Potpourri: There and Back Edition

Just got home about an hour ago from a run to Lost-in-the-Woods County over the past couple of days. The Spawn and I went to represent Clan Mondo at my nephew’s graduation from Wide Spot In The Road High School — Mrs. M wanted to go, but it conflicted with her final day with the first-graders for the year, and she had to say her goodbyes and such. It was a very nice ceremony, and the nephew (who came to the Spawn’s ceremony last year) will be going to my M.A. institution, where he plans to major in civil engineering. I would have posted sooner, but the wifi at our motel was weak, so here’s a bit of this-and-that since I’m back home.

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The Spawn and I got into Wide Spot In The Road Thursday afternoon, and decided to catch Captain America: Civil War at the local Rialto. Both of us had been exposed to a fair number of spoilers, but we enjoyed the movie anyway (in fact, the Spawn liked it more than she thought she would.) Downey’s Tony Stark was sufficiently insufferable. (Observation: Shouldn’t Stark take the rap for the whole Sokovia thing? It was HIS FREAKING ROBOT that went off the rails.) Cap was sufficiently noble, even if his priorities were screwy in many ways. (Another observation: Several people have commented that the conclusion of the Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier plot implies that Stark’s position was the right one. I think it’s more important that what happens to Bucky is something Bucky chooses for himself.) Marisa Tomei is a bizarre choice for Aunt May (Why, she’s just a year older than I… SHUT UP, TRUTH!), but the kid playing Spidey did a nice job, and I particularly like his voice in the part. The highlight of the mass melee, in my opinion, was Paul Rudd’s performance as Ant-Man (with a twist that comic readers should have expected, but that still made me smile in surprise.) So it was a good time.

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One weird thing about the screening we caught is that there were no previews. None at all. There was a thirty-second spot advertising the projection equipment, and then BANG, right into  Civil War. I don’t recall the last time that happened to me in a theater, and I know it was a first for the Spawn. Good thing we got there on time, and it did mean we hadn’t finished the popcorn before the movie started.

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By the way, even though X-Men: Apocalypse opened yesterday, the Spawn and I are waiting until June’s HeroesCon trip to catch it, so HUSH!

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I packed nine CDs for the 12-hour round trip. I made it through 8.6 of them. Sonic Planning Achievement Unlocked.

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You know you’re in small-town Kentucky when a valedictorian’s speech quotes “Freebird.” I managed not to make a scene.

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The Spawn and I stopped at a bookstore in Johnson City, TN, while making our way home. I picked up the first of Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series (conveniently titles Hap and Leonard). I read the first 20 or so pages while I was having a drink at the bookstore, and I’m already looking forward to diving back in once I finish my online activity here. I know that the Sundance Channel has turned the books into a TV series, but despite the presence of Christina Hendricks, I haven’t seen any episodes. If you have, let me know if it’s any good.

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Alternating feet update: I completed another 10K and change on the installment plan Monday-Thursday, and have managed short bursts (3 minutes or so) at 4 mph. I know De Re Militari claims that 4 mph was the pace of the Roman Legions, but that’s pretty quick, at least for this English professor, and I can’t help but think that if I were about to meet a bunch of spear-wielding Celts, I wouldn’t be in such a damned hurry. Oh, well — I guess that’s what decimation was for.

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When I got home, I heard that Tropical Storm Bonnie is apparently going to hit the South Carolina coast tomorrow, and we’ve been told we may have heavy rain tomorrow. I’m glad the Spawn and I beat it here, but as you might imagine, the words “heavy rain” make me a little nervous these days. Here’s hoping it isn’t too bad.

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And here’s the obligatory music bit to wrap up today’s potpourri. It’s a bit downtempo, but it’s a song that gets stuck in my head from time to time, so here it is. Written by Jimmy Webb, this is Art Garfunkel’s version of “All I Know.”

See you soon, and stay dry!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

A Pint for My Father

My dad would have been 73 today.

This is a challenging time of year for me — too many anniversaries. Mom’s birthday was 20 April; Dad’s is today. The last time I spoke to them was on their 46th anniversary, 8 June 2009. They were dead four days later. But I’ve gotten a bit better over the last almost seven years at emphasizing the pleasures of having known them, and the benefit I received from being their son.

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The Spawn with Dad, Christmas 2003.

 

And that brings me to this past weekend — yesterday afternoon in particular. My Dad liked to donate blood. He was a Golden Gallon donor — I still remember the gold window sticker the Red Cross gave him after his eighth pint. Unfortunately, when he was 41, his first go-around with cancer put him on the permanently ineligible list. Mom had heart surgery in 1961, when she was seventeen, and so was never eligible.

I, on the other hand, am terrified of needles. Don’t like to look at them, dread the blood work at my checkups. The worst scene for me in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead isn’t any of the flesh-eating, eviscerations, or exploding heads — it’s when Roger gets a morphine shot. I have to turn away for that.

But last semester, the Spawn donated a pint during a blood drive at Flagship. And this Saturday, while I was out buying dog food, I saw the bloodmobile parked in front of the farm supply store where I buy the Hound’s victuals. And I thought about my dad, as I do many times each day. So I bought the dog food, came home, and said to the Spawn, “If I were to donate blood, would you go with me and donate too?” She said yes, and we drove back over, to find…

Nothing. The red-and-white bus was gone; it had left about 15 minutes earlier. This made the Spawn somewhat cranky (“I got dressed for nothing!”), but when I got home, I got online and saw that it would be back yesterday, in front of the Mondoville WalMart. So yesterday, after lunch, we headed back over, to find…

Nothing. Check my phone. We were 45 minutes early — I really should pay more attention sometimes. But I had a prescription to pick up, and the Spawn could browse the cosmetics and book aisles, so we did those things. I got my meds, looked over a couple of college football preview magazines, and then we went back into the parking lot, just as the bus pulled in.

The Spawn and I were first in line — in fact, a bit early, and had to wait while they were getting set up. We used that time to fill out a form, and four or five other people had queued up by the time we boarded the bus.

Next came the screening questions, a blood pressure check, and a quick blood test. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Spawn’s day; although she isn’t anemic, her iron content was just under the lower limit for donation, and she was deferred, and very disappointed. That wasn’t a problem for me — I eat so much red meat that I probably clank when I walk. We went through the list of questions, and I made it through that hurdle just fine. (As an aside, my colleague David Rachels had mentioned one of the questions from a time he had donated blood. So when the lady asked, “Have you ever been paid for sexual activity?”, I just said, “I’m not that attractive.” Made her laugh.)

So then it was off to one of the chaises, with the Spawn sitting nearby as my cheering section. I turned my head as the nurse hooked me up. The needle stung a bit, but was actually less painful than the thumb stick for the iron test. As I lay there, I amused myself by asking the Spawn things like, “Am I supposed to be seeing dead relatives at this point? Is that you, Grandpa? Go towards the light?”

Really, though, the worst part of the business was the 80s music on the vehicle’s sound system. Still, the Huey Lewis and Madonna were insufficient to freeze the blood in my veins, so about 15 minutes later, they had drawn a pint, plus a few vials for additional screenings, typing, and such. The Spawn said the pint was about the size of a loaf of banana bread. “Yep,” I said. “‘A pint’s a pound/ the world around.'”

The nurse then told me to keep the bandage on for at least an hour, and the underlying bandaid for four or five more. “Avoid strenuous exercise this evening,” she added.

While ordinarily those are five of my favorite words, I had a band practice scheduled for last night — we have a gig in less than two weeks. “What about drumming?”

This was apparently not a typical question, but after a moment’s thought, she advised against it, but added, “If you really have to, then try not to do it too hard.” (As it turned out, we wound up bagging the rehearsal anyway, but at least my head was in the game.)

I was then asked to sit on the “recovery couch” for about 10 minutes, and to eat and drink something. Because I had read that eating salty snacks were a good idea after donation, I went for a small bag of pretzels and some water. I was given a $10 gift card to WalMart, which I gave to the Spawn — the spirit had been willing, even if the iron was a little low, and it was good to have someone to joke with while I was there.I also was asked to pick out a T-shirt, but since they didn’t have any in my size, I let the Spawn get one in her size instead. She had earned one last fall, after all.

So I’m now 1/8 of the way to my own Golden Gallon, and I think I’ll have another go in eight weeks or so. I’m my father’s son, after all.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Posted in Culture, Family, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

The Continuing Adventures of Potpourri

So it’s Saturday morning. Mrs. M is off to the sauna, the Hound of the Basketballs is snoozing on the sofa, and the Spawn is claiming her teenager’s right to sleep in. Clearly this calls for some potpourri.

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Alternating feet status report: I’m taking the weekend off after four straight days, and will resume Monday. I completed a 10K this week (some assembly required) with a little to spare. Average speed was a bit better than the 3.1 mph that seems to be the human industry standard, with a 10- to 12-minute section each day that goes a little faster than the standard US military march (which is 3.4 mph, if you’re keeping score at home.) The Roman legions reportedly had a standard pace of about 4 mph, and while I might be there eventually, I’m not yet. I’m OK with that, given my current level of dilapidation. The blister didn’t break, but it went down some, and I’m glad I didn’t stop.

I don’t know how long this will last on my part — I’ve never seen tenacity as one of my gifts, and that may be a reason I tend to write short stories and unfinished novels. Of course, I never thought I’d continue a blog either, yet here we are. So we’ll see.

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I’m honestly a little embarrassed to talk about the walking. I have friends who do triathlons, for heaven’s sake, and I’d be thrilled to complete a 5K in under an hour. As I tell folks, there’s a reason they race thoroughbreds rather than Percherons. But this blog is a continuing report on the view from Mondoville, so I talk about this stuff. I’m an organism that produces writing.

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Speaking of writing, I’m pleased to report that in a bit less than a month, the Spawn and I will be guests on a Father’s Day-related episode of Pam Stack’s Authors on the Air podcast. We’ll be live on 15 June, and I’ll give further updates as I have them.

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It also appears quite likely that I’ll be appearing on a panel at Noircon in Philadelphia this October, and I’ll have a story in the program as well. “How can I access such wonders?” I hear you ask (LEAVE ME MY ILLUSIONS!). It’s quite simple: Start by visiting Noircon’s website, right here.

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One of my favorite current songwriters (and the Spawn’s as well) is a guy named P.T. Walkley. He makes his living scoring films, TV shows, commercials and such, but over the years, he has put out quite a few albums and EPs, several of which I own on CD. However, since he says he wrote those songs to be heard, he is now giving away free downloads of all those albums and EPs at his website. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of his offer. As one of his lyrics says, “This is the sound of your life getting better.”

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Another of my favorite songwriters has been at work as well. Robert Harrison is best known for his work with Austin-based psych-pop geniuses Cotton Mather, and has done cool work with Future Clouds and Radar in recent years. His latest project, which involves both bands, is a set of 64 songs based on the hexagrams of the I Ching. He’s releasing the songs in real time, with commentaries, at his latest website. I listened to the first batch this morning — they’re worthy of your attention.

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And on top of that, my lifelong friend Carl Groves has a new project at the intersection of faith and progressive rock. It’s called The Lazarus Trio, and you can learn about them here.

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“Wow — that’s a lot of music, Mondo.” Indeed it is, but I’ll leave you with just a couple more before I close. Although they never had the success I think they deserve, I’m a big fan of New Jersey’s The Smithereens. I’ve played in bands that covered them on several occasions over the years, and their brand of brooding 60s-flavored rock is right in the Berries’ wheelhouse as well. This song isn’t one of their better known ones, but from the first time I heard it, I knew it would be a favorite of mine. So far, that holds true, and I’ll share it with you. From their Especially for You album, this is a lovely piece of storytelling called “Cigarette.”

And at the opposite extreme, this one has been popping up here and there on my facebook and I find it running through my head quite often as I walk in the mornings. I sent it earlier this week to a friend of mine who is recovering from some medical work. Her response was “Ha ha ha ow.” Clearly I have served my purpose. Anyway, here are Danish loonies Powersolo. You’ll likely figure out the title, and yes, those guys are brothers.

See you soon!

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Alternating Feet

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fat guy. Of course, that’s obvious to anyone who sees me, but I’ve tried to be honest about it here as well. And now that I’m past the half-century mark, the consequences of being a fat guy are likely to start arriving in bunches. Furthermore, the campus radio station blats thrice-hourly messages about the benefits of “thirty minutes of exercise, five days a week” — which, given my Calvinist background and typical worldview, I tend to think of as the dire consequences of not engaging in said exercise. My baseline treadmill stress test a few weeks back came back just dandy, thanks, but since it might be nice to keep it that way, I decided it might be nice to move around a bit more than I typically have.

My family has a membership at the local Y, and I thought it might be nice to upgrade the family’s usage of that membership from 67% to the full complement. So on Tuesday and Wednesday, I went to the exercise room there and had a go at the treadmill. Some observations follow.

I actually used to enjoy walking. In my late teens and early twenties, I’d walk one-mile circuits of my neighborhood, sometimes six or seven times a night. It wasn’t exercise walking — more something between an amble and a lumber, really. But I enjoyed it, either alone or with the Mad Dog, with whom I’d talk about music and girls and sports and girls and work and, frequently, girls (Yes, Mad Doc, including you.). I hope to recover some of that enjoyment before too long, but it’s different on the treadmill.

For one thing, I suspect I’m walking faster than I did, and certainly faster than I usually do. Maintaining the appropriate speed requires a certain amount of attention — on Tuesday I walked too fast, stepped forward, and bumped the killswitch, while Wednesday I was adjusting my stride and pulled the safety key loose, again shutting the treadmill down. I was back at it within moments, but the pause was still disconcerting.

For that matter, just focusing on what I’m doing is a little odd. I’m not known for physical grace or coordination — I’m as awkward as Michael Vick at a PETA meeting. No one who knows me can understand how I manage to play drums — to tell the truth, neither can I. And I suppose I’ve testified to my general clumsiness in the paragraph above this one. So when I look around the exercise room and see people using elliptical trainers while reading magazines or using iPads, I find myself awed: “Who are these strange beings who can move on The Wobbly Things and check texts?” All I know is that I am not among them.

I also noticed that while some people on The Wobbly Things look to me as if they are “traveling” forward, others appear to me to be moonwalking. Is this just because my mind starts the movement cycle from my first sighting, or do people actually do this stuff in reverse? The mind reels — or mine does, anyway.

In any case, two sessions on the treadmill begat the traversal of an imaginary distance that would be impressive were I a glacier, and I suppose is okay for a middle-aged fat guy. They also have begotten a half-dollar-sized blister on my right foot where the ball meets the arch, basically along the center line. Nonetheless, I was on my way back this morning when a hard rain struck and I decided to go back and make sure the downstairs section of the Mid-Century Mondohaus was dry. It was (and is — I’m writing from there right now), and the rain seems to have slacked off; the birds are active in the backyard, so I think I’ll go back to the Y now. Maybe I’ll have a go at the stationary bicycle… but not The Wobbly Things.

Posted in Family, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

“Snowflakes Wrapped in Cinnamon”

She was never my girlfriend, but that wasn’t my fault.

It wasn’t anyone’s, of course. She was the girlfriend of my closest friend at that college, and I envied him and moped for a sizable chunk of that year. Not one of my finest moments, but that was a bad year for me in many respects, and it’s to their eternal credit that the two of them knew it and put up with me as best they could.

But she was funny, bright, and lovely, and we were all young, and I pined for her until I left that school and my life went in directions I didn’t deserve but Grace allowed me to follow, that left me with a love better than I thought I wanted. And even after she went to grad school and my friend’s life went in good directions of its own, I would remember her from time to time, a memory in herself and a part of the Garden of Forking Paths in which we all live.

And now, it’s nearly thirty years later, and I’m fifty, and she died a few days ago. I found out about it as everyone does these days — on Facebook, where a post from her college roommate made it clear that she was gone (in the indirect way that these posts often do) after what appears to have been a long illness. I’ve known for years that everyone dies of something — I’ve known it since the best friend of my childhood collapsed and died when we were thirteen, through the loss of a friend’s wife (which reminded me of the impermanence of things and drove me back to graduate school), through the loss of former students, and of course through the difficulties of the last few years. I know the voice of Blake’s Bard as well as his Piper.

But for some reason, this one remains on my mind this afternoon. I remember when my dad was in his early sixties, he told me that he still thought of himself as the man he was in his twenties — or maybe his early thirties — and that it would occasionally startle him to realize his actual age, either by seeing his age on a document or more insidiously, seeing himself in the mirror with his mind’s self-portrait superimposed on the glass. I understood that intellectually at the time — ten, twelve years ago? — and now I am learning it emotionally as well.

There’s a part of me that is always that bright naif at a small college. Maybe that’s why I like my students so much. And for that part of me, that beautiful, smart, funny young woman for whom I ached is still there, despite the fact that I know Goldengrove is always unleaving. She, and he, and I are always on a campus hill at night, walking across deep snow and laughing.

Goodbye, kiddo. You will be remembered.

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Literature, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments

“Thank You for Shopping Sears Florence”

The first job I ever held was as a janitor/stockboy at a convenience store in Union, KY. That gig lasted two weeks, and by the end of that time, both the owner and I knew that my talents might be best employed elsewhere, and by a different employer. Among other things, I stocked the bottles too slowly. This wasn’t intentional on my part, but I have to admit that I liked working in the cooler.

My next job was at Sears store #1730 in the Florence Mall, when I had to earn some cash to go to the local directional university. I worked in the Customer Service department, taking credit card payments, handling returns, helping folks apply for Sears cards, finding catalog orders — that sort of thing. I had that gig for a couple of years, until I left to start work on my M.A. Most of the time, I’d work 20-30 hours a week, in five-and-a-half-hour shifts (including a 15-minute break). Occasionally I’d do a full eight (which came with a lunch), but not often.

Somewhere along the way, I had to page someone over the intercom, and some of the local panjandra decided they liked my voice, so when I had the evening shift, I started reading the announcements we did each night at 8:45 and when we closed at 9:00. From there, I was conscripted into writing and cutting the recorded announcements that would cycle through the day. I went to a little room with a pen and a legal pad, where I would find the recorder and a copy of the week’s promotional circular. From these materials I would craft ten or so thirty-second spots, often involving cheesy puns (or puns about cheese if the Hickory Farms kiosk was in season). I did this each week, and every ten minutes or so, one of these little spots would blat across the house PA, each concluding with the title of today’s post.

I didn’t mind — it was a chance to get off my feet for as much as an hour — but as the weeks went on, I noticed something. If you spend a lot of time in any environment, the ambient sounds typically fade to a level below that of consciousness. You stop noticing the sound of the other registers and the background music, for example. However, there’s something weirdly disconcerting about having one’s own voice become part of the bibblebibblebibble of your world. You hear yourself, but you stop listening to yourself.

This may be the birth of humility.

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Score One for New Criticism

Early in my Ph.D. program, a wonderful professor (That isn’t sarcasm — she treated me well and we are friends) told me that my approach to some medieval texts was very conservative. I asked her what that meant in this instance, and she said I wasn’t especially suspicious of the text. Fair enough, I think — although in the case of medievalia, sometimes the text is really pretty much all we have. I even applied that conversation to my dissertation, where I argued that, Bakhtin notwithstanding, the morality plays I studied were in fact arguments from a standpoint of Christian orthodoxy, or in Bakhtinian terms, Lenten despite (or even because of) their carnivalesque elements.

A different prof of mine (who served on my dissertation committee) once called me “the last of the New Critics” after reading a paper I had written for him, again because of my exclusive focus on the texts he had assigned. I told him I really consider myself to be a Frygean, but I was OK with his description as well. And so I’ve wandered on through my career to my current destination in a rural branch office of Ivory Tower, Inc.

Of course, the close reading associated with New Criticism is also the foundation of a considerable amount of post-structural and pomo interpretation, but these days, there often seems to be greater emphasis on the context in which a work appears than upon the text. And when dealing with undergrads, for whom context is often understood either as Now or an amorphous “Back in the day” (a term encompassing everything from about 1997 to the Big Bang), this can too often result in “We’re so superior/this is offensive” responses that do little to develop understanding either of the text or the context in which it arose.

That’s why I’m glad to hear from Scott Stein, a prof at Drexel, who offers an article about his pedagogy at Reason today. He argues, among other things, that an advantage to exclusive reliance upon the text under discussion is itself a democratizing/anti-authoritarian position:

If [Stein and his students] disagree about the meaning or purpose of something we read and want to persuade people that ours is a valid interpretation, the only evidence that matters is the work itself.

[…] I believe this egalitarian or nonauthoritarian view of literature, which recognizes only the text as authority—an authority that all readers can access—and treats students like full adults intellectually, is incompatible with the recent trend of providing specific trigger or content warnings before students read potentially offensive material.

[…] I didn’t ask whether my student should have found [a passage] disturbing. Should has nothing to do with it. She found it disturbing. I accepted that. My student had read carefully, reached her own conclusion, and could support that conclusion by pointing to examples in the text. Other students had not reacted the same way, but to the degree that the text is consistent with her interpretation, that doesn’t matter. I see this as empowering for the student. She knew that she alone had seen this in the reading and brought it to the class for discussion.

If I’d provided a warning that the text contained [disturbing material], lots of students would have seen it only because I told them it was there. My authority would have been imposed on not only the discussion, but the initial reading. Instead, a peer had presented the idea to them. The student who had read carefully, and found something that struck her as important, might have been denied the opportunity to experience the book for herself and share it with others if I told her and everyone else what to think before they read.

A term that was popular during my Ph.D. days was the “pedagogy of the oppressed“, an approach that ostensibly is meant to empower the students to challenge their unjust society. (A lot of bases are being stolen there, but that’s a discussion for another time.) However, it seems to me that recent trends in higher ed start by treating the students as psychologically frail, lacking agency, and in need of handholding lest they encounter uncomfortable ideas.

Given a choice between such a classroom and Stein’s, I think Stein’s is more likely to be intellectually liberating.

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Medievalia, Politics | 1 Comment