Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
It’s been this way for me ever since I started the academic game as a lowly student. The only difference then was that instead of just catching up on papers and such, I also upped my hours at whatever part-time jobs I was working so that I could continue to afford to go to school.
There are a few exceptions to all this…I go see my parents every few years over summer break. I tend to drink slightly more over the mini-vacations…not surprisingly, when academics don’t have to teach the next day, thoughts tend to wander over to the gross hedonism which their normal schedules do not allow (and in fact work directly against).
About the only true time that I ever get to “get out of Dodge” is when I have a conference to attend. This is as close as most academics ever really get to pleasure travel, and it’s definitely a working holiday, because one has to present and, if the attendee of a conference is lucky enough to actually find relevant panels to attend, listen to other scholars. Sadly enough, I don’t get to do much of the latter…I have the misfortune to not be doing sexy academic work, plus I have a low threshold for the boredom one normally gets from the standard presentation…believe it or not, most academics are not, as is Mel Brooks, stand-up philosophers.
About all the notable travel I’ve done in years (with the exception of last summer’s Minneapolis trip) has been for conferences. My trip to Europe? A conference in Spain. A trip to see my old roommate in Wisconsin? A Milwaukee conference. Visiting the nation’s capital? The CSA annual meeting. Going to Canada? A conference in Toronto. My honeymoon? A conference in New Orleans.
This spring break, I went (with the Spousal Unit tagging along) went to the Northeast Modern Language Association conference in Baltimore, MD. Yes, it was a regional, but I’m trying to market myself as an English guy, so the MLA side was important. I had no special attraction to Baltimore, but the panel seemed good, so we went, leaving on March 1.
The first thing I learned was that you should always double-check online directions. The ones I got (courtesy of the hotel-booking site) had me taking I-80 to I-70. Eventually, I figured out that the two interstates never actually meet. Unfortunately, I only found this out after going significantly (2 2/1 hours) out of our way. I found a detour back to the proper road, but that detour took us through several Pennsylvania towns that used to be mining towns…now they were just centers of crushing poverty. We didn’t get to the hotel until after 9, by which time Baltimore’s beer stores had closed. Damn blue laws…they added to one hell of a birthday.
The next day, Friday, was designated as “explore the city” day. We drove the five miles from our hotel to the conference hotel (my University doesn’t offer any travel support, so I stay wherever is cheapest) through a part of town which, like we saw in Pennsylvania, had crushing poverty…only it was urban poverty, not rural. We registered at the conference okay, and then we went to our single panel for the day.
The panel was on Physics and Literary theory, which is certainly an intriguing combination. Unfortunately, two out of the three presenters cancelled…as well as the organizer/chair. This was fine by me, however, as the one presenter that was left (doing postcolonialism and dark matter) was the one I wanted to see anyway. She did a great job…I learned some new approaches.
Afterward, the wife and I walked the 8 blocks or so to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which is kind of an attempt to create a franchised tourist mall, complete with tourist restaurants and gift shops. We snacked lightly at the food court, where my darling wife had her first raw oyster. She seemed to like it, although she wanted to throw on way too much toppings.
We ambled around the waterway for a while. I’m torn…I like waterfront views, but in most major cities, the waterfront only really reminds you of the true extent of pollution. The harbor was no different…there were several artificial inlets which collect trash. We were following these two native Baltimore women over a bridge spanning one of these, and I heard one say that she’d once seen a severed deer head floating in the water.
After wandering the harbor area and looking at a lot of touristy crap and dining at a very mediocre tapas place, we decided to walk over to the Fell’s Point region…several people on Postcard recommended we hit some bars there. It was quite a walk, though, especially since my wife was, for some reason, not wearing sneakers. When we got there, we found Leadbetters, Baltimore’s best dive bar (voted so several years in a row), and went in so the wife could rest, and I could drink. It was a classic place, and I enjoyed my $2 pints of Yuengling.
We then hit a cool record store, hit another restaurant for oysters and crab, and wandered back to the Harbor, where the spousal unit bought me a tourist tee-shirt. We then stumbled back to the car. Unfortunately, as we had been walking for hour and hours, our feet were hurting…and the wife started to really slow down just as we hit a very poor, very rough spot before our parking garage. But we didn’t get mugged or anything.
I presented my paper on heroes in the show House on Saturday. My presentation went well, and I got a lot of questions (which normally doesn’t happen…usually, I get ignored until time runs out). Afterward, the panel chair asked me if I would be interested in contributing my essay to a collection she was editing. Networking is a beautiful thing.
I went downstairs to find a bathroom and change…I was wearing a suit (not something I’d normally do, but English people are rather formal). However, the hotel was also having an early “St. Patrick’s Day Irishman’s Business Luncheon,” and the lobby was flooded with drunk middle age businessmen in green blazers and green ties, and they were all blasted out of their mind…at 11:30 in the morning. I swear, if someone would’ve started a fight, it would’ve been the summation of many bad stereotypes. I had to fight my way through these drunken men to get to the restroom to change, but it was worth it for one comment I overheard while struggling out of my suit: one businessman in the bathroom said to another “Let me shake your hand before you whip out your politician.”
The wife and I went to lunch at the Lexington Market (a kind of international grocer market center) with one of my colleagues. The Lexington Market was very cool…apart from the grocer booths (one filled with shockingly fresh seafood on ice, one with piles of butchered animals, and so forth), they had a bunch of individual food stalls. I ended up with some fried chicken from a soul food booth and a Malay stir-fry.
We went back to the conference so I could see a panel on depictions of space and the cityscape, or something like that. It sounded very interesting, but it was three people directly reading their long papers in quiet, monotone voices. My poor wife had to fight drowsiness, and I demanded we stop at the hotel bar afterward and drink. We then went to a “how to get a job” panel which taught me absolutely nothing I didn’t figure out on my first month on the market. It did, however, provide a forum for some NJ professor/geezer to tell us several times that it wasn’t too late to look for a non-academic job; I swear, for a minute, I thought he was about to tell us that there was no shame in flipping burgers.
Afterward, we went (with our lunch colleague) to a famous crab restaurant in the Inner Harbor. There was a tremendously long wait for some skimpy servings of overpriced food that was not as good as the food court meal we got the day before. We then looked at more crab-related touristy stuff before heading back to the hotel…we needed sleep for the next day’s drive back home.
So what did I do the rest of my break? Well, on Monday, I went with some friends to Howards and drank. Tuesday, more drinking at Howards. On Wednesday, I went with a friend to the Kildare House outside of Windsor, Canada, so he could watch a Scottish soccer game and talk to the very cool Scot expatriates…then back to his place for drinking. I also drank on Thursday (can’t remember where), and on Friday, another friend came in from out of town, so (wait for it) we drank at Howards until he left, then I went to a friend’s house for a wine party. I detoxed the rest of the time, because I’m too damn old to continue to drink like a frat boy.
Since then, I’ve wisely cut back my drinking. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to cut out my crab and oyster intake…but one does what one has to, I guess…
"I explained that I would be an enthusiastic supporter and participant of all things Beard [the James Beard Foundation] when and if I saw some kind of an effort to acknowledge the people who are actually doing the cooking in this country--the between 30 and 70% of restaurant employees of Mexican and Latino origin--of varying legal status. I was thinking a few bucks set aside for free para-legal advice. Maybe a widely accessible library. English lessons.
Her response? She looked at me with an expression of absolute sincerity and said, " Oh..we're very aware of the important contribution of our Lateeeno population." Then, proudly boasted about the good works Beard House has been doing on their behalf: " Why...just last week at a dinner at the House, 7 out of 10 of the waiters we hired were Lateeno!" She looked at me, guilessly, as if expecting a pat on the head."
(Yeah, lots of little posts today...I'm doing conferences, and I have some time between students. There will, however, be one long mack-daddy of a post coming.)
Anyway, whenever I hit the restroom, I ineveitably see one or two of the grad students wandering the hall outside the testing room. They have recently taken to wearing lab coats...I guess in an attempt to seem more "authority."
I wonder if this would work for me. If I donned a lab coat when I taught or did office hours, would students start calling me "Dr. DuBose," as opposed to the "Mr. DuBose" or "hey, scumbag" I now hear?
Where can one get cheap lab coats? Is it worth it? Would they clash or accentuate my current wardrobe of Hawaiian or concert shirts?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
I have been granted early access to the new Modest Mouse album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. I can't quit playing this...the only way I listen to anything else is when the spousal unit snags the cd. And then I have to fight to get it back.
Modest Mouse shows depth they never had before. It's as heavy as Good News for People Who Love Bad News in parts, funky in others. They can manipulate more emotions than ever, as evident in the haunting "Little Motel." Every track is just damn cool.
It officially comes out next Tuesday. Go get you some musical goodness.
Yes, I've been away. Long, explanatory e-mail coming. For now, just this:
I really hate daylight savings time. I hate everything about it. I hate having to go around changing clocks. I hate losing an hour. I hate knowing that tonight, I will have to go to bed at what my body thinks is 10pm so I can get up tomorrow at what my body thinks is 5am.
Lousy politicians. Lousy farmers. PICK A TIME AND STICK WITH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
I just found out that the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard died Tuesday. Is it a real death or a hyper death?
I have mixed feelings about Baudrillard. Baudrillard wrote a book about America in the 80s called (strangely enough) America, and I had to deal with it intently in the diss/soon-to-be book...and it was tremendously helpful and insightful. I used to love his takes on things before I studied him in-depth for a directed readings course. After reading a ton of his stuff, however, the joke got old very quickly.
Through his all-encompassing reliance on hyperreality, Baudrillard inspired a thousand dime-store postmodernists who turned the philosophy into a self-reflexive parody. And while this is primarily a criticism about his followers, his own writing (done in that playful, hard to follow French academic style) often lent itself to their misinterpretations, thus encouraging the moron brigade. Some of the disciples of postmodern in general and him in particular ended up focusing on the warpings of reality via representation rather than the reality itself.
Yes, we are living in a world where representation often plays a tremendous role, and yes, often people reference the image more closely than the reality, but there is still reality, authority, and all that in spite of hyper-representation...and by denying (or at least obscuring) this real power, he turned academics into a huge game for some of his followers.
Yes, he advanced thought, but he also allowed, through his writings, a reductive strain of postmodernism, and this strain opened the whole field up to ridicule, at least in the eyes of his critics. Ultimately, in spite of his very real advances, he might've done more harm than good.