Thursday, December 28, 2006

New house reading adventures

I had a very low-stress move last weekend, thanks to my seven-person amazing moving crew, to whom I am eternally grateful, and I've set up the place a bit (I'd show you pictures, but then I'd have to kill you). Mira seems happy and so do the plants. The only member of my family who is less than happy is Ol' Squeaky, who does not like being left out all night in the cold, but I certainly don't want to carry it up and down the back stairs when it's not actively precipitating. So Ol' Squeaky is staying outside for the meantime.

In the new place, it's easy to go into hibernation mode. I've been sleeping a lot, and taking baths, and eating rice noodles, and reading.* My recent sojourn at the Nokomis Library reminded me how excellent their teen collection is. I got Saving Francesca, which I had heard about but never read, and which is excellent, and The Adventures of Michael MacInnes, and a book about SAD, and a book about saying no, and a book called If the Buddha Dated, which my therapist recommended. Oh, and also a Gene Wolfe book I've always meant to read. I've been cuddling with Mira, thinking about trimming the Norfolk pine, occasionally putting things on the walls. I'm also catsitting for two members of the moving team, who also have a Norfolk pine, which looks great now that they've trimmed and repotted it. Repotting my Norfolk pine, however, would require several people and a pot the size of Lake Hiawatha.

I have not done any dissertation writing at all. I told my writing group I would finish revising chapter 3 by our next meeting, Jan 11, and I still plan on doing that, but I think I deserve a bit of time off. My motivation comes and goes, and right now it's gone. How can I get it back? I had an idea that when I had my own space, I would immediately and magically start writing among the boxes, and that has not happened at all. However, I just bought a programmable coffee maker, so at least I can start waking up in the mornings again. Maybe that will help; I've found that mornings are my most productive.

I am at the coffee shop right now, so I will buy some coffee. It felt slightly pathetic to have the coffeemaker but no coffee. One can buy a machine at the Minnesota-based retailer I don't want to namecheck, but one with a conscience cannot buy coffee there.

Maybe we will have snow, or the sun will come out. Then I'll be able to write.

*I've also been mourning the closing of the Roosevelt Library (about which more tomorrow, on its official closing day)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Critical Distance/The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

My reading of the otherwise charming Waterless Sea by Kate Constable * was marred by my concurrent reading of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the hilarious how-not-to write fantasy book by Diana Wynne Jones. Justine Larbalestier was recently talking about it, and it was the only one of DWJ's books I'd never read, so I ran by the library.

The Waterless Sea is a sequel to The Singer of All Songs, a fantasy about a young woman who knows ice magic coming into other magical powers and facing off against an evil wizard. There's a very nicely sketched story about the kinds of magic in this world, all tied to particular places--except our heroine Calwyn has the ability to pick up all of the magics. Anyway, in the Waterless Sea, Calwyn and her friends go to a desert continent to rescue imprisoned children who can do 'ironcrafting' magic, and this involves her sort-of lover Darrow, was once one of the imprisoned children.

The characters are compelling, the story is interesting, but I kept thinking of The Tough Guide: ooh, this is a Vestigial Empire crossed with Desert Tribes, and ooh look, she sings for someone when they die, and ooh yes, he must be a Missing Heir. Being fully cognizant of some of the genre conventions, and in an (albeit gently) mocking sort of way, made it very hard to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the book. I'm learning that I read for plot more than I'd like to, racing through to find out what happens; giving myself that sort of critical distance really changes the experience. This may be linked to my compulsive re-reading: maybe I save the thinking for the re-reads? I'll try to be more reflective about my reading process and see if pleasure and critical thinking can't co-exist.

*I'm sick of being linked to amazon pages for books folks talk about. I want to start a trend of linking to book information through librarything.


Friday, December 15, 2006


Some silly stuff.

I can't say I know much of anything about this French guy, seeing as I study history of sci/med/tech in the US in 'the long 19th century.' Oh, the horrors of specialization!

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bike Thieves Must Die

Josh pointed me to this new site with a scary name, 612 Lockdown, which is a clearinghouse for securing and recovering bikes stolen in Mpls. If only they had existed when my dear Breezer was stolen! There's a nice interactive map in progress showing where folks have had bikes stolen--looks like downtown is the worst so far. Check it out.


Another defense

In the last two years, my department has graduated six students, three of them folks who had come to the program in the mid-nineties and drifted around a bit, changing topics, working fulltime, having children, getting other degrees in the meantime (basically, having a life). I expect once the cohort of older students graduates, the five-years-and-out model will reign, and the new students will graduate quickly and on schedule. The rate at which we graduate students factors into the kinds of grants the department and its students get and the rankings of our program, so it's in the faculty's interest to keep us moving.

Today another student who had been on a longterm timetable defended her diss, I'm sure successfully. Her work is very interesting, about Czech engineers, scientific management and rationalization in a number of different political contexts. The defense itself took place in a room almost hidden among the engines on the top floor of the ME building, and there was no coffee or pastries, no powerpoint, just the student and some overheads. Her work is so strong no coffee was needed, I think. But I wonder what my defense will be like: I do worry about the appearances, the right room to hold it in, having coffee etc, a nice presentation on the computer (and I do need the internet to show my nice interactive maps). I'll probably be a total wreck from the organizing of food and having my dad around as much as from the presentation and examining itself.

If I had been on track to finish on my earlier timetable, I would have been the youngest person to graduate from our program, and, though not the quickest finisher, but up there. Now I'll tie for youngest with G. At this point I don't need any titles, just to be done.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A think about apartments

I am officially moving toward the end of this month, the better to write my dissertation at all hours and cook enormous meals in an enormous kitchen the rest. This will be the fourth place I've lived in in Minneapolis, and I thought a bit of comparison was in order.

Places will be referred to alphabetically, for anonymity.

A: 2br, 1st floor, okay kitchen
length of stay=1 yr
B: 2br, 2nd floor, amazing kitchen, amazing park view, amazing porch as big as the living room length of stay=3 yr
C: 4 br, big house, super cute, narrow kitchen, garden, indoor bike storage
length of stay=9 mo
D: 1 br, 2nd floor, lovely kitchen, lots of light
length of stay=can't say yet

A, B, and D are all in the same zip code, and C is just one digit removed. A and D are actually across the alley from each other!

I have always lived south of Lake St, north of 38th St, west of Hiawatha, and east of Chicago Ave.

Work has always been a 2-3 mile bike ride away.

I have been to meetings of three different neighborhood organizations.

I have lived with 6 different roommates and 3 different cats (Simon, I miss you!).

You may notice that this will be my first time living alone, ever. I am excited to: decorate all by myself, sleep when I want to, go around partially clothed, not have a television or meat in the house, have total kitchen control, have guests over... Many things to look forward to. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

December Reading

It's not quite even the middle of December, but I've read millions of books (see: dissertation writing, lack of). Here's the list:

Novik, His Majesty's Dragon (dragons in the Napoleonic wars: amazing!)
Levine, Two Princesses of Bamarre (a story about courage, mostly)
Skrdla, Ghostly Ruins: American's Forgotten Architecture (amazing; a gift for my dad)
Westerfeld, Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness (the plot thickens)
Smith, Cryptid Hunters (okay adventure-fantasy novel with lots of cryptozoology talk)
Toth, Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia (brilliant, of course)
Baker, The Machine's Child (talk about the plot thickening!)
the most recent Journal of American History (I can't tell you a single article I read in this)

Summary: lots of YA novels, lots of series books. Many books to read before bed after writing makes me too exhausted to think. I regret that I can't give these books the time and energy they deserve. I admit that when I'm so exhausted and brain-dead I'm mostly reading for plot.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Food Pyramid Funtime

My friend R. wrote me about a possible potluck pickle party, and, to emphasize how much she liked pickles, sent me her personal food pyramid. I thought it was charming and reproduce it here for you, with the rare foods at the top and the most frequent on the base:

Dark Chocolate + Those Mochi Balls with the Icecream Inside = Much Too Rarely
Grape Juice + Matt's Amazing Chili + Matt's Amazing Indian Food = Once a Week
Pita Pizzas + That Ethiopian Red Lentil Dish + Bananas = Everyday
Pickles + Peppermint Tea = Several Times a Day

I of course had to emulate it:

Fried things, the Birchwood = Much Too Rarely
Yogurt, Beer, Kale, Rice noodles, Eggplant, Tofu = Once a Week
Hot peppers, Butter, Pickles, Cabbage, Grits, Nuts = Everyday
Coffee, Russian tea, Apples, Garlic = Several Times a Day

Very interesting. Both of us definitely eat a very particular, personal diet, and there are no crossovers at all except for pickles. Pickles bring people together. I would be happy to eat anything on her pyramid, and R. is particularly lucky in having a nice person to cook favorite foods for her--I do miss cooking with DF.

What does your personal pyramid look like?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Free Verse: The Waldrops at the Walker, 11/30

Last night A., M. and I went to see Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop at the Walker, sponsored by Rain Taxi (I like having them curate readings for me; if they put it on, it'll probably be good).

Rosmarie read a series of thoughtful poems about language and change. They took the podium together to a read an echoing collaborative work, and then Keith read a series of pieces from his book on the ruminations of Jacob Delafan (whose name I can never forget after hearing it repeated in every piece). I admit I marvelled at his long beard for much of the reading.
Both of them have quite different styles of writing and reading, but an insistence on collage and intertextuality really united the evening. Jacob Delafan reads widely and eclectically, and marvels at what he reads. It would all be very homespun if he didn't read things like a commentary on St Augustine that asserts that angels have nothing to "fall out" or "cut off." The questions focused on the Waldrops' work in translation and publishing, and how their different kinds of work amplified each other. I was relieved to hear intelligent questions, because at the Marjane Satrapi reading last month, the q & a period was filled with self-important rambling nonsense from the questioners.

A. collaged in a book of Rosmarie's, pasting in illustrations from a mid-century book on insects, geological diagrams, photographs, making a neat altered book which she gave as a gift but brought in to be signed. Rosmarie was highly amused by the alterations, and flipped through the whole book while talking with A. about Providence and Brown.

Then I defended Wickett's Remedy against its detractors over beers and Thai food.