Musical tastes from opposite ends of the spectrum 

This morning I woke up to the sound of the radio announcers announcing that Johnny Cash died this morning. I was never a huge fan of his, but I've had a fondness for "Ring of Fire" ever since my first year in grad school, when my classmates and I used to meet at our local pub for weekly dissections of our classes, and someone would always put that song on the jukebox. I'd get it stuck in my head and find myself singing it at random intervals. I went there this afternoon with various friends from the program, and sure enough, people were putting on all Johnny Cash, all the time, as a kind of tribute. We drank a toast. RIP, Mr. Cash.

I'm writing this while listening to Handel's Julius Caesar (the 1967 Victor recording with Beverly Sills and Norman Triegle, borrowed from the public library), and my main thought is, Handel just makes me happy. Last spring I went to a live performance of Xerxes, a rather good student production, and by the end of it I had completely snapped out of the deep blue funk I was in over my complete lack of a career plan or a love life. Note to self, listen to Handel as often as possible this winter.

Anyhow. It's very odd to have Handel on the CD player and Johnny Cash duking it out with Mozart (the "Riconosci in questo amplesso" sextet from the end of Act 2 of The Marriage of Figaro) in my head. Is it still called "radiohead" if your brain insists on playing wildly different stations at the same time?

Dryer lint art 

"I am fully aware that my work is funny and dangerously close to laughable. I make sculptures out of dryer lint. I am significantly more interested in making work that forces people to expand their preconceived boundaries for art or dismiss it than in making work that very clearly falls into an existing category. This giggle-inducing power of the project is what makes it accessible to a non-traditional arts audience of bank tellers, nurses, lawyers, shelter residents, children, and working class people of all kinds. Laughter cracks the veneer people put up for art when they don't understand it, after which real conversations about art, community and the aesthetics of daily life can happen." (from the Artist's Statement by Cheryl Capezzuti, a Pittsburgh artist who uses lint as her medium)
I'm still scratching my head over the concept, but the sculptures are surprising: some are silly, some are almost Henry-Moore-like, some are a little disturbing (I think this one would give me pause if I encountered it unexpectedly in a laundromat). More pictures here, here, and here. And even odder: there are other lint artists out there. Is this a trend?


I want to write for Gastronomica. I really, really want to. The fact that I can't decide whether to send them poems about food, short essays, or research about obscure culinary factoids (they accept all of the above) is piquing my interest still further.


Everyone's linking to this, but it's still funny 

It turns out that my soul is worth £18916. Well, if I need a financial cushion after this year...


Unfocused, brain-fried entry 

Today I met with my two Monday/Wednesday classes. Section 1, composition, is (so far) the quiet section, in which not many students seem willing to talk; I'm racking my brains for ways to get them to participate more. By the end of it I was thinking "This is why I'm not a very good teacher." But Section 2, the afternoon writing/literature section, was positively crackling with energy. The obvious lesson to be drawn here is that not everything that goes on in the classroom is about me. But if not all the blame for low-energy sections rests on my shoulders, then not all of the credit for high-energy sections is mine either. I knew this already, but today seemed to affirm it more vividly than usual.

All the same, I'm tired and pessimistic this evening. I want to dwell on the positive, but between the latest batch of Chronicle Career Network articles, which all seem to comment on the indecision and angst of the new job candidate or the Ph.D'd career changer, and this from Alex Pang (via Invisible Adjunct), all options are looking unreliable. Academic career? As Rana points out ("Now I'm worried," 9/10), if the Chronicle is publishing this many pieces about job insecurity this early in the year, what does that say about what the market's going to be like? And independent scholarship? Not so easy if scholarly journals are getting harder and harder for the non-university-affiliated to access.

I should eat something and take a nap. At least tomorrow's class is the other, more talkative composition section, and the longest day of the week is now officially over.

[Edit: food helped. And maybe the rash of career-angst articles over at the Chronicle has something to do with Mercury being in retrograde?]


The five senses, part one of an occasional series (Smell) 

This "knowledge maps" project from the University of Minnesota's Design Institute is utterly fascinating. I'm taken with the idea of the "smell maps" of the Twin Cities (link via Green Gabbro via Frogs and Ravens). While googling "olfactory memory," I came across this article from The Sciences,* which suggests that smell memories (e.g. Proust's endlessly cited petit madeleine) are so powerful because they're so closely tied to emotion. It's interesting to see which smells the researchers thought would be especially evocative for their subjects: in this case, "Crayola crayons, Coppertone suntan lotion, Play-Doh, Vicks VapoRub and Johnson's baby powder." Can one define a generation by its scent memories? How about a place?

I've also been thinking about olfactory memory because I wrote my dissertation about memory and the lyric in Renaissance England, and one of my committee members asked me about sensory memory in its various forms. I haven't followed up on it, but the question has stuck with me, and it occurred to me to write something on each of the five senses. I tried it once as a poem sequence and it never quite happened; let's see how it works as prose. So here is the first one...

A brief olfactory autobiography (in not quite chronological order)

Lightly toasted white bread. Elmer's glue. Those tempera paints every elementary school seems to stock. Creamed chipped beef (the horror, the horror!). Melting tar in summer. Grass. Marigolds. New car smell (which I will forever associate with childhood carsickness). Fruit-scented magic markers. Silly Putty. Rubber. Chalk. Boxwood. The plasticky smell of 3-ring binders. A cod-liver-oil-based ointment my mother used to put on my skin when I got sunburned. The ocean. School cafeterias. The basement of my childhood home. Wisteria. Mimeograph fumes. Snow.

New books. Lipstick. Plum pudding (my great-aunt's recipe) doused in brandy and set on fire. Bus exhaust. McDonald's fries. Nail polish. Nail polish remover. Chemistry classrooms smelling of sulfur dioxide. Fountain pen ink. Newsprint. Espresso. The darkroom in my high school with its smell of developer and fixer. Swimming-pool chlorine. A kind of weed that smells like pineapple when you crush it. Crab cakes. Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea. Vanilla extract. Rain in summer.

Lavender water. Clove cigarettes. Ramen noodles. Freshly-ground coffee. Coffee left on the burner too long. Onion bagels. Rubber cement. Curry. Wet wool. Thai peanut sauce. Formaldehyde. Garlic. Sourdough bread. Matches. The smell of frying things from the greasy-spoon Greek diner I used to walk past on my way to classes as an undergrad. Suave coconut shampoo. Barbecue. A friend's sandalwood-and-patchouli perfume. Chianti. Pine-sol. Aloewood incense. Garam masala. Chrysanthemums. Vetiver. Fish markets in New York. Orange peels. Cheap kitchen appliances overheating. Shalimar. Very old books. Olive oil unwisely heated past the smoking point. Jasmine tea.

*Note: I am not the Amanda named in this article, nor have I ever wept at the smell of dish soap. Also, I must confess that I've never been able to get past the first hundred pages of Swann's Way. Maybe someday I'll acquire the requisite patience; right now I'm too twitchy to stick with it. However, I've had the Proustian recollection experience myself, sampling Demeter tomato cologne and being catapulted right back to age nine or thereabouts, inhaling the smell of tomato plants in our front yard in Baltimore on a blazing summer day. So it does happen, and I'm happy that someone in the perfume industry has noticed the phenomenon. Fittingly, they have a scent called "Madeleine."



I've changed my mind about the postacademic closet. Last night I went to a party in honor of my friend M., who's in my year in the graduate program and who just defended her dissertation this week. (There was a cake with icing roses and the words "Congratulations on your PHD, M.!" Several of us commented on the cake-decorator's incorrect usage of the capital H where a lower-case one should have been. Once a grader of freshman compositions, always a grader of freshman compositions.) There were lots of people, I had the "So you're going on the job market this year?" conversation about a dozen more times, and by the end of the evening I'd decided, The hell with it. I'm just going to tell everyone I'm leaving the profession. If word gets around, at least it'll mean I don't have to keep explaining to everyone. And at least one of the people at the party last night was in the same situation, though he's probably less paranoid about talking about it than I've been.

In other news, I'm rather enjoying fiddling with the online document-sharing software I'm using for my three sections. It lets them post their drafts and other assignments directly to the web, where they can read each other's work before workshopping it, thus obviating the need for excess paper-shuffling during class meetings. It also lets me put together an online schedule for each section, and it automatically adds class meetings. The last time I used something like this for a class, the students didn't like having to log in and check the site; let's hope that this group likes the online component as much as I do.

I'm thinking of doing some experimental writing (read: unclassifiable prose bits that have nothing to do with my dissertation). If I do, I may post some of it here.