December 2005 Archives

Nouvelle Vague


Nouvelle Vague, I learned recently, is a French phrase meaning "new wave," not "new AND vague," as I originally guessed, or "vaguely new" as one of my friends guessed, or "new vagueness," as another surmised. (Considering my love for 80s new wave music, my interest in cinema, and that minor I earned in French, I should have known this long ago, but at least I no longer live in such profoundly blightened ignorance. And I don't know much about Portuguese, but I do know now that bossa nova is how you say "new wave" in Portuguese.)

I learned this because a few months ago, a friend introduced me to a French band called--that's right--Nouvelle Vague. They are, to my mind, one of the coolest cover bands ever to exist: they have a bevy of sultry female singers providing breathy, faintly accented vocals to lounge versions of American and British new wave and punk songs from the late 70s and early 80s. Not only do they cover the standards, like Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again," but they also take on less commonly heard goth numbers like "A Forest" by the Cure and "Marian" by the Sisters of Mercy.

I liked them so much I bought their album for Wayne, who claims to love French bands to begin with. I thought about buying it for my brother, who, in the late 80s, used to sing along with me to the likes of Music for the Masses as we went to concerts by Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Erasure and the Cure. But my brother has three little boys, ages 18 months to six years, and I somehow knew he would be ambivalent about owning an album that includes a hot-sounding French chick announcing over and over that she is "Too Drunk to Fuck" (as the Dead Kennedys originally proclaimed), no matter how cool the other songs on it are.

But I did play the Nouvelle Vague album for my brother, who wasn't as impressed as I thought he would be. "I find it hard to be interested in a band that only does covers," he said. "If a band wants my attention and my respect, they need to record some ORIGINAL music. After they've proven they can write and arrange their own music and lyrics, THEN I'll care about hearing them perform songs someone else wrote."

Greetings from the Valley

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Greetings from "the valley," short for "the valley of the sun," the local name for Phoenix and its environs (aka "Maricopa County.") I admit this is not my favorite part of Arizona. I prefer Tucson, which has fewer people, less pollution, a better skyline, my wonderful alma mater, and a longer history. But this is where my sister lives, and yesterday I drove up here from Tucson so I can hang out with her, her husband, her four children, and her really cute dog.

It's also where Wayne's parents live, and since arriving in Mesa, I'm also hanging out with Wayne. Yesterday we went to a bookstore, walked around a mall, drank coffee, tried to find a Mexican restaurant we were willing to eat at (which shouldn't be that difficult in this part of the country, but we had a hard time) and talked about how very weird Mesa is.

I'm Polyblogamous


I don't know who originally coined this word, though the earliest usage google turns up is here. I got it from John, who invoked it to describe the fact that he maintains more than one blog. I, too, have more than one blog.

This, of course, is my main blog. I completely dig blogging, and I find that I occasionally neglect certain duties in favor of writing up and posting ideas and reflections here.

But I have also maintained--albeit in an extremely abbreviated form--the site on blogger where I first began. I figured, what the hell: it's not hurting anyone, and I might as well keep the name. I post something there about once a month--I duplicate a post I really like from this blog--just so it doesn't look completely abandoned. (Note as of 6/23/06: I've completely abandoned it. But I plan to do something with it soon.)

Then there's a site called Genius to Spare, which I write with Wayne. I convinced Wayne to co-write G2S with me, after I realized that A) OTHER PEOPLE had multiple blogs, and B) there were some things I wanted to write about that didn't seem to belong on SPA--my meditation on the meaning of f*ckwit, for instance. Be sure to check out all the archives, so you can see the picture of Wayne's gorilla in a tiara. (A simian theme has somehow emerged on the site.) My personal favorite posting is our conversation about The Young Ones, though my homage to Morrissey runs a close second.

I also have a site called Dangerous and True. (The title comes from a Poe song entitled "Not a Virgin," which includes the line, "Tell me something dangerous and true." It's a challenge I like.) D&T was going to be where I worked out some ideas about sex and relationships I didn't feel comfortable writing about on SPA. You'll notice that my persona is Bored Dominatrix, and there's a rather funny story behind that, which I plan to post one of these days.... I'm still not sure where I want to go with the site, but I totally LOVE the banner, which Wayne designed for me, and someday I have to do something worthy of the blog's great look.

During the next few weeks, I'm going to be traveling and celebrating a couple of holidays, and I figure plenty of other people will too. So I probably won't post as much. Or I might--hanging out with my family might give me a lot to think about and say, and I might have nothing to do but sit in front of a computer. But if YOU find yourself in front of a computer with nothing to do, please check out my other sites.

Curbside Delivery

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I'll soon be flying back to Arizona so I can hang out with my family for Christmas. I'm excited about it, for several reasons: 1) I have all these really cute nieces and nephews that I haven't seen since last Christmas; 2) I'll get to see Wayne, who will also be visiting his family in Arizona; 3) the highs in Tucson are supposed to be around 75 degrees (that's 24 Celsius, for those of you lucky enough to live someplace that doesn't use Fahrenheit, the stupidest of all non-metric measurements), which is a hell of a lot better than 25 F (-4 C).

What I'm not so excited about is the getting there part. I'm not the least bit afraid of being 31,000 feet above the earth in a big metal tube, but I don't like sitting around at the gate, waiting to get on and off that metal tube. I don't like being cramped for several hours in a seat next to a person who as often as not hogs the armrest. I don't like entrusting a suitcase full of my stuff to people I don't know. I don't getting to and from the airport.

I had a hell of a time finding a decent flight this trip--actually, I FAILED to find a decent flight this trip. My plane leaves at 6 a.m., which means I need to be to the airport around 5 a.m. The shuttle service I used to use is in the process of going out of business, and only delivers you to the airport if you want to get there during "convenient" times. 5 a.m. ain't convenient.

So I begged a ride from my friend Tom, who not only said he'd do me this favor, but didn't even seem to think I was being unreasonable in asking it in the first place.

Last night I was thinking about how great it is that he's willing to do this for me, and how I should do something to make it up to him. But that reminded me of an incident long about 1994, when someone I'll call Arianna asked me to give her a ride to and from the airport in Iowa, promising me that in return she'd find some truly fabulous gift to bestow upon me in recognition of my generosity.

Enclosed Please Find

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Yesterday I did something I don't particularly enjoy: I put together submissions of my poetry to send to literary journals.


The fact that I don't enjoy doing it means that I don't do it often enough. I tend to do what I've just done: wait until most of the journals I've submitted to have responded, gather up the poems that are left, and do another massive mailing. I'd probably be better off to keep things in circulation all the time.

Writing cover letters, printing out copies of poems and addressing a bunch of envelopes are not terribly interesting activities, and I won't bore you with any more details. But I will add that it's why I don't have much to say today, and I will also ask you to cross your fingers for me and hope that some of the poems get accepted.

A story in today's NY Times states that "Working-age Americans who make $50,000 to $100,000 a year are two to six times more generous in the share of their investment assets that they give to charity than those Americans who make more than $10 million, a pioneering study of federal tax data shows."

This article from the Independent UK discusses the results of a poll asking children the best and worst things the world. Here's the list:

1. Money and getting rich

2. Being famous

3. Football

4. Pop music

5. Animals

6. Families

7. Computer games

8. Holidays by the sea

9. Nice food

10. God

The worst thing in the world

1. Drunk people

2. Smoking

3. Litter

4. Graffiti

5. War

6. Bullies

7. Illness

8. Shopping

9. Having nothing to do

10. Nightmares

prd & prjdc


One night while I was in Belgium, Matt, Leo and I went to see the most recent adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at the Torsion d'Or (aka the Golden Fleece) in downtown Brussels. The novel is, of course, one of the greatest masterpieces ever composed in any language, and my favorite novel. I've read it at least a dozen times, taught it several times, hope to teach it again. (One of the best courses I ever taught was "All of Austen" at the U of Iowa--it was a blast.)

This adaptation is also titled Pride and Prejudice, but I think this is inappropriate. It should be called prd & prjdc, because it is an abbreviated, overly simplified affair, relying on the hard consonants of major plot points while forfeiting the vowel-like softness of nuance and complexity provided by character development, human growth and discovery.

There are reasons why Austen's novel remains a best seller almost 200 years after it was originally published, why it is read and understood easily even by modern high school students (I first read and loved it as a 15-year-old junior), why it is so often adapted into contemporary works. Bridget Jones's Diary, after all, is based on Pride and Prejudice, and BJD as novel, at least, does a good job of retaining major elements of the plot (not so much in the movie). Then there was Bride and Prejudice, a contemporary retelling set in India, LA and London. It includes a few great Bollywood dance numbers, and is loads of fun--as well as fairly loyal to the plot.

One reason for Jane's continued popularity is the fact that her language has aged very well. Austen's prose, while intellectually and syntactically complex, precise in vocabulary and laden with humor both understated and overt, is spare on similes and metaphors. S&M are, of course, evocative, and make for richness and beauty, but they only work if you understand both the literal and connotative meanings of the objects on each side of the comparison--otherwise, they inhibit rather than augment one's understanding of what's being evoked--"ox-eyed Athena" springs to mind.

But of course the main reason Austen remains popular is that she's a fabulous storyteller with keen insight into human psychology. And that keen insight is precisely what this new adaptation lacks.

Holly's Day in Mid December


Long about 1969, my parents gave me a book called Alphabet of Girls. I still have it--I am truly a book keeper. The book contains poems about the first names of girls, arranged by the alphabet: R, for instance, discusses Roseanna, Rosella, Rosedith, Rosetta and Rose, and the fact that not one of them is rose-like; C is devoted to Carol, Carla, Charlotte, Carrie and Cora, all of whom are indisposed; X describes the plight of a poor girl named Xenobia. H goes like this:

Hilda's birthday comes, we know,
Wrapped in January's snow.

Harriet's birthday comes on wings
Of March's windy wandering.

Hope can celebrate her day
With sun-etched greenery, in May.

For Heather's birthday, all the birds,
In August, sing their summer words.

Hazel's natal day will hold
October's scarlet and its gold.

Holly's day in mid December,
Is the easiest to remember.

My birthday is indeed the very middle day of December--today. I share my birthday with Jane Austen, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arthur C. Clarke, Noel Coward, Philip K. Dick, Margaret Mead, George Santayana, Liv Ullmann and Brett Weston. December 16 is in the sun sign of Sagittarius, sign of the archer--supposedly what he's hunting is the truth. Not only my sun but my moon sign is in Sagittarius; my rising sign is Libra.

There are ways in which my birthday isn't ideal, especially for someone in academia: it usually falls during finals week, and I can't count the number of times I have either given or taken an exam on my birthday, though I NEVER grade anything on my birthday--that's one gift I can give myself. Also lamentable is the fact that my friends and colleagues often take off for the winter break on or before my birthday, which can make it hard to celebrate properly. And then there's the way some people do that lame thing of giving me just one gift for both Christmas and my birthday, because the two events are so close together. I realize this is a bit bitchy, but I have to say: if you really like me, and if you want me to remember YOUR birthday, you'll buy me two presents, OK?

But despite all that, I have always liked my birthday. I like the general festive spirit of the season. I have always liked long cold nights (though long cold nights in Arizona are of a different character than long cold nights in Iowa or Pennsylvania) and I like celebrating my birthday with hot chocolate and a roaring fire. I also like my birthday because its proximity to Christmas is the reason for my name, which I love.

A Curmudgeon I Like


The other day I was discussing memorizing things with a friend who noted that I have an exceptionally good memory. This is a gift that has served me well throughout my life: it helped me become "scripture chase champion" (meaning that I could identify a passage of scripture based on one or two key words, then recite it verbatim, more swiftly and more accurately than anyone--what an accomplishment!) when I was in high school; it helped me memorize the discussions in Chinese as a missionary; it helped me get through a bachelor's degree with really great grades and a minimum of studying.

Some things are especially easy to memorize--certain poems or songs, for instances. One of the easiest poems to memorize is This Be the Verse, a bitterly funny poem in iambic tetrameter with simple diction and a straightforward ABAB rhyme scheme. TBtV is one of my favorite poems ever, and my very favorite poem by Philip Larkin, a curmudgeonly British poet whose attention to the intracacies of rhyme and form contrast nicely with a very earthy vocabulary and a sensibility keenly aware of loss. (As Robert Hass writes in Meditation at Lagunitas, "All the new thinking is about loss./ In this it resembles all the old thinking.")

Consider, for intance, Larkin's poem "Sad Steps." It begins with the line, "Groping back to bed after a piss," an occasion that provides the speaker with a view of a brilliant moon. The poem becomes a meditation on the fact that the moon's "wide stare"

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again
But is for other undiminished somewhere.

Larkin doesn't seem like a particularly nice person but he wrote wonderful poetry, even if he is known as the poet of dirty words. If you aren't familiar with his work, check it out.

Rape in Bosnia, a Decade Later

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This article from the Independent UK about broke my heart. It details the suffering still occurring as a result of the systemtic rapes of Bosnian women during the war in the 1990s. A few points worth underscoring:

In 1998 the International War Crimes Tribunal condemned rape as a crime against humanity, yet there is still no formal international or state response to sexual violence, the related trauma caused by rape or to what happens to the children born of it. In July this year, Unicef in Bosnia commissioned a report on the children born as a result of war rape. It is the first time any organisation has focused on these children. The report, however, remains unpublished.


the situation is made worse by the Bosnian government's reluctance to recognise women as civilian victims of war. In October it agreed to pay compensation, but this has led to further problems as many within the government claim that women are falsifying claims of rape to receive money.


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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