Back to the Routine

After the first day of Real Teaching (i.e. not just taking roll and going over the course objectives), I am unsurprisingly exhausted.  At the end of a day like today, I feel like my insides have been emptied out with a giant ice-cream scoop, and all I have left is the damp and slightly rumpled shell of my formerly perky self.

My schedule this semester is particularly annoying– have I mentioned I am teaching three days a week instead of my typical two?  How galling, to have to show up to work three days a week.  Can you imagine the indignity?  More than that, though, it’s the hour-by-hour schedule that is so taxing.  Rather than teaching both writing classes and then both literature classes, or vice versa, I have a scrambled-up schedule that has me shifting gears every hour.  I know! Life is hard!

All sarcasm aside, though, it is truly exhausting, this standing in front of a classroom and lecturing and trying to facilitate discussion and guiding and moderating and encouraging.  Especially the first week, when you haven’t gotten to know any of your 120 students yet.

It’s a good thing I have the evening to relax, which I’ll be doing tonight with friends and the newest episode of Project Runway.  I’ll likely post some thoughts on that later on the media blog — where, currently, you can see my favorite items from the latest Mad Men episode, if you’re into 1960s fashion and household goods.  (And frankly, why shouldn’t you be?)

And now, I think I will sit here and stare at this wall blankly, dead behind the eyes, for a few more minutes before I make my way home.

Less Bitching, More Twitching!

Good evening to you, dudes and ladies of the internet!  It has been a long, stupid, sweaty day here in New Wye, but it is finishing on a good note.  Let me just tell you how it started, though, just for fun, before I get to the pleasant parts:

First off, may I mention that my alarm clock is exhibiting some seriously psychotic tendencies of late?  Sometimes, when I am up at night reading in bed, I notice it switch from displaying the time to displaying the FM frequency, even though the radio is off.  Then it starts whirring and whizzing through all the frequencies, all flickering and flashing.  This happens for about 2-3 minutes, then it goes back to normal.  Then it does it again.  Weird, right?

Last week, it started fucking with me in the mornings — instead of the snooze alarm going off every 10 minutes, it started going off every ONE minute.  Basically, you have time to hit the button, lay your head back on the pillow, get comfy, and then it starts beeping all over again.  I am so out of it in the mornings, though, that I have been just letting that happen for, like, half an hour.  That’s THIRTY snoozes, in this crazy scheme!

This morning, some extra excitement was thrown in, however, by the fact that the power to my building was cut off.  (This occasionally happens in the morning, why I do not know, but I will tell you that it is one of the many reasons why our local power company is on my shit list.)  The alarm still sounded due to its battery backup, but the number display remained dark — I suppose that’s to save power.  It was impossible to see what time it was, though, as the lighted numbers are, you know, kind of necessary for the telling of the time and all.  Anyway, let me again say how out of it I am in the mornings: just completely oblivious and really more in the realm of dream than that of reality.  As such, I am easily confused.  So, despite the alarm’s going off every one minute, I still didn’t manage to get up on time.

Worse than that, the alarm clock COULD NOT BE TURNED OFF.  I hit the “off” button, not just the snooze, and it wouldn’t stop snooze-beeping EVERY ONE MINUTE!  I unplugged the damned thing, and searched all over for the battery compartment, and it STILL KEPT BEEPING EVERY MINUTE.  God, it was awful.  I wound up wrapping it in a towel and burying it in my laundry basket just so the neighbors whose place abuts my bedroom wouldn’t decide to murder me.

My friend K. was there to witness the whole spectacle, as she had come by to give me a ride to school (my car was still in the shop).  And dog, what a spectacle it was!  I was running around trying to get ready, and I had no time to shower, meaning I probably looked like hell and smelled even worse, thanks to last night’s beers and cigarettes at Pub Trivia.  Thank goodness I have a huge supply of default clothes that can be worn like a uniform on mornings that I can’t come up with anything better (trouser-jeans, black tee shirt, black cardigan, black ballet flats, in case you are wondering).

The morning was off to a disastrous start, and I spent the hour of office prep time before class knocking back advils, laying my head on the desk, and occasionally looking up words from the DFW story I had assigned.  (Dude’s got a wicked arcane vocabulary, you feel me?)  Luckily, I was free to leave campus immediately after class, if by “free to leave” I mean “only able to leave because I had decided to shirk my grading duties for yet another day.”

I walked over to the garage where my car was being repaired and picked it up, and once again, the saintly mechanic there had found the problem, which was just another fuse that needed replacing, and had fixed it for free.  I swear, that man is my future husband (despite the fact that he is so country that I literally cannot understand him — this will mean we won’t have to bother with any meaningful conversations when we are wed, and we can thus just ignore each other, me doing my things and him fixing my car and stuff).

The day continued to get better when I got home, where I lounged around in the delicious air conditioning, which was much needed after my walk to the garage, and then took a nap on the couch with the dog.  Favorite afternoon activity ever.  And do you know what else?  Tonight was another fab episode of So You Think You Can Dance, and my favorite dancer, Twitch, got to do a hip-hop number that was completely fantastic.  Excellente, I say!

May I Direct You Elsewhere, and Good Day to You!

I’ve got no time for a real post today, as I have got to go home and get some things done, and then prepare to host the guest round at Pub Trivia tonight. My round is on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only the most awesome show of all time. Would you like to read my further thoughts on that great topic? Please to go here then.

And! Have you any thoughts or opinions on the greatest reality show of all time, So You Think You Can Dance? If so, please to click hereabouts.

And good day to you, sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.


I love the great discussion happening re The 75% Problem — I swear, one of the best reasons to write a blog is to hear other people’s thoughts & opinions on your ideas. Although this site isn’t terribly well-trafficked, the people who comment here are the best. I love seeing your opinions, even if I occasionally have to break out a fist-shake in response. You know my fist is shaking with love, right?

Anyway, I wanted to think about my own taste-based dealbreakers. In the original post, I implied that a love for Bowie or Modest Mouse might be critical, but the truth is, I just enjoy debating things like that. My real dealbreakers are quite different. I think I’ll make a list.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind, these are just related to music, film, books, and television — not anything “real” or “serious,” ostensibly. I mean, I have some dealbreakers on the subjects of religion or politics or lifestyle, but I think it’s more interesting to discuss this type. Partly because it’s so ridiculously self-indulgent, but also because I think, on some basic level, taste in entertainment reveals a lot about a person’s worldview, whether it be conscious or not. That being said, let’s go:

Not knowing any songs by Bob Dylan, as I mentioned before. Not liking Dylan is one thing, but to dislike him, you gotta know him. Right?

Not listening to / caring about music. You wouldn’t think these people exist, would you? Well, they do. I dated a guy who owned three CDs, and one was Steve Miller Band. Big mistake. (For those who knew me in college, that was B.M. — those are his initials, but they also, coincidentally, stand for BIG FUCKING MISTAKE)

Not watching television. Nothing makes me want to punch a person more than when they say, in a self-satisfied and elitist way, “Oh, I don’t watch television,” or “Kill your TV,” or “That shit rots your brain.” Pardon me for a minute here while I fetch my television set so I can “kill” it by smashing it over your ridiculous face.

Not reading fiction. (I think it goes without saying that not reading, period, is also a dealbreaker.) Have you ever met someone who thinks fiction is a waste of time? (And by extension thinks my entire life is a waste of time?) Those people are a waste of brain cells. Yeah, I’m glad you don’t enjoy art, chowderhead.

Refusing to watch foreign films. (obvious)

Here are some favorite books that might also be dealbreakers: On the Road (cheaters, irresponsible, unaccountable, etc.); Catcher in the Rye (afraid of commitment, don’t know what they want); The Stranger, Nausea, etc. (keep your existential crisis away from me, please); The Bible (obvious).

C’mon, now, give me your list. Do it.

The 75% Problem

I have this theory about people’s taste in entertainment and how it affects our relationships. For one thing, the emphasis on what we like rather than what we are like is so well entrenched by now that we all freely make judgments about people based on their favorite books, bands, shows, and films. That’s why we bother compiling and alphabetizing the lists of favorites on all our online social networking profiles, right? (What, you don’t do that?)

It’s an easy shorthand that tells you if you might get along with someone – “Oh, he likes The Decemberists, The Pixies, Miles Davis, Proust, and David Foster Wallace. I’m sure we shall be the best of friends!” In some very obvious ways, this sort of list-making is a good thing. After all, good friends do often share the same taste, and such a shorthand can be an efficient way of mentally tagging people who have something in common with us. Of course, in another obvious way, it leaves a lot unanswered for — the new friend who’s going to introduce you to a whole new world of be-bop or opera or avant-garde industrial noise.

The real problem, though, is The 75% Problem. You know the person with whom you — in principle, in terms of general taste — agree with seventy-five percent of the time? You both like guitar-encrusted indie music from the early 1990s and Charlie Kaufman and Modern Poetry, right? But then there are those moments where he can’t believe how much you hate David Bowie (“I mean, clearly you just do not get his music,” he intones, full of superior self-satisfaction), or he comes over and says,”oh, put on whatever music you want; I’m easy to please,” and then proceeds to tell you the specific chord breakdowns that Elvis Costello has allegedly stolen from The Beatles as each new track begins. Or, worse yet, he makes you watch Moulin Rouge because he knows how much you like “all that Postmodern stuff.”

At these moments, sedate and thoughtful discussion of the arts goes off the rails and irrational shouting and fist-shaking commence. You can be pleasantly discoursing on the various and many virtues of Pacific Northwest indie rock, and how much you both like The Decemberists and The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie and even The Dandy Warhols, but by god when conversation turns to Modest Mouse, things take a turn for the worse.

I mean, he just can’t understand how you could like all those other bands and not Modest Mouse, and you just can’t believe his failure to notice that the so-called musicians of Modest Mouse do not seem to know how to play their instruments, and he thinks he has an ace-in-the-hole with the fact (FACT!) that Johnny Marr now plays with Modest Mouse — the very same Johnny Marr of The Smiths, who are one of your all-time-favorite bands, OR SO YOU CLAIM — and you, fist alternately shaking in the air and pounding on the table, you DID know that Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths, was playing with Modest Mouse by god but YOU DID NOT CARE because Johnny Marr can go SUCK ON IT and MORRISSEY DOESN’T NEED HIM ANYWAY. See? Logical, civilized discourse has now left the building.

Let’s face it, these scenes are never pretty. The other day, my friend who has, on numerous occasions, poked fun at me for listening to Death Cab for Cutie, essentially called me a depressed fourteen-year-old hanging out in my parents’ basement — all because, apparently, although she had nothing much to say about their music, she sure had plenty to say about her perception of their fans, and, by extension, me.

In another example — one oft cited by me and perhaps already described here — I split up with a guy I had been casually dating after he failed to know any Bob Dylan songs.

“What is a Bob Dylan song I would know,” he asked me one morning.

After I proceeded to sing pretty much all of Dylan’s greatest hits in an effort to jog his memory, I decided enough was enough. The, uh, benefits weren’t worth the frustration, and anyway he was allergic to my cat, so it was really for the best.

It’s a good thing I just quietly ditched the Bob Dylan guy, because discussions of this sort become volatile sometimes. I have one friend with whom I share 75% of my taste in television, who can’t believe I don’t watch 24 (or, in the past, The Wire). He loves (LOVES! EVERY TIME WE TALK HE DOES THIS!) to denigrate my taste due to how much I love Lost.

“BUT YOU STUDY LITERATURE AND NARRATIVE! YOU’RE A WRITER! HOW CAN YOU WATCH THAT?” he will shout into the phone, fist pounding on a table somewhere in the background.

My response, ever careful to be rhetorically sound, is something along the lines of, “YEAH, well I am SO SURE that the narrative structure of FUCKING 24 is REALLY FUCKING WELL CONSTRUCTED!”

[Rhetoric Fact: this is a “tu quoque” logical fallacy, but clearly the offended me did/does not care!]

These incidents are all cases of The 75% Problem in play. I think when you share 75% of your general tastes and proclivities with someone, you feel comfortable in the fact that you basically like the same things. Then, when you make some comment about the new album from your favorite band, you expect some kind of shared enthusiasm, and when it doesn’t appear, you have a nasty surprise. That’s why the remaining 25% has the potential to become irrationally infuriating — as in the Modest Mouse case above. It would be one thing if you just didn’t like Modest Mouse, but hating Modest Mouse while claiming to like all those other NW bands is the problem. (And in these discussions, someone will always pull out the word “claiming,” as if people were either dishonest or uncertain of what they actually like!)

I believe it is The 75% Problem that’s at play in this now-weeks-old (and much discussed) New York Times article in which people discussed which favorite books would be dating dealbreakers. One interviewee had broken up with a guy who was too into Ayn Rand; another dumped one who had never heard of Pushkin. (In my opinion, the former is a greater problem than the latter, but a discussion of why would warrant its own post). There were dealbreakers of the too-pretentious or too-desperate kind, too, though: one poor guy who brought his copy of Proust to the coffee shop was instantly dismissed. Ironically, nothing seems more pretentious than rejecting a possible date for reading Pretentious Proust (i.e. “I want my date to be intellectual and well read, as long as he’s quiet about it!”), or, in the case of one interviewee, Virginia Woolf, which was characterized only as being “too Virginia Woolf”!

These literary dealbreakers, though, are the kinds of problems people living in New York (or in Zembla) have the luxury of citing. I have to say that in New Wye, if a guy knows how to read and/or write a complete sentence, and has actually read a novel ever, he is ahead of the game. A guy in New Wye whose favorite book of all time is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would be quite a catch — this would prove him to be literate and would indicate that he is not one of those country-fried types who thinks reading as an activity is unnecessary at best and suspect at worst.

I mean, geez, let’s look at the big picture, right? My friend may have the embarrassingly bad taste to like David Bowie, but at least it’s not Céline Dion or Kenny G, one might argue. Logically, I want to agree with this, but, like I said, in the face of The 75% Problem, logic crumples.

I mean seriously, BOWIE? That prancing nancy in the sparkling pants whose lyrics sound like something off the reject pile of a high-school literary magazine? The one whose music is so absent of any talent that the only thing left is ONSTAGE SPECTACLE? What a FREAK.

What about you? Do have any accounts of The 75% Problem rearing its head in your relationships? Any dealbreakers, as illogical as they may be? Please to tell me.

Summer Reading: Not Really the Saddest Thing

Starting tomorrow, I’ll have no cable TV or internet at home.  This is the saddest thing.

Because my summer budget is extremely tight, and because I have decided that rent, electricity, and phone (not to mention wine and cigarettes and, oh yeah, food) are more important than TV and internet, though only by the narrowest of margins, I have had to cancel my service with Unnamed Cable Company.  At least for the next three months, I won’t be paying them over $100 per month to provide me with TV, a spotty internet connection, and terrible customer service.  Hooray?

I have, in the past, been able to somewhat reliably use my neighbors’ wifi when mine wasn’t working, but the people with the strong, unsecured connection seem to have moved out of the building.  I can still connect to a couple of other signals intermittently, but not without getting dropped or disconnected every two minutes.  This means that my formerly grand plan of keeping caught up with my shows via online streaming video will probably not come to fruition.  Which in turn means…it means…oh, I just can’t face it!

It means, I suppose, that I will just not be watching much television this summer.  Normally, in my lazy and indolent summers of unemployment, I spend my time alternating between stressing about money and lounging on the couch, no pants on, watching the tube.  Whatever shall I do now?  And will it have to involve pants?

I do have this class to teach through the end of this month, so there’s something to keep me busy, you may be thinking.  I also have a few papers I am working on, which should occupy me for the following month or so.  These things, however, do not count.  They are daytime, office-type activities, not evening, relaxing-type activities.  I suppose I may have to actually devote my evening relaxation time to — gasp! — reading, of all wretched things.  Quelle horreur.

I have some business reading I need to do for various projects and papers (a little Faulkner, a little Nabokov, a little Raymond Chandler and maybe some Alain Robbe-Grillet), but, again, these are office reading and I’d also like to do some pleasure reading.  I’m perfectly able to figure out what sort of reading I need to be doing professionally, as that is my job, after all.  With my fun reading, though, I am feeling a bit lost and could go in a billion different directions.  Here’s a list of some things I am either in the middle of or am planning to read this summer:

1. Dave Eggers – What is the What (currently reading)

2. Jon Krakauer – Into the Wild (currently reading)

3. David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest

4. Cormac McCarthy – No Country for Old Men

5. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary

What should I add to that?  What’s your favorite book you’ve read lately?  Tell me all about it, and I’ll put it on the list.

Summer reading is not really the saddest thing, I suppose.  The saddest thing, if you are sure you’re ready, is either this, this, or this.

Let's Get Retarded

Good glaven, I have forgotten what a Summer of Teaching Every Day can do to the Vague brain. The past few days have been plagued by many, many annoyances, some of which were caused by outside forces, but many of which were the result of my own stupidity.

The most recent thorns in my side are related to our weekly Pub Trivia outings — tonight I was supposed to host the guest round, but the emcee lady forgot to put me on the list and now I have to wait three more weeks. Aside from that slight, it was generally a horrible night. I basically knew the answer to only one question, and when I tried to tell my team the answer, it took much repetition, scowling, and fist shaking before they finally would agree with me and write it on the damned answer sheet.

[Sidenote: the question was “What language is used to substitute for swear words on Firefly?” The answer was, obviously, Chinese. Or Mandarin, if anyone cares about more specific things.]

[Side Sidenote: the round was “Sci-Fi TV,” and there was no Battlestar Galactica question. APPARENTLY, the host of the round “doesn’t watch it.” I hate the world.]

Anyway, after the trivia debacle in which we did not even place and thus HAD TO PAY FOR ALL OUR DRINKS THE HORROR, I got home only to realize I had left my tab open and had to go collect my card and pay my moneys. All of two dollars, but still. If I had left the tab overnight they would have charged an additional ten.


[*Side Sidenote: Bonus points if you can name the reference, and google is cheating.]

In other annoying news, don’t you hate it when you move into a new apartment only to find stains on the carpet? And the landlords try to pass it off with some kind of “sometimes the carpet cleaning process lifts out old stains” nonsense? I sure hate that. Um. So.

So. Anyhow, the other day, while I was busily taking care of my friend’s dog again, my friend B. happened to have rented a Rug Doctor carpet-cleaner-majig, and she offered it to me to use for the afternoon, after she had finished with her own carpets. I thought it would be nice to finally get rid of the foot-traffic, red-wine, and nail-lacquer stains I had accumulated in the past several months, so I took her up on the offer. I spent the afternoon sweating and pushing the thing around and dumping load after load of dirty water down my drains, all the while tending to the two dogs locked away in the bedroom. It was not exactly fortuitous that the day the carpet cleaner became available happened also to be the day the dog was staying with me. It was a blast I tell you. I am sure you are seething with jealousy right this second.

But! It was so worth it! The carpets looked fantastic after I was done!

Until, of course, the next day, when the mystery stain which I had, I thought, successfully removed in the Fall, re-emerged out of the skanky depths of the carpet padding to plague me again. Sure enough, there it is, right in the middle of my living room floor. It’s 2′ across and rust brown and it stares at me with malice in its filthy, filthy eye.

It is like the earth-bound spirit of the people who lived in the apartment before me — people who, clearly, spent their time skanking up the place in ways I could not imagine. That time could have been better spent filling out a change-of-address form with the post office, Shawntae, is all I am saying.

So yeah, things have been rough, just on the basic level of being a human being who lives in the world. My brain is a pile of tapioca pudding and by next week I will be qualified for a handicapped parking space, which I am sure I won’t be using, because I will surely not be doing any shopping, because I will have left my debit card somewhere and forgotten about it. It’s just as well; that’ll give me more time to stare, entranced, at the vision of Elvis appearing in the middle of my living room carpet.

Once again, I promise more about summer school soon! And men’s fashion! I have so much to say about men’s fashion! I just have to collect my brain cells from wherever they have gone off to. A glass of wine will surely help.

Hey, Look! Shiny!

A while back, I started a non-anonymous blog, thinking it would be nice to have a place on the internet to let it all hang out, or maybe just post pictures of myself with a new haircut every now and then.  Of course, it eventually degenerated to not much more than pictures of my dog and cat.  While no one can say that the internet doesn’t need more pictures of dogs and cats, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  The only things I still wrote about there were movies, music, and television.

Then I thought to myself, there’s no reason I can’t do that kind of thing here, too — only I decided I would rather keep the pedestrian pop culture separate from the pretentious paedagogy —  and thus, Zemblan Media was born.  I’ll be using it to collect my shallow, insipid thoughts about topics as low-brow as reality television, breakdancing, Buffy, and (inevitably) Britney.  (You just know that’s going to happen sometime.)

Go on over and say hello!

back to the effing grindstone

The halcyon days of last week are no more. That’s right, it’s back to school for me. No more staying up all night talking and drinking and singing along with the Indigo Girls (what?), no more relaxing on the couch and watching Season 1 of Buffy again, no more spontaneous afternoon trips to the park. Oh no.

Tomorrow, its Back to School: Lite Version. I have a couple of library sessions with the writing students, and an afternoon of conferring (or, of you prefer, “conferencing”) with the lit students, so I won’t even be back to the classroom until Thursday. Thank dog for Past Vague’s clever planning and scheduling.

Today, in spite of the light schedule tomorrow, I still had to get back to the office and work on some planning for the week as well as all the grading I, um, did not exactly do over the break. I had a pile of about 200 reading quizzes, 50 reader responses, and 50 composition essays awaiting my attention when I got to school today. Let’s just say I did not exactly finish all of that. I think the comp essays are going to have to wait until later in the week. I did, however, bring about half of them home with me in case I felt like grading some this evening. I can tell you though, that is not going to happen. It was merely a case of optimistic packing (i.e. where you pack work to take with you somewhere knowing full well you aren’t going to do it). I mean, honestly, who can work when The Hills is coming back on tonight?!

In addition to all of that grading, of course, I have been emailing and arranging and printing and copying and faxing as if there were no tomorrow. Honestly, sometimes this feels awfully similar to office jobs I have had in the past. Except that here, there are no giant baskets of candy and bagels, and no fridge stocked with soft drinks. What we do have, food-wise, is a fridge constantly ripe with the smell of people’s forgotten lunches, and usually a passive-aggressive note (or several) warning faculty that their precious, moldering, half-eaten sandwiches will be THROWN AWAY if they do not claim them soon. Heavens!