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...

Saturday, April 29, 2006


I'm becoming, once again, a lazy and erratic blogger--there was a piece on Slate the other day from a woman explaining why she quit her blog--that it wasn't encouraging her to write, it was *replacing* her writing. There's something to be said for that. I mean, if I'm here typing my random thoughts and tedious accounts of emotional turmoil, I'm not banging away at the novel or the articles, now, am I? And yet I really, really should. Which isn't to say that I'm quitting, but that I suspect that I have to prioritize a bit more...Something to think about. Regardless--there'll be less from me next week in any case, as I've a huge stack of grading first thing on Monday, and then a mid-term at the end of the week, so this will be a brutal period of academic drudgery, alas. So, you know, if I'm silent, I'm suffering for it...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Better Today, But...

The black fog has turned to gray--which actually matches the weather at the moment, so I feel in sync with the world--very eurythmic of me, no? Anyway, since I'm still down a bit, I'm feeling uncreative, so in lieu of originality, a meme borrowed from phd.me (http://probablyedandme.blogspot.com/):

Accent: Well, of course I can't detect it, but I assume I've got a bit of the elongated, flattened vowels of the Southern Californian--but basically, I sound like everyone on television, since we're all from SoCal.

Booze: In moderation. Wine with dinner if someone else is buying or I'm celebrating something. Calvados on a late afternoon with tea. Either a martini (gin) or a gimlet (vodka) pre-dinner. That's about it.

Chore I hate: Dusting/Vacuuming. Seriously, anyone who enjoys these activities should not be allowed to vote or drive a motor vehicle.

Dog or cat: Cat--though if I could have a dog, I probably would.

Essential electronics: Desktop, Xbox (though I'm trying to wean myself)...that's about it.

Favorite cologne: Ha! Trick question, right? None, of course. Though if that Axe stuff did what the commercials imply...

Gold or silver: Silver

Hometown: Los Angeles. Go ahead and sneer--we don't care, because you're all just jealous. (Or so we tell ourselves so we can continue to live vapid lives focused around our looks and our gaudy material possessions.)

Insomnia: Very rarely, and usually an after-effect from napping, so I've got no one else to blame.

Job title: Lecturer.

Kids: None, alas. I'd go into more detail, but I've blogged about it recently and set off an old-fashioned (though highly articulate) flame-war by doing so.

Living arrangements: A cozy if unfinished garret in a large house owned by an incredibly charitable friend who lets me live here dirt cheap, largely--I think--because I feed his cats and bring the mail and garbage pails in.

Most admirable trait: Oh, God. OK, if *your* life is falling apart and *you're* in a state of crisis and you need someone to come in and rescue you and know exactly what to do and what to say, I'm your man. I am The Fixer. Now, if I could just transfer those skills onto my *own* life.

Number of sexual partners: At present, or over the course of my life? None to the former, and as for the second, well, few. Kind of a serial monogamist, so I can count my sexual partners on one partially maimed hand...

Overnight hospital stays: I believe I had to stay over one night after my birth. Apart from that, none. (Knocking wood with vehemence...)

Phobias: Used to be driving--got over that, though. Rats freak me out, but I can be in the same room with white ones in cages. Nothing too severe--which isn't to say that I'm brave.

Quote: "Be of use." John Irving, The Cider House Rules

Religion: Culturally, Episcopalian--very High Church. Practically, um--well, I know a lot of Christmas carols!

Siblings: Younger brother. Much taller and more successful than I am, the bastard.

Time I wake up: Without an alarm clock, 9:30. On the dot. Every time. I am a cyborg, clearly.

Unusual talent or skill: I can juggle, does that count?

Vegetable I refuse to eat: Refuse? Um. Artichokes (had a bad, bad, bad experience with one, once--plus, it never called the next day) and green peppers.

Worst habit: Sloth.

X-rays: Teeth, right arm

Yummy foods I make: Ah, see, here's where I'm a magician. There's this device where all I have to do is punch a few buttons, and then, poof!, pizza appears right at the front door! Beat that!

Zodiac sign: Capricorn. Just like Jesus, with whom I've so much in common.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mood Update

Today's forecast: Black fog, with increasing black fog late in the afternoon, then 30-40% likelihood of panic attacks later into this evening.

Have I mentioned that I really hate my brain and its shiftless inability to regulate its own neurotransmitters? I really, really do.

Might not have anything much to blog about for a bit--I can't believe that depression actually serves as a source of inspiration to some writerly types...

Sigh. Heavy Sigh.

Well, I was enjoying Cold Mountain, right up until the end. (Spoilers ahead.) I hate randomly unhappy endings--endings that end badly just because, and not because they've been interwoven into the true theme of the story. (The worst offender of all time in this category is The Mill on the Floss, which essentially ends with "And then suddenly there was a flood and they all died, which sorted out the complex inter-personal problems I've built up for 350 pages very easily." Nice job there, Ms. Eliot. Pity you lived in the pre-nuclear era--you could have just had someone drop the bomb.) Random misfortune is, of course, part of the warp and woof of life, but fiction demands more, I think, unless said fiction is about random misfortune. Which, I don't know, maybe Cold Mountain is, and yet the way the ending was handled was, to my mind, shockingly ham-fisted, given the care with which the author had treated his subject up until then. "Oh, and before they could live happily ever after, this happened, so they didn't. But aren't the hills of North Carolina pretty? The End." Screw that--it's just a "f*** you" to the reader. Yes, I suppose there's a case to be made about, oh, the not-really-irony of a man trying to escape senseless brutality and death, seeking a place of refuge, only to find that it has followed him there. But if that's so, then give us a head's up--foreshadowing, motif--something. Not just...well, not just that. It ends with such a note of de rigeur--"Well, can't end happily--got to make them close the book with tears in their eyes--now, how to do it, how to it...hmmm...oh, the hell with it--here." Nope, not buyin' what he's sellin'. I'm not saying that the story needs to end happily, mind--perhaps it shouldn't. But given where he'd pointed it, that seemed a likelier outcome than any other--a novel is not an O. Henry short story--no 'twist' endings, please, especially if they're not really 'twists' so much as 'cop-outs.' Disappointing, very very disappointing...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Top Ten List--Redux

OK, OK, I'm bored and trapped at school, and while I could be spending this time finishing reading Cold Mountain (which I'm not hating nearly as much as I thought I would), I instead choose to foist off on you a once-promised Top Ten list.

The Top Ten Things You're Probably Embarassed About Enjoying, But Shouldn't Be:

10. Reading Complete And Total Crap Fiction.

Obviously, I have The DaVinci Code in mind here, which is, in fact, as dreadful a piece of 'imaginative' sludge to ever slop out of the New York Times Best Sellers list. But a line from (forgive me) an episode of The X-Files kind of resonates: "The worst book ever written is better than the best movie ever filmed." It's not true, but the act of reading in and of itself sets you above the slack-jawed majority who can't even be bothered to do that much. It's one of the few genuinely healthy mental activities, working the imagination (despite what Cervantes might have thought), and reading even the worst of the worst is vastly better than reading nothing at all. When I worked in a book store, there was a woman who came in every week to buy a new Harlequin romance. I sneered at her at first, until I realized--this woman was reading a book a week. No matter if it was crap, it was still time she spent turning pages, understanding language, and not watching television. Good for her--and for you.

9. Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I'm serious. I used to be a major geek in this respect--I've essentially grown out of it--still have a penchant for "Horror" as a genre, but that's another topic for another time--but I know people my own age and older who are still way, way into this stuff. But you know what? Speaking of Cervantes--generally speaking, these folks are like lesser, sadder versions of Don Quixote. They read and watch and 'convention' (is that verb-able?) this stuff because they're idealists at heart--they believe in a better world with finer ideals--a world that rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked and they believe in it enough to give themselves over to the fantasy that such worlds can exist. Let 'em, I say. It prevents them from getting bored and turning into computer hackers and virus-makers. They're good people, oddly oriented. Leave them alone.

8. Masturbation.

Too obvious for words, but OK--everyone does it, nobody wants to admit it, because it seems as though it's a substitute for real sex, and if you spank/pet it, it means you can't get someone else to do it for you. Crap. As anyone will tell you who's been in a long-term relationship. And it beats the hell out of pretending to love someone so he/she will sleep with you. (OK, that's mostly a guy thing. Women, in my experience, delude themselves into thinking they're in love so they can have sex with the guy. Sad little gendered world, isn't it?) So do it freely, happily, unashamedly. Just not, you know, on the bus or in church.

7. Desperate Housewives.

I have no idea why this is on the list, but someone whose taste and intelligence I trust is utterly addicted to the show, and I just want to tell her that, Hey, It's OK. Like all soap operas, it has the redeeming feature of demanding a sustained attention span (got to remember one episode to the next--and there's a week in-between!) and it doesn't take itself too seriously, like, oh, say, Lost. I understand this season sucks, though. And it does mean that you can't make fun of people who watch The O.C. or Veronica Mars. If any such people still exist.

6. Being A Lawyer.

Fact is, it's a miserable job--long hours, abusive clients/bosses, competition as the bitter milieu of every day. It sucks as a job, and while it may (and does) turn many of its practitioners into monsters, it's still a job that needs to be done, and just thank God that you're not the one who has to do it.

5. Knowing A Lot.

I've never known a person who was enormously well-educated not to be constantly apologizing for this fact in conversation. "Oh, yeah, it's just like what Charlemagne was trying to do in Flanders," he/she will say in casual reference to the Iraq situation, and people will look at him/her with resentment for knowing what the hell he's talking about. "Sorry," he/she will say, "I just, you know, read a lot." And then change the subject to something related to NASCAR. Stop apologizing. When you're sneered at for knowing a thing or two, sneer back and say, "Just because I crack a book now and then, and retain what I discover, and want to share it, how exactly does that make me morally deficient? Read a book." (Author's note: I have no idea what, if anything, Charlemagne tried to accomplish in Flanders. Just made it up. So stop staring at me resentfully.)

4. Listening to Horrible Music. Yes, even Boy Bands.

Again, this falls into the category, of "At least it's music." Granted, it is emetic, cloying, vacuous, and 'catchy' in the worst possible way (as in, "I can't get this crap out of my head!!!") but it's ultimately innocuous--the lyrics (apart from most of rap, alas) are pacifistic, idealize love (admitted, this sets up a false ideal of what love is, but one can't have everything), and generally extol a fairly gentle way of living/being. Yeah, it's stupid--but it's nice stupidity--and, again, at least you're listening to music. Which in itself is good for the soul. The Greeks knew this, and we've never forgotten it.

3. Eating Junk Food.

Moderation makes this completely acceptable behavior. So you went and ate the whole freaking bag of Cool Ranch Flavor Doritos (c). Don't berate yourself--just don't do it again tomorrow. Junk Food isn't good for you, God knows, but in reasonable doses, it isn't really bad for you, either. Exercise, drink lots of water, eat lots of fruits and green vegetables, and then you don't have to sneak the Oreos crumbled into the Ben & Jerry's--you can snarf it down with zest and pride--you've earned your treat.

2. Being Unable to Come Up With Ten Really Good Entries to a Top Ten List.

I mean, seriously, it's not as if you're getting paid to write this. So if you have to fudge a bit by throwing in a meta-literary moment that causes the reader to be 'aware' of the author and his/her own experience of reading--that creates a moment of abstraction--objection that questions the organicism of the moment, go right ahead. Just be sure to justify it in academic jargon that no one will understand.

1. Xbox.

Because I said so, that's why. Yes, I'm biased beyond belief--yes, it's immature--yes, there are billions of ways I could be better spending my time--but it keeps me quiet, indoors, and venting my frustration at something utterly incapable of being offended or injured. Trust me, I'm a better person because of it--look, my life is so tediously dreadful that I've got to escape from it to an absolute degree, so it's either Xbox or heroin--I think I've made the right call. And if your life is dreadful, too--and it must be, since you're reading this--then by all means, jack in and let the pain wash away...

You'll notice that I didn't include 'watching professional sports with an obsession bordering on mental illness' or 'voting Republican.' That's because nobody who does this is, in fact, ashamed of it. Which is a problem all its own, but that's for another time...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jesus Is Weeping...

Once again this year, we maintain the fiction that my brother and I are 4 and 12 respectively, and have the obligatory Easter Egg hunt--a very contained scenario, inasmuch as we're essentially confined to the tiny confines of the main room of the second-rate beach house my parents are renting while they add a second story to theirs (yes, they do have money, thanks). And, as we've begun to do in recent years, my brother and I have taken over hiding the eggs, leaving my parents--both in their early-to-mid-60s, mind you--to hunt.

Which wouldn't seem too pathetic, except for my mother. Who treats the hunt--a competition of who finds the most--with a ruthless severity--as if the loser will, in fact, suffer ritual execution (I suppose "scourging and crucifixion" comes to mind)--and rushes from potential hiding-place to potential hiding-place in frantic excitement, screaming (no, not an expression) with frustration when she and my father happen upon the same egg--"NOOOOOO!!!!"--and by the time we get down to the last few, she's giving him full-blown body checks out of the way, and calling him names that simply don't seem to go with the spirit of the holiday.

Fortunately for us, she won this year. Which means we don't have to hear finds disputed and scores debated for, oh, the next year or so. Happy Easter. Christos aneste--Alithos aneste.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Still Xbox-ing my mind into mush. I'm 36 years old, I have a Ph.D. from a top-15 English Department, I'm published in both academic and fictional venues, and yet I'm saying things to myself like "Well, let me put in one more hour--maybe in that time I can figure out a way to join the Thieves' Guild!" I...am...pathetic. Pathetic and just, in someway, fundamentally wrong about the way I'm choosing to live my life. I mean, sure, it could be worse--heroin/meth, pedophilia, Christian conservatism, but still. I'm just...sad. Oh, don't misunderstand; I'm not going to stop. I mean, seriously, my Xbox is the only thing I've got going for me in my life right now. (Well, no, that's not entirely true...there are other things...people...but that's another discussion for another time. Point is, I'm mostly alone and at loose ends, and jacking in to The Box makes all the ennui go bye-bye. So hush, just let me waste the few precious moments I have on Earth before the Grim Reaper sweeps his remorseless scythe in my direction.)

And I especially need distracting/cheering up--a friendly colleague of mine just announced that she's pregnant, and she and her husband are thrilled and it's just wonderful. And I congratulated her--genuinely--but at the same time thought "...F***. No, really: F***." Because that's what I need to be doing. (Well, not getting pregnant--I'll leave that to you ladies and thank God that when He was handing out punishments for Apple Eating, I only got stuck with the agricultural duties.) But I should be having kids. Actually, I should have had them a couple of years ago. I'm ready. I really am. But, inasmuch as I'm alone--and thus way, way distant from being in a position to find someone willing to carry on my genetic material--that's just not going to happen anytime soon. And that means...well, I'm 36. It may, in fact, never happen. I may never have kids. Ever. That...is a sobering thought. Very. Saddening. Mournful. Cold.

Sigh. Can you blame me for Xbox-ing? I think not.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Yeah, yeah, yeah...

I know, I haven't been terribly good about posting. But between the Xbox (I'm putting together a blog entry about the Top Ten things that you shouldn't be ashamed of indulging in--guess what's going to be Number One?) and the start of the new quarter, I'm busier than--oh, which do we prefer, a one-armed paper-hanger, or a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest? (What it is with amputees as the epitomes of harried activity? Hmm--there's a seminar paper in this, said the appalling academic.) Anyway, point is--

I apologize for the scarcity and the brevity of my posts, but the course that I'm teaching is one of those where it counts (credit-wise) as TWO full courses--that's how much it demands of both students and teachers. So I'm essentially teaching a four-class load all of a sudden, and I'm also teaching the rhetoric of Paul's epistles to a group of students who include devout Christians (for whom I'm dissecting--i.e. challenging--the word of God), angry militant atheists (for whom I'm treating respectfully--i.e. validating--the words responsible for the subjugation of women, gays, etc.), and everything in-between. Complex waters to navigate...but I seem to be doing OK. Since I'm pretty much a liberal humanist, I don't sound like a proselytizer, but since I've received years of Biblical study, I definitely 'talk the talk,' so the devout don't question my bona fides...Still, yikes.

Good news is, I got my student evaluations from last quarter in--apparently, I rock. My overall average (isn't that rendundant?) was a 6.5+ out of a possible 7 (7 being Godlike), which, when you consider that the average of all instructors hovers somewhere just over 5, pretty much makes me King of the Mountain around here. Plus I got comments like "The best teacher I have ever had in my life" and "I learned more in one week with him than I did in all of last quarter"--so, you know, hard not to feel good about that. Well, it would be if such reviews translated into being offered a job. One would think that, since I have years of demonstrating the fact that I'm actually quite brilliant at the very activity that they're hiring me to perform, that universities might, I don't know, want to hire me. Apparently, though, not. Baffling. Maybe there's some secret handshake I haven't learned. OK...off to class. Must continue to spread the light of my wisdom unto the masses...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Minor League Post

But better than nothing at all, I suppose. I was watching A History of Violence--a B- film, even if it is a Cronenberg, and even if Mario Bello does get naked therein--and it occurred to me, watching it, that movie-makers have got to just...stop having people chat when there's killing to be done. One of the greatest lines--indeed, one of the greatest scenes in all of cinema is in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in which a gunslinger earlier maimed by "The Ugly"--Tuco, played brilliantly by Eli Wallach--it's almost enough to make you forgive him for being in Godfather III, only not quite--anyway--the maimed gunslinger has Tuco dead to rights--the ugly little bandito is taking a bubble bath, seemingly helpless. And the gunslinger, who's come all this way and hunted for so long in order to find the man responsible for crippling him--and whom he now has dead in his sights--decides to chat: "I've been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left."

Nice speech, except that at the end of it, with a blank expression, Tuco pulls a gun out from under the bubbles and blows the guy away. He then stands and, with an expression of bemused contempt, tells the dying man, "When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." At which point moviegoers around the world leapt out of their seats with a chorus of THANK you!!! (And for those of you who prefer Pixar to Sergio Leone, yes, there was a running discussion of the similar phenomenon of 'monologuing' among supervillains. Yet another sign that some people get why this behavior is foolish, and why the villain in that particularly clever film makes a point of not doing it.)

Screenwriters need to wise up to the fact that when you're going to kill someone, that's what you do, isn't it? I mean, the smart killers know not to talk and the dumb ones can't think of anything clever to say. So just...shoot. Please. And I won't have to roll my eyes when villains played by Ed Harris--playing a professional killer, for God's sake--take the time out to have a little colloquy with their intended victims, thus allowing for the inevitable moment of "suprise!"

Please. I ask for so little, really.