Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review: the world of Mike

The final of the lists!

Other Cool best-ofs:

  • Best musical purchase: my Fulltone Fulldrive 2 distortion pedal. Whooboy, this thing sings.
  • The coolest thing that's happened to me personally: I'm in a band!
  • Happiest BG moment: old friends returning!
  • Best TV-related purchase: Deadwood: The Complete Series
  • Best video game purchase: Dead Space: Extraction
  • Best “I'm happy to be an academic” moment: wandering New Orleans with friends while “attending” a conference.

Saddest moment of the year:

  • Jay Bennett, RIP.

2009 in review: music

The top ten albums:

  1. 1372 Overton Park, by Lucero—I got a chance to see Lucero in (I believe) 2008, and I remember being more impressed with opener Glossary (and getting to hang with the indomitable Micah and Shane, who both made the trip up to BG for the show). I did like Lucero enough to buy Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers, but when I listened to it, my impressions were that they had potential, but most of the album just seemed lazy in terms of playing and inconsistent in terms of writing.

    I bought 1372 Overton Park after an online request for “new rock and roll.” Man, is this album miles above anything else from this band. Solid songwriting throughout, tight arrangements (winning the “best unexpected use of horns in rock and roll 2009” award), great playing throughout. Lyrically, this is a leap above most rock and roll out today. How can one not love “What Are You Willing To Lose?,” an ode to realizing that you might risk all without ever seeing the rewards due? “Would you keep on going if you couldn't make it through?” Indeed.

  2. baby darling doll face honey, by Band of Skulls—I picked this up as a “listening booth” find at Culture Clash records in Toledo. At first listen, Band of Skulls is definitely operating in the White Stripes vein, but with a little less Zeppelin in the mix. I think, however, that Band of Skulls might do it better...better lyrics, better vocal melodies, and generally smarter. Plus they have the coolest name ever.
  3. When The Stage Lights Go Dim, by Micah SchnabelTwo Cow Garage frontman steps out with a quieter sound. This could've easily been a sleeper pick, doing little else but to hold us over until 2010's TCG album. Instead, Micah's songwriting elevates this to simply being an awesome album. Micah brings more heart and soul, but more importantly, energy and insight. An acoustic album which definitely rocks.
  4. Them Crooked Vultures (s/t)—Okay, I admit that I only bought this because John Paul Jones (yes, the former Led Zeppelin bassist) is playing on it. Sue me. Solid rock and roll throughout, great hooks, awesome musicianship, with enough funk and hooks to make you want to move.
  5. Message to Garcia, by Visqueen—This album is not the deepest or most varied pick on my list. However, it might just be the most fun. Plus awesome vocals...if I knew someone who could sing like this, I'd do anything to become part of the band. “So Long” might be the best ballad in years.
  6. Murdering Oscar & Other Love Songs, by Patterson Hood—While I have been increasingly meh about the Drive-By Truckers' last few, Patterson's solo work continues to bring it. No one brings scathing lyrical insight nearly as well, and there are several songs (most notably the stunning “Skrewtopia”) which will make you quiet with awe.
  7. Wolves, by Roger Bryan and the Orphans—Bar rock done right...slightly sloppy, slightly messy, slightly over the top. But this is how rock and roll should be...walking the tightrope and coming dangerously close to crashing.
  8. Quest for Fire (s/t)—Will this one burn your face off? Well, it should. Quest for Fire is a full-out sonic assault that slams your face against the wall before simply crushing and burying you.
  9. Live at the Ohio Theater, by The Polka Floyd Show—Yeah, it's a live album. Yes, it's a Pink Floyd cover band. Yes, the songs are done in polka. Get over it. This band could easily slip into parody and get old really quickly. Instead, The Polka Floyd Show boast a level of commitment and musicianship (the guitar specifically will blister your face) that allow them to really get it right. After a few spins of this one, regular Pink Floyd seems dull and insignificant.
  10. A New Tide, by Gomez—Yes, it's mellow at times. But the songwriting is generally fun and doesn't go to the normal, expected places. There are enough toe-tapping moments to keep this one regularly going to my cd player.

Just missed the cut:

  • American Central Dust, by Son Volt
  • The All-Night Bedroom Revival (free download), by Joey Kneisser
  • The Majestic Beast of the Flatlands, by Raise High the Roof Beam

If only I had more time/yes, I know I need to check out:

  • Superchunk
  • Brendan Benson
  • Vulture Whale
  • Japandroids
  • Reigning Sound

Other 2009 releases:

  • Backspacer, Pearl Jam—And I still can't hack Eddie Vedder's voice.
  • 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day—An overly poppy letdown after the brilliant American Idiot.
  • Porcupine, Tim Easton—He continues to show why his high point was The Truth About Us.
  • Wilco (The Album), Wilco—This has a few great songs, but it has many more deathly dull songs.
  • Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (s/t)—On first listen, this did nothing for me, which is strange considering how much I lived his debut. I'll have to go back to this
  • The Mountain, Heartless Bastards—Sorry, I've been told I should like this, but it's a bit monotonous. A shame, really...they have such a great band name.

The best 2009 songs:

  1. “What Are You Willing To Lose?,” Lucero
  2. “Bull Black Nova,” Wilco
  3. “Screwtopia,” Patterson Hood
  4. “American Static,” Micah Schnabel
  5. “Dynamite,” Son Volt

Shows of the year:

  1. Two Cow Garage, Jackson MI
  2. Josh Ritter, The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland OH
  3. Micah Schnabel, Frankies, Toledo OH

Why 2010 will be a better music yea:
  • rumored releases from Two Cow Garage, Grand Champeen, Glossary. RAWK!

Wanna hear more? For a limited time, download my 2009 sampler!

2009 in review: films

The best of an awesome year at the theaters:

  1. Up!—I utterly love Pixar movies, and they are perhaps the only film studio to get an utterly free pass from me. However, nothing prepared me for Up! Visually beautiful? Of course. However, this film rang with a level of emotional resonance throughout that I've never before experienced. Unbelievably uplifting, sad, and touching...the best film of an amazing year in cinema.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are—I heart Spike Jonze, so I knew this would be good, even worth the multi-year wait. You knew this was going to be unbelievably stunning visually. But did you think it would drive you to tears? So easily make you unbelievably happy, touched, and frightened all at the same time?
  3. The Fantastic Mr. Fox—Yet another director I adore comes through with an utterly fantastic film. The retro-claymation plays really well against the retro-music. But where this movie shines is the overall, indefineable sense of coolness it exudes. Every character is someone I would dearly love to know. A friend and fellow academic told me that this film made him utterly unable to apply a critical lens to it because he was just enjoying himself so much. I agree.
  4. Inglourious Basterds—Tarantino films are always an event, and Basterds certainly qualifies as extreme. However, it's not the violence (brutal and fun) or the dialogue (snappy and memorable) that sets this one off. No, it's the utterly unforgettable performances of both Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz, who bring layer upon layer of depth.
  5. Coraline—This is the fourth film so far to prove that kids movies are best when they don't limit themselves to “kiddie” stereotypes. Great stop-motion animation, even greater characterization of the angst of growing up. Both creepy and touching at the same time.
  6. The Hurt Locker—While this covers much of the same emotional ground as 2008's The Wrestler, Hurt Locker is notable as a movie that does pretty much everything right. It looks great. Wonderful characterizations. Moreover, this is a shockingly relevant film which will have you thinking days and months after you leave the theater.
  7. Star Trek—A popcorn movie? Sure. More action/adventure than we're used to from the Star Trek Franchise? Granted. But as an action/adventure movie, this succeeds wholeheartedly. Nicely paced, beautiful, with just enough characterization to keep you intellectually with the film.
  8. Men Who Stare At Goats—With talent like Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges, the acting in this film was bound to be outstanding. Funny, to be sure, but just enough depth to the story to keep this from being fluffy.
  9. Monsters vs. Aliens—I wouldn't have seen this if not for a showing at the cheap theater...and that would've been my loss. This was much smarter than it had a right to be. Great acting throughout, especially from Seth Rogan.
  10. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince—It's not the best of the Harry Potter films, and, for those of us who read the books, there are a few puzzling choices. However, still a very solid entry in the series

2009 in review: television

The best of the year's television:

  1. Burn Notice—Could this show be any smoother? Could anyone look better than Fiona in tennis whites? Could you have anyone more awesome than Bruce Campbell?
  2. Castle—Sure, it's fluffy. But the dialog is snappy, and both Nathan Fillon and Stana Katic tear into their characters. Some of the most fun tv out there.
  3. Dollhouse—Consistently challenging tv that breaks the rules—no real “good guys” to speak of, morally repugnant behavior from most characters, long serial plots that only offer a delayed payoff—all mean that this was bound to be canceled. However, for those willing to stay for the ride, there's some great acting (particularly from Tudyk, Kranz, Glau, Lachmen, Williams, and Gjokaj) and some of the most thought-provoking television out there.
  4. V—If there's anything that had the potential to mess up, it's this. The original is a classic that still holds up pretty well. However, whatever questionable politics this remake might have (too early to tell, really, but I have suspicions), this is undeniably good for its sense of dread.
  5. House—Once again, House risks failure by completely and utterly disrupting its own status quo. On paper, is there a worse move than having House in therapy, cured of his addiction? But it pays off.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

on music, being doomed, and the chance to start house fires

Out of my many obsessions (beer, popcorn, killing zombies), one to which I've always felt strongly connected was music. If I could be anything when I grow up, it would still, to this day, be a rock star...or at least a professional musician. I think I definitely have the mind for music, and lately, I've become convinced I also have the skills. For the first time in ages, I'm in a band that practices regularly, has gigs potentially lined up, and is playing songs that I would, if not in the band, listen to and enjoy.

However, there are issues. There are a few of the standard band issues; while this is going more smoothly than any other musical collaboration from my past, we still get into an occasional (yet tremendously polite) "this doesn't sound like a chorus to me," followed by "well, what should a chorus sound like?" debate. These are of no real worry for me, though. I am nothing if not adaptable.

What concerns me? The same things as usual: my own dumb luck and the conspiring hand of fate.

When we last discussed musical matters, I was still missing my distortion pedal, and my amp had just blown up. Well, the pedal came in, and, after two months (due to a backordered part), my amp was finally repaired. Together, they sounded great. One band practice, though, I decided to add my wah wah pedal to the setup, and I realized that whenever I moved (usually while pulling Rock Star Pose #24), both pedals followed, skidding across the floor, cords becoming tangled. When I bought a cheap digital delay at an after-Thanksgiving sale, the problem got worse, and I felt like I was leading a tangle of spaghetti on a walk.

I decided that having a row of pedals meant that I had to mount them onto a pedal board of some sort...that is, if I wanted to maintain any credibility as a musician. After all, if you're not going to have a neat pedal board, what separates you from the hoard of frat boys playing Guitar Hero? And I decided that rather than buy a pedal board, I would, driven equally by my innate cheapness and my need to assert at least a shred of traditional masculinity, instead build my own.

This actually went fairly well. Although I was utterly flabbergasted by the cost of professional-strength velcro, I quickly procured all the parts at my area hardware chain conglomerate. For the cost of a Corner Grill lunch, I conned a friend into breaking out some power tools and helping me assemble the final piece. And several days later, I managed to even hide all the cables (after riddling the top of the board with 368 holes).

Then, at our last band practice before Xmas, my channel switch quit working. Okay, I can do that one manually. Then I tried out the wah wah, and it started to cut out the volume of my entire rig. Sigh.

I decided, again in a fit of DIY/I'm too cheap to hire a professional/please let me feel like a man just this one time, to fix everything myself. I bought a soldering gun, and I decided to repair the channel select footswitch first. Before I could add a jack to the thing, though, I needed to remove the old wires from the actual switch. I heated up my soldering gun and dove into the task at hand. Of course, rather than simply remove some solder, I accidentally melted the switch.

However, if 39 unsuccessful years on the job market have taught me one thing, it's to never give up. After I finish with my current project, I will teach myself to solder. I will learn how to hook up wires to a switch! I will gain the skills to mod my new phaser pedal! I will build my own ring modulator! The masses of musicians will bow down before me! And it will all come to pass through the simple tool of a soldering gun!!!!!

Either that, or I'll burn the house down.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

has anyone seen my rage?

Usually, my winter break moods are a more sure sign of the seasons than eggnog recipes, visiting relatives, or the slew of rabid shoppers. Xmas comes, I have one week of tremendously bad behavior, visit some family, and then turn into a the bleakest, meanest, most curmudgeonly person you've ever met. Yes, even more so than usual.

This is mostly because the end of Fall semester represents a very special time in the cycle that is the academic job search. If you're going for one of the major jobs, this is when someone will contact you for an interview if you've made the cut. The big English organization is, as we speak, holding its annual conference. This also serves as the meat market for those hoping to get Literature-esque jobs, so if you're one of these fateful people, you're either de-linting your suit and practicing interview-speak, coming to a new level of understanding of the true ramifications of the current job market, or you're just...becoming one of the bleakest, meanest, most curmudgeonly person anyone's ever met.

I'm on the job market again myself. And, as I can see the vast Fratboy-hell BG apartment complexes from my study window as I type this post, you can guess where I fall in the continuum of employment-seekers.

This is (as long-time and therefore long-suffering readers of this blog can attest) not my first time on the market. I have been going pretty steadily since graduating sometime way back in the pleistocene epoch. During this time, I have paid thousands of dollars postage for countless application packets, received some of the most frightfully inept rejection letters (including one beauty that introduced the person they hired in a long, flowing, worship-filled paragraph before adding "Needless to say, we are no longer considering your application"), had several unusual phone interviews (one told me "your skills are exactly what we were thinking of when we wrote the job description"...but those same skills apparently weren't strong enough to land me a campus visit), and even finagled a few on-campus interviews (which were equally strange; one school asked me to do a 20 minute lecture on some point of grammar or mechanics). However, a tenure-track job has, for reasons only Osiris himself understands, thus far eluded me.

Usually, at this time of year, I am irrepressibly bitter and mean. I hate everyone and everything. I am insanely jealous of thousands of interviewing Ph.Ds and ABDs whom I've never met and want to stab them in the neck with the celery from their airport bloody mary. I feel utterly no hope for my future and utterly no confidence in any of my past decisions.

This year? I'm surprisingly non-committal about the whole process. It's one of my deepest fears that I might be simply resigned to my fate.

To be fair, I did end up in a fairly comfortable instructorship. It's outside of my field of expertise, I work entirely too much (16 credit hours in the Fall, 12 in the Spring), and I'm inextricably consigned to freshman classes, but I do get paid okay. I even have my own office with a's a window onto the hallway, but still.... Overall, I'm doing quite well, particularly when compared to my friends, who are either smarter, more charming, better published (up to and including books), or have higher "perfect colleague" potential.

Normally, though, this "it could be could be lying dead in a ditch" mentality (a favorite aphorism of my otherwise awesome Nana) is of utterly no comfort; in truth, it generally just makes me that much more brittle. And to tell the truth, it's not really a factor in my current yet puzzling lack of rage.

It's my next-to-last year on the job market for many reasons (general tiredness, age, coalescing unwillingness to continue to put off my "real life"), and I'm getting utterly no traction on the tenure job search. And even though the stakes might be higher for some of my friends than for I, my personal career failure has been longer and more spectacular to date. So why am I resigned? Where is the rage?

I kind of miss it, to be honest.

Anyway. Back to writing...I've got two articles to polish and submit if I want to improve my situation for next year's search.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The War on X-mas

Since it's been a while, I've decided to make a new mixed drink. Because of the time of the year, I call it (with apologies to Futurama)"The War on X-Mas." Here's how it rolls:

  • Fill up a pint glass with ice.
  • Squeeze in 1/2 of a lemon.
  • Add 1/2 measure of strawberry liquor.
  • Add 1/2 measure of peppermint schnapps.
  • Add a full measure of Meyer's dark rum.
  • Top off with fresh squeezed orange juice.
  • Stir, resist the urge to add a sissified umbrella.

This beverage is best enjoyed while watching football and planning out tomorrow's spree while trying to ignore the increased level of credit debt.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Micah Schnabel at Frankies--review

I am a very big fan of Two Cow Garage. For those of you who don't know them (you can hear clips on their website), they are a great rock band from Columbus. I also have a very personal connection to these guys and their music ...but I'll have to go into that at some other time.

Their singer, Micah Schnabel, has a very cool solo album out called When the Stage Lights Go Dim. He's also on a mini-tour to plug it, and when I found out he was playing in Toledo, I immediately made my plans.

So, how was it? Overall, it was a great, great evening. The twenty one things you need to know:

  1. I always love it when I have friends that I can expose to/brainwash to become fans of cool bands I like.
  2. Frankies is a cool bar. Want proof? They have $1.50 PBRs, Black Labels, or Blatzs.
  3. One of the bouncers complained that if he wanted better luck with women, he should quit trying to use lines about (censored sexual terminology) and Greek food. I have no idea what this means, but I still think it's funny as hell.
  4. Micah is as gracious, awesome, and bubbly as always. When me and my friends came in, I asked him when he went on. He said "Not sure what time, but I go on last." And then, while pointing to his name in big letters at the top of a show poster, "Hey, I'm Micah Schnabel" Then he noticed that they spelled his name "Michah."
  5. The bar apparently earlier hosted an (excuse me for this) "all ages hardcore matinée show." Micah told me that he was the only non-teenie there and felt like a parent sitting in the back. I told him that me and my friends, as we're all teachers, we're used to the little bastard trying to make us feel old all the time, so we know how he felt.
  6. In the "good news" department, Micah told me that Two Cow will be making a new album in already I know 2010 will bean awesome music year.
  7. The bar was surprisingly packed for a weekday acoustic show. Most of the guys in the audience looked like they were cultivating their facial hair specifically for such events.
  8. All you need to know about the first act was that the guitar player was wearing a vest. Enough said.
  9. The tv sets in the bar were playing a dvd of some artist that I didn't recognize...but the singer (a middle-aged, not really in shape white guy) was wearing nothing but a micro-bikini.
  10. The second act was a singer/songwriter type who obviously thought he was Bob Dylan. He also was wearing plaid...which seems to be another stereotypically "acoustic musician" fashion choice.
  11. This guy also neglected to say his name anywhere at all in his set. Apparently, he needs lessons in marketing.
  12. The last guy was a pretty lively punk-influenced singer named Larry Love (a name which immediately made me think sex worker). He repeatedly claimed that he was very sick and getting very drunk...I guess to compensate. The two highlights of his set were a cover of "If Only You Were Lonely" and an original which was called something like "I'm Watching Porn." I thought him to be pretty engaging.
  13. For some reason, between all the other acts, the PA was playing very loud grungy rock. The genre choice was curious, as it was an acoustic evening, and I also wasn't quite sure why they had the sound up louder than the actual performers. But before Micah's set, they moved to old blues and soul...which was much better
  14. Micah just utterly dominated the stage. There was utterly nothing laid back about his performance, and during several numbers, he was stomping his feet so loudly that it was in danger of drowning out his vocals and breaking the stage.
  15. The set itself was balanced about halfway between Micah's solo material and Two Cow material. "Your Humble Narrator" sounded particularly great.
  16. There were also two covers: "Atlantic City" and an awesome, utterly perfect acoustic take on "Can't Hardly Wait."
  17. More artists should sell, in addition to the normal tee shirts, concert work shirts. Micah's looked awesome.
  18. Micah, in between thanking me for the 38th time for coming out, promised that Two Cow Garage would be back sometime in February to road-test the new album. Weeee!
  19. A great night and great music was only made better when my bar tab only came to $9.
  20. Ran into an online friend but only chatted briefly. I guess people would more easily recognize me in public if I didn't use my Mii for my Twitter and Facebook icon.
  21. The only bad thing about the night? For whatever reason, we were utterly incapable of finding anywhere on the ride home that could satisfy my french fry lust. Oh well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

the fear of creeping professionality

One year, during a meeting of some sort, the Assistant Director of Composition (and therefore one of my bosses) leaned over to me and whispered, "Mike, you're the meanest son of a bitch in this department."

At the time, I took it as a point of pride. After all, I had a certain history professor in my background who regularly utilized what later would be called a "shock and awe" approach in his pedagogy. This certainly worked for me; not only did I learn an awful lot about Russian and Soviet history (which I unfortunately have never been able to put to use), I also learned many more important lessons on how to study, read, and write at a college level. Would such lessons sunk in if the teacher were instead "Mr. Nice Guy?" Somehow, I doubt it...and I pattern an awful lot of my teaching style based on this teacher.

The other day, however, after I finished a student paper conference, a colleague stuck his head in my office and told me that I sounded like I was slipping, because I sounded courteous and helpful...nice, even. He then mockingly asked me if I wanted to sign up for high school teaching. Unfortunately, he then ducked out of the doorway before I could throw my printer at him.

Is it true? Am I changing into a Mr. "Save the World"/Kumbaya-singing hippie teacher?

There are unfortunately several danger signs. I actually had my Spring semester book order turned in long before our bookstore started sending its regularly scheduled threatening e-mails. And just a few minutes ago, I somehow found myself turning in my yearly evaluation material well in advance of the deadline.

What in the hell is happening to me?

I can see it all coming together through my terror-filled eyes. Pretty soon, I might ask my students to address me by first name. Maybe I'll give extra credit assignments. Is wearing a suit to work really that far behind?

When I lose the fear, the bile, and the attitude, will there be anything left?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

gloom, despair, and agony on me

When I was younger, there was one day where, before work, I was sitting outside of the pizza place, smoking cigarettes and talking to my supervisor. I said something typically whiny, and after looking at me for a minute, my supervisor said, "You know, Mike, you sure like to complain."

I was could I know this man for a year and a half before he came to this startling revelation? Or maybe he just liked to point out the obvious.

Yes, I do like to complain. My dear Nanna used to be one of those "everything will work out in the end" type of people, and this always both befuddled and totally annoyed me...because I've always believed that moaning serves a real purpose. Things only work out in the end if someone sees what's wrong, what's holding them back, and does something about it. Plus, complaining is cathartic; my darling spousal unit realized that sometimes, I just want to moan. Whining has also become the hallmark of my there's no way I could stop now even if I was motivated to do so.

Today, though, I have reason. Moreover, it's one of the best reasons to complain: I have real evidence that the fates are aligned against me in two very tangible ways.

  1. A year or so back, I was starting to think through a paper on the tv show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. For those of you who didn't see it, it was a good, occasionally brilliant program...slower moving than the films, yet intellectual and intriguing (rather than the "shoot-em-up" style of the films). I really loved the way the probram talked about intelligence, and the paper, I felt, would really be something. Then the show got canceled, and my preliminary work on the program became essentially wasted time...because who cares about a canceled show? At least, I assuaged myself, I didn't write a paper that ends up being useless. I decided from then on that I would take special care to make sure my topics were viable.

    Flash-forward to this summer and "the paper that wouldn't die 2009 edition" (you can read all the gory details if you so wish). I had planned to spend the summer working on the book, but this damn paper on Dollhouse's renewal wouldn't get out of my head. It even had the potential to be "important." So I spent 2.5 months writing a paper which argued its renewal signified network television moving away from a ratings-based model, and this signified...a whole bunch of vital and noteworthy stuff.

    What happens? Dollhouse got canceled yesterday...which makes my whole paper a non-starter. My summer was pretty much wasted. Damnit.

  2. This year, my university has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to change our health care options. Of course, my insurer is the one undergoing major changes, so, an hour-long presentation, several confusing web pages, and a 58 slide power point later, I finally decide on a new provider.

    As with every single year, I have to provide my HR department with a form stating that my darling spousal unit does not get insurance where she works. No sweat, right? She gives it to her HR Tuesday, and all they literally have to do is sign and write their phone number. She calls them today. They might be able to get it signed tomorrow. She asks them if they realize that she has to have it turned in tomorrow or she cannot get insurance. They know this, they tell her, but there are only two people who can sign this form, and they are both in a meeting.

    So now, my spousal unit may not get insurance because it apparently takes someone more than four days to sign their name.

These are just two of the reasons I hate the world and most everyone in it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

money for nothing

In my dissertation (eventually to be my book), I write (amongst other subjects) about economic policy in the eighties. Reagan's economic philosophy was, on the whole, kind of weird. If we give rich people more money, the theory goes, they will spend more money, and the people who get that money will in turn spend, and so on, so forth. And the only thing that will prevent this spending is taxes, so we're going to lower tax rates for the rich only. Besides, the logic (?) goes, all this spending will generate more work, which we then can tax, which will pay for the runaway government spending which we hate but will do absolutely nothing to stop.

It's an interesting concept, but for it to work, one that has to assume no one rich will hoard money or no one poor will pay bills. When questioned about the logic of Reaganomics, White House budget director David Stockman (I think) said something to the effect of "if people believe in this, it will quit reporting bad news." Yes, this economic theory is based off giving people money and hoping everything works out perfectly. What bad could possibly result?

Fast forward to the present. Credit card debt levels are staggering. We've just gone through a lending crisis. Thanks to our last president (whose VP said "deficits don't matter"), our country's debt levels are record-breaking. Moreover, when our current president tried to use government money to fund projects, people refer to him as the communistical Marxist Commie Antichrist....the same people, it should be noted, who loved W simply mailing them checks.

We had an election yesterday, and my state in particular has lost its collective mind. In Ohio, our voters apparently decided that casinos, which push the "you can get rich without working" myth, are exactly what our state needs. They also decided that, rather than fund some programs to help veterans, we were just going to cut them a check. Apparently, free money is now the answer to everything. Sigh.

You see? Reagan is to blame for everything.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

stupidity...a hard lesson

It's something I don't really like to admit to myself, but I am largely, tremendously driven by ego...particularly by not wanting to feel useless and dumb. I tell myself that I, much like Annie Savoy, should be so strong that such things as "how smart I seem" cannot affect me. This is, however, a fiction that never really works.

This relentless need to not feel useless and dumb is not, I should point out, entirely bad. It is what caused me to leave my dead-end job as a salesman (of water, no less...that's right, I could convince people to pay money for something that came out of their taps, and I was actually pretty good at it). It has caused me to keep working on my scholarship in spite of a job that doesn't reward such work at all. It causes me to study, to learn, to read, to do any of the things that keep one a vital human.

But it leads to doubts...lots of them. Have I never been in a band that played out because I suck as much as many assume? Why, I ask myself, do I have do read this damn Zizek article five times to actually understand it? Is it because I'm as dense as I feel? Why don't I have that tenure-track job? Is it really the economy, or am I simply not good enough? Why does that article, which a part of me truly believes is really well-written and vital, keep getting rejected? On those rare occasions when I evaluate myself and find myself worthy, am I really just led by delusion? The doubt festers, like a...sigh. Even the damn metaphors escape me.

There have always been many things where I knew I lacked something. In spite of my best efforts, for instance, there is something about car repair that eludes me. But I always thought I could minimize the gap. For instance, I am fully aware that in the hierarchy of intelligence, I can think of about fifteen close friends who are definitively smarter than me. Yet I still think, I still study, I still try to stretch my mind (at least as far as my schedule allows) because I honestly believe I can make a difference somewhere...can't I?

The problem is that even when I feel I'm making progress in one area, life has a way of smacking me down in some other way.

Case in point: although I have never actually done any substantial writing in a Fall semester since graduating (I teach 16 credit hours, and that doesn't lend itself to doing much of anything), I signed up for a November academic conference. In order to force some scholarship, I even committed to a new topic. And in spite of beguiling students and a thousand commitments on my day, I am actually making headway. I think I have good, notable conclusions, and even though I am not sure I'll have an actual paper ready to go for my presentation this weekend, I feel confident in my ability to do something meaningful, tangible, something that will eventually become a publishable article (something I can really use).

Of course, something else crops up. "You hear that?" my internal Agent Jones, asks. "That is the sound of inevitability." And indeed, I heard inevitability scraping down my hallway. So what did it sound like?

One word: laundry.

In between doing a thousand other things this weekend, I spent some time doing laundry. As I was putting my final load into the dryer, however, the door refused to latch...and you really can't dry clothes with a dryer open to the world. I looked at the latch mechanism, poked it with some tools, but no dice. I tried a temporary fix with duct tape holding the door closed, but here I learned something: duct tape, when heated, stretches, thus requiring the launderer to reapply every ten minutes. Truly, this was not an ideal solution.

While I am no means a mechanical genius, I knew that this was probably not a complicated repair...pull out one part, put in another. However, I've got students clamoring for last minute topic approval, that conference in less than a week, a full week's worth of cooking to do, and the requisite 1,387,242 self-doubts to quell, so rather than locate the latch, drive around and buy it, and hammer the sucker in place myself, I decide to just call someone.

And that was where my stupidity reared back and smacked me in the face. The repair guy came today. As I suspected, he only had to pry out the old part and hammer in a new $6 latch. It took all of three minutes. My charge? Well, the service fee was $40. Then I had to pay $20 for this guy's three minutes of labor. My desire to save 30 minutes cost me $70 after tax. Sigh.

Once again, I realize that as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, I have not in fact escaped my own general stupidity, and that in this case (as in countless others), that stupidity comes partially on relying on others. I look forward to the day where I won't be quite so dumb, but right now, I really wonder if that day will ever come. Not today, it seems.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

the wandering conference mind

Whenever I do student conferences, I tend to easily and readily fall into trances. I find myself repeating myself so often that a large portion of my consciousness tends to tune out; one year, I'm even convinced that I had an honest-to-goodness out-of-body experience, where I could watch myself giving the same bit of feedback for the 137th time.

However, my mind never completely shuts off (no matter how much I wish sometimes it would). Instead, my thoughts and observations just get very random and disjointed...more so than usual. How random? Why, I'm glad you asked:

  • When I do student conferences, I develop a love/hate relationship with my mail. I hate getting mail--it's almost always either causing me more work or just making me throw away something else--but I check it incessantly nonetheless.
  • At least two times a week, I go into the bathroom, and someone is in the stalls both taking care of business and text messaging. This is frankly a form of multitasking I can do without.
  • I've had several students come in wearing hoodies that have their last name spelled out across the if their family was a major university or something. Sadly, I managed to grow up without the DuBose name becoming a brand.
  • My students are strangely resistant to any critiques of capitalism. From them, I have learned that fun should only be the dominion of those who have money. I have also learned that Marxism, Communism, and Socialism are the same thing. Also, Hegemony is a person.
  • We, as teachers, are often led to believe that our students are of the computer saturation generation. This is far from the truth. In fact, I have been told several times in the last few days that interaction via computer is not real, because you never know the truth about people online. Apparently, no one ever lies or attempts to deceive in person. If I would've known this while single, it would've revolutionized my dating life.
  • When I have conferences, I have the 2-3 minutes of dead space between students. Normally, I would turn to my RSS feeds or to Twitter for entertainment during these periods (as there is nowhere near enough time to do anything productive). However, stuff just doesn't happen quickly enough, and my need for distraction soon outpaces the inanity I regularly visit while online. So I do things I wouldn't ordinarily do, such as view photo sets of Insane Clown Posse fans. Yes, it does get that bad.
  • Today in class, as I was shuffling through one of the articles, I realized that the scan was missing a page. While I was a little bit chagrined none of my students noticed this error, I was particularly upset that I had noticed it while reading. Yes, boys and girls, teachers can be idiots too!
  • About half the time I leave my 12:30-1:45 class, a gaggle of my students were lined up at the vending machines. Yes, there is something about my teaching style that leads people to crave junk food.
  • It never fails to raise at least one chuckle when, in my effort to demonstrate the effects of camera angle choice, I climb on top of my desk in class. It's almost worth the very real risk of ripping one's pants while climbing down.

Monday, September 28, 2009

you can talk and talk and talk...

When I became a writing teacher, there were a whole lot of adjustments I had to make...and most of them (as I've moaned about before) have to do with evaluation. Until someone finds out a way to grade student writing using scantron, us writing teachers end up with a whole lot of student essays to grade. Sitting in the room with a stack of papers in one hand and a red pen in the other does weird things to people--personally, it just used to make me bitter and revolutionary--so options are never a bad thing.

I went to student conferences instead of marking up essay drafts a long time ago. Generally, it's superior in every way. It does take up a little more time, but it also is dramatically easier on the soul. It's also more immediate. When students are unwittingly violating key rules, you can explain and demonstrate how things are supposed to work. When students are consciously not doing their work, you can get a glimpse on whether or not they're going to change their ways...and thus remain worthy of your time and attention.

The best part of conferences, though, happens when you can see the shining light of reason dawn in student eyes.

When I run my first batch of conferences, people are more panic-filled than anything else. I have (no exaggeration) had tears shed during week two of the semester. This is mostly because I believe in immersion-learning, meaning throwing the students in the deep end immediately...just so they completely understand how deep really is the water. Nothing I can say, for instance, about leaving yourself enough time to revise is quite as effective as only giving students one week to do their first assignment.

Now, however, is when the class starts to change in glorious ways. People know what they need to do with their papers before they come into my office. When I explain a concept, they nod their heads rather than stare at me like I've lost my mind.

Today, in one of my conferences, I was explaining how argument points should build on each other into a complex, unified thesis. The student was silent for a second before exclaiming "that's a really good note" and diving for something on which to write down my words o' wisdom.

I've been doing this silly job for years, so I should be able to occasionally "wow" them with my knowledge...but it's always nice to see visual proof that I am indeed not a fraud.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

music and fate

Ages ago, I chronicled my experience trying to get into a band (which is, incidentally, better written and more accurately descriptive of my feelings than I recall). Since then, my lifelong relationship to music has more or less followed a predictable pattern: restring a guitar, mess around with it for a few days, get buried in an avalanche of work, forget about the guitar, sit on my couch grading, see guitar gathering dust, get all mopey and contemplative, repeat cycle. Throughout it all, the one constant was feeling that the "guitar player" part of my identity was slipping away, decaying through its half life, leading me inevitably and inexorably to a point where I become merely a guy who used to think of himself as a guitar player when he was younger. This, I believed, was fate.

Things inevitably happen, though. During my really good weekend recently, I found myself, during the course of one evening's drinking, going from "guy who sometimes likes to still think of himself as a guitar player occasionally" to "guy who is somehow in a band with another guitar player and a drummer." Then we somehow recruited a bass player before the weekend was out. Then we set a rehearsal date...and it seemed that for once, I was finally able to slap fate in the mouth.

Figuring more distortion could only help cover how out of shape my playing was, I went online and purchased a highly recommended distortion pedal from a well-reviewed music store. However, it never came, and when I finally contacted the store, they told me that their post office loses about a package a week...and it apparently was my I still don't have it. Sigh...score one for fate.

But I was hoping for improvement. When it finally came time to play together, I was pleased to find out that I was not as rusty as, by all rights, I should be. My fingers were actually cooperating. Moreover, my 1973 Les Paul Custom (which, in a fit of madness, I actually contemplated selling) sounded amazing when I was able to crank up the volume on the Marshall and put the spurs to it. And the day turned out fairly productive...we faked our way through some parts of songs, developed fragments of three original songs, and assembled a list of cover songs to learn.

Lest it seem that everything was going too smoothly or that I was coming out ahead, however, my amplifier started to make some weird noise when I first plugged in...we initially just put it down to schmutz in the system. Then I went to show our bass player a chord progression, touched her instrument, and received an electrical shock. Wondering if it was me or her, I touched the other guitar player's instrument and was shocked again. Near the end of the session, I was doing a stupid "never stop soloing" moment at the end of the song, and the other guitar player grabbed my instrument to stop me...and herself received a massive electrical blast.

Initially, we thought it must've been just the result of rental house wiring (where landlords regularly do not overly concern themselves with building codes or proper standards of maintenance). Yet when I went over to my guitar player's house this week to work out some parts, my amplifier refused to do anything other than an electronic gargle. So, having realized that my amp was on the verge of death, I took it to a recommended repair shop. Only two problems, though. First, I have to pay for the first hour in advance (which works out to be $70). Second, they'll get to the amp in 2-3 weeks. This wouldn't be a problem if I was still "occasional guitar player guy," but we have a practice session lined up for Friday.

Yes, it's not just my almost overwhelming workload that prevents me from being a's also some twisted combination of fate and whatever vindictive deities rule the world of electronic sound amplification.

But I won't let it get me down. This time, I'll just strum really loudly.

Monday, August 31, 2009

good times

A few weekends ago when I was sick, I laid on the couch, moaned a whole lot, and watched a lot of HGTV. This, in the end, was a mistake. I saw lots of programs with 22 year old couples either looking to buy or to spruce up their first house. I saw "What kind of house does $600,000 buy you" shows? I saw plenty of youngsters much better off than me. I wanted to punch them all in the left eye.

Normally, HGTV has a lot going for it...the general joy of watching a television network full of personality-driven shows but with hosts who have utterly no personality at all. The horrible production values. The sheer number of annoying idiots. All of it is generally hilarious. However, it does entirely too good of a job of stoking my class hatred and making me a bitter man.

It's funny how much good a weekend changes things. And indeed, it was a weekend in a number of ways:

  1. Friday night started with sushi with my wonderful spousal unit. Mackerel might just be my new favorite.
  2. Out to the best bar with good friends makes a Friday night just go right.
  3. Discovering a very good local band also really helps.
  4. Later that night, a friend asked if I wanted to get together and play some music. In an hour, another friend was recruited. I wasn't expecting to get into a band. However, it is awesome.
  5. It's a good feeling to close out the bar...especially when you get to walk home with very funny-drunk friends and wake up with absolutely no hangover the next day.
  6. Day two had a post-dissertation party at a friend's place with many more friends. Oh yeah, with homemade Bucyrus bratwursts. The weekend went from awesome to tremendous.
  7. Out to another nightclub, which I also ended up closing down with more friends. Minus the karaoke, the sweet sixteen party wearing weird costumes, and a truly awful Belgian beer, it was still a blast.
  8. Sunday? A day with my darling spousal unit, which is about as perfect as imaginable.

There are times when I start to feel left behind in life, stuck in a non-tenure job, stuck as a renter, living year 11 in a town I thought I'd only be in for 4. Then there are weekends like this one, where all I wanted was my friends to get full time jobs in the area so it would always be like this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

roid rage

Earlier, I moaned and whined about getting a cold at the end of summer (I know what you're thinking...Mike? Complaining? I just doesn't sound like me). I started out on Aug. 13 just feeling slightly icky with a sore throat. Then I started to feel get all fevery and dizzy. It was quite depressing, mostly because I knew, deep down inside, that it really was not the result of too much partying or something.

I spent time laying on the couch. I watched more HGTV than any man should bear. I realized just how tougher than I is my darling spousal unit. Moreover, however, I spent a lot of time not doing the paper I had started...fever dreams and academics, I long ago learned, do not really go togethe all that well.

After about a week, the fevers and ickiness generally went away. However, the cough was refusing to budge. I seemed to notice that the more I talked, the worse it got, so I tried to avoid spouting off my opinions whenever I had an audience. However, the cough still didn't completely go away. The only real change is that my friends seemed happier to see a less talkative me.

I started teaching this week, and for me, that involves long periods of using The DuBose Teacher Voice, which can be, if I might say, an awesome entity. Yet my throat was suffering for it. I decided that, rather than adapting all the other Tom Waits mannerisms (which I couldn't really do anyway...I don't have a good hat), I would finally break down and go see the doctor.

He told me that I most likely had a viral thing (his words), but it had gone away. My throat and sinuses were still inflamed, however, so he gave me a stepped dose of a steroid/anti-inflammatory. When I mentioned this on my Twitter feed, I was bombarded by friends (?) pelting me with horror stories about steroid side effects. I half expected to turn into the Hulk (the Incredible or Hogan...either/or) by the end of the day. My only solace in this was that if I were to go all green, bloated, and rampaging, at least there was a good chance it would happen while I was teaching. If nothing else, that would cut down on disciplinary problems amongst the students.

There were no side effects that I noticed while at work. When the day of teaching had finally ended (around 9:45...yes, PM...damn class schedules), I drove home while blasting Green Day, and I noticed my throat was too sore from five hours of giving Exclusive Command Teaching Performances to sing along. It lessened the effect, for sure.

Then, a while after arriving in the arms of beautiful spousal unit, after giving time for my mind to supposedly calm down post-teaching, I went to bed. This is when things started to change. Now, I've had mild insomnia issues for some time. I've always had nights where my brain wouldn't shut off. Last night was definitely one of them, but with the added twist of thinking of random stuff at an extremely high speed. My brain was pulling all its normal tricks (getting caught into obscure song lyrics, trying to find new uses for bratwurst, composing a musical on the life of Asian Dawn leader Hans Gruber* but as if sung by chipmunks), but it was doing it at auctioneer rate, as if someone had tripped my mind's switch to 78. Of course, this made sleep nigh-near difficult.

So far, though, this could be traced to simple hangover from week one of teaching. Then everything subtly changed. As I lay there, trying to block out my brain while not disturbing my slumbering, wildebeest-snoring spousal unit, I realized that I could feel my head. I mean, I could really feel my head. I started being able to feel just my left ear (and its surrounding areas) in excruciating detail. Then I was also able to feel a bit of the back of my neck. There was one patch of hair in particular where I could feel the spikes at the end of the follicles. My head swayed and tingled. This might've been enjoyable if I at least had a Tommy Chong-esque "wow, man" attitude to go with it, but when you couple it with a brain which can't quit analyzing fictional animal musicals, it was less than enjoyable...somewhere on the road to annoying, if you wanna know the truth.

Eventually, the sensations in my head started to fade, and the conversations in my brain, while not really going away, at least had the decency to bore me into slumber (giving me the added benefit of knowing how my friends, when around me, generally feel. Waking up was relatively hard today, but so far, no lingering steroid side-effects.

At least I know know how professional athletes feel.

* ten points for the first person to get this reference.

Monday, August 24, 2009

classroom fail

Hi there. I'm a teacher. Currently, I teach writing. However, today certain events and locations began to conspire against me.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I like my job. Generally, I like my university. I love my department. Hell, I think my building is pretty damn skippy...even if they did have to replace the roof less than a year after the building opened.

I can even deal with my classroom having three glass walls and facing the building lobby. It's a bit weird, and I feel kind of fishbowl-esque. However, I'm tapping into the whole self-delusion angle and believing that it's because I'm so damn pretty. Maybe they're filming me for a reality show. Who knows?

The problem is with technology. I have a computer, projector, document camera, dvd player, and every bell/whistle you can ask for. What do I not have? Why, it's a board on which to write. No chalkboard. No white board. And, as it's a writing class, being able to write is kind of important.

I have developed a workaround. I turn on the document camera, put a piece of blank paper under that, and write on that. It's far from ideal, though. I burn through a lot of paper, especially since it's a 2 hour 10 minute class. And every time I write anything, the "intelligent" sensors in said document camera decide to refocus and readjust the white balance, which takes a focus. Also, I can swear it makes my already ugly handwriting look even worse.

Ultimately, though, I'm mostly unhappy because of the utter silliness of it all. They could afford an expensive document camera, an expensive projector, but could not fork over for a white board? I have to use hundreds of dollars of technology as a workaround for their failure to install a simple chalk board?

Once again, Kafka shows its relevance to the modern university.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

damnation and groceries

I now no longer need to go to hell when I die.

This weekend is BGSU's "move-in" weekend. Freshmen are coming into town. The dorms are filling up. The roads are clogged with minivans hauling the little brats and their parental units. Meanwhile, the upper classmen are gathered on front lawns, sitting on outdoor couches or crammed at a rate of 3,857,336 per acre on front yards, drinking Natty Light and playing beer pong. It's much like being in Angangueo, Mexico...but with more public urination and less butterflies.

For those of us non-students, this arrival is more a sign of defeat than anything else. It signals that we have lost the city. There are now places we can't go without fearing for our sanity. We can no longer walk the streets at night without fear of stepping into student vomit or being shot with bb guns. Every night, instead of being sung to sleep by the birds, we'll now hear hour after hour of "woooooo!s" and bad classic rock.

I took a non-driving friend to the grocery store. Alas, move-in weekend was utterly the wrong time to do it. From the moment we stepped into the store, we were in trouble.

It wasn't too bad in the produce department...because none of them actually eat fruits or vegetables. However, none of them know how to pilot a shopping cart or observe rules of the road, so it quickly became difficult maneuvering. Every so often, there would be a knot of undergrads, accompanied by some bewildered parent, staring at the shelves in wonder.

These tie-up slots were predictably scattered throughout the front of the instant soup, in front of the mac & cheese (store brand, of course), in front of the frozen food. Each of them had a deer-in-the-headlights/"which variety of ramen is perfect for me" glazed expression. Of course, I didn't need to fight them for such product (as I was searching for elements of food, not the "food-like products" favored by undergrads). However, I had to work my way around them,, which required a mixture of brute force and stealth...along with a NASCAR-esque willingness to trade paint. More than once, another shopper, after seeing my cart piloting, complemented me on my technique.

I probably only got half of what I need, but that's okay...I just needed to escape. Grocery shopping should not make you feel like you've earned a single-malt Scotch.

However, all such bets are off when you enter the special hell of a grocery store in move-in week.

Monday, August 17, 2009

on health, causality, and indulgence

Ever since I was a wee lil' tike, I've always confounded doctors and annoyed friends with my normal propensity to health. This started with my teeth.

Like everyone, I was given lots of instructions on proper tooth care. I saw the goofy films in elementary school. I had teachers and dentists alike demonstrate proper flossing technique on oversized demonstration dentures. One year, they even gave us these pills which, when we sucked on them after brushing, supposedly showed all the plaque we missed by making it purple. I was assured that proper dental hygiene would surely mark the difference between a life of friends, women, fame, and fortune, and a life lived in a cardboard box in a gutter of a ghetto, with only a rabid mouse for company.

In spite of all this cajoling and instruction, I took minimal care of my teeth while a troublesome youth. I brushed swiftly, without purpose. I found flossing vexing and tedious, so I abandoned it for months at a time. Yet I still didn't get cavities. While my siblings were getting their teeth drilled, I would laugh, having learned that the road to happiness and well being lay in total and absolute sloth.

Similarly, with my health, I never broke a bone. I would get colds, but I never had much worse. I never needed my tonsils removed. I never had chicken pox. And I never got rabies, tapeworms, or elephantiasis...of any region.

It was only after realizing I was getting old (thanks to a cute chick I met my first year in Ohio, who loved repeatedly reminding me of my ancientness) that I started to really think about taking care of myself. There were, however, problems. First, I was working for my Ph.D., so anything save reading and writing did not fit into my schedule. Then there was the related health care crisis (short version: it sucked, then I had none). When I finally got good insurance, I felt physically worn down. Additionally, thanks to the general inertia of the scholarly lifestyle (and breakfasts consisting of a whole slab of deep-fried bacon wrapped around a stick of butter), I had gained roughly 437 pounds. It was with a certain amount of trepidation and fear that I was able to schedule a physical to see exactly how far I had slipped.

I reserved time with a general practitioner, a dentist, and an opthamologist. I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, stabbed, and bled. They cut open my head to check on the state of its internal parts.

How did I fare? In spite of everything, there were no problems. Even though I had lived on a grad school diet for years, my cholesterol and all that were fine. My vision was no worse than ever. Even my teeth were relatively solid.

I've been thinking about all of this for a few reasons. First off has been my recent string of summertime injuries (2008's knee then foot, and 2009's toe) have left me shaken. They've also left me wondering if my body, much like my students, is now engaged in a full-blown effort to make me feel old.

That's not all, though. Last week, I was deep into the "friends are visiting, leaving, moving in" week-long drinking binge/spree/lifestyle. Every night for eight days, I found myself either at a bar, a porch, or a street corner, with adult beverages on the agenda. Now I enjoy drinking more than most, but this stretch of bar time, fueled by special occasions and guests, began to feel relentless. Every morning, my stomach felt mildly uncertain and my head felt like cotton. I was losing the ability to focus on anything other than "this is what touring musicians must feel like all the wonder many second albums suck." I surprisingly never had a monstrous hangover the entire week (no splitting headache, no spinning rooms), yet in spite of this, I was getting sick of the daily feeling of uncertainty, both mentally and physically.

I was actually looking forward to my first night of sobriety, when no one would call, asking if I wanted beer, a cigar, or both. I was looking forward to going to bed sober, waking up sober, doing actual work. I was looking forward to reaping the benefits of clean, healthy living.

Of course, I immediately got a cold. And, wouldn't you know, it's not going away all that quickly. Ever since I quit my binge, I've had minor yet persistent mucus production, a sore throat, a transient feverish haze, and a general feeling of "woah" that's prevented me from doing much of anything.

I'm officially sick of it. I'm sick of feeling weird. I'm sick of sitting on the couch watching television. I've seen more HGTV than I can stand. I'm sick of not being able to do much of my own, very necessary, extremely time-sensitive work. I'm sick of the Oscar Wilde-esque fever dreams.

The worst part of all this, however, is that I can't even find a decent metaphor or meaning in all this. "Quit drinking and you will get sick" is not something I really want to believe. "The summer will always end in tears and misery" is too depressing, even for me. I can't shake the comment of a girl I knew in high school, who always told me that I didn't have a cold, it was my brain melting out of my head...but I'm really hoping that one's not right either.

Today's thought is that maybe the drinking then getting sick thing might be connected in some way. Maybe cause is starting to finally catch up with effect. Behavior finally starts yielding results. Baudrillard was wrong.

I certainly hope not. But even if the return of causality is the only lesson to be learned here, I just wish it wouldn't have manifested itself on my health. The end of summer is not, after all, the ideal time to dwell on one's lack of invincibility.

Friday, August 14, 2009

bend and cough

I've been thinking of health care for a little bit. No, not because of the national debate, but because for the second summer in a row, I've ended up with some virtually untreatable foot injury. But, of course, the personal inevitably leads up to the public. I am a scholar, after all.

Obviously, for many of the people, facts in the health care debate don't really matter. The US is far from the leader in health care, we spend more but get less, there are no plans for the government to round up Granny and dispatch her with an ice pick, and so forth. The truth is out there and fairly easy to find, but a lot of people don't care about data, statistics, facts.

Okay, then how about personal narratives?

  • When I got kicked off my parental units's HMO, I was essentially without insurance for years. Thankfully nothing happened. However, I had great potential for disaster. To survive with no insurance, you either have to (a) be willing to kiss your credit goodbye for life if you end up going to a hospital, so most people (b) adopt the "eh, it will take care of itself" attitude which is especially stupid with serious injuries and illnesses.

  • When I started doctoral school, I was required to get mandatory student health insurance. It was minimal and sucked. In fact, the only place without a co-pay was the student health center, about which horror films should be written. Every doctor in the place followed this exact procedure: they'd ask you what was wrong, pretend to listen while replaying last night's Survivor in their head, tell you to open wide, and then go to a 50 gallon drum of miscellaneous pills, grab a handful, and chuck them at your head...with whatever stuck in your mouth being the "prescribed dosage." Literally.

    Okay, not literally, but it wasn't far off. I went in one time, told them I had a cold with a cough that kept me up last night...they gave me Codeine. I had fun that night, but I still realize it wasn't exactly the smartest or most ethical course of treatment.

  • During adjunct hell time, I was back into the no insurance/"it will take care of itself" mindset. Then I got a cyst very uncomfortable place...let's just say "the base of the spine." Okay, damnit, I had an ass-cyst. It hurt like hell to sit, and since I had to drive 75 miles a day to get to various crappy (pun intended) jobs, "wait and see" wasn't an option. Neither, however was a real doctor.

    My solution? I went to an "Urgent Care" place to get diagnosed. After sitting with temp workers and virtually homeless people for two hours (and I really don't mean this as an insult...I've been a temp worker, and I was, during adjunct hell, pretty close to homeless myself), had a 15 minute diagnosis that cost $150. I then had to go to a surgeon to get the cyst drained. This also took 15 minutes, but it cost about $300, if I recall. Admittedly, the assisting nurse was cute, but I was married...and she had to stare at my ass-cyst, so I wouldn't have stood much of a chance even if I was single.

    (Incidentally, I should add the doctors in the Urgent Care place were generally pretty nice and would try to give free samples if a prescription was needed. They understood that their job was to help those left behind from the US health care "system" long as they were lucky enough to have a credit card with some space left on it.)

  • However, not everyone is lucky enough to even be able to do Urgent Care. A few semesters ago, I had a student who had the same type of cyst I had. He also didn't have insurance...but unlike me, he didn't have the credit card to even go to a crappy Urgent Care place. His solution was to just tough it out.

    This guy must've been tough as hell, because he lasted over a month. I was in utter agony after only a week. However, his cyst got infected. I don't remember how he eventually got the cyst fixed, but financially, this must've killed him.

  • Now I have health insurance as part of my job. Moreover, it's actually pretty good. The doctor freaked when I told him I was over 2 years between checkups, but luckily, I had stayed relatively healthy. And now my insurance allows me to regularly see a doctor. But is it perfect? Well, let me briefly regale you with the exciting tale of last year's foot/leg injury:

    Last summer, I decided to start walking every day in an effort to get slightly healthy. This went well for about a month, but then I screwed up a ligament in my knee. The doctor had me X-rayed (a few hundred even with good insurance), gave me some daily stretches, and made me wear a knee brace. However, the knee brace made me walk differently, and this aggravated my plantar fasciitis in the other leg's I had injuries in both legs. Brilliant! Now, by this point, I had sunk a decent amount of coin in co-pays, and I hesitate to think what it would've cost me out of pocket. But how did I cure this? Well, I rested (meaning I reverted to my lazy non-exercising self) and hoped it went away on its own...the exact thing I would've done if I didn't have insurance in the first place!

Go health care! This so obviously doesn't need fixing at all. In fact, bring back the leeches!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

man versus dog

In the mornings, I like to have television on when I eat my breakfast, before I start to work. Since I need to avoid being sucked into any serial shows (my brief experience with The West Wing, which is awesome yet cost me many man hours working on papers taught me that), I put on the NFL network. I love football, but I can quite comfortably ignore and leave anything on that network. So it's good at being mindless television, which is what I need.

Today, however, they caused me to think. Damn them!

Former Atlanta quarterback Micheal Vick, of dog-fighting fame was the subject of discussion. How could he best rehabilitate himself? Had he been banned from the game long enough? Would anyone hire him? How could some team pick him up without becoming embroiled in a PR nightmare?

All legitimate questions, I guess. However, the thing that makes me wonder about sports, television, society, and people in general is the level of emphasis we're putting on this.

Undoubtedly, dog fighting is sick, cruel, inhumane, and needs to be stomped out. However, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail and was suspended by the NFL for over 2 years. Deservedly? Maybe so, but for a point of comparison, Donte Stallworth, another NFL player, ran over and killed someone while drunk. He served a whole whopping 24 days in jail.

The lesson? Obviously, the NFL values dogs more than humans. Food for thought, I guess.

Friday, July 24, 2009

on an overdue happening

I have seen the mountain. I have been to the mountain. Unlike Jimi Hendrix, I did not "chop it down with the edge of my hand." In this, Jimi was temporarily acting like a wimp. If he wanted to be tough, he should've done what I did...bite down that damn mountain with my bare teeth.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, hyper-intelligent cats and fuzzy reptiles from Alpha Centauri 8, I am here to tell you how it is. Remember my repeated moans about "The Paper That Would Not Die 2009 Edition?"

The Paper That Would Not Die is finally dead. Hallelujah.

A little after 1pm, I put the finishing touches on my draft. After many trials, after much avoidance, I have finally finished.

This is, for me, a momentous occasion. Some data to help you understand why:

  • I started this back on May 19th with a simple blog post I couldn't quit thinking about the topic, though, so I wrote the paper.
  • This means I have been writing this damn paper for 57 days, excluding my Florida trip. This is a long time for an article.
  • During this time, I have done three outlines and six major paper reorganizations.
  • My computer file for this essay has 93 files in it (drafts, notes, pdfs, & such), for a total size of 69 megabites.
  • My Works Cited page is currently going onto the 6th page, with 45 entries. I still have to pare these down, but there will still be ahellofalotta sources.
  • The draft itself works out to 26 pages, with 8,084 words. This will inevitably shrink during revision, but still, pretty damn long.

At this point, I plan to give it a once-over for stupid mistakes before checking all my sources (making sure everything that's used as a source in the paper is on the Works Cited & eliminating anything that I don't use). But then, this paper rests for a while. Three of my friends have offered to give the paper a look, so I'll send it off to them this afternoon. But, for at least a week, that's it.

As is, I'm pretty sure that a lot of this is fairly solid. I think it might just be notable and say things no one else has said. I do know the paper needs tightening, and I'm also pretty sure the conclusion will need a polish-bordering on rewrite. For now, though, I am going to take great pleasure in not thinking about this article for a little while.

Except, however, to ask one simple question: who da man? I suspect it might be me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

ain't no cure...

Each year in Bowling Green ends pretty much the same way. It gets moderately warm, with bouts of awful humidity. A large mass of students leave, and we briefly reclaim the town. There are cookouts, cigars on the back porch, walks through town, games of croquet or know, the good stuff.

Then everything starts changing. Some people, realizing they have no definite plans for the next year, start to panic. Some people try to cram in as much work as possible since teaching will leave them no time to do what they love. Some people regress under deadlines, and you don't see them for stretches of time. And then, there's the worst part of the summer: people leave.

This is the thing I've never really gotten used to, even though I've been experiencing it all my life. As an Air Force brat, I regularly had to make new friends every year as families dispersed throughout the globe. When my father retired and we moved to Florida, I marveled at how some of my new friends had known each other for years, since they were little kids. For a while, there was stability...but then I moved up to Ohio, and I had to get used to grad school scattering us to the wind each year.

I've hauled more couches up more stairs than I care to remember. I've helped pack trucks, trailers, car trunks. I've strained muscles walking desks down narrow stairways. I've given the goodbye handshake/hand bump/hug/wave more times than I can recall. And it's been a long time since I realized how many residences in this town I know only because friends used to live in them.

Today, I got to help another friend move. I'm glad for him...he's going to a very good post-doc, which will do great things for his career. And I know that he'll be back...for dissertation defense, for a conference, maybe more. But this wasn't the main thing in my thoughts. Instead, as we were sweating, hauling, cleaning, I realized two things.

First off, I love all my friends dearly. However, you learn a lot about people when there's a mass packing operation. I learned that as wonderful people as my friends are, most of them would never last in factory or warehouse work.

More importantly, though, I was comparing this summer to last, and I realized that, overall, I am in much better shape than I was a year ago. Only one friend is moving away, while two are actually moving back. And beyond that, there are any number of people in this town who, one year ago, were just faces I would see every so often. I'd see this guy at parties, this guy at the coffee shop, this couple only every so often...and now we're friends.

It's good to know that I've connected with a whole circle of people I didn't really know last year. It gives me hope that this time next year, I will know several more people, strangers that have turned into friends. It almost takes the sting away from thinking of all those people who, long having departed this small Ohio town, I see so infrequently.

Such are the bittersweet thoughts of summer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

like a distorted G chord

I often like to think of myself as a cold, hard realist, but deep down inside, I know that in doing so, I'm really just fooling myself. There's a large part of me that's more a dreamer than anything else. Usually, I'm too cynical in authority, structures, and other such cultural movers to ever believe those dreams could, in operation, come true, but not always.

Example one? I still believe in the power of rock and roll. Even when there are experiences which discourage me, bands that let me down, overall I am still hopeful.

I believe, for instance, that the only thing in the whole wide world that sounds better than a distorted G chord played at a healthy volumemight just possibly be the distorted D chord...but only when you also add the open A string. There's just something about that rush of sound that makes all right in the universe at large. Equipment can die (and it has; I've had amps that cost over $200 to retube, and currently my effects unit has forgotten what an octave is). Bands can self-destruct (and, as someone who wants nothing more than to eventually play live music for an audience, I can testify that they have; I've had bands fall apart because of dissertation freakout, drummers jumping ship to old bands, and a thousand other methods of destruction...mostly concerning drummers, though). But when that chord hits, when the individual notes combine into something with greater range and power than anything else on earth, I still believe.

I also have faith in music performers. For every band of my teenage years that's abandoned its principles (Metallica), fell into choreography (Scorpions), forgot how to write a decent song (AC/DC), or just became a commercialized laughing stock/freak show (Ozzy), there are still bands that put it out there every time, that use their music for real purposes, that never, ever forget what's important about being not just an entertainer but a musician.

When the music really hits, it generally connects to something personal. When I first heard Green Day, for instance, it was when "Basket Case" hit local radio shortly after Dookie's release...but before they became an MTV staple (yes, this was back when videos still came on the channel). I was driving across town to my new university, after having my one semester post-community college break turn into several years, and I was undergoing the recurring academic self-doubt. My head was swimming with medieval literature and Soviet history, and "Basket Case" cut through the chatter. I remember thinking that someone had finally nailed the post-punk movement, and they did it by the simple act of learning how to write songs. I bought the album, and it had that same energy and songwriting throughout...and was remarkably consistent.

My college booked Green Day to play our arena right before MTV started playing "Longview," so it was a stupidly cheap concert...student tickets were only $3, so I went with a friend. By the time of the concert, though, MTV was playing them every three minutes, and the audience at the show was, as a result, decidedly "not college"...there were lots of kids there, and it was the first show I ever went to where I felt closer in age to the parent chaperons. It was an amazingly fun time, though...a nice high energy concert.

The good friend that I took to the show and I had a falling out--he quit calling me or even talking to me once his brother turned 21 and he had another designated driver to haul him around--but Green Day was always there.

Time went on. I moved to Ohio and found myself buried in the ungodly heavy workload of a Ph.D. student. Whenever I think of that bleak first year, walking through the student ghetto to campus, adjusting to the biting cold of a northwest Ohio winter, mulling over exactly why I thought I was good enough to be a professional scholar, and contemplating the latest in a line of dating failures/disasters, I remember listening to 1997's Nimrod on my Walkman. By that time, the band's songwriting had become deeper, more layered, and just slightly more adult...and it always helped pick me up and ease the doubts.

Green Day albums continued to be markers in my life. By the release of 2000's Warning, I was both in an amazing relationship while locked into dissertation hell, and the disk's higher level of nuance and adulthood provided a good counterpoint to some of the inanities and insanities of trying to get a reading list past a dissertation committee that sported only one supportive member. 2004's American Idiot's pointed rage and frustration at a world which insisted on not making sense played me through the final year of adjunct hell, and it nicely mirrored the frustration I was feeling at my own senseless, depressing work life. I still haven't absorbed their new one, but I'm sure in ten years, 20th Century Breakdown will also be more to me than just a collection of sounds.

I'm thinking of all this now because last night was the first time I had seen Green Day perform since that 1994 university show. Much has changed. Where I got $3 tickets before, they now cost me $ about another $10 in fees, $15 in parking. I have changed; instead of being an angst and doubt-ridden college junior, I am now a full-fledged college teacher (although still angst and doubt-ridden). Green Day is no longer a scrappy band from the bay area, either...instead, they are dedicated, skilled arena rockers. But man, did they still bring the rock.

We got lotsa stuff off the latest two albums. We got hilarious false starts on Ozzy, Metallica, Kiss. We got explosions, pyro, and a neat set. We got songs from all albums. We got a Motown medley which sounded surprisingly nice. We got kids from the floor pulled up on stage, to be given the mic or (in one case) a guitar (and they were mostly pretty good). We got lifted, carried, and pummeled for almost 2 1/2 hours...and it was awesome throughout.

There is still a high kid ratio at a Green Day concert, but I've become okay with that...because I'm convinced that Green Day, as a band, will never let them down. Although they put on a much different show than they did in 1994, Green Day is still an amazing group of performers. They are also not just mindless rockers; instead, they are saying something, critiquing the media, politics, environment, and it's good to know that kids are exposed to the "question everything" mindset. And as someone who's seen hundreds of college papers on American Idiot, I know that it does prompt serious thought, and it does stick with them.

While that is definitely important, though, it wasn't even the most powerful thing I brought home with me last night. Just like that fabled distorted G chord, Green Day brought me a powerful sense of elation and fulfillment, and the idea that rock and roll can still do that is one of the most beautiful constants in life.

Post 500, by the way. Thanks for reading

Friday, July 03, 2009

yet another reason it sucks to be a renter

While the contractors are done by several days reconstructing my house, the house next door (run by the same landlord) required more significant work...namely, all the brick and block work on the front was demolished and is being rebuild. I hesitate to imagine the cost, but luckily, I don't really have to concern myself with this of the few joys of having to pay to live in someone else's house.

However, the day before yesterday, I was vividly reminded that the workers were in fact still actively working. It was the sound of jackhammers that reminded me. I also noticed that the workers were using a few minor power tools...tied into a long extension cord that was plugged into an outlet outside of my house. The last few days, they have been taking water out of our outside tap to mix the mortar. Of course, we were never asked nor did we grant permission for either act.

Technically, I believe this is illegal. It is my name, after all, registered with the utilities company. When the bill comes, it is us who have to pay for the contractor's unrequested use of our power and water. And we are not experiencing any practical benefit from my neighbor's house's front being I'm at a loss as to why I should help pay for it.

I also realize that the contractors aren't actually using very much of either the power or water, so practically, there won't be much difference in the bill. However, I can't help but feel a little used. I also can't help but wonder how these guys would feel if I parked in front of their house, plugged in a vacuum cleaner, and started cleaning out my White Castle-littered front seats. Contemplating all this, I have been filled with a raging desire to scream at my landlords for the egregious offense.

Only one problem, though. We live in a town with a whole lot of renters. The landlords here have some serious power and might...more so, I imagine, than National Guard officers. They have the ability to hold serious grudges, any of which might effect how quick maintenance answers work requests...or how much of my deposit I will eventually get back. And if they were seriously tee'd off, I wouldn't entirely put the burning bag o' dog poo past them.

Moreover, I am not exactly coming into a potential conflict from a position of power. People who are lucky enough to own their houses tend to look down upon renters as being less than adequate human beings; during my Florida trip, I even heard apartments as a general concept compared to Sodom and Gomorrah--responsible for crime, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and the swine flu. And what can I do if my comments to my landlord, no matter how legitimate they might be, lead to a battle of wills? I am not a lawyer--nor do I have access to one--so a lawsuit against a vindictive landlord is not really an option.

It's not a great feeling to know that you are right, that you have a legitimate complaint, that you are in fact being taken advantage of, yet that you can do absolutely nothing about it.

It's another example of the strange and terrible plight of the renter.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

why culture scares me

In the course of doing other research, I ran across a listing of last week's cable TV ratings...and I am now officially scared.

Many things were not surprises. Wrestling still ranks high, as did the John & Kate "We're getting a divorce! Gee, why did having our entire lives filmed not work out great for us?" spectacle. Many original cable shows such as The Closer and the awesome Burn Notice also rank high.

However, there was one entry I've never heard of. The third most watched show of last week was some made for tv movie on Disney called (and I am not making this up) Princess Protection Program. The plot, according to its IMDB page, involves:
When a tiny country is invaded by a dictator, a young Princess (later known as Rosie) is taken into custody by the Princess Protection Program. She is whisked away to rural Wisconsin where she must learn the ins and outs of behaving like a normal American teenager. In the process of adapting to her new life, Rosie gives her new friend and roommate, Carter, a few lessons in how to act with royal aplomb...

Great. Because all we need as a culture are more Disney princesses. Also, the average American teenager is apparently a boy-obsessed cheese farmer or something...most certainly white, though. Heaven forbid a program speculate on the existence of urbanite ethnic others.

What's scarier than this, though, is that not only did this program crack the top 20, so did two separate replays. Yes, it was not just one but three of the most watched programs! Watched by over 17,378,000,000 viewers! And it says the average teenager is a white rural Wisconsinite!

Right now, I'm just glad I don't have kids who might try to make me watch this with them.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

deconstruction and the academic

There are mixed joys inherent in being a renter rather than an owner. Chief among these is maintenance. Our house seems to need this more often than I would like (noted by things such as the great shower collapse of 2007), but on the plus side, at least I don't have to pay for it. However, this also means that I experience, over our humble abode, a complete lack of control. This, of course, has massive effects on my writing. Why wouldn't it?

The plan was, after 2 weeks off due to a faux reunion, an aborted evening of bocce ball (which, of course, morphed into a night at the sports bar), a day drinking beer out of plastic buckets while listening to polka and contemplating leiderhosen, and an afternoon traversing the grocery store mecca that is Ann Arbor, to get back to work on what I have started thinking of as The Paper Which Would Not Die, 2009 edition. I always end up writing papers that require I learn whole fields of knowledge of which I am unversed before dismissing them wholesale. This year's edition of this paper involves studying political economy--more specifically, trashing Marx, Frankfurt school Marxism, and British Culture Studies. It is not a task for the faint of heart. Moreover, it does require concentration.

So, Monday was spend doing errands (recycling, getting stamps, house cleaning, and shoveling wild yak carcasses out of the study). Yesterday, I was to refresh my theoretical chops by plowing through several Gramsci-related articles. Today was to be The Day of Drafting...or more accurately, the day of trying to remember what I was thinking when I abandoned drafting to go down to Florida.

So how well is this working so far? Well, to truly understand, you must understand the principle of deconstruction.

No, I don't mean Derrida-inspired deconstruction but that of the home repair genre. Since the spousal unit and I moved in, there has been problems with our brick facade on the front of our house...mainly, it has been cracking and falling down. I suspect they did not use weather-proof bricks. The landlords, in their infinite wisdom, decided this week was the time to repair our houses...but in stages. Friday, the contractors pulled out a few cinder blocks holding up our front porch but did not replace them. Monday, they finally replaced said blocks, but they also removed a row of bricks, thus exposing the structure to one house wall when there was a (thankfully unfulfilled) 75% chance of rain. These bricks only got replaced yesterday....when the contractors removed all the bricks off our neighbor's facade.

Come to think of it, this is actually exactly like Derrida deconstruction.

Anyway, just when I thought the worst was behind me, just when I thought I could get back to writing, just as I'm walking to the study with my coffee (which is, after all, a vital part of the writing process...right up there with Tetris and Solitare), the construction crews break out a jack hammer.

At this point, I don't want to know what they're up to. Did the repairs really need to be done this week? While I should feel thankful that our landlords finally want to start improving this place (and how about a good extraction fan for our bathroom?), I also gotta think that the house has stood like this for five years. Why now?

My latest theory is that the contractors are secretly agents from some communist country (is Albania still communist? Mongolia?) sent to undermine the American education system by creating distractions which stifle the academic advancement of some poor non-tenure faculty stuck in Bowling Green who desperately just wants to write scholarship that does nothing for his job but can't concentrate because of the damn jackhammering.

Hmmm. Now I'm feeling rampant paranoia. Luckily, that also is a vital ingredient in the writing I'm hoping that these balance out in the end.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

homes that are no more

When I first moved to Ohio from Florida, I was always astounded at the level of stereotypes some Northerners had about my old home, the South. They treated it like it was a different country, like it was a place of stupidity and ignorance, like it was a waste land in most senses. I chalked a lot of this up to an unwillingness on many of their parts to critically look at their own surroundings...they were quite comfortable deconstructing an "other," but to deconstruct themselves? Many simply could not do it. A prime example came in one of my classes, where a long-forgotten student, talking about his own trip to the South, said "they're racist down there...not like up here." This student then couldn't figure out why I and three students-of-color were all laughing.

There are, admittedly, key differences between the two regions, the most obvious of them being the openness of the South in revealing its idiosyncrasies. People who feel strongly about race, about politics, about anything at all are quite willing to tell you. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this, you are also more apt to see the difference at work. Yes, there is an open level of anti-African American racism in many quarters, but I also see more places where both blacks and whites mix socially. For that matter, I see more mixed race couples than I do up here. Chalk it up to what Patterson Hood calls "the duality of the Southern Thing."

These are some of the dominant things stuck in my mind when I think about my basic faux-reunion trip, because the trip has made me reconsider much about my past, and my relationship to my previous place I called home.

When I first met my friend T, the first words out of his mouth were "I feel so much a liberal, I'm thinking about joining the Communist party." I do know how he feels. Personally, I saw a previously smart person I know espousing views that put him within shouting distance of a Libertarian militia. I saw news broadcasts overrun with stories about police shootings. I heard the terms HUD, apartment complex, blacks, poor, and crime made synonymous.

Now don't get me wrong...much of this, I was expecting. Jacksonville has always been a right wing, conservative enclave. However, my personal distance from all this was thrown, during this trip, into sharp contrast.

And it was not the only time where I felt my differences.

Because of my differences with most of my classmates, I avoided the reunion. I realized that to spend a C note to get into a honkey tonk's VIP room one night and eat at a hotel buffet while listening to 80s music would, in addition to just plain costing too much, be dishonest both to who I was in high school and who I am now. And when I talked to my friends, the ones I did connect with and in fact wanted to see, I realized that they felt similar. One friend, D, upon hearing I would not be going at all, developed a deer-in-the-headlights "I gotta go through this alone?" look of terror.

Instead of the reunion, I decided to stay true to my high school character and went to a heavy metal show with some friends. Some of the bands, however, made me feel way too distanced from my heavy metal past. There was way too much cookie monster singing. Way too much stuff was in dropped-D tuning. Hardly anyone on stage looked like they were having a good time...certainly not the singer in a (no lie) clown mask. I did get to see an awesome band called Glorious Gunner that made me cackle with joy, but it was clear this is an identity I can no longer claim wholesale.

I felt very disconnected with the city. Distances became too long. The environment, littered with an increasing number of gambling parlors and strip clubs, seemed more scummy than anything. The heat was way too oppressive. And the "strip malls and subdivisions" layout of many areas just bored me.

What did I still enjoy? Well, there is the food. Day one, I had great fish. Midwesterners still don't get fish, but then again, they only see 2 week old garbage in the grocery stores. I also had great barbecue, and that alone marks the South as a truly cultured part of the country. And how can a place which has boiled peanuts be entirely bad?

Then there are the family and friends, people with awesome talents, hidden depths, lives both heroic and tragic. I have not told half of whom I've seen or what I did, but if anything could draw me back, it would be them.

In the end, though, it was clearer to me than ever that Jacksonville is not my home, and nor will it ever be. And although I feel sadness for having to leave many people, they are the only thing there to which I'm really attached. We will all have to come to terms with me only, from now on, being a visitor to the place that used to be my home. It's a feeling that I've known for a while, but this trip made it clear. Moreover, I also feel fine knowing that this is how things are.

Although I would admittedly feel better about everything if I could just get good barbecue up here.