Friday, January 23, 2009

cd warehouse sale now over! Thank you for participating.

emotion and technology

The first real video game was Space War!, but I've never actually seen the original. The first commercial game was Pong, but the first one I remember seeing was Breakout. We were living in Germany on an Air Force base, and the base pizza parlor had a console. I don't remember playing it myself, though.

Not too long after we moved to South Carolina, we got our first video game system. I don't remember the name of the system, but it had four built-in games: Tennis (a Pong derivative), Racketball (don't remember how this was different than pong), Squash (ditto), and a shooting game. In the last game, a big white dot bounced around the screen, and you got to shoot it with a Dirty Harry-esque handgun.

There was a video arcade near the SC base that I'd visit from time to time. On Fridays, they would let you play all you wanted from 8 to 11 for 3 dollars. I would go, jump from game to game, and play until my eyeballs felt like they were about to spontaneously combust. I sucked at the games, but I had one hell of a time killing aliens, shooting tanks, and stabbing monsters.

Later, we finally got an Atari 2600, which took the idea of video games, for me, from a curiosity to a really engaging diversion. I was particularly taken with Yar's Revenge (one of the most fun ways to shoot aliens), but I also remember me and my brother pooling our Christmas money to buy their version of Defender for $50...which is over $110 today.

The Atari was the last system I owned, but I did play others. Many friends had the NES, and I learned that I (a) sucked at Super Mario Brothers, (b) loved fighting in Blades of Steel, and (c) giggled at the racism of RBI Baseball (where all players were white). When I played the Sega, I marveled at the speed of Sonic. I didn't have a lot of experience, but I was pretty sure I knew what video games were.

Later on, though, friends made a point of undermining my outdated knowledge of video games. While I was busy getting a degree, my friends informed me, video games had grown up. There were intricate stories, a variety of genres, many points of view, more dazzling technology. I accepted this, of "young punk" friends were more experienced in this than I. But I only accepted it on an intellectual level. I didn't really know for myself.

Then I got a Wii. Frankly, my main experience with the Wii to date is being constantly surprised by how I react to the games. I wasn't prepared for the atheticism/strategy combination of Wii Sports, for one. Boom Blox I bought because I wanted to smash things. However, there is much more depth, strategy, and subtlety than I was expecting. Wii Fit has actually made exercise something that does not bore me into submission. Exercise can be fun? Apparently so.

But mainly, I wasn't expecting the emotional aspect of the games. I find any number of Wii elements to be very cute. For those of you who don't know me, "cute" is usually the fastest way to turn me off, but I'm enjoying the cuteness of the Wii. Also, I'm reacting weird to the Miis. For those of you who are Wii-inexperienced, you create a virtual version of yourself and use that avatar to play the games. The Wii tends to populate the background of the games with whatever Miis you've created...celebrities, politicians, historical figures, and friends. I find it really funny when I'm playing a game and see Groucho Marx, Teddy Roosevelt, or some character from The Office. However, I also see Miis of my friends show up...and that makes me feel warm and good in ways I can't really yet describe.

Furthermore, I love how it attracts the non-video game crowd. My spousal unit is now a full blown addict. She's got friends of hers who've probably never played a video game in their life to enjoy the Wii.

The Wii continues to shock and surprise me. And I haven't even got to kill a single video game alien or monster yet!

has it been that long?

When I first met her, it was her smile I noticed. There were plenty of other things that could stick in one's mind, but the lights up rooms. It's amazingly warm, friendly, and inviting...and it makes me feel magnificent, when I see her smile, like somewhere, somehow, I must have done something right in my life to be so well rewarded.

She's the warmest person I know. One quintessential Lori moment? We took a very brief trip to Spain so I could present at a conference. On our third (and last) day, we were walking down some back streets in Alcala (just south of Madrid), past shops and boutiques. As we passed a bistro, a gust of wind blew down a sign outside a restaurant we just passed. The fairly burly restauranteer came out to reset the sign, but Lori already beat him to it. The man didn't need help and couldn't thank Lori anyway, but that didn't matter...Lori saw an opportunity to help someone and did so, without thinking.

She's also hilarious. Much of her hilarity is probably unintentional. Her stories, for instance, often follow their own interesting internal logic, which escapes most conventions of order...she can start out talking about her grandmother and end up in a discussion of jelly packaging, and it somehow makes sense to her. In many respects, it's like being married to Gracie Allen, which means my life with her will always be interesting.

She also can be fabulously lively and crude. She'd hit me if I told too much, but one example will suffice. Since we got a Wii, I've noticed that she can have a tremendously foul mouth. Sneak a serve past her while playing tennis? A throw in Boom Blox doesn't have the proper effect? She gets blown up in Mario Kart? You will hear language out of her that would make most sailors look twice.

The calendar says that come tomorrow, we've been married six years. While I still intimately remember the day (and the city hall ceremony, the room decorated with plans to expand Wooster Street, where we became contractually obligated to each other), I have issues with the time. You see, I have a hard time fully remembering what it was like to not have her sitting next to me, to not see her walking up the driveway and smile when she sees me, to not be able to hold her at night before we both drift off to sleep.

It's a day early, but happy anniversary, my dearest spousal unit. I can't imagine being without you.


I have to admit something: although I have been public in my support of Obama through the election, I was not sure I really trusted him. I liked him, for sure. Having a president who was presentable and articulate would be a nice change, and I suspected that he would be a better president than #43 (but then again, a dead vole would be better). But trust him?

I had been burned before. I voted for Clinton the first time, largely because I thought the idea of universal health care was a good one. Should the ability to be NOT the exclusive right of those with lots of money? That didn't (and still does not) seem right. So the failure of Clinton to pursue...hell, their total abandonment of health care in general really stung. Although lots of good things did come out of those 8 years, I lost my ability to really trust politicians.

So, while I loved the rhetoric of Obama, and I definitely thought he was better than the McCain/lunatic governor ticket, I'm not sure I fully trusted him. Secretly, I was expecting the same "great run to the center" as Clinton, where many campaign promises get thrown out.

So, what has happened in the first week?

  • Guantanamo Bay has been closed. If we really are a great country, do we need a secret place offshore where we can keep prisoners outside of American scrutiny, where we can hold people forever without charges, facts, evidence? America should not need to sneak around in the dark if we are as much of a force for good as we think.
  • Also, Obama has officially banned the use of torture. This is definitely an issue of morality, to be sure, and I really didn't like being a part of a country that had to stoop to such awful methods. But there is another concern: torture simply does not work. To quote the last linked article:

    Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information." In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones.

  • Also,he has ended the funding ban on overseas abortion groups. Now, no matter how you feel about abortion, it is in fact legal in America. And by banning all funding for overseas family planning clinics who offer abortion as an option, the government was unjustly interfering with the rights of Americans living overseas (mostly military) by denying them rights available to the average citizen. Unlike many so-called conservative pundits, I'm really against the government specifically robbing US citizens of their rights.

There is a ton of stuff for which I'm still waiting, of course. I still want habeas corpus reinstated, because I don't like the idea that I can be locked away without ever being charged. I still want some movement on civil unions/marriages for gays, because I hate the idea of a large segment of our population being denied basic human rights just because of their choice of partners. I still want some good solution to the Palestine/Israel war, because, as we've had such a large hand in this conflict, we need to be part of the solution. I still need to see the US regain all the international stature we've lost and quit being seen as a power-hungry bully. The US also has to take the lead on working to preserve rather than poison our environment. I don't like the government having the power to covertly go through my private records on a whim. The list goes on.

But, for the first time, I am hopeful...and that is a really nice feeling.

PS: Obama also revives the Freedom of Information Act. Best line? "The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails." Cool.

Monday, January 12, 2009

the quest

When I was an undergrad, for some strange reason, I took a lot of medieval literature courses. The professor was cool, but that wasn't the main point. Rather, there was a continuing theme that ran through the sagas and poems, one that stuck with me, one that had been a part of my personal existence for some time. After taking a few undergrad courses (and this, of course, makes me an authority on the subject...doesn't it?), I am convinced that the vast majority of medieval literature was about one thing: the quest.

In medieval literature, heroes are always going on find some revered object like the foreskin of some long-dead saint, to slaughter and kill others who worship a different deity, to discover the magic rock that will turn any object into either gold or a better long distance plan, something like that. Likewise, teachers of this literature love to push the idea of a quest, usually so they can shove in some cheesy metaphor ("the quest of Sir Gawain to find the magic chalice that will kill the dragon is much like our own quest for knowledge to slay the beast that is ignorance," the teacher will say, as we, the students, try to hide our gagging faces). When discussing quests, these teachers also love to use the theories of some pseudo-hippy philosopher like Joseph Campbell, who's better suited for men who love gathering around fires, wearing loincloths, and beating their drums while reciting Iron John poetry.

In spite of the high schmaltz factor involving quests, I always have been drawn to them. Maybe it's some cultural memory of the time when my European ancestors were searching for the magic dragon or something (although they were more likely working the fields for that questor). Maybe it's some personal search for meaning. Maybe it's just a need for motion, a need to justify some largely irrational action...but the lure of the quest does call to me, from time to time.

In high school, quests would revolve around wild hairs. One of my friends was used to me knocking on his door at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, bundling him into my car, and the two of us driving from store to store, all around town, in the religious pursuit for someone, anyone, who had some used Frank Zappa...or that special brand of guitar pick...or bottles of iced coffee (rare, in those pre-Starbucks days). We would hardly ever find what we were looking for, but my friend would have plenty of opportunity to bitch about things, I'd have plenty of opportunity to smoke incessantly while driving around town, and we both would listen to a lot of loud music. Thus, the quest was good.

Eventually, everything else became a quest. I didn't go out to eat but instead looked for the perfect pizza. I didn't go out to a club but instead looked for the ultimate band. I didn't start college for an education but instead looked for the perfectly original idea. I didn't start dating but instead scanned the horizon for the one perfect person who actually got me...which was the one quest that, happy to say, I actually finished. All the others? They were important more for the motivation, the imposition of drive, and, of course, the voyage itself.

I still quest, but I do so with an increased awareness...that the main point of the quest is to bring drive and reason to what would normally be merely the mundane. Today's quest was a simple one, but it's one that, as always, taught me immeasurable lessons about life, the world, philosophy, and everything else imaginable.

Some time in December, I bought a Nintendo Wii. It's a fabulously fun system, and the spousal unit particularly has taken to it in a way that I wouldn't have expected...seeing as she probably hasn't ever played one before for more than a few minutes (and now she devastates me at Wii Tennis quite frequently). When we bought the system, we also wanted to get the WiiFit, but the store was out. I've tried to find it a few other times, but the display cases stubbornly remain empty. The WiiFit has become elusive, more so every time I hit Meijer and note its absence. Normally, this would just depress me, but instead, I realized that all the ingredients were lining up.

My desire for a WiiFit has officially become a quest.

First, the spousal unit and I entered an agreement to always look for one if we go into a store where they might be sold. Then, realizing that I didn't have to teach today until 5:45 and already had lesson plans done, I decided the time was right for an all-out store assault.

Final score? Seven stores visited. Absolutely no WiiFit to be found.

I started at a gaming store. They told me they get one a week. Toldeo Meijers didn't have anyone working the area, but they were certainly out. Toys-R-Us told me there are rumors of them getting one in either Friday night or Saturday morning. Best Buy looked like a Wii-seeking tornado had plowed through and taken half of their games...but leaving a massive stack of Guitar Hero sets intact. Target didn't even have the core system. Lord help me, I even went into Wal-Mart, but they were out as well. By this point, I was beginning to suspect that all WiiFits were swept into some Hadron Collider-created alternate dimension...because they sure aren't here.

By the time I got to Circuit City, I had developed a fairly zen-like sardonic approach to the whole deal. When the guy (who looked suspiciously like Seth Rogan) asked if he could help me, I told him, "I'm on a doomed quest for the WiiFit...don't suppose you have any, do you?" He told me that they actually had eight in the store Sunday, but they were gone within ten minutes. Apparently, when they get mentioned in the sales papers, people camp out. He recommended I do the same. I dunno, but it feels more like trying to get Stones tickets (which I've done & is a story unto itself) than a video game. There has to be a better way, but none has been suggested as of yet.+

Ultimately, I suspect that the WiiFit never existed to begin with...that it's all some giant, conspiracy-driven viral marketing campaign-slash-social experiment-slash-paranoid delusion of my own doing...that the quest I'm on is ultimately doomed, that I will wander the streets forever looking for something that only exists in the rolls of myth, lore, and legend.

Will that stop me, though? Hell,'s a quest.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

to tweet or not to tweet

I've been cross-posting my Twitter posts to this blog. However, they are also going to the sidebar widget (look right, damnit), and they are now my Facebook status updates. Plus, you can (and should) always just follow me on Twitter.

Because my tweets are available elsewhere, I have suspended the auto delivery, and I'm going to delete the ones here...they mess up the aesthetics and flow of the site.

Back to your regular browsing, please.

the break that is--the mental edition

For me (and, I suppose, many academics), vacations are a double-edged sword. It might be sold to us as a time of rest and celebration, but really, it's the time when we learn whether we should be laughing or crying.

On the plus side, the break is a chance to get away from the often crippling teaching load and do some of the scholarly work which played such a huge role in drawing us into the life to begin with. I, for instance, entered this academic vida loca because I loved reading. Furthermore, I love writing about what I have read.

I gotta be more specific here. While the actual drafting process usually makes me want to drive spikes through my eyeballs, jump in a swimming pool of loose gravel, and then pour lime juice and salt over the resulting wounds (with some tequila thrown in for good measure--it adds to the pain and also makes a tasty margarita), I love having written, I love planning out my papers, I love finishing a nice draft, I love establishing an analytical order for everything. In the final account, I love the writing process and am truly a better person for it.

This break, I had (as I always tend to have) grand plans. I was going to finish the Great Book Revision, the one that's been driving me into the light pole for ages. I was going to knock out the theory revamp/refiguring is, after all, the most brutal part of the project. It is where all the "aha"s take place, and it largely spells out everything else I've been hinting at throughout the other chapters. After this chapter is done, I really can fly through the rest. There is plenty of language polish afterwards, but that's an easy task for me. There's an introduction to write, but I've been writing that one in my head for years. There's a conclusion, but that's gonna be a mash-up of several existing pieces. In all, this all hinges on the theory chapter.

It figures, of course, that I haven't actually been able to write word one on the thing all break. I think I have the organization figured out, but I won't really know until I can do some sustained blasts o' writing. And I haven't been able to do said blasts because of...well, family commitments, shopping, celebrations, day trips, and all that...the standard mundane holiday tasks which seem to just suck up every spare moment.

Now that it's after New Years, I thought at first that this would be a prime writing time for me. However, I also haven't done nearly enough of my class prep for Spring, and my utterly fabulous teaching load for the upcoming semester is me basically starting from scratch for four different preps. So, instead of my pre-semester binge writing next week, I will instead be slamming together assignment sheets and setting up my Blackboard online course shell...which is both as fun and as vital as it sounds. It's definitely a sarcastic "weee" moment, but it's one which I cannot not do.

On top of that, most other thinking things are stuck in what seems a perpetual holding pattern. There's the CSI: paper which is, at least in the noggin, completely done but waiting for me to finish the damn book. There is now the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles paper festering in the Buffy-esque "I've got a theory!" mode of existence. There is the House, M.D. paper which is still caught in journal reader limbo (6+ months and counting), and there is the New Orleans paper, which is also in reader limbo but has been accepted for a conference....the day before the discounted "early bird registration" ran out. Sigh.

So, in terms of my writing, where does this winter break put me? There's a scene in that magnum opus Big Trouble in Little China where the good guys are captured and blindfolded. Jack Burton tries to covertly ask his friend Wang Chi where they are, but one of the evil Furies (Rain, I believe) instead responds with a forceful and dismissive "you are nowhere." Yep, that's me.

Then there's that other side of the winter break sword. For those of us on the job market, the winter break is the breaking point of the first big wave of jobs. The deadlines have since passed, and most institutions are notifying applicants and setting up interviews. This is particularly true if one applies for jobs in the English field (as do I), because much of this interviewing takes place at the MLA, the big mac-daddy of all English conferences.

Well, me and the MLA, we have this arrangement. Every year, a few months before the conference, I look to see where it is and start contemplating if I should attend, in the lucky event that someone wishes to interview me. I fret about this for a while, send out some more applications, and fret again. When December rolls around, I pay special attention to my cell phone and e-mail, in case anyone tries to contact me to schedule a last minute interview. When the conference date itself arrives, I get mean, bitter, and lash out at whomever is nearby. After the conference has ended, I chant some empty mantra about how the job search is not over, that there is still a chance I will find other jobs, get an interview later, then I both hope I haven't alienated any friends and become very thankful that the spousal unit is both forgiving and loving. It's not a great arrangement, but it is, by this point, tradition.

This year, in the final reckoning, I did not make it out to San Francisco for the MLA. There was, apparently, not a whole lot of call for Mike at the conference. Neither did anyone try to make alternate arrangements. This lack of popularity, while certainly not surprising, is at least familiar.

Strangely enough, though, I did not fly into my normal bout of depression. Instead, I've been in a fairly decent mood all break. This I do not understand...and at any rate, my lack of depression is starting to depress me. I'm really hoping I am not becoming resigned to my fate.

At any rate, I know that my success at the job market is by now inextricably tied to my success getting stuff published, and up until this break, I've been doing good on the production front. Over the summer, I did everything I could do. I had a Dec. 2007 publication (it was in their cue for years) that led to an anthology article...that one comes out sometime in 2009. I pumped out 2 book reviews, already published. I sent out two essays that are, in my eyes, the best things I've ever wrote, even though they are still awaiting judgment elsewhere.

But this break has been mostly writing-free, which puzzles me. And it's not like I've been killing too much time in my "I need to have fun" activities. Hell, my guitars are all about in their 6th month of staring at me in neglect. Yes, I have a Wii, but I really have only been using that when all I would've been doing is watching football pregame shows or Food Network programs.

I'm really hoping this is not the resignation phase. I still want this. I can still do the work. I still have ideas that need to be heard, that no one else is saying. I still need the critical engagement. I still have been singing Two Cow Garage's line "I'm not gonna burn out 'cause things didn't turn out like I planned." Honestly, I'm still into the whole scholarship bit.

I just need to produce, and it needs to start happening post haste. Is frustration better or worse than paranoid drive? Than desperation? Than gloom and doom? What negative emotion will yield the most positive results, at least in terms of production?

These are the questions which will drive my new year.