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10.04.2003

I must be getting back into Deep Career Contemplation Mode... 

...because last night I was watching The Barber of Seville on DVD (Claudio Abbado, 1974) and found myself thinking, "Hey, Figaro really seems to enjoy his job. I wonder if I'll ever find work that makes me enthusiastic enough to get up at dawn and go around singing 'La ra la la ra la la ra la la, largo al factotum della città!'? I wonder what it's like to be a barber? What would it be like to put 'Barber of Seville' on one's business cards? You probably don't get to spend all your time helping disguised noblemen elope with their clever girlfriends whose guardians keep them locked in the house, but maybe it would be fun..."

(All right, so it was a completely loopy train of thought, but I blame Rossini for that.)

And now, yet another lame MasterCard commercial parody. 

Dissertation publication fee, payable to university cashier: $70.00
Last-minute copying: $0.00 (thank you, generous office copier allocation)
Printer's binding fee: $29.63
Pack of cigarettes to calm jittery nerves: $6.95
Being finally, conclusively done with your dissertation, even though you almost missed the deadline and had to beg the requisite office for a meeting so they could do the final margin check: Priceless.

10.03.2003

Pantoums 

Interesting poem from Slate: "Saloon Pantoum," by Kathy¬†Fagan. It got me thinking about the pantoum, a form that requires that the second and fourth lines of each four-line stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. Wikipedia summarizes all this but adds "one is hard pressed to find good examples." I wouldn't say so; it's a rare form, to be sure, but it's been cropping up more frequently over the last couple of decades. John Ashbery writes them from time to time (my favorite is "Hotel Lautréamont"). So do Carolyn Kizer and Donald Justice. J.D. McClatchy has a "smudged" pantoum, in which the repetition of lines isn't exact but depends on homophony, in the collection Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms. I've seen them occasionally in the pages of the New Yorker. And so on.

I Googled "pantoum" and came across a lot of them, some quite good, others, er, less so. There's even an About.com page about them. Of interest is this one by Peter Schaeffer on Wondering Minstrels, and the accompanying commentary. Commentator Thomas notes, "Pantoums put villanelles in the shade -- they're far more complex, more constrained, and more convoluted." I don't think I entirely agree with that, though. I've never had much success writing villanelles -- they always come out sounding stiff and awkward. I have, however, experimented with the pantoum, and found that I really like the constant back-and-forth shifting of the repeated lines. It seems to bring on odd, associative states of mind, almost like what I imagine automatic writing to be. No wonder so many modern pantoums partake of the surreal -- or the obsessional. (It also seems much easier to modify the requirements of a pantoum than those of a villanelle, or perhaps I just have Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" lodged too firmly in my head.)

10.01.2003

Shoulda gone ahead and gotten that business degree. 

This column on the difficulty of teaching the unwilling struck something of a chord. My writing students at Midwestern University aren't like the ones described here; for the most part, they're bright, energetic, and articulate. Some of them even like writing. But I did rather identify with the following: "I'm so fascinated by the subject matter that I can't understand why these students aren't instantly hooked. But I've realized that many of them have never experienced that joy of learning. ... I want at least a handful of students who have a passion for music and who are willing to devote sincere and enthusiastic effort to its study, because they love it, are insatiably curious about it, and just can't get over the amazing effect it has had on their lives."

Substitute "literature" or "writing" for "music" and you've got the situation of (I suspect) not a few Ph.D.s in my field, who adore literature and have a hard time imagining why any of their students wouldn't like it, and who'd like to be awakening young minds to its glories but instead are teaching introductory classes where most of the students are fulfilling distribution requirements. I keep having to remind myself that my composition students are mostly non-literature majors, and just because I revel in the quirks and weirdnesses and musicality of the written word, the same doesn't hold true for most of them.

But on the other hand, my career quandaries mean that I'm starting to understand -- in ways I don't think I previously understood -- where my students are coming from. They're very pragmatic in their approach to education; they mostly want to major in pre-professional fields, and they want their college years to focus on that goal. I used to get all worked up about that, and wish that every student could be an unworldly liberal arts major. But now I find myself thinking, what could my graduate program do to prepare us for the world outside academia, since so many of us aren't getting academic jobs of any kind? Why didn't I go into a more pragmatic field? It would have come in handy.

And that concludes today's lesson on irony. Class dismissed.

9.30.2003

It's going to be a long winter. 

The weather reports on the local news and the radio are confirming it: we might get a snow shower this week. It's gotten suddenly colder, and half the students in my Tuesday/Thursday composition section were coughing and hacking this morning. I went to grade at our local Starbucks this afternoon, because although it's an evil corporate chain, it does have an open "fireplace" thingy with a gas flame. In a month or two, I'll be wearing sixteen layers of clothing and complaining about how Collegeville only has two seasons: Dark Cold Winter Depression Season and Hay Fever Season. The former runs from November through April, the latter from May through September. October is usually the month of glorious crisp weather, sunshine, deep blue skies, changing leaves, and no pollen, but this year it looks like winter's showing up early. It's time to knit myself a big fuzzy poncho.

So, in honor of the impending season, and because I find it consoling, I offer a favorite Thomas Campion poem:
Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their houres;
And clouds their stormes discharge
    Upon the ayrie towres.
Let now the chimneys blaze
    And cups o'erflow with wine,
Let well-tun'd words amaze
    With harmonie diuine.
Now yellow waxen lights
    Shall waite on hunny Loue
While youthfull Reuels, Masks, and Courtly sights,
    Sleepes leaden spels remoue.

    This time doth well dispence
    With louers long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
    Though beauty no remorse.
All doe not all things well;
    Some measures comely tread;
Some knotted Ridles tell;
    Some Poems smoothly read.
The Summer hath his ioyes,
    And Winter his delights;
Though Loue and all his pleasures are but toyes,
    They shorten tedious nights.
-- Thomas Campion (via Luminarium)

9.29.2003

Memo to myself re: pipe down in there 

Amanda,

It has come to our attention that in recent weeks, the Inside of Your Head has become a disagreeably noisy and crowded place. We believe that the appropriate course of action would be to set limits on the number of inner voices allowed on the premises at any given time. With this in mind, we submit the following suggestions for your consideration.

The Inner Critic should be banned until she demonstrates that any of her contributions are of use. We cannot see why the rest of the patrons should have to listen to her constant harpings on the themes of "You can't get anything done," "You're never going to get a job," and "You're just generally pathetic, you know that?" If she continues to show up, we recommend forcefully ejecting her by the scruff of her neck. You may wish to consider hiring a bouncer for this purpose.

We've noticed that once the Inner Worrywart stops in and begins to fret, she frequently refuses to leave. If this problem persists, hire another bouncer.

The Inner Sloth should be treated with caution. She appears harmless, and she may in fact be harmless. But her tendency to sit apathetically in a corner, hunched over her table, declining all offers to get up and dance, staring vacantly at the television, strikes us as bad for morale.

The Inner Goofball is welcome. She might be of use to distract the Inner Sloth from her torpor, as a matter of fact.

The Inner Snarky Bitch is also welcome. Have you noticed how everyone else cheers up when she steps out of hiding and starts to talk? Why not offer her a free drink and a bowl of cheese straws every now and then?

The Inner Waffler has occasionally proved helpful with her insistence on seeing all sides of every issue, but at the present moment her indecisive shilly-shallying is annoying. Try installing a new jukebox and getting her to waffle over song choices rather than second-guessing every decision the others are trying to make.

The Inner Decision-Maker visits with distressing infrequency. You wouldn't happen to have her number, would you? We'd hate to lose such a valuable customer, and we're starting to wonder what's become of her.

Yours sincerely,
The Management