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, February 28, 2006

Yet More Rejection

Got an email yesterday from one college, and a letter was waiting for me at home (after a commute of nearly two hours, thanks to the fact that rain causes Southern California drivers to become incapable of...well, just incapable)--both rejections. Which means, totting things up, that that's five out of the seven schools I interviewed with at the MLA have rejected me. One of the remaining two has made no attempt to contact me, so they're almost certainly getting around to telling me "no", and the final school who had dangled the hope of a campus visit just recently has been silent ever since, despite the fact that they said they hoped to make an offer to someone within the week. It's been a week. They haven't made me an offer. Do the math. Finally, the school I did visit told me that they'd let me know withing two weeks. It's been two weeks. I think we're looking at my being on the losing side of a shut-out. This sucks.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Not Much, Really

The past few days having been spent in illness--an illness exacerbated by the realization that soon we'll be forced to endure a film version of The DaVinci Code, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks--kind of a perfect storm of pop cultural banality (yeah, yeah, I like Hanks, too--but I like him precisely for his blandness--he's not what you'd call 'dynamic' or 'edgy')--anyway, it's a hideous, hideous thought--bad book! bad, bad book! no biscuit!--I haven't anything much to comment on or confess or what have you. Still pretty bitter; learning to mask it well. I'm reaching a point, soon, where I'll have to turn things around a bit in my life, which has fallen into an unacceptable state of barren sloth. I need to A. exercise more, B. eat better, C. work on publishing articles--which, of course, involves researching and writing the damned things, D. keep plugging away at the novel, and E. just generally wake up a bit--I feel half-asleep most of the time, sluggish and unmotivated. But it's coming, this moment. Just...not...yet...(Little joke for you St. Augustine fans out there.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Night Thoughts

I have a capacity for bitterness that I'm not fond of. Byronic melodrama aside (and I don't have the dark looks or profile to pull that off), it's not an attractive quality. It feels petulant--not childish, but adolescent--the impulse isn't to stomp one's foot but to sneer and say hateful things that one doesn't really mean, but which express the ugliness that's percolating within. It is, as I say, not appealing--it speaks to a weakness of character, an ability to forget all the good things my life contains and to focus only on what I've lost, or lack. And yet I keep circling around it.

Late nights are the worst. I don't work a normal 9 to 5 schedule, so I can and do stay up quite late. But those around me go to bed earlier, and it leaves me alone in quiet and darkness, the perfect environment for brooding. Alone. That's the sting. I'm alone, and it feels unfair, and unfairness makes me bitter. QED.

But why? It's not as if I particularly deserve to be with someone. After all, isn't my propensity for bitterness Exhibit A in the case of Why I Shouldn't Be With Someone? (Well, actually, Exhibit A would be my looks, but the propensity for bitterness is in the top six or seven, trust me.) There are people I know who are kind and giving and patient and good, and who are, through no fault of their own, alone. Hell, I don't even much like other people--surely I'm tempermentally designed to be alone. Misanthropes shouldn't date, shouldn't marry, and I'm a misanthrope. I should be alone. QED, again.

But like Johnathan Swift, the patron saint of misanthropes (well, maybe Ambrose Bierce or H.L. Mencken) said, "Principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth." Hating the lot as a lot doesn't mean there aren't individual exceptions. And there are for me, plenty. Enough so that, perhaps, I'm not utterly wasted on human company. On love. Perhaps.

At the moment, though, not. There's no one here. And I'm aware, at night especially, of the emptiness. Of the empty time between now and bed, when there's no one here to share the quiet. Of the empty bed itself that's waiting in the next room. Of the emptiness that fills--hah, oxymoron--my head and my heart.

And I know--believe me, I know how incredibly freaking tedious it is to hear someone drivel on about 'boo-hoo-hoo, poor me I'm so alone in the world'--well, I know how tedious it sounds to my ears when I drivel on about it. When others do so, I'm actually quite sympathetic. But then, that's because those others aren't moody pricks who deserve to be alone. Still, conversationally, it's a dud--it's a complaint about something that isn't, fundamentally vacuous as a subject. I mean, you're literally talking about nothing. Yawn. And yet, sometimes it's all one can think about, and that means it's all one can talk about. So, boring, perhaps, but inevitable.

And yet it's something I have to get used to. Something that I can't be bitter about. Because if I'm bitter, oh, you'd better believe I'm going to stay alone--who the hell needs this kind of noise on a first date? But the only reason I'd be on a date (a huge, huge hypothetical, I might add) would be to alleviate the bitterness. So the condition precludes the cure. Damn these vicious cycles.

It's not easy, being with someone. I know this. (Believe me, I have nothing but grateful sympathy for those who have and who still put up with me, as friends and lovers. If it's not easy in the abstract, it's doubly so with a moody prick like me.) And it's too easy to simply say, Oh, if only someone were here, then it would all be OK. Because of course it wouldn't. The strange comfort is that if someone were here, I know that I'd just find something else to grouse about--that I wouldn't be happy--I'd just be miserable about something else. That's how it's always been in the past, that's how it'd be now. Except--

Except maybe not. My new shrink is working out well; people have been telling me how much more relaxed I seem, how much more confident--I'm in much more of a toss-the-head-and-say-what-the-hell frame of mind. I'm actually feeling good about things--even the prospect of not getting hired this year and spending another year on the market doesn't faze me; I like where I live, what I do, the people I work with. I like what I'm teaching (usually--the next few weeks are going to suck, but that's just because of the text, not the students). I like teaching--no, I love teaching, and I'm grateful to be able to do it. In short--so much of my life is so good, and I really am aware of it, in a way I haven't been for, well, years. So maybe--I don't know. Maybe I'm obsessing over being alone because it's the one big piece that's missing. No, it wouldn't be perfect, my life, but it's finally--I'm finally good. Ready. Calm. Even happy. I like this 'me.' And there's no one here to give myself to--to make happy--to be happy with. Happiness needs to be shared to be whole. I'm not whole. And at night, it's easy to think about that, and nothing else.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Eva Longoria is Not Pretty

Neither is Penelope Cruz. Neither is Julia Roberts. Neither is Kirsten Dunst. Tara Reid never was, even before her recent skankification. Mischa Barton makes me shuddder. Gwyneth Paltrow? Please--though I love Sliding Doors, it ain't because I'm smitten at the sight of her. Stop telling me that these women are beautiful, just because they're skinny. Have you actually looked at them? They're not attractive, and yet I'm being told--forcefully, insistently--that I ought to be sexually aroused by the very sight of them. I'm not, and stop it. Just because they weigh nothing does not mean they're hot. On the contrary, really. The perversity of such thinness is that it actually makes genuinely beautiful women--think Angelina Jolie about 4 years ago--look like life-models for Corpse Bride. (I've talked about this elsewhere, and won't rehash the point.)

There's been a long tradition in American popular culture of describing anyone who's female with zero body fat and a lack of obvious physical deformities and facial scars as "beautiful"--witness the fact that Jackie Kennedy was "beautiful"--a woman who, if she were working at the Dairy Queen, you'd only have looked at twice if she'd given you the wrong change. That goes double for the late, unmissed Princess Diana--a plain jane in $8 billion worth of clothes and jewelry. I'm not sure why this is so.

It's easy, of course, to blame High Fashion (and I do). But what I find fascinating is the degree to which we, the public, lap up the lie. I mean, if we're being appealed to at our most primal, back-of-the-brain level, how it possible that we're falling for this s***? Sex is hard-wired, isn't it? I mean, isn't this why you can't "cure" homosexuals? Have you ever tried to feed your dog something he doesn't like? He won't eat it. He knows what he wants--it's primal--and he can't be 'worked into' liking what he doesn't want. Men like flesh--sorry if I'm putting it crudely, but there it is--and yet we're being denied the very thing we actually want. And being told that we don't actually want it, we want...Lara Flynn Boyle. But we don't--dear God, we don't. We're being told to ignore the steak and just eat the breadstick. And yet somehow, despite the primal urge and the sane logic behind it--we're believing this. Why? I'm no fan of conspiracy theories--I spend the entire miserable 3 hours I spend reading The DaVinci Code muttering "Give me a f***ing break!"--but there's got to be one. Nothing else makes sense. Unless...

Unless. See, I read about how men are losing their minds over Jessica Alba--who thanks to looks and diet, appears to be about 12--and I worry--are we appealed to as potential pedophiles? Because that's what these women look like. When women get too skinny--when malnutrition reaches a certain point, the female body stops menstruating. It reverts back to pre-pubescence, the clock turned forcefully back to childhood. Is that what we're being subliminally sold? Women who are of legal age but illegal form? I worry that this is so--I worry that rather than being sold sex, we're being sold power--dominance of adult over child--in the form of sex. Because that dynamic, when it sinks into the heads of men who think that that's what they want, and women who think that that's how they have to look/act to get men--then, folks, this just can't lead anywhere good.

So, please. Please stop telling me that Sarah Jessica Parker is hot. She isn't--she looks, thanks to diet and surgery, exactly as she did when she was on Square Pegs back in the '80s (look it up on imdb, you 20-somethings.) And that means, if she's legitimately hot, then Humbert Humbert was just a man slightly ahead of his time. And that. Is scary.

Author's Note: The subject for this blog was not conceived by the blogger. Credit goes to a certain young woman who knows who she is and prefers to remain anonymous. But she gets a big 'thank you' from me, plus any other acts of gratitude she cares to name.

Friday Poem

Not a pretty poem--ugly, scary, loving tenderness turned into its most dreadful perversion--Browning's fascination with the monstrous and the sordid makes Poe look like Beatrix Potter. But his ability to find humanity in evil makes him one of the bravest of poets. And the last line always sends chills up my spine--one thinks of the silence that greets genocide and sexual slavery and pedophile priests. Fearlessly brilliant, Browning. But not for the faint of heart. Only a very good man could write such a poem; only a very good man could fathom evil so completely and see it as helpless madness, and respond with horrified sympathy. Which perhaps makes him the oddest kind of optimist. Anyway, enjoy, but not too much:

Porphyria’s Lover
by Robert Browning

The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me—she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tired...So Very Tired...

The flu has struck again; I'm in the 'barely hold my head up' stage. No thoughts to post; none are possible at this point. I just love being sick and alone--nothing to perk your spirits up like being completely dependent on someone else when there is, in fact, no one else. Life sucks. For the moment. Will return when it doesn't quite so much.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Interesting Development

So I've been figuring that since I've gotten two outright "no"s from my MLA interviews (seven of them, if you'll recall) and heard nary a word from any of the others, well past the point at which they said they'd get back to me, that I'd gotten tacit "no"s from the other five. Which meant I was 0 for 7. Which was something I made gallows-humorous jokes about, but don't actually find funny. At all. But then yesterday I got an e-mail from one of said schools, telling me that their committee had fallen a bit behind, that I was still being considered, that they were going to decide on whom to invite for a campus visit ASAP, and was I still interested. Yes, yes I was, I wrote back, doing a little--but only a little--victory dance; this isn't, after all, a campus visit--this is only the possibility of one. Still, beats the proverbial poke in the eye with a sharp stick, no? Fingers are to remain crossed until further notice...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Just So You Know...

I'm essentially taking today and tomorrow off--sleeping in as much as possible (though I couldn't sleep in today--had to get up to drive down the coast to a cliff-side restaurant for alcohol-laden brunch--is there any other kind?--then back through hideous traffic and--for some reason I was sleepy!--a long snore-fest)--and generally doing nothing productive or intellectually taxing. (TV plays a major role, though I'll be thrilled when the Olympics go away and never ever come back. At least not for two more years. Urgh...curling...ice dancing...make it stop...) Anyway, such intellectual indolence largely precludes my contribution to the blog, since of course I must, when here, engage all my wits in a dazzling display of intellectual virtuosity. (And nevermind the smart-ass questions like "Then why don't we get to see any of this?") So I'm largely mum until later this week. Down-time. Recharging. Lazy. Problem with this? Take it up with the management...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Distraction, Borrowed from Abd & Mon

Bold the ones you've read, italicise the ones you might read, cross out the ones you won't and underline the ones on your book shelf. (N.B.: Sorry, I can't figure out how to cross out something here--I'm too computer-handicapped. So I've marked them with "XXX"s. Odd list of books, I might add, but what the hell.)

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
The Great Gatsby - F.Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
1984 - George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garci­a Marquez
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
XXX The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini XXX
XXX The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold XXX
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
XXX Angels and Demons - Dan Brown XXX
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis
XXX Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides XXX
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Good Omens - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
XXX Atonement - Ian McEwan XXX
XXX The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon XXX
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Dune - Frank Herbert

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Odd Choice for Friday Poetry

Normally--almost unilaterally--I *hate* Shelley. Yet he's got one poem that so brilliantly encapsulates the rage of the conscientious resident of a decaying age that it just seems too perfect, given our own national state of affairs, not to offer today. Draw as many comparisons to contemporary figures/events as you can; the winner gets a $10 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble.


An old, mad, blind, despis'd, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn--mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starv'd and stabb'd in the untill'd field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edg'd sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
Religion Christless, Godless--a book seal'd,
A Senate--Time's worst statute unrepeal'd,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Justified anger, beautifully expressed. He had one good day as a poet, did Percy...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Nothing New To Report

No word from the hiring (or perhaps "not-hiring") university, which is starting to worry me. I'm finding myself remarkably OK with the idea of not getting the job. It's going to sting, getting that phone-call, but it's going to be bearable in the long run, I think. Sure, I want the job--I want it badly, but, I don't know, I'm getting better about understanding how random and indifferent the job market is, and how taking things personally just misses the true nature of things. Either that, or I'm in the most beautiful state of denial, and why would I want to mess with that? Right?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


What I'm going to do today. Teach a class I'm not totally prepped for, but will no doubt improvise my way through with my usual aplomb. See my shrink, and probably wind up talking about my social anxiety and why it means I'll be alone forever. Go back to L.A. and stop in at the perfect Greek deli, where I'll acquire frozen pita, tzatziki (which is a yogurt/garlic/dill sauce) and taramasalata (which is a caviar spread.) I will go home, nap, maybe read a little. I will then prepare dinner--I will marinate chicken breasts in a Southwestern dry rub with brown sugar and fiery spices. I will bake said chicken breasts, avoiding over-baking them so that there's still that tender, savory quality to them. I will then slice them into thin, not-quite-fajita-sized strips (and chunks). I will put the pita in the oven and toast it ever so slightly--just enough crunch, not too much. I will then place the sliced, spicy/sweet chicken in said pita, then slather it with the tzatziki, creating a taste sensation that surely must approach that of the ambrosia of Olympus. I will open a bottle of cheap red wine, and with laden plate in hand, I will go upstairs and watch something--not a romantic comedy, I don't need that s*** today--on DVD--maybe Eddie Izzard. I'll watch House, which I love. I'll eat this wonderful food (which is suprisingly not horribly bad for me), and drink the...well, palatable wine, and be alone, and enjoy it. I will, in short, forget what today is, and what it meant a year ago, and what it means now. And for some reason, I will be thinking, as I have all day, of another of my favorite poems:

Why so Pale and Wan?
Sir John Suckling

WHY so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?

Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can't win her,
Saying nothing do 't?
Prithee, why so mute?

Quit, quit for shame! This will not move;
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The devil take her!

Love that. A perfect antidote to the waves of bathos that threaten all sane people this day, yes?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Living Through History

Do you realize that not since the Jefferson administration could one American citizen turn to another and say, "Hey! Didja hear?! The Vice President just shot a guy!" Makes one pause and realize that we live in great, great times...


Nearly there...midterms are 3/4 graded...just one last set of essay questions to do...so close to being done with grading for the first time in two weeks...so close...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I Should Add...

...in regards to my recent jeremiad regarding dating, that I have serious personal concerns about pursuing this activity. The last time I went on a 'getting to know you' date--the last time I went out with someone I wasn't already dating by virtue of prior intimate friendship, in short--the woman in question wound up doing Skinemax soft-core porn. I wish I were kidding; I'm not. Now, I'm not saying that the experience of going out with me that one time was enough to drive this woman into this, shall we say, dark little cul-de-sac of a profession. But on our date she waxed eloquent about her acting ambitions, and told me how she dreamed of playing roles like Lady Macbeth and Madame Ranevskya, and after that evening, she's doing stuff like Sensual Visions of Erotic Nightscenes II and whatnot. There's probably no connection, but can I afford to take that chance? I think not.


Just because this one's been rattling around in my head for the past few weeks, and it's my favorite short poem. Well, favorite one that isn't by Browning. Or Rochester. Or Eliot. Look, it's really, really good, OK?

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; -on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Those last two stanzas always get to me.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Valentine's Day is upon us, and as someone who's alone for the first time in a long while, I have to ask:

How do people date? I mean, how do they do it?

How do you walk into a room where you don't know anybody, and with such a presumptuous attitude that you actually intend to foist yourself onto a total stranger and make demands on his/her attention? And even assuming you're that arrogant, how do you stand to listen to the idle conversation of a total stranger?

That's the part that always gets me--it's not that other people are boring, inherently--OK, they are, mostly, but I only think that because I'm a misanthropic pr**k, so presumably this bias doesn't apply to most--but what the hell can two total strangers have to say to one another? The stereotype of talking about the weather has a ring of truth to it--it's just about the only common experience two people can be certain of. I don't get it. Other people are boring. It's not their fault, but they are. You don't know what this other person thinks, or believes, and you don't want to tick him/her off, so you stick to the most bland and innocuous of subjects, which is like slogging your way through a meal of dry toast and tapwater. Plus there's the awkward moment when one or both of you realize that the other person is A. a nut, B. a pervert, C. a bigot, D. 'born again', E.--you know what? I could go through the alphabet and have to start on Greek letters. It's all so...improbable, enjoying the company of a stranger enough to want to see him/her again.

Or maybe it's just a skill I've never learned. My relationships--and despite my advanced, borderline decrepit age, there have been damned few of them--have all been based on long-standing aquaintance. Women I'd known for months, or even years, and so already knew that I was in some sense 'right for' and vice versa. I can't imagine 'getting to know' someone while under the pressure of being out on a date, which is strenuous enough, what with the pretending to be the best version of yourself even if no such version exists, and trying at the same time to see past the mask of the other person's false persona to the real, grungy truth underneath. Plus trying to have a good time. And when you include the little dance of sex--incremental steps towards an event you both really want and are both so nervous about that you'd just as soon forget that it's a possibility--jeez, never mind how do people do it, why do people do it?

Oh, God--I'm going to die alone, one of those deaths where the neighbors have to notice the smell before anyone finds the body. OK, bring on Valentine's Day--I'm in the right frame of mind for it, now.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Brief Note

It occurs to me, regarding this flap--"flap"? no, they're setting buildings on fire all over the world--it's defnitely moved into the "total f***ing nightmare" category--over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed, that one good thing has come out of it. The culture of Islam--well, at least the mouthy, loud-voiced part of the culture, which is the only part of the culture we ever hear from, since the sane, rational part of the culture is invariably, contemptably silent whenever atrocities are committed in said culture's name (though the same can be said about Christianity and its fundamentalist blowhards, which just goes to prove that the bulk of humanity may be quiet and sane, but they're also laconic to the point of sin, or just out-and-out snivelling cowards, but I digress)--the culture of Islam has had, as one of its main 'talking points,' for as long as--well, for as long as it was created in the 7th century, near as I can tell--that the West is corrupt, degenerate, sinful, loathsome, etc. Which may well be true, but thanks to this debacle, we have a comeback: "Maybe, but at least we're f***ing grown-ups--you a**holes are throwing a murderous temper tantrum over a freaking set of cartoons!!!" Seriously, I say this to the Muslims of the world who go home at night with flecked spittle caked on their mouths and soot on their clothes--you guys are an embarassment to your religion, your culture, and if you think Mohammed isn't looking down and weeping that the world perceives his message through you guys, you're delusion the point of earning a toxic mixture of scorn and sympathy. So, thank you--for so long, the U.S. has been the Prick of the Planet--you guys are not only taking the heat off, but causing our detractors to scratch their heads and say, "You know, maybe those Americans have a point--these people are f***ing nuts." Nice job, guys. Now go accuse one of the Teletubbies of promoting the gay agenda. Oh wait, that's been done.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Grading Woes

Still wading through the huge pile of papers that accumulated in my absence last week and my recovery thereafter. I've got to have them done by tomorrow, and each one takes a little bit longer than the last. With acknowledgments to La Lecturess, I don't know which is worse--awful, awful papers, or simply mediocre ones. Because the awful papers have always struck me as very easy to grade--it's abundantly evident why they suck, and critical comments, both in the margins and at the end (the composition of which is always the most time-consuming part of the process) are just as series of bullet-points identifying the glaring obvious flaws. "This paper sucks, and here's why--boom, boom, boom--'D'--next!" Quick and simple, such papers, though enervating in large numbers, of course. And the great ones are even better--nothing a student likes better than to read "I don't have any substantial criticism to make--here's what great about your work." (This is usually followed by "You have an actual thesis! And you use the assigned text to support it!"--such a rarity in our lives...) But how you explain mediocrity to the mediocre? How do explain why you know, instinctively, that this is a C+ paper--not awful, not good, just...kind of there. Meets the minimal requirements, but something's missing--creativity? How do you quantify that? Flair? Subtlety? These things become almost impossible to articulate, and it's like describing the flavor of a bowl of instant oatmeal--it's not good, but it's not capital-B bad, it's just...a C+ experience. Mediocrity is marked more by an amorphous absence that hard to put your finger on--it's not defined by being bad--it's defined by being "not good'--you can say what it doesn't have, but when it comes time to evaluating what it does, I find myself at a loss for words. Which, prolix and glib fellow that I am, is both frustrating and unpleasantly surprising. Bottom line: I almost wish they were all Ds--it would be easier and faster and the pain would be over. Stupid bell curve...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Sigh. I know it's anathema to admit this, but I still contain, in the dark recesses of my soul, a desire to be a creative writer. I know, I know, it's enough to have me branded with a scarlet 'D' (for 'Dilettante,' the worst slur that can be flung upon an academic) in my scholarly circles, but it's there, dammit, and the fact is, I've got about a hundred pages of a genuinely kick-butt novel written. (Excerpted briefly here: http://willscoffeehouse.blogspot.com/2005/06/mmmf-here-read-this.html ) And everyone--but everyone--who's read it has told me to keep going. (Of course, they may just be treating me with kid gloves, being as how I'm all cute and vulnerable and they don't want to hurt my all-too-tender feelings. But no, I'm friends with enough truly nasty people--like attracts like, after all--that they'd tell me, with relish, if they thought it sucked.) But the damned thing is a serious burden on my time, especially since the damn thing's historical, and that means I gotta do research (what do mean, Dryden can't drive a Lamborghini to his rendevous with Rochester?), and jeez, in the words of Maria Bamford (lovely, brilliant, talented comic--one of the stars of The Comedians of Comedy), "realizing my potential would seriously cut into my laying-around time. I got a lot of s*** to not do." And so, I suppose I have to choose between that and producing publishable articles and the doing of nothing that is really the balm to my soul. (Oh, and exercise. Yeah, right.) Anyway, all this is just a childish stamping of the foot at being told, by my conscience, that I need to clean up my room and do my homework and empty the dishwasher and finish my vegetables, rather that play with my Star Wars action figures--who would win in a fight--Boba Fett or Yoda?--and I'm just venting said childishness in the hope that in really confronting the fact that it is so childish, I'll get off my butt and do something to correct this immaturity. But damn, that Xbox is looking really tempting right about now...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Very, Very, VERY Tired...

The Santa Anas are blowing, causing fire and soot and sucking the life out of every part of me. Not sleeping well--wake up unable to breathe through my orifice of choice. Plus this type of weather makes the cat cranky--actually, all types of weather make the cat cranky--life makes the cat cranky--and he decides, invariably, to display said crankiness by yelling at me loudly at, oh, say 2:00 a.m. and every half-hour thereafter. At about 3:30, I start to consider seriously taking advantage of the fact that he's a black tabby and using him to perform a satanic ritual to the Dark Master of All Things Sweetly Impure. But no, instead I pet him for five minutes 'til he's asleep, and he stays so, until I roll over, and it begins again...This is like having a baby, only he's never going to grow up and do chores, so what's the point, I ask you?

So, no sleep, and a ton of grading, and more to come--just finishing up on their first papers, and they've got their mid-terms this week, and, just, UUUUUUUURGGGH...

Plus I was supposed to see someone special this weekend and it didn't happen. (Stupid God and His stupid refusal to make everything in my life go exactly as I want. Surely He must realize that I deserve such favoritism.)

So I'm cranky. And tired. And overworked. And lonely. Except for the cat. It's not enough, somehow.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another Meme

I keep getting tagged...thanks, abdme--yet I have no one on whom to foist such things. Still, not to be a spoil-sport...

What were you doing 10 years ago?

I was working for my father's law office as a paralegal right before being switched over to being the entirety of the accounts receivable department. I was living with the woman I'd later marry and our mutual friend in Los Angeles. I drove a scooter to work, even in the rain. I had very little money and didn't mind.

What were you doing 1 year ago?

Pretty much what I'm doing now. I was/am lecturing at a major university--same class, though they've given me extra courses. I was missing cues that my wife wasn't happy. I was brooding over my failure in the job market. I was reasonably miserable. I had very, very little money and I minded a lot.

Five snacks you enjoy:

Oreos--but only within, like, the first 30 minutes of opening the package--they have to be cut-your-teeth-on-them fresh, or forget it.

Ruffles and Green Onion Dip--not the kind in the jar, the kind you waste an entire carton of sour cream to make.

Buffalo Wings. Ranch dressing preferred over Blue Cheese.

Oven-Warmed Pita and Tzatziki

Caviar, Diced Onions and Cream Cheese, on Toast Points, with Champagne to chase. Let it not be said that I'm not spoiled and pretentious.

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:

Let's Misbehave - Cole Porter

Yesterday - The Beatles

The Obvious Child - Paul Simon

I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General - W.S. Gilbert

The Ballad of Gilligan's Island--both versions!

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:

Move to the Italian Riviera.

Stop screwing around and finish the novel.

Sleep more.

Eat better.


Five bad habits:

Not exercising enough.

Eating really, really, appallingly, immaturely bad food.

Did somebody say Xbox?

Mmmm...Network TV...

Does porn count as a bad habit? No? Whew--I mean, that is--not that I ever--can we change the god-d**ned subject please???

Five things you like doing:

I thought we'd dropped porn as a subject!!!

Did somebody say Xbox?

Swimming. When the hell is spring going to roll around?


Reading. Anything. Everything. Except Anne Rice. Never, never again, not even if she goes back to her day job of writing proper pornography...Not that I ever--dammit! New topic!

Five things you would never wear again:

Clip-on suspenders. Either they're real, or they're not.

Boots. I'm not in construction, I don't ride horses, and I'm not gay. 'Nuff said.

Any piece of clothing that plays music when you press part of it. Same goes for clothing that 'lights up.' Grow up, for God' sake.

Anything yellow. Just not my color, folks.

Speedos. On a skinny little kid taking swimming lessons, they're OK--past 25 or so, they're just an act of universal cruelty.

Five favorite toys:

Did somebody say Xbox?

The cat is a toy, right?

2-XL. That robot 8-track player from the late 70s? Anybody remember that? Best toy I ever got.

Stretch Armstrong. Did you know that when Stretch Armstrong is in a swordfight and gets stabbed that he bleeds a thick blue liquid that coagulates on the floor of your closet and has to be professionally sanded off? I found that out the hard--and painful--way. It was still worth it.

Does this category include sex toys? No? Good, because--that is--I mean, not that I ever--all right, enough of this s***!!! I quit!

Home Again, Home Again...


I know I have faithful readers who want to know how things went, but I've never appreciated how out-wiping a campus visit is 'til now. My flight into the University town got in very late on Tuesday, my flight out on Thursday left very late indeed, so I got no sleep before the first day (since my body told me it wasn't nearly time to go to bed) and then got an extra half-day of interviews and meetings because they had the time before I had to be at the airport. I met everybody. And I had to be "on" the whole time--to listen enthusiastically and with engagement is, in itself, tiring, and in the middle of a caffeine crash, not the easiest thing to pull off. (I found myself sitting listening to someone talking about something very important and paying close attention while also screaming at my medula oblongata "Don't yawn! Don't yawn! Don't yawn!!!") Anyway--highlights. (And warning: I will not catch all the typos.)

First--getting there is trouble free. No lines at check-in or security, no screaming babies on either flight, transferring at Hub Airport smooth and easy. The guy from the department who picks me up is low-key friendliness itself (which will be a running motif for the visit.) And the hotel is lovely. A real hotel, not a chain. Room much larger than the department could have stuck me in--clean and nicely decorated. Immediately feel ten times better entering said room.

No sleep, though. I watch the State of the Union, and feel depressed that this is the man who is the face and voice of our country.

Next day, get up, dress immaculately, use the in-room coffee maker to its fullest potential. I'm picked up by Head of Search Committee--cheerful, easy conversationalist, attractive--just someone you feel comfortable around. Driven to campus, which (being an old Southern Liberal Arts school) is still very antebellum in some sections--rather cool. More coffee at the department, and somebody's brought in brownies for the staff. Meet with Dean--genteel, ambitious for the school--really devoted to moving it forward, has a plan to do so, made it clear that this was a teaching job first and foremost (good news.) Meet with Head of Dept.--a bit more formal but pleasant and warm nonetheless, re-emphasized the teaching aspect of the job (me taking every opportunity to emphasize that that's what I live for), and that was that. Lunch with potential colleagues (pizza--not bad!--definitely fresh crust, which is always a plus)--talk about myself a bit, tried not to sound insufferable. Think I pulled it off. Next--crunch time--and now I'm post-meal and feeling my coffee buzz beginning to wane--I have to go teach my class. This is my real audition, and I know it...ooooohhh dear...16 Strangers (who are themselves post-lunch) look up at me and wonder just how awful this is going to be. Plus I've got academic worthies--including Head of Committee and Head of Department taking notes in the back row. Oh dear. Oh f*** oh dear, as my father used to say.


I give my handout, ask them if any of them have heard of Montaigne--none of them have. I smile and say that in that case, this will be a treat...(pause)...or the most boring 70 minutes of their lives, let's find out! Good, solid laughs from everyone in the room. I've got them. And now I'm the driver's seat. I talk clearly and emphatically--I pick people at random and have them read from the play--I ask questions and get answers--the lesson plan flows like a dream. More laughs--and a sense of genuine engagement. They're with me. They're writing down a lot of what I'm saying. (One of them falls asleep, I have to admit--but she came in looking as sleep-deprived as I, so I'm not offended or worried.) Academic worthies are grinning and nodding--Head of Department is clearly enjoying herself. It's good--it's very, very good. I get to the end, and talk about the beauty of the end of the play, and I get a little misty. I finish. Pause. And I say, quietly, "Thank you." Immediate, spontaneous and sincere applause. One or two of them come up to shake my hand or thank me on the way out. It really went about as well as it could have--though of course I immediately worry--did I lecture too much? Did I give them too little opportunity to speak for themselves...? I don't know. Head of Department lets me know how much she enjoyed it and vanishes. Head of Committee, as we walk away, comments that she's "going to have to go back and re-read that play!" It seems like a bit of a triumph, probably the highpoint of the visit. Rest of the day is blurry--I've spent all my energy on the class. Tour of campus--my God there's a lot of history there. And the good news is that there's a lot of building going on. Dean wasn't kidding--this place is growing, fast. A good sign. Stop in briefly at the Theater Dept.'s design center, where the woman in charge finds out that I'm an old theater guy who knows about design and directing and whatnot and instantly falls in love with me. (Another highpoint: "I'd really like to get you here so you can help me work on this program." Nice.) Then it's back to the hotel to crash for a couple of hours before dinner with the whole hiring committee. Dinner is nice--Cuban/Caribbean, everything on the menu is "jerked"--but suprisingly non-interviewish. I ask one or two questions, but mostly we all seem to want to make fun of the State of the Union and Bush in general. I find myself very relaxed and cracking jokes. One of my better ones--when the subject of house-ownership is raised--apparently it's quite feasible in this area--I point out that one cannot purchase a house in Southern California unless said "house" is modified by the adjective "crack." Laughs. Anyway--Back to hotel, where I *do* sleep, though poorly. I'm drained, and I kind of dread having to be "on" for most of the next day. Debate whether to hang the breakfast order on my door for next morning--deciding that I'd rather sleep in. Sloth beats gluttony.

Next morning. More coffee. Pack up--check out. Nice woman--every time I'm given a ride by someone, it's a new person from the department, so there isn't a single moment when I'm not having to give my David Copperfield-esque biography. I find myself telling the same self-deprecating jokes to everyone--I hope they don't compare conversational notes too closely. I'm taken on a tour of the locality by a gentleman who could, quite clearly, sit down and dictate a seven-volume history of the region without consulting a single secondary source--he know everything about this place. Much of it is fascinating, and the rest is informative. There are some lovely areas--you can hit "scenic countryside" if you drive more than 15 minutes in any area. I am told, and by no means for the first time, that this is a conservative city, both religiously and politically, but that the university maintains an island of diversity and open-mindedness, so it's never unbearable. Back to campus to get picked up for lunch. Lunch is very good--Louisiana cuisine--I go with a first-rate po'boy. Good conversation, too--for the first time, I'm the topic of discussion, and the two women I'm with love (if they weren't just being effusively polite--which is, come to think of it, a possibility) what I have to say. Back to campus, where I'm unexpectedly interviewed by the head of the Composition section of the program. Goes OK, I think--my answers to some of her questions are, it turns out, the answers that she herself gives to her students, so that's a good sign. Much comparison of the student populations at this school and my own--I make the case that my experience in teaching Comp. would segue nicely into teaching there. Don't know how successful I am, but I try. Brief tour of the library afterwards. Then back to sit in the office of one of the committtee members--very much my age and my type, though he's married with two kids and seems properly distracted and wryly stressed about this. Really nice guy--get the sense that if I'm there, he'll be a friend. Also run into a guy who used to teach at my current school, several decades ago. We chat about the place, what's changed (a lot), what hasn't (very little), and about the area and Southern California and it's a good chat to have had. And then taken to airport by one last guy--the only guy who dishes a little dirt to me while I'm there. Moment of worry--flights have been f***ed up due to weather. But I'm there early enough to get a different flight to Major Hub, and the connection is ontime. So, back as smoothly as I came.

I'm feeling very anti-climactic about it all. It went well, and everybody was nice, but there's also the sense of how real and possibly permanent this could all be. Which is a lot to think about when you're a tired as I am. (Abdme complained of similar symptoms after her campus visit--I'm with you there, sister.) And of course, ha ha!, I have to get cracking on a huge stack of grading that came in while I was away and needs to be done yesterday...So. There. More than you wanted to know. Going to nap now. Then grade. Then nap again. Repeat.