Weather Thou Goest

The threat of heavy weather in the Appalachians prevented the annual Thanksgiving trip to Lost-In-The-Woods County, so Mrs. M, the Spawn, and I are relaxing around the house before the afternoon feast. And despite the change in plans, we have much for which to be thankful — not least the turkey breast Mrs. M picked up on sale yesterday afternoon.

First of all, of course, we have each other. I’m thankful for Mrs. M’s willingness to put up with me despite my aversion to physical labor, and for that matter, my aversion to practicality in general. I’m thankful for the Spawn, a bright, funny, thoughtful and beautiful young woman, and I’m thankful that she’ll be going to her first choice university next fall — and to be honest, I’m thankful that she’ll get to be independent while also being less than an hour away. (The fact that it will also give me an excuse for runs to Real City is just a bonus.)

I’m thankful for our new home. It’s nicer than any place I ever thought I’d have, and I’m astonishingly fortunate to be able to live here. I’m also thankful that when the Mad Dog has visited, he’s mentioned how much it feels like the home in Kentucky where we grew up.

I’m thankful for my job. I know how long the odds were against my getting to have the career I have, and how few people get to make a living doing things they love to do. I’m also grateful for my friends and colleagues at work, and for the kids I teach and have taught. They let me actually look forward to going back to the job every day.

I’m thankful to have found an audience for my writing, and to have found venues to connect the two. I’m also grateful to have met a larger community of writers, both for their encouragement and for the cool stories I’ve been able to discover as a consequence.

I’m thankful for the simple pleasures of good books and music, and the feel of a shower against my skin in the morning. I’m thankful for my spot in the bleachers at football games, and for the taste of an occasional glass of Sun Drop.

And of course, I’m thankful for all of you, who find my ideas and my life interesting enough that you’re willing to drop by and share pieces of it with me. I appreciate it.

Enjoy the things for which you’re thankful, and may you have even more of such things as the days progress.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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In Which Mondo’s Law Gets Stuffed…

As I spoke to my freshpeeps on Monday, I wished them safe travels and offered a bit of advice. “For many of y’all, this will be the most time you’ve spent with your family since you left for college. You’ve been living without them; they’ve been living without you. This means that there’s a significant chance that you will find each other to be pains in the ass.

“That’s OK. Love them anyway, the same way they’ll be grinding their teeth and loving you. One day, you’ll be glad you did.”

Some of the friction is probably due to the traditional transitions into adulthood — keeping late hours, not doing one’s own laundry, deciding who gets the dead hooker’s wishbone this year, that sort of thing. But it seems that an increasing amount of it these days is political in nature. As I’ve been wandering around the internet today as a means of avoiding grading, I’ve noticed what seems to have become an unfortunate holiday staple, the “How to talk to relatives of a different political viewpoint” article. The fact that these things exist at all, much less that they’ve become a set of perennials — remember the canned Obamacare defenses that went with the canned cranberry sauce? — suggests that too many folks have forgotten Mondo’s Law, to wit:

If your politics are bigger than your life, you’re doing one of them wrong.

And in the light and heat of burning cities in Missouri, the urge to polarize and politicize everything will be even stronger, if that’s possible. That’s why I was pleased by this article by Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week. He makes an interesting observation about these conversational scripts:

I recognize them by what they unwittingly emulate: guides for religious evangelism. The gentle, righteous self-regard, the slightly orthogonal response guides, the implied urgency to cure your loved ones of their ignorance. Your raging uncle will know the truth, and the truth will set him free.

That’s a problem. Our politics are taking on a religious shape. Increasingly we allow politics to form our moral identity and self-conception. We surround ourselves with an invisible community of the “elect” who share our convictions, and convince ourselves that even our closest and beloved relatives are not only wrong, but enemies of goodness itself. And so one of the best, least religious holidays in the calendar becomes a chance to deliver your uncle up as a sinner in the hands of an angry niece.

May we all avoid that temptation, no matter where we are on the political spectrum. And I’ll have my dressing with gravy, thanks.

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Blow Your Harmonica, Son

Posted in Culture, Music, Politics | Leave a comment

An Albatross-and-Berries Sandwich

The Berries got out for the first time in a while last night, playing our local bar, along with another band from Mondoville County. This was a small landmark for us, as it was our first two-set night. Our friends in Albatross took sets one and four, and we played the two middle sets, giving us the title for this post.

We were supplying the PA and drums last night, so we got an early start. Load-in began around 6:30, and since I’m now the only Berry with a large-capacity vehicle, I hauled the PA, some of the drums, and various odds and ends. One of the nice things about the venue is that there’s a garage door (rather like the top of a roll-top desk) that acts as the back wall of the stage. This lets us get stuff into the building with almost no difficulty, and had the added advantage of a small draft that kept me reasonably cool as I played. After we set up, we got to relax for a bit before the Albatross lads took the stage.

Albatross are a classic power trio with a very strong early 70s vibe. Their sets were a rollicking combination of classic rock deep cuts (like this one), revved up versions of early rock and roll (opening with a nice version of Eddie Cochrane’s “C’mon Everybody”) and some open-ended takes on classic blues numbers. Some of the more extended tunes had a serious Black Crowes vibe, which is pretty much ideal for smoke-filled bars. My favorite number from their first set was a version of “Folsom Prison Blues” that reminded me  great deal of the version by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. A couple of original numbers meshed very well with the rest of the set — they definitely have found their metier.

They wrapped their opener, and then it was our turn. We did 23 songs over our two sets, working in four covers (including a version of the William Penn Fyve’s “Swami”, into which I interpolated a chunk of “Tomorrow Never Knows”) and breaking out several originals we hadn’t done before. These included a couple of songs I brought in from a band I played in back during my first trip through grad school, but even those were well received, so I guess they haven’t dated too badly. The crowd was good sized and enthusiastic, with friends of ours coming from Greenville, Columbia, and even Savannah, and a number of Mondoville students (past and present), faculty and staff. The fact that we took the middle sets worked well for our out-of-town crowd, who were able to head home a bit earlier than might otherwise have been the case.

Albatross closed the night with another strong set, including a version of Chuck Berry’s “Carol” that they dedicated to us and a closing medley from the Stones. Even a technical problem with their bass was remedied fairly quickly, as our bassist Justin provided his as a substitute. All told, it was a lot of fun, and a payday as solid as all but one other show we’ve played.

It had started to rain sometime during the evening, and it was misting lightly as we loaded out and headed back to our on-campus rehearsal space a few blocks away. We said our goodnights, and I swung by the local 24-hour fast food joint for a diet Dr. Pepper before I came home and called it a night at about 2:30 this morning. Ah, the glamour of rock and roll. No wonder I keep doing it.

Maybe it’s a little silly, doing this kind of music at my age in a bar full of people who don’t remember it any more than I remember the music from thirty years before I was born. Still, there’s the pleasure of seeing students of mine suddenly recognizing that I can actually play, and the even greater pleasure of the moments when everything sounds just like I want it to sound. That must be why I’m still at it, and why I can’t wait to do it again.

Posted in Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Priorities, Man!

Executive orders for me, but not for thee.

Millions of scofflaws? Pfft. But taxes? Why, that’s the very fabric of what it means to be American, Sir!

Again, let me remind you that we should not grant government (or branches thereof) any powers we would not want in the hands of those who disagree with us utterly.

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Some Friday Potpourri

It’s pillory time for Series of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), who made some ill received comments about an African American writer’s watermelon allergy. Mr. Handler has already engaged in self-denunciation, so doubtless his re-education and rehabilitation (two words that mean “the old Winston Smith business”) may proceed apace.


In other news of our ongoing cultural revolution, fun and games at UCLA:

Val Rust’s dissertation-prep class had devolved into a highly charged arena of competing victim ideologies, impenetrable to anyone outside academia. For example: Were white feminists who use “standpoint theory”—a feminist critique of allegedly male-centered epistemology—illegitimately appropriating the “testimonial” genre used by Chicana feminists to narrate their stories of oppression? Rust took little part in these “methodological” disputes—if one can describe “Chicana testimonials” as a scholarly “method”—but let the more theoretically up-to-date students hash it out among themselves. Other debates centered on the political implications of punctuation. Rust had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments.

If your style manual must reflect your political commitments, you are a lunatic and should be disregarded.


Withywindle calls for Irish Democracy.


The Spawn has announced an interest in being the Jane Goodall of nerd culture, and has begun work (on her own time) on an analysis of a fandom that she sees as a a microcosmic example. She is citing sources. Clearly I have corrupted her irremediably. In keeping with the current zeitgeist, I denounce myself.


Finally, some garage rock. I have previously mentioned the single generally regarded as the punkiest, most obnoxious (and therefore most beloved) garage single ever, parts One and Two of “Rats’ Revenge” by the Rats. I don’t know if this quite rises to that level, but it’s close. Reportedly, the band on this track lured friends to the recording session with the promise of free food, which accounts for the barrage of questions about peanut butter sandwiches and cornbread from the audience. Where the “Down with puppet shows!” came from, however, remains a mystery. Ladies and gentlemen, from Smyrna, GA in 1966, here are the Snails, with “Snails’ Love Theme.”


The Berries have a gig tomorrow night — I’ll try to have a report Sunday, and then… Gradeapalooza.

Enjoy your weekend, unless you already have other plans.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Politics | 2 Comments

The Fat Envelope

Flagship U has been the Spawn’s first choice college for a couple of years now, and after we went to a couple of prospective student visit days, she went ahead and filled out her application before the early answer deadline. This is not the same as as early decision admission, where the kid pledges to attend if accepted — a move which seems to reduce any sort of bargaining power in the financial aid process. This process at Flagship simply guarantees an answer by mid-December, presumably taking some pressure off the kid.

The application was launched at the beginning of October, so we’ve spent the last six weeks anxiously awaiting the U’s reply. Well, the Spawn was anxious, and to a lesser degree, so was Mrs. M. — I’ve been in the game long enough and have read enough about the process to recognize that the Spawn has the sort of academic profile that is squarely in Flagship’s wheelhouse, and that her admission was essentially a foregone conclusion. But while I can (and did) tell them that, it is of course another thing when you’re the subject of the decision, and the Spawn has grown increasingly twitchy as we have waited for the week of December 15th.

The tension ratcheted up a bit more last week, when we heard that some of the Spawn’s classmates had already received their fat envelopes, while we still had no word. We were also startled by how far ahead of the December 15th date this news was spilling out. The ladies of the house were even more antsy, but they hoped the lack of word stemmed from our family’s position in the middle of the alphabet. Then that hope was dashed when we learned a kid whose name starts with S had made it in.

However, when I got home from a committee meeting yesterday afternoon, I swung by the mailbox and discovered a large envelope from Flagship, addressed to the Spawn. I found her in the living room, and told her what had arrived. She came over and looked at the envelope, and discovered something I hadn’t seen. On the back of the envelope was a large picture of Flagship’s mascot with the word “Yes!” in a cartoon bubble.

After that, opening the envelope was almost anticlimactic. But not quite.


Last night at bedtime, she said, “I’ve decided I’m going to get a doctorate. I’m not sure in what yet, but a doctorate.”

Now it’s my turn to be nervous.

Posted in Education, Family, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments