Friday, October 31, 2008

Orion Revisits the Vet

Orion, accompanied by Ms. Spots, visited the vet a couple of weeks ago after a brief and uncharacteristic lack of desire for breakfast. Since his appetite had returned by the time we went, both rabbits mainly had their toenails trimmed and their ears cleaned.
Unfortunately, this week Orion has come down with a new indisposition: a runny nose that causes sniffling and sneezing. His behavior has been pretty normal, so I hoped it would pass in a couple of days, but it wasn't going away and he was beginning to want unusual amounts of petting, so today he went back to the vet.
We came away with a big bottle of medicine, which he will be taking twice a day for the next two weeks. I was hoping that I could just mix the stuff with baby food and expect him to lap it up the way George used to, and for that matter the way Ms. Spots usually does, but he sniffed it suspiciously and decided it was not at all his kind of treat. I then had to try syringe feeding him. While I was able to catch him (a sign in itself that he is not feeling so great), he wanted no part of having things stuck in his mouth, and really I have no skill at syringe-feeding rabbits single-handed anyway. Most of whatever got into his mouth probably got there because it dripped onto his paws and he licked his paws after the ordeal.
I sniffed the mixture and had to admit that even to the poor-quality human nose, it smelled medicinal. Ms. Spots thinks the stuff smells interesting, but she has a more adventurous palate than Orion.
At most I was able to get half the evening's dose into the protesting patient. He is now reclining under a wicker chair with his paramour, who licked his face to express her support. She doesn't lick him all that much as a rule, but she is doing pretty well at being Dr. Spots today.
I'm not sure how we'll get through twice-a-day dosing of the patient considering that he now regards me with considerable suspicion and I've only really successfully syringe-fed rabbits with the help of a second person.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Snow of the Season

It snowed much of the day but alas I didn't photograph it.
I was, instead:
1) cutting dissertation
2) meeting with student about exam
3) cutting more dissertation
4) playing unusually loud fast music in gamelan (almost as if we were in a Balinese group, but with a completely different sound), which we are thinking of mating to electric guitar with heavy distortion just for fun
5) cutting more dissertation
6) realizing that tomorrow's Powerpoint presentation is one of those I didn't actually finish over the summer and has to be created almost from scratch
7) petting neglected lapines (Orion has been sneezing, may have to go the vet)
8) trawling through Library of Congress's web site looking for late-19th-century wood engravings of labor, strikes, immigration, and related topics.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election Oddities

I will be turning in the drastically shortened (?) version of my dissertation next Monday, in time for my advisor to either (we speculated) soak it in blood or in champagne. We would prefer the latter. I really don't want to learn that she has committed hari-kiri or a related act over the election returns.
Meanwhile, my new Voter ID card has arrived; I was persuaded to register in Pennsylvania on the grounds that it is a swing state. So far so good, but why does it say I am a Republican? This bit of misidentification could cause someone to attack me at my local polling place. I did not, on my registration, claim to be any such thing, although I did consider saying I was Independent.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mischief Over at Think Denk

Before I stop laughing, I must direct Obama-supporting, musically inclined readers to "An Interview with Sarah Palin." I hadn't previously realized how effectively musicology and political satire could be combined.
You may never think of Beethoven (or Schenkerian analysis) in the same way again.
My regards to Dirk for bringing this to my attention.
Dipping into other posts on the same blog suggests I could get lost there for awhile, assuming I don't fall on the floor with evil mirth. For example:
Well, I had just finished practicing the twelve Liszt Transcendental Etudes, twelve times, and my parents and I had an emotional conference about the comet while my father prepared a snack of tortillas and Cheez Whiz.

(This last sentence is an example of “local color” which I learned about at Las Cruces High School, from my charmingly insane English teacher. From this teacher I learned to write one-page essays about Kafka, asserting in their first paragraph that Gregor Samsa is an “unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man,” and concluding “in conclusion, I have shown that Gregor Samsa is an unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man.” My eloquence leaves me without words.)

Had to get in that Czech reference there, after all. (Yes, I know Kafka wrote in German, but he was from Prague and bilingual.)
Exam grading is now officially over. Some exams were better than expected, some were worse. Some of my students had better ask me about study skills and how to prevent going blank during exams when they clearly know most of the answers. (Do I know the answer to the latter problem? No, but I provide free unlicensed psychotherapy to the chosen few.)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's Necessary to Go Dancing

The Modern exams did improve after I got out of the definitions sections, I am glad to say. This is mildly baffling but a relief.
One cannot, however, be academic more than about ten hours a day. (I think I managed about eight today, with letup only to take the bus to school around 1:00. I did discover that if you hit upon the right terms, Library of Congress not surprisingly has lots of late-nineteenth-century imagery of conflict with Native Americans.) It is important to go dancing. And indeed, as one of my colleagues said in describing last week's Lindy Hop adventures, it might wipe you out for the whole weekend but all the same it puts you in a good mood for several days.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modernism is Hard

Having finally gotten through the American Art exams--which were very satisfactory other than that many students have trouble getting the ID portions--I turned my attention to the Modern exams.
While I'm sure that things will improve, thus far (I have graded the term definition section) I am rather disturbed.
I think almost everyone has been able to define Pointillism reasonably well, but after that it can be quite the train wreck. I am reminded that last time I taught Intro to Modern, students also tended to think Orientalism mean Japonisme. It is true I talk more about Japanese influence on western art, but considering that Orientalism is such a big topic in other disciplines, you would think people would have heard about it there. Oh well, I will have to stress the difference next time I teach the class.
And I'm unsure why "non-objective" art is a stumbling block for almost everyone, because I know that I specified how it is different from "abstraction" (which has some sort of subject matter out there in the world, whether it is an apple or St. George). I'm especially unsure why several people seem to think it simply hasn't got a focus, or a technique, or a meaning. Still, maybe it's just hard to get used to the idea that a work can be "about" color or form or feeling, although 2008 seems a little late to find this new and surprising since non-objective art is all over the place.
Still, while many people gave reasonable definitions for most terms, I am surprised by some of what I'm reading. A few of the more peculiar definitions proffered by my students this semester are:
AVANT-GARDE: upper crust society
FAUVISM: 'false' movement; artwork focusing on the surreal.
SUPREMATISM: focusing on avant-garde/high society
MANIFESTO: The story and philosophies of a person (or "artificially decorating on the natural image")
PRIMITIVISM: Characterized by indistinct brushstrokes
PLEIN-AIRE PAINTING: a style of painting that uses everyday subject matter
ORIENTALISM: Oath of the Horatii (or, as another person suggests, "Orientation of the picture/painting, lay out)
THE ACADEMY: Liberal art
I had been under the impression that more people understood the material better. Were these people not listening at all? Did they not read the textbook at all? (Where do some of these definitions come from, outer space?) Is it that the class begins at dinner-time? Are people malnourished during class?
I do think that Intro to Modern is intrinsically harder to get a grip on for most people. American Art is, for most of its history, about recognizable subjects. Most people quickly recognize portraits of George Washington, and a significant amount of American art up to 1910 or so deals with national themes. Modernism, on the other hand, involves a bewildering cavalcade of artists and movements, most of whom do their best to make the subject matter a bit baffling.
Ah well. I believe I will do a few other things before returning to the exams.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The General Unfairness of Things

Overheard on the WYEP's "Discumentary" show: "The album... went on to sell a modest 60,000 copies."
Now if that had been a book, it would be a bestseller, or at least well on the way. Print runs of 2500-3000 copies were common for literary fiction last I checked and usually not all of those copies sell.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nostalgic Odors

The artist Luis Camnitzer, in giving the keynote address at this weekend's symposium "Storytelling: Playful Interactions and Spaces of Imagination in Contemporary Visual Culture, happened to refer to a 1990s study that asked which odors provoke nostalgia.
He observed that, according to the study, Americans born in the 1930s and 1940s reported that such scents as those of roses, baking bread, and sea air prompted nostalgia, whereas for Americans born in the 1960s, odors of hairspray, nail polish, burnt rubber, and dirty socks prompt nostalgia instead. Camnitzer, who grew up in Uruguay, pointed out that people from outside the US experience nostalgia in association with other odors, and that for him these include those of freshly starched sheets and of meats roasted on the street by masons at work on local buildings.
While numerous aspects of Camnitzer's talk interested me, my imagination was particularly seized by this brief detour onto nostalgia-producing scents. I immediately had to think about what sort of odors provoke my own nostalgia.
I am relieved to say that apart from nail polish, none of the odors cited by the 1960s cohort are even slightly nostalgic for me. I admit that the scent of nail polish does instantly take me back to the age of 7, when I requested and somewhat to my surprise received nail polish for Christmas. But I doubt I would find this unpleasant odor agreeably nostalgic if I had used nail polish regularly in the intervening years. My use of nail polish after the age of 7 was pretty infrequent until I began graduate school, which took me to parts of the country warm enough to make me take off my socks during the summer. I think there has also been a fashion for polished toenails in that time, as I don't remember very many people wearing nail polish when I lived in Southern California and on the rare occasions that I wore nail polish, it was on my fingernails. (But those of us who play piano and most stringed instruments tend to keep our fingernails short and not wear nail polish on them.)
The other nostalgic odors I came up with were the likes of lilac blossoms, marigolds, honeysuckle, rain, fresh dirt, sawdust, tempera paint, and grass clippings. There are also a few odors that take me into the past without being at all pleasantly nostalgic, like that of the inside of an old coffee thermos (yuck) and certain baby shampoos (gross).
I've just thought of another nostalgic odor that isn't normally considered pleasant: the smell of brown coal. It takes me right back to Czechoslovakia before and somewhat after the Velvet Revolution. For me, this is pleasant; for Czechs, I imagine it is usually not.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fortuna Speaks

In my lunchtime fortune cookie: "Avoid compulsively making things worse."
This should clearly be my guiding precept this week in all matters. We will see how it can be applied to journal articles and dissertation revisions.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mid-Semester Life Goes On

While in some respects this is not proving to be one of my better weeks, I suppose everything will turn out all right in the end on all fronts. At least one of the journal articles is bound to be finished and sent off, for instance. And I will probably not make a complete mess of the three pieces the gamelan is performing next week for potential donors.
I can also contemplate the positive aspects of teaching. I have begun to grade the American Art midterms and thus far (5 down, about 35 to go, so there could be a rude shock later down the line) everyone has done a very good job. The exams range from some sort of B to the definite A. They are really impressing me with the attention paid to (as requested) form, content, and context, and often reveal surprisingly good writing under pressure. I can see that I will need to get a little further into how today we use the term "beauty" differently and more loosely than it was used 200 years ago, so that the sublime could not also be beautiful even if today we would regard it thus, but I can hardly complain that students might not quite get this distinction on first acquaintance. I am very happy with what I'm reading.
Both classes, I think, are working hard and doing their best to learn the material and understand the larger concepts. So I can't complain about them at all yet, only about myself.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Mid-Semester Is Upon Us

Fall has fallen upon us. We're no longer having the early-fall combination of warm days and cool nights; in the last two or three days the temperature has plunged. It's that Pittsburgh moment of switching from sleeveless garments and the occasional T-shirt to long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and at times a down jacket.
I like fall, but I don't do well with this kind of sudden shift. Time to take plenty of vitamins and sleep a lot.
The change of season, however, coincides with a need to step up the energy on nearly everything. I've got two journal articles due October 15 (one a revision, one a requested submission), a conference paper proposal to think through, 40 essay-midterms to grade, two courses to finish putting together for next semester (the third, fortunately, is pretty much already done since it is just an update)... and I hear hints from my advisor that large amounts of the dissertation should be cut and saved for a book project.
Well, this should make clear why I decided I couldn't quite make it to this weekend's Lindy Hop workshop, which I was looking forward to after my a brief intro to the dance a couple of weeks ago. I feel aggrieved, as once I get out onto the dance floor, I don't want to stop. Evidently I am destined (for the foreseeable future) simply to work on my West Coast Swing skills, although I did get an invitation from one fairly advanced Lindy dancer to embark on practice sessions.
There is never enough time to do everything. But at least the new journal article is starting to look like something other than a mass of dissertation fragments.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Economic Meltdown?

Over in academia we, too are watching the stock market follow everything else and go into a nosedive. But perhaps all is not lost. Kristen points us to one of her staple cartoon strips and its... um... sort of optimistic view of the situation. If this link doesn't seem to perform correctly, it's for the cartoon of 9/29/08.

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