31 March 2011

A picture of that stegosaurus

This is the stegosaurus I was talking about yesterday. I thought you needed to see it. 
Stegosaurus = coolest dinosaur ever. Just sayin'.
Update on Florida: we are here and that's pretty glorious (humidity! heat!). Last night, we hit up the Red Mesa Cantina for dinner. That was pretty transcendent. I had a duck taco with red chili jam. And fried yucca, which I'd never had before. Deliciousness. And even through I didn't order a margarita (and our waiter was pretty disappointed in our choice of plain unsweetened iced tea), he showed us cell-phone videos of the Grand Prix race that had taken place in the city last weekend. (He was a great waiter. I wish he'd told us his name.)

Today, I spent a big chunk of my day learning about literary studies & American studies topics I didn't know about and hanging out with a former grad school colleague that I never really knew very well while we were in the same grad program. It was rather lovely. I'm inspired (doubly) to actually make my own peanut butter, and now I have a few South American authors to check out. (This is the magic of conversations with English majors: you learn about new writers and exciting things to read.)

Also, there were tornado warnings/watches all day, so plans to go exploring in St. Pete got considerably derailed. But baseball has begun, so we spent the evening watching the Cardinals/Padres & the Giants/Dodgers games. I just wish I hadn't run out of books to read: I read all of Kingsolver's The Bean Trees on the flight to Tampa. I'm now bookless (though I'm hoping to find something exciting at the conference book fair tomorrow for the way home).

30 March 2011

Feeling like Georges Perec

Let me start this post by saying that I adore Georges Perec. (Look at him on this French postage stamp. How can you not love that face?) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is, for reasons that astound and befuddle me, one of the most important books that I've ever read. I encountered this book in my History of the Essay course at Ohio University where it was included on intense and fascinating reading reading list assembled by Dr. David Lazar. (This course was one of my favorites through six years of graduate work, but maybe more on that another time.) The amazing thing is that I don't particularly care for things like Perec's work. I'm one of those people who is all about the narrative--give me story, give me character, let me latch on and sink in. Perec's work--even his fiction, which I have not successfully read--resists all of those things that I usually love. Species of Spaces is playful, experimental, resistant. It uses footnotes and marginalia, but not in any way that clarifies. It puzzles and paces in the Oulipo manner. Each note, each point, spirals the reader off into another direction. The book, which is a collection of a number of Perec's writings, changes topic quickly, easily. It discourages immersion in any one direction, and yet, he asks, seriously, for the reader to consider teaspoons, the blank center of a page, staircases and airports and how we might live in them.

It's that last, of course, that rings in my brain today. And I'm wickedly vexed that I don't have my copy of Species of Spaces with me, that I have to do my quoting from memory (bound to be inaccurate) and without citations (blasphemy, horror, crisis), but I can't get it out of my mind. Because I am in an airport this morning, on this, my twenty-ninth birthday, due to spend most of the day flying. (It began with getting out of bed at 4:00 a.m. I am definitely calling a Mulligan on my birthday and re-celebrating sometime next week.) An early flight out of Casper has led me to a two-hour pause in Denver, early in the day, and I am thinking of Georges Perec, who was fascinated by airports, who asked, in Species of Spaces, how we might live more in them. Perec was writing well before 9/11, before the days of intense airport security and screenings, before only the people going somewhere had any business in the airport proper. I am "going somewhere," I belong here. I have the right to these small shops and all of these convenient (and overpriced) dining options. Here in Denver, I have the right to look at these tiled floors with their metallic dinosaur inlay. (Okay, that one I'm grateful for. How freaking cool is that? Stegosaurus--world's best dinosaur--hanging out on the floor.) In many airports, those "rights" include things like access to art displays that aren't anywhere else. (It includes the right to duty-free purchases of very expensive things like perfume and alcohol. Every time I'm in an airport, I think I should do all of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop, but how would I get everything home? When I'm in an airport, the last thing I want to do is add to the things I carry. This entry is feeling like a reference to everything. Hello, Tim O'Brien. Hello, Pico Ayer. Hello, hello, hello.)

On the whole, if it weren't for the strange alienation that is modern traveling--the immediate separation from whomever has dropped you off at the airport, the invasions of privacy (and I understand the precautions and I accept that, but I do feel a little twinge every time I toss that clear plastic bag on the scanner belt: yes, that's my astringent, yes, my skin has no idea how to cope with this dryness and this altitude; yes, that's my deodorant, yes, friendly agent, you now know what my underarms smell like)--airports would be amazing places to "live" in. I don't literally mean like that Tom Hanks movie from half a decade ago, but they are fascinating. There's such an intersection of humanity in these places, so many things to see and watch. It is all of life's experiences, gathered in one space.

And it isn't even just our species in these spaces. Here in Denver this morning, I have been watching, with a kind of ridiculous glee, the sparrows that have somehow found their way into the place. They seem fat and happy, picking up the crumbs of our terminal snacking, gathering in small groups of three or four to bounce into this corner or that for a stray French fry or the flakes of the passable pain au chocolat that I can never contain.

But I have seen a man towing a small rolling trunk as his luggage, strapped around with leather, clasped tight in brass. A woman does yoga--downward-facing dog to child's pose--at our nearly-empty gate. All around this place, complete strangers catch bits of sleep. Where else do we act at such an apparent level of comfort in the presence of people we have never met?

We do it, to a certain extent, in places like this, in blogs and on the internet more generally, but there's some sort of connection. In a blog post, we usually have a sense of who the audience is. A community rises up around such a thing, whether small or large. And information on the internet must still be sought out. In airports, we do not know who we're looking at. We do not know their history unless it's shared overtly, through dialog or through the trappings of their travel. (I like to try to piece together people's travel stories by watching, by looking at bags and the places their snacks have come from, by their shoes and their hats and their glasses.) But there's no way of confirming any of that. We can only see what we see--that these two business folk, with large rolling bags, have set themselves down beside the woman doing yoga, and now she is not doing it anymore. Now she has gotten up, gone off somewhere else. Is she discomfited by their presence? Is she off getting a coffee before the flight? This airport attendant, driving a cart, is singing an actual blues tune. This airport attendant, pushing an empty wheelchair, interrupts the song to borrow a radio.

We are so naked here, though we're often wearing coats and scarves and another layer in case the plane is cold. We are unarmored, even though we are clad with bags and backpacks and rolling suitcases that prevent anyone from crowding too close.

It's fascinating. I don't know what Perec would think of this new system, the way we cannot wait with family and friends, that we cannot eat in this cafe because it is past security, that we cannot carry our own cafe au lait into this foreign space. But I think I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that he would look for a way to live in it.

In honor of that, I'm going to go take a photo of that stegosaurus on the floor. I'd put it in this post, but the DIA wifi set-up will not allow me to add an image to this post for some reason I cannot even begin to fathom.

24 March 2011

Between Seasons

This post is certainly wishful thinking--spring in Wyoming generally has very little to do with the month of March. However, last week we had some properly warm days--I even opened a window or two once or twice--and it fooled at least one crocus per block into springing forth. We have some tulip greens inching their way up. But there will, certainly, be more snows on the way, and I'm not putting away my wool coat yet.

Still, everything feels strangely in-between right now. I know that winter is not over yet, that spring hasn't quite arrived, either, but the weather bounces from sixty to snow in the same afternoon. Spring break has come and it has gone (and it was lovely, lovely, lovely, by the way), so we're not headed toward any big breaks, but we're also a full six weeks from finals, so it's not yet time to put the sled on that slope. I'm grateful that I don't get seasonal migraines or other ailments connected to things like humidity and barometric pressure shifts--the way March and April yo-yo here, I'd be toast.

We're almost to the start of the professional baseball season (blessed be), but not quite. (Right now, mostly, I wish we could skip the rest of pre-season entirely because my Phillies keep getting injured.)

Both music and silence sound wrong on my ears. I listened to fifteen seconds of twelve songs in the last ten minutes, and then I turned off my iTunes. It's almost all I can do to keep from bouncing up and down at my desk, but I'd also very much like to go back to sleep this very second. (But what I'm going to do, in half an hour, is go talk about Rosetti's "Goblin Market" and Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens.)

And so, I'll leave you with a link to this phenomenal interview from The Paris Review with Anne Carson to get you through the in-betweens, if you're feeling them to. She's genius. Pure genius.

14 March 2011

Reality Check

Last week was the lead-up to our Spring Break. The past two weeks have felt like a manic blur, but I didn't quite realize just how ridiculous it was until mid-week last week. This is what happened:

I have ten minutes between my classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Out of those ten minutes, I try, barring student emergencies/questions, to at least get back to my office for about six of them so that I can refill my mug with tea (or just plain hot water some days) and so that I can check my e-mail to be certain that any of my students in the upcoming sections who are trying desperately to get in touch with me on my teaching-barrage days can get some kind of response. On Wednesday of last week, I was in the middle of this process--one hand on the HotShot for my tea refill, standing in front of my desk, leaning over the keyboard to send a quick reply to an e-mail--when a colleague walked by my office. He saw me, stopped in my doorway, came into my office.

He said, "Leaning over your desk like that is going to kill your back when you get older." He grinned, but he had legitimate concern, as anyone who spends a lot of time at a desk knows. (And nevermind with any of that "when you get older" business. Two years ago, in the midst of dissertation madness, my back and neck crackled like cellophane every time I moved because of my bad desk--and lack of desk--habits.)

I said, half-laughing, that there just wasn't time to sit down. My colleague just shook his head and went on his way.

It wasn't until I was actually in the classroom a few minutes later that I realized that I'd meant what I said. And how ridiculous that was.

Making time to do things that are good for one's whole well-being--sensible, easy things, like having a seat before working at the computer (unless one is going to commit to an actual standing desk that is designed for a standing person)--shouldn't be a hard decision. I'm not talking about large life-changes or even the cultivation of significant helpful habits (like waking up earlier to read or meditate or write or spending twenty minutes a day tidying one's place to avoid Imminent Cleanliness Disasters in the future). There are lots and lots of blogs that address these types of habits and decisions. (Zen Habits is one that I rather like.) I'm talking about accepting that sitting down is worthwhile. That eating lunch with both hands (instead of having one hand on a keyboard) is a valid thing to do.

This is one of those times where my mother would point out that no amount of education can create common sense. This is one of those times where my mother would be ever-so-right.

So. Once Spring Break started properly (Sunday afternoon, really), I decided that I would work all Spring Break on things that made me feel accomplished, as opposed to busy. That's not to say that I won't be busy; I still have a to-do list and a number of work-related tasks that have to be completed. But my break work-load was specifically engineered to avoid a lot of imminent things (like grading masses of papers), so there's actually time to do things that add up to some sort of sense of pleasure and usefulness.

Yesterday, that manifested in putting together some packages for friends, which were mailed this morning. Today, I wrote, I am making granola, and tonight I'm actually going to cook something from my Moroccan cookbook (which I've had for five years but have only ever thought wistfully about). Creating and cooking are both useful and fulfilling to me. (I have tried--and may keep trying--to accept that sometimes it's okay not to be useful, but all that does is make me feel guilty. I try to find a happy medium in things like this, then, to steal from the Enlightenment: sweetness and light.)

What both refreshes you and staves off that feeling that you should be doing something else?