Tuesday, December 29, 2009

funniest prose all year

Anthony Lane, reviewing Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham, a best-seller from 1945

And so to no. 9. I have a problem with No. 9. I cannot read it. God knows, I have tried. I have downed three straight whiskeys and then tried to read it. I have leapt clean and sober from a cold shower, grabbed the book, and, standing upright, started to read it out loud. But the same thing always happened: I buckled like a puppet and fell asleep.

from Nobody's Perfect pages 394-395

Saturday, December 05, 2009

words have no meaning

I've just read a student's paper and I am struggling to find words with which to comment. She doesn't realize that she has just voiced a very unpleasant stereotype. I'm not sure which is harder, pointing out the stereotype, or pointing out her ignorance.

She's not young and this isn't intentional. She will be mortified when she reads my comments. Still breaks my heart.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

squirrels on steroids

When the alarmingly tall contractor and his crew put on a new roof this summer, they tore off not one but three old roofs. I don't entirely understand why this is supposed to make it cheaper to heat lemming headquarters, but I accept it as one of the mysteries of life. Doubtless I would understand if I had taken Physics in high school instead of Women's History.

One unforeseen after-effect of now only having one layer of roof is that I can hear the prancing and pawing of each tiny hoof, er, paw of each squirrel who scampers across. I'm not yet so used to the noise that I tune it out, but I at least know what it is.

So, having consumed quite a bit of caffeine, I sat down at the computer, prepared to draw intelligent comparisons between Sarah Palin and Eliza Pickney. (Really. You have no idea how thrilled I am that John McCain chose Palin. Teaching Women's History has just become infinitely more entertaining.)

Hypothetically and in theory, several squirrels could make the noises which began overhead. These would need to be squirrels even more coordinated than the vast liberal socialist conspiracy, which seems unlikely in suburban Indianapolis. The organized squirrels then began throwing large branches off of the new roof... and turned on leaf blowers.

I'm grateful to my neighbors for cleaning off my new roof, but they did give me quite a shock.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Today's reference librarian at least looked up some answers to my question, though failed to understand the context for it. I can't decide if a 90% answer counts as complete satisfaction or not. Then again, the answer was free!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

simple pleasures

I stumped a reference librarian today.

I plan to try again later.

Sometimes it's the little moments in life that power us (well, me) through Tuesdays.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

book meme

Harriet tagged me for this meme about books about two weeks ago. I've been busy with that usual middle-of-October chaos, so this is rather late. I envy Harriet her eighty words a minute sometimes.

Anyway, the drill is to answer the questions, then tag some people – I haven't, as everyone I would tag has already responded, in one fashion or another – and when you’ve done it you email beanphoto at mail@beanphoto.co.uk and tell him you did it so he can go and collect it. And ask the bloggers you tag to do the same.

1. Most memorable place/experience reading a book?

So many possibilities for this answer - certainly the golden and glorious afternoon in which I devoured Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the first time, the incredible frustration of trying to plow through Alison Weir's Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley while on a gorgeous location, any of a number of Jane Austen novels reread while while crossing the Atlantic, the pure joy when I finally laid hands on a copy of A Candle in Her Room after thirty years and found that not only did I still love it, but that I appreciated the author's brilliance a lot more than I once did - and I note that the first titles which came to mind were all penned by women, which may or may not be significant.

If pinned down, perhaps because of the season, I'd have to give the nod to House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I took a senior seminar on Hawthorne - I don't know if we read all of the man's work, but we came awfully close. Gables is fairly creepy on its own, but after reading so many of NH's short stories, my mind already dashed off to dark corners and spooky setting before I read the first page.

I finally found sanctuary in the common room of my dormitory. With the low murmur of the television and chatter from other students to ground a corner of my subconcious in reality, I curled up in a corner and read the book in one sitting. I still found the book creepy, but I no longer feared that I'd make too much noise by turning the page.

2. Most unusual place/experience reading a book?

Studying for qualifying exams - I went a week without glasses or contacts but had to go on reading. I still feel great affection for Born For Liberty by Sara Evans because it had unusually large print.

3. Most dangerous place/experience reading a book?

I've snuck in coffee to a few libraries where beverages were banned, does that count?

Occasionally I've felt unsafe in the stacks at large university libraries - the sight lines are, obviously, dreadful, and it wouldn't be hard to hide a crime (or other naughty activity, such as coffee drinking) behind a pillar.

4. Most luxurious place/experience reading a book?

The weekend before the US AP exam I stayed at the home of a friend who lived on the Atlantic Ocean. I reread all of my notes and both textbooks sitting on a bay window's window seat, watching the waves roll in.

5. Funniest place/experience reading a book? Or, add a reading-place/experience description of your own.

Hmmm... lots of times when I have agonized over trying to remember a title, only to discover the book right next to me... Sharyn McCrumb's Killing Susan made me laugh so long and so often that I reread it three times in as many days.

Weir's Mary, Queen of Scots reduced me to frequently grumbling aloud to friends and family, "just kill the man, already!" - does that count?

The old saw about "not judging a book by its cover" proved, just once, to be entirely accurate; at a small local library branch, I spotted a John Bellairs book propped on top of a bookcase. I'd never heard of Bellairs, but the cover picture screamed out, "I was drawn by Edward Gorey." What further recommendation could I ask; Gorey and a librarian? All true: Bellairs' books (and the follow-ups by Brad Strickland) are wonderful.

Monday, October 05, 2009

one sided conversation

What is it, dog?
Yes, dog?
What do you want, Sam?

So it has gone, for three hours. He doesn't need to go outside,it's not the traditional hour for the walking of the dog, he's been fed and his sofa is free of clutter. It's hard enough to focus upon the most boring assignment of teh entire class, but this is not helping.


I miss the days when I could simply walk him by the front door of the lady dog of mature years and he would then sleep with a happy grin for an hour or so.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Obama puts a ring on it


Just watch it - you know you need a good solid belly laugh on a Friday Morning.

I still believe.

Friday, September 25, 2009

the rain is full of ghosts

Nearly everyone in the mid-west seemed dazed by this week of rain. It's gray and dreary enough to be late fall, yet it's warm and the leaves, at least in Indianapolis, have yet to turn. There's something wonderfully comforting about waking up in the early morning to the sound of the rain and even better to know that I don't have to get up early to teach or mark papers, and so can go back to sleep.

The weather has been hard on Sam - the extra humidity brings out his arthritis, and without his daily walks, he has cabin fever... though not enough cabin fever to consent to walk in the rain. It looks like matters may be dry for a few minutes so perhaps I can get him twice around the block this afternoon.

I had a frustrating conversation with a student, made all the more frustrating because of the rain. I could barely hear her words, and the rain had better diction. I truly and deeply admire the students who take a class not in their native language to study history not their own, for which they have no cultural context to hand. People like her bring out my most altruistic & enthusiastic "please, I want so much to help you!" teaching impulse in my soul - but truth be told, I'm really not sure what she wanted to know. The words that came out of my mouth seemed to reassure her, though, so I'll chalk that up as a small victory.

Monday, September 21, 2009

monday, Monday

The neighbors threw a big party on Saturday - it started at about 10:00 AM and lasted until midnight. Sam and I counted about twenty cars at one point parked outside. It sounded and looked like rather a lot of fun, though I wish that they had knocked off the singing before 11:00 PM.

They had the right weather for it - yesterday and today have been gray and wet, though mercifully still warm enough to have the windows open and some amount of fresh air circulating. The party included several dogs, who barked madly at am every time he went outside. He found this behavior quite baffling; I honestly think he's pining for his lady love.

Status: grading like mad.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

status update

If I had a facebook account, which I do not, my current status would be, "lemming is unable to correctly type the word "conquer" tonight, and is reluctant to ponder the potential significance of this fact."

I got it wrong again in the typing of this post.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

in company

Due to circumstances beyond my control, lemming headquarters has moved again. This week I have been grading essays not only away from Sam's watchful eye, but in a very full office. Oh, I've had office-mates before this, but never before have I enjoyed their company so much. While teaching is a social activity, grading is usually a solitary activity, of necessity, really.

By the way, today is the birthday of Colin Firth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a denial

I, Sam, would like to offer a blanket statement to the effect that the mistress is up to no good. In fact, she is trying to smear the good name of a perfectly respectable lady dog of mature years by insinuating that she and I would possibly have any sort of feelings for each other beyond a mutual distrust of rabbits.

Dangerous, blood-thirsty rabbits, I should add, ones who traipse across our yard - I mean my yard, and the mature lady dog assists me in the barking and chasing...

The mistress claims that I sit outside the door of the lady dog's domicile and wait for her. This is untrue. I simply happen to be walking by very slowly and prepared to greet her should she by chance emerge. It's pure happenstance that I insisted upon going outside at 11:30 last night just as the mature lady dog also happened to be taking a stroll.

Friday, July 31, 2009

a moment of pause and a moment of joy

Sam approves of our move, as is patently obvious from his entire demeanor.

At the same time, I need to prepare myself: Sam is also winding down. Twice in two months he has very gently but firmly turned down a walk, on a day when he had yet to do more than head outside, raise a leg, then return inside to snooze on the sofa. He's not in pain, he still makes his feelings known (sofa = good) but I have to accept that the naps more than outweigh the constant alertness.

He's had a good life. We've made a great team. I don't doubt that we still have a few innings left... but I need to remember that we're counting down.

Now to joy: el Presidente has a little sister. Hurrah!

Monday, July 20, 2009

a guest post

The mistress is busy, something about grocery shopping because she is out of diet coke. No matter. I, Sam, shall blog in her stead.

The new headquarters is a good place. I do not have to climb stairs, and it is much easier to keep constant watch over the mistress's actions. A young and flighty young thing lives on one side of us; she lacks dignity, but is pleasant enough. On the other side we have another dignified dog, a female of mature years, one who understands the need to maintain constant watchfulness. However, I suspect that she enjoys that mysterious activity known as swimming, so I shall have to carefully monitor our conversations for clues.

The mistress has opened many boxes, but has been kind enough to leave my sofa uncovered. It is unusual for her not to bring me along when she leaves in the morning; I am glad that she has at last come to understand the importance of keeping me along at all times.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have Proust to read.

Friday, July 10, 2009

dancing on the sofa

Yes, Sam, I know.
It's all right, Sam.
Mistress! Mistress!

Sam's sofa is in a U-Haul somewhere between here and the new lemming headquarters. He keeps checking the spot where it (the sofa) should be and isn't, just in case it (the sofa) has reappeared. Then he attempts to call my attention to this loss. Hell hath no fury like a border collie thwarted in his stare.

Sam and it (he sofa) will be together again in a few days. Meanwhile, I have more boxes to fill. John Adams (or was it John Quincy Adams?) once observed that he had all his life had a passion for books, one whose folly he only felt when moving...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

in my place

The alarmingly tall contractor came in with a final bill exactly @25 over budget. If anyone needs a roofer, let me know.

ATC tells me that everyone on his crew has at least 15 years of experience and is out of work because of the recession. I couldn't afford the new roof, not even remotely, but my insurance company funded purchase means that four families can eat this month. That's humbling.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

a day for a good book

It's raining today, so no roofers. By this time tomorrow, my headache may have dissipated, just in time for them to start work on the garage.

Rob asks just how tall the alarmingly tall contractor might be - I don't have a number, but I can tell you that he is so tall that he has to duck to walk through my front door. he doesn't do the "tall person stoop" when he talks to you, which I admire.

I've been reading Linda H. Davis' biography of the cartoonist Charles Addams, as in the Addams Family. I have a weakness for biographies of the people who lived and thrived in the early years of the New Yorker. Occasionally they reach the point of smarmy intellectualistic elitism that offends even my ego, but this one is terrific. Much like the most recent biography of Charles Schultz, Davis intersperses plenty of Addams' cartoons in the text and she's clearly having fun with her subject, even while bringing the right professional tone. Addams comes across as a dedicated man with a sense of fun who enjoyed teh macabre atmosphere around him.

I'd rather be reading about Addams, but right now I have essays to grade. I am convinced that they reproduce in the night...

Monday, June 15, 2009

up on the roof

The chaps showed up bright and early at 7:00 AM to start the joyous process of tearing off the old roof here at lemming headquarters and installing a new one. The head contractor (the most alarmingly tall person I have ever met) warned that they "might make a lot of noise." I rather assumed that they would, which is why I apologized to most of the neighbors about it last week, though not to the man who likes to run his chain-saw at 6:30 AM on Saturdays.

lemming headquarters desperately needs said new roof; I sincerely doubt that the old one would have lasted another winter, and with all of the thunderstorms we've had in the last few weeks, I've had my worries about the old one lasting until the new one could go on. I'm pleased that the alarmingly tall person assured me that they would do all of the house today and then all of the garage "when it's dry" rather than leaving me with a sheet of plastic to keep out the storms which are due for the rest of the week.

Sam's deafness saddens me from time to time, but today it is a blessing. Had he working ears, Sam would be barking at full-on red alert, between the simple existence of several strange men here at th territorial headquarters which he is sworn to protect and defend, the oddness of their location (said roof) and the very odd noises that stripping off old shingles makes. Instead he's snoring away on the sofa, oblivious to the drama above his floppy ears.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

on we go

Yes, the hell-spawn devil's-imp did survive my time away. Precocious neighborhood child found him quite a handful. He left gigantic clumps of fur around his various scratching posts, though with no noticeable difference to his coat. He seems vaguely pleasd to have me back, probably simply for my mere existence.

I did read a glorious murder mystery while on vacation, which I'll have to write baout, as soon as I get through all of these e-mails.

Friday, May 29, 2009

time for a vacation

I'm going away for a few days, just a quiet trip to share some peace with Sam. Precocious neighborhood child will be very well paid to look after the good cats and even the hell spawn demon imp. I fear what will occur when I am gone, but it will be great to leave the state for a while.

Meanwhile, let the bureaucrats deal with the problems - I'm going to sleep in.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

subversive children's literature

"Scalia," Sunny said. She meant something like, "It doesn't seem like the literal interpretation makes any sense," but her siblings did not think it was wise to translate.

-The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snickett, page 268

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Roses and Pandas

Jeanne has rewarded me for commenting on her blog. It feels rather odd, still, to comment on her blog, when I think back to her commenting upon my papers all these years ago, but no matter. My thanks for the honor.

I'm in the usual seasonal dash to read the long papers, plow through the exams, battle between my conscience and the result calculated by a spreadsheet, knowing how clearly I remember every grade on my own college transcript. Perhaps it's all of these academic battles that have me realizing how befuddled I am by the Lancaster arm of English history, so I have been trying to straighten out some of my confusion. (Jeanne, have you read In a Dark Wood Wandering?) I think reading that in March is where it all got started.

For obvious reasons, what I am teaching these days has nothing at all to do with the House of Lancaster, which may explain my attraction to it. I dislike the assigned textbook I've been reading for the next round of classes (it is a textbook only because it is assigned and is a book, it's not a textbook per say) so the Lancastrians are a palate cleanser. I've been digging about for a suitable Victoria Holt novel from the period to fill the need to brush up on history while relax at the end of the day.

For the record, the hell-spawn devil's imp feline made two attempts in less than thirty-six hours to escape and has been returned to safety, despite my fleeting hopes for his speedy demise. Well, not hopes... truly, I don't wish him ill, just declawed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

pop culture still lives

On Friday night, April 17, 2009, I heard Michael Jackson's "Thriller" all the way through for the first time.

I wouldn't have known that it was "Thriller" had I not been told - not some of his clearest diction...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

academics are goofy creatures

"I mean, I just don't understand these people who strengthen their self-identification through listing their accomplishments. 2.5 kids, house in the suburbs, who cares? that's not who you really are."

"Oh, I don't know - when you introduced yourself it was with your name, degrees, institutions and latest publication. What's the intellectual difference? You've just offered me a self-definition through a particular sub-set of academic qualifications and accomplishments, and you asked for mine."

What I really should have done was to start competing on the grounds of the extent of our student loan debt. (laughter)

Monday, April 06, 2009

first post for April

It's snowing outside. Snowing, I tell you. People will be grumbling about global warming as fallacy and conspiracy today; best to stay inside.

Speaking of conspiracies - documentation to prove that Paris was liberated in 1944 by white troops has been released. There's a reason by colonialism's shadow still looms large on teh International Stage.

The Voyeur was attracted by my skirt as it swished by and drew blood on my leg with his claws. After I learned that declawing a cat means removing the feline equivalent of a knuckle, I changed my ideas about it, but the Voyeur is, well, maybe he's a special case.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

of cats and men

The Voyeur should consider himself lucky if he survives the week. I do not pretend that my furniture is anything special, but he's doing quite a number on it. This is a battle of wills between me and a creature who does not contribute financially to the household. I marvel at the patience shown by you veteran cat co-habitators.

The historian John Hope Franklin has died, after nearly a century of making the field look easy. Plenty of obituaries and rememberences have already been recorded, and I'm sure that the OAH and AHA will get their in (and plenty of follow-ups) over the weeks, months and years to come. (Historians are not always prompt.) What impressed and impresses me most about Franklin is his willingness, nay, enthusiasm, t be a teacher and to give his students every possible assistance. The ivory tower pays lip service to the importance of good teaching, of being a mentor, of genuinely cultivating the next generation, but the true investment is not often made. Franklin invested and, unlike AIG, his dividends will only increase in value.

Monday, March 23, 2009

a quiet peace

The son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Nicholas Hughes has taken his own life.

It's often said that children of celebrities bear additional burdens simply by virtue of their DNA; here that DNA presents a double whammy. Plath is an icon to so many - and so many are still angry at Ted Hughes for the breakdown of their marriage. Their children have carried such a challenge through life, and seem to have managed it in quiet and with dignity.

Hughes must have known that in ending his own life that the comparisons with and commentary on his mother would increase. Even in misery and death, the poor man isn't "Nicholas;" he's the son of poets with emotional problems and an aura of literary celebrity.

Is - now was.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

advice requested

The Voyeur is an adult male cat, neutered, and the alpha of his pack. he's established that Sam is not a threat, but that the dog still outranks him.

I can handle the late night concerts and the tendency to be underfoot, but he deliberately pees in inappropriate locations, particularly when I am watching. Shoes I can wash and carpets can be cleaned, but he's attacking library books.

Any ideas?

(Is it felicide to murder a cat?)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

a multi-tasking holiday

Quoting Mass Moments eMoment :

...in 1901, the City of Boston officially celebrated Evacuation Day for the first time. In early March of 1776, Continental troops managed to move heavy cannon to the top of Dorchester Heights. When the British realized what had happened, they knew they could no longer hold the capital. The lowly Continental Army forced the British to evacuate Boston. One hundred and twenty-five years later, the Mayor proclaimed March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, a legal holiday. The city could commemorate an important historical event — George Washington's first victory in the American Revolution — and celebrate its place as "the capital of Irish America." Even today, schools and government offices are closed on March 17th in Boston and Suffolk County.

(c)2009 Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. All rights reserved.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday monday

As of noon, March will be half-over, thank goodness.

The Voyeur has taken to indoor dumpster diving, i.e. digging through the trash can. When Sam does this it is to express his displeasure at being left alone too many time too often. The Voyeur does this because it is his right. The Voyeur is wearing his welcome and my patience thin.

The Vampire still avoid me and the Enigma quietly examines her surroundings. Only when I take corned beef out of the refrigerator does she react. Perhaps she's Irish?

Thought for the day: Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do. - Jean-Paul Satre

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

back and better

Long time no blog. Again.

I have a theory that much of the nation spent December and January in a state of anticipation, holding on by our very fingernails until the presidential hand-off. Then the hangover hit and we realized that matters went from dreadful to - well, what's worse than dreadful? - and we all spent February in dreadful moods.

Anyway, I didn't want to do yet another post about how tired I am of winter, so I've been quiet and tried to take life on its own terms.

Thanks to all who asked after Sam; though his deafness is official, the meds are keeping him spry and very active. Last night something did not please either his eyes or his nose and he gave the fence line a long, hard bark. It's been a good long while since he did this, so I let him bark his heart out.

Lemming headquarters has been temporarily augmented by the addition of three cats. Sam has adapted quite well, though he is baffled that they leave food in their dishes after meals and that I won't allow him to eat it. "The Vampire" seems content to stay out of my way. He mostly emerges from his cave after I go to bed, so we have very little contact. "The Voyeur" is a constant source of trouble. I am accustomed to a dog, one who knows better than to jump on countertops and who does not relieve himself on household items to express his inner feelings. The third one, whom I think has the most personality, spent three days thoroughly examining headquarters, only to decide that the windows provide far better options for entertainment than watching me grade essays.

As research for my new lifestyle, I have been rereading mysteries from the Cat Who series. One of these years I need to read all twenty-two books in order, as skipping about means that I lose track of who is now dead, who has gone insane, who has switched jobs, etc.

One aspect to Lilian Jackson Braun's books that I do admire is that she sneaks in the occasional vocabulary word, foreign language phrase or food term that forces me to the dictionary. As economizing means less fancy dining, it is fun to drool over her menus of fish, crab, beef with mushrooms, cheeses...

Excuse me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

snowy snowy day

Indianapolis is snowed in. All of the schools are closed, even the die-hard private places. Most businesses are closed, which is why my wonderful next door neighbor was on hand to snow blow my driveway.

This does bring me to the question of why - yes, I always seem to find a why. According to the radio, all sorts of accidents took place this morning, hardly surprising - but who are these people? In my version of the universe, the only people who should have to work today are people at hospitals, police officers, etc. Why on earth should the rest of the universe have to go to work today on roads that are not safe? What is so vital to the world that office workers risk the unplowed roads just so that the office can say that they were open?

Easy for me to say, I have the day off.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Founding Mothers

I just wanted to inject a moment of reality into all of our Obama afterglow (tm) and I include myself in that glow.

Yes, it is terrific and outstanding that we have an African-American president, whose extended family looks even more like America than ever seemed possible. (Oh, no, wait, don't the Bushes have one or two Hispanic in-laws? Not quite the same thing.) Obviously I am thrilled to bits that many Americans voted for the man based upon his principles, not upon his skin, but the end result is all the more amazing.

Here's my note - Obama's father wasn't exactly an engaged father figure. Obama was raised by a white mother and a white grandmother, sometimes with the help of a step-father and extended family. I'd like to take a moment to remember them, if I might - the woman from Kansas, who fell for an exchange student, the grandmother who was not perfect but gave her grandson enduring and unending love -

they too are our American story. I honor the goat-herder's son who is now our president, but I also honor the son of a single mother, raised by a grandmother, who now seeks to give his own children a nuclear family.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

just staying in touch

Sam is not happy about the drop in temperature. He's confined himself to frequent short trips outside. He would obviously like to spend more time peeing at the fence-line with the dog next door, but I can see him shaking from the cold.

Sorry, I didn't mean this blog to turn into some kind of obsession with my dog, but seeing how much he has aged in the past year has been hard to accept.

Meanwhile, life continues. I seem to have a good crop of students at the moment, which after last spring semester's mess is a definite plus. Some of them even like my jokes and have said so, openly!

Friday, January 09, 2009

just four minutes

Long time no blog. I've been busy, sick, all of the usual cranky winter complaints.

One of the perks to December is that people send Christmas cards. (Well, some people. A pox upon people who say that they'll send a card and then don't, year after year. You're not going to do it, we both know it, don't tell lies.) I love reading people's Christmas letters and seeing pictures of their kids, I really do - even of dogs or cats. Just knowing that people think of me and others at least once a year is gladdening to my cynic's heart.

Alas now it is January and now begins the slog toward spring.