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.