Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Me, too. I'm still in the midst of not hearing from any of the schools I applied to, and being reassured by professors where I teach that it's still too early to expect invitations for interviews. 'Sigh la vie.'

In other news, the world continues to go to hell in a handbasket, as E! Entertainment Television announced that, Fox having dropped the show, it would be picking up The Simple Life for a fourth season. You know that God is dead when Fox drops a show of such noxious repulsiveness and the world snatches defeat from the jaws of victory by forcing it back on basic cable, where it will continue to provide the various diaboli who sit on the editorial boards of Us and People at least one more year of inflicting these people upon us. Oh, well, at least Martha Stewart got cancelled.

Yet when I am moved to cheer over such matters, I consider the fact that our government is now, essentially, pro-torture--that we have embraced a full-blown "the ends justify the means" approach to our treatment of suspects and detainees. I'm not a loon. I recognize that on *so* many issues--women's rights, civil liberties in general, freedom of religion--we're *so* much better than the enemies we face--no, we're not perfect on any of these issues, to be sure--but we just beat these people by a mile. But shouldn't torture be one of those areas as well, especially inasmuch as it's notorious for producing faulty intelligence and thus serves only as a means of institutionalized terrorism? I'm reminded of Shaw's Saint Joan, where Mlle. D'Arc tells her captors that it's no use trying to torture her into recantation, because she'll just promptly tell them whatever they want to hear, and then recant her recantataion as soon as the torture stops. Well said.

I realize that the blood-lust awakened after September 11th has not really been purged. (Really, we should have just gone ahead and done what we did to release our blood-lust on Japan: one strategically placed nuke over, say, Mecca, really would have made us all feel so much better, and the process of healing could have begun. Well, or it could have just started the war between the West and Islam that, let's face it, is a historical inevitability--and started it when we were still the likely victors.) And so the lust to inflict pain on those who caused us so much--to make scapegoats out of those who resemble in belief or just appearance the men who viciously murdered so many of us--I get it. I really do. And I get the desperation to make sure that it never happens again.

But such excuse and explanation doesn't matter. None of it. Because no matter how good our reasons, no matter how much better than we are than they, torture makes us the bad guys. Period. There is no grey area here. Cheney is not "tough"--he's evil. Rumsfeld is not "pragmatic"--he's evil. And Bush is not "out of the loop"--he's evil. Torture is evil, and an evil knowingly practiced makes the practitioners evil themselves. We've gotta stop this. We really, really do--even more than we've gotta stop letting people watch young Ms. Ritchie and Ms. Hilton make grotesque asses of themselves on television. And that...is saying a lot.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I suppose there's nothing less interesting than the obligatory after-Thanksgiving blog entry about how much one ate and how one is "really feeling it today." Yet such it is.

(By the way, I've noticed an unpleasant trend in this blog for a self-deconstructive tendency--a persistent attempt to turn this into a blog about blogging--to question the rules of the narrative genre as one engages in them, which is both A. unforgivably faux-hip, B. appalling redux--one shudders to think how many "anti-blogs" and such self-amused idiocies trammel up the online paths we tread, and C. such a pathetic rehash of my g*dd**ned dissertation that one just shakes one's head at me the way one would at one of those guys who can't talk about anything other than how there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll, and a third station one floor below Oswald, and how it's all a conspiracy of the local Meatpackers Union which had been infiltrated by members of the Illuminati and the Order of Elks. [Oswald acted alone, by the way. Deal with it.] Well, I scorn such attempts at neo-academic "wit"--so to hell with it. One either writes a blog, or one does not, and if one does, then one is blogging, so knock off the post-modern crap and tell us about the fight you had with your mother-in-law and what kind of herbal tea you've switched to this week, and in what new way you've realized that Dick Cheney is being a scumbag. Dammit, you're a blogger--you can't exactly hold your head high, because, let's face it, we're all kinda sad--but you can still invest the humble task in which you toil with a maximum amount of dignity. End of exhortation.)

(Oh, crap. I just realized that in giving an exhortation about not blogging self-consciously, I was blogging self-consciously. Sorry.)

(Oh, s***. I just did it again. And I'm still doing it. Even now, as each letter comes out onto the screen, I'm perpetuating the very activity I'm attempting to condemn.)


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Plus Ca Change...

...plus ca meme chose, n'est pas? "Ah, c'est vrai," you reply. "C'est tres, tres vrai." To which I respond, "Mais bien sur!" And so we continue to mouth easy cliched phrases, playing our game of linguistic chicken until one of us has to break down and admit that, no, he doesn't really speak French.

I continue to groan and whine my way through serotonin-induced misery and arduousness. This state has left me less than festive, so the week ahead should be...interestingly challenging. I certainly don't want to be the depressed elephant in the room as the family gathers for the Thanksgiving repast, but faking it is so damn hard. Maybe if I just get really, really drunk. Though that has behavioral compromises of its own...Hmmm...

Anyway, between pretending that I'm not convinced of the utter suckage of life, and travelling to the family residence, and getting and staying drunk, I probably won't post much in the upcoming week. You can check back, but you would be indulging in an act of unnerving optimism...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why? Why, Why, Why, Why, WHY WHY WHY?!?!?

You know you've reached the point of black comedy when the sudden--and rather shocking--return of depression is a bore even to you. But it's happened again, dammit. Small tremors over the past week--little panicky "I've got to get out of here" moments which cause you to reflect, a few minutes later, "What the hell was that?" Or, for those of us with more experience in such matters, "Oh, for God's sake, please don't let that be what I think it was."

It was. And it hit me full-bore, both barrels last night. (Low, growling sound of deep, deep impatience and impotent frustration.)

Haven't had the panicky kind of depression for awhile--the kind that feels like you're being pushed from behind rather than crushed from above--and while, God knows, I hate the latter, at least there one has the remedy (well, the palliative) of sleep, lots and lots and lots of sleep. But panic? There's no real solace, apart from whacking yourself out on the prescribed dosage of certain prescription meds, which, yes, I suppose I plan to do, though they lead to a state that could best be described as "a shoo-in to get a call-back when they start casting the next sequel to Night of the Living Dead." Beats the hell out of staying in this state, though.

As to what caused it? Mmm, I've got some theories. The miserable chaos of my personal life is, as always, a good place to start. Plus the uncertainties of the job market. Plus now that the grading crunch is done and I don't have anything that I really have to do, my tendency towards torpor has removed all distraction from the fact that my personal life is in chaos and I'm facing the uncertainties of the job market. Plus, you know, I'm just predisposed. And there was another trigger.

In what turned out to be an unexpectedly bad move, I went to a play (the RSC production of Measure for Measure) last night, that was being performed at the main stage of the Department of Theater at UCLA, my Alma Mater and the place where I spent the better part of four years. It was a place that I inevitably associate with my youth--with the ambitions and hopes of youth, and the feeling that all that lay ahead of me was this great potential to do great things. Such things...have not been done. And so I went back and, watching great actors act on the stage where I'd had a bit part or two--watching people doing what I always thought and hope that I'd be doing--or at least living lives where they've achieved what their youthful hopes pormpted them to do--I faced the gap between what I'd hoped to be and what I am. (Kind of milder version of Wild Strawberries, for you Bergman fans out there.)

And it just struck me with ugly force how far I haven't come. I've just gotten slower and dimmer and somehow less of what I was back then. (The depression was probably doing a lot of the talking during this inner monologue--I'm pretty maudlin, but I'm not quite that bad usually.) And so there was this sense of being pushed forward--of having my younger self telling me that I had to be more, to do more, that I was losing my life--and confronted with this...I had no idea what to do? What? Write another article? Plug away at the novel? These seem so...empty, somehow. (Again, depression doing the talking.)

I found myself staring at my life and realizing that quite a lot of it has already passed, and I've not much to show for it. I don't have a "place"--a job, a home, a family of my own. I think of how much my parents had accomplished by my age, and their parents, and so on--and here I am, mid-30s, and alone, and living year-to-year on an as-needed lecturer's pittance, and just...lost, a bit. And I know that this is the depression talking, of course. But it all seems a bit too real to be just the depression. (Though, that's the nature of depression, so who knows?)

Sigh. Well, at the very least, I really should start exercising again.

So, that's how I'm doing. You?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Trickle Begins

I've received my third request for more application materials as of this morning; it's still relatively early in the process, so who knows what the future may hold? But there is now enough of a pattern to call it a a trickle--three is the magic number, as we all remember from our youths misspent watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Speaking of which, quick digression--there was much debate several years back, when the term "Generation X" was coined by a mediocre novel of the same name--Douglas Coupland may go down into literary obscurity, but he will die knowing that he coined a phrase that can join "the Lost Generation," "the Beat Generation," and "those worthless f***ing ex-hippie Baby Boomers, some of whome stayed loony and others of whom became Soulless Yuppies, and proceeded to ruin everyone's life from both the left and the right of the culture" in the popular lexicon--anyway--my digressionary point is, there was some debate as to the 'cut offs' of age in determining who constituted a member of Generation X--I proposed and considered trying to get enacted into legislation a simple acid test--an infallible means of knowing whether or not you're a member of this miserable, irony-laden, belief-sapped Generation--Ready? Here's the test, there is no time limit:

Recite, out loud, the Preamble to the U.S. Consititution. "We, the people..." and all that.

Done? Now:

Did you sing it? Could you not help reciting it by automatically singing it to the tune jammed into your brain by the Schoolhouse Rock jingle? If you did, congratulations, you are among the damned.

See? Easy test.

Now. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, it looks as if a few schools have shown some interest. My hopes are not yet up, nor will be until I get interview calls. Then my blood-pressure starts to climb into the quadruple digits and the jack-hammer headaches set in...So stay tuned.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sigh and Sigh Again

It's that time of year, when the young post-doc's thoughts turn to the fact that he's facing the unyieldingly bleak job market once again. When the letters of application have been sent, and one can only wait for the rejections to start rolling in.

Or worse, for the one or two interviews to be offered--always with an air of being added to the list because they have a minimum number they're required to interview, and you just happened to be alphabetically convenient.

And then to go through the stress and the hassle of flying cross-country--can't they ever have these f***ing conventions in this time zone?--right after Christmas to a miserably over-crowded hotel, to be surrounded by miserably over-stressed attendees--for whom you'd have some sympathy as fellow travellers into the bowels of the Inferno, except they're your f***ing competition, and therefore, The Enemy.

And then to sit through an excruciatingly painful interview full of long pauses where you sense that you're expected to saying something erudite and brilliant, but the question was, "How was your flight?" and there's no way to work a Yeats quotation into that answer--and then shake hands with everyone in the room, realizing that yours have gone cold and clammy, as is appropriate for someone in the depths of the sudden realization of his existential irrelevance as a human being.

And then to fly back, exhausted and miserable and knowing good and g*d-d*mned well that you didn't get it, that they're not going to call you for a campus visit, but (of course) being unable to not think about it and so still hoping in some feeble way that maybe you will--hey, maybe all the other applicants had nervous breakdowns during the interview--God knows, you were tempted! So maybe, just maybe...

And then getting the rejection, and realizing that it means another year gone--another year older--another year living off a lecturer's salary (an oxymoron, in case you were wondering.)

And then knowing that next year will be just the same, and having the image of Sisyphus burned a little more deeply into one's soul...

Yep, Life is Good.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Quick Question

I'm still grading, so this really will be quick, but I gotta ask:

Pat Robertson ("God is no longer taking your calls because you voted against teaching Creationism in public schools, small Pennsylvania town")


Bill O'Reilly ("San Francisco is now a legitimate target for Al Quaeda and the U.S. Government and the rest of America will be happy to let this happen because you no longer allow military recruiting in your high schools")

--Who's more of an evil f***ing loon? Please vote early, we begin the talley as soon as a quorum has been reached...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Delays Ahead...

Massive stack of grading confronts me, plus a general malaise consumes my soul--Proustian of me, no? Time will pass, I shall return. 'Til then, remember: there's still plenty of porn available throughout the internet, in all varieties and at reasonable cost to you, the consumer. Feel free to browse at your leisure and then take advantage of the low, low prices...