and to do a reading!!! I've been thinking a lot about the book of his that I read, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, a book which pretty much changed my life, and meaning to look at it again. I am so excited. I hope I get to meet him. :D