Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another Young Punk

The violet mohawk was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing Halloween. I wore my "witch with a day job" outfit to work on Friday and did not receive a single comment until 5 p.m. (I'm surprised that all-black garb, purple lips, black fingernails and a giant mass of hair isn't worthy of comment, but I'd rather believe that than just that nobody noticed). The grocery store was out of pumpkins so I didn't carve a jack-o-lantern, and I do so love carving jack-o-lanterns. We received a total of 11 trick-or-treaters. Dianthus puked this afternoon long before he was offered any candy. I was entirely out of good ideas for a costume for Dianthus when I remembered the purple hair spray (yes, it is an item I keep on hand). Dianthus's shirt reads, "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Milk." Click here to be reminded how much he has grown in a year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Proud Tradition Continues

Fall Break* means one thing: pretending that we'll catch up on grading! Actually, for the Mister and me, fall break (which is two days here, one day at our previous institution) means traveling to places that people in our demographic don't go, at least not midweek in October, and then pretending that we will somehow catch up on grading when we return. While we were in West Virginia, we spent fall breaks in a rodent-infested cabin at a state park, in Parkersburg (a small city an hour and a half from where we lived), in Pittsburgh, and at a bed and breakfast entirely full of wealthy post middle-aged women from DC and Ohio. While living in Kansas, we went to St. Louis.** Before I met the Mister I spent one fall break with my English ex-boyfriend (then already an ex for several years) among the retirees at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Vermont and another with my college ex (then already an ex for seven years) listening to music with busloads of blue-haired ladies at the Ozark Folk Center.

This past week Dianthus, The Mister and I went to Medicine Park, Oklahoma and stayed in a cobblestone cottage. Despite being built as a tourist town, nothing is going on in Medicine Park on a Thursday in October. The shops are closed, the winery isn't open until dinner and there is not a single place to buy breakfast.
We spent our day in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge and intend to go back.
And yes, rodents were spotted.

*Really it means kids these days have it sooo easy. There was no fall break when I was an undergrad. No siree.

**To be complete, I should mention that we went to Paris for my fall break the first year we were dating. It doesn't fit the pattern quite as well, but people in my demographic (graduate students) certainly didn't jaunt off to Paris for a long weekend. The conversation went something like this:
Mister: We should go someplace over your fall break.
Me: Let's go camping in the Ozarks.
Mister: Okay. Or we could go to Paris.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In which I punt in the Scottish Literature Clishmaclaver and say nice things about Jekyll and Hyde and Wuthering Expectations

Amateur Reader from Wuthering Expectations is hosting a Scottish Literature Challenge this year (details here). AR is trying to stimulate discussion and conversation about Victorian Scottish Literature. As a big fan of many things in Scotland (gardens, music, oatcakes, an Englishman* I met there . . . ) and discussing books in general, I signed up right away.
I intended to read [linked list inserted here].

Thus far, I have read three Robert Louis Stevenson stories: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Markheim, and The Pavilion on the Links.

It was my first time reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and as "Jekyll and Hyde" has made it into common parlance, I figured I knew the plot. The story opens with characters other than Jekyll or Hyde and I realized with a start that not only did I have no idea what happened to these new characters, I had no idea what was going to happen to Jekyll/Hyde. Knowing that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person is knowing a premise, not a plot.
The story is good, very good, and I can't quite think what I have to say about it.
Most of Hyde's misdeeds happen off-stage, so one must imagine what a man without any conscience has been up to at nights. AR points out that this, "let's Hyde be as decadent as the reader's imagination allows, which is also amusing. The more innocent the reader, the more puzzling the story." I can imagine a time in my life when I would have found Jekyll and Hyde rather silly instead of frightening.
I noticed the role of wine and other transforming potions because AR and friends had mentioned them and likewise thought more about the ch0ice for the story to be mostly revealed in letters after the action has taken place because the subject had been mentioned on Wuthering Expectations.
The story ends abruptly with the end of Dr. Jekyll's letter. It is exactly where Dr. Jekyll's letter should end, but ending the story there didn't sit right with me. Still, any additional resolution outside the letter would have just been plain wrong.

Besides having nothing novel to say about The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, reading it felt like cheating in the Scottish Literature challenge. Stevenson was born in Scotland, but the story is a London story. There is nothing Scottish about it.
I therefore read two other R.L. Stevenson stories from the illustrated classics volume I had checked out of the library. At least one of them, "The Pavilion on the Links", felt remotely Scottish. It takes place in Scotland and the Scottish setting contributes to the story. It's one of those well-crafted stories with a final punch that made me wonder if anything I had just read was as it seemed, but not compelling enough to actually make me go back and re-read it with an informed perspective.

"Markheim" is another London struggle between the good and evil contained within one person. I was pleased to learn that it was written before Jekyll and Hyde. Markheim is an intriguing tale in its own right, but as it relies on a supernatural appearance, it would be a lame follow-up to Jekyll and Hyde, the brilliance of which is that an ordinary man can simultaneously harbor such good and bad intentions.
Thinking about Markheim (1885) and Jekyll and Hyde (1886) made me want to re-read The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and wonder what was going on in the streets of London in the 1880s that so much evil can be found within "ordinary" looking people.
Altogether, I haven't much to contribute to the discussion of Scottish Victorian Literature thus far. I must read some more.

However, I do want to put in a plug for having something like Wuthering Expectations in one's life. Most of my life comprises things I do well or things I need to get done (many items I feel should be listed under the former too often fall under the latter, but this is a fact of life). I don't devote much time to things I am not particularly good at that don't need to get done. In absence of a knitting group, I don't knit. Without good instructors, I don't flail around in aerobics classes. I haven't struggled to keep up with a foreign language in years. But I do read small doses of thoughtful literature appreciationism daily.

Because Amateur Reader is an acquaintance in "real life", I started reading Wuthering Expectations the week it was launched and have been feeling well-read (by proximity) or completely unrefined (I don't read Victorian poetry and don't envision myself starting any time soon**) for three years since. It is great to have something to debate in my mind while washing the dishes ("saying that writing can't be beautiful because it doesn't look good on the page is like saying that a piece of music can't be beautiful because the score appears like almost any other") even if I am a month behind the discussion. I recently dreamed about compiling a list of narrators whose book we were reading as we read a novel. I kept reminding myself to keep track because it wasn't just Vonnegut (Yes, I forgot before I awakened).
Reading the Victorian Literature thoughts of somebody else isn't for everybody, I know, but let this serve as a public service message to do something that is well outside of what you do well or what you need to do.
And thanks for AR for keeping me thinking in a different way.

*It always did make me rather sad that my great Scottish romance was with an Englishman. Said Englishman, however, was in love with Scotland at the time, and my mother has always considered him Scottish, so it almost counts.
**With the exception of Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Inaugural Ice Cream Success

Few people believe it until they see it*, but our house has a room dedicated to the eating of ice cream.*** Today we had our first ice cream party (to which everyone brought additional sweet food, so besides five flavors of ice cream, multiple flavors of soda pop for floats, cherries, hot fudge, coconut, pieces of peanut brittle, crushed pineapple, butterscotch, bananas, and whipped cream, which we provided, homemade angel food cake, chocolate chip cookies, devil's food cake, pumpkin bread, peanut butter cookies, snickerdoodles and store bought brownies were available) in it.

The dean of my college left alerting me that I need to do this again next year and I need to invite him and he will be very disappointed if he finds out that I have such a party without him.

Independently my department chair and former department chair started commenting that weekly ice cream parties for the next four or five years wouldn't be a bad thing.**

Dianthus loved the ice cream and the attention and Mister Splashy Pants stopped by a few times until Dianthus chased her away. Altogether, a successful first party for our new place.

Revisit later in the week for my lack of good thoughts on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

*I know, I know, I should post pictures. Many of the guests today know the former occupants of our house, but none of them knew about the sundae room in back, which is weird to me. If you put in the trouble to build a hardwood bar, find three diner tables, chrome bar stools, coca-cola paraphernalia and set out fifty-some coca-cola and soda glasses, wouldn't you invite all your neighbors back?

**They were joking. Well, they were at least joking about the implied connection to tenure. Nobody thinks a weekly ice cream party would be bad.

***This line revised from the original, in case the comments make no sense.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In which lapses of logic don't bother me

The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee intrigued me because only in a small town library of a certain type would you find such a book beside To Kill a Mockingbird.

Open House by Elizabeth Berg I picked up because the author has the same name as one of my friends, had my friend fully changed her name when she married.*

My Sister-in-Law, who works as a literature professor, once commented that her students had no idea how to pick out books; sometimes they seem to just read randomly. Once past my initial shock that her students apparently read books, I admitted that my reading is far from systematic**. She reminded me that I have, and utilize, many means of acquiring book recommendations: I read book blogs and book reviews, I talk with friends and family members who read, I've been in book clubs and follow others. All true. My "to be read" lists are long and varied (and not stored in any one place), yet as a fuddy duddy who mocks students and authors for their failings in logic, I must admit why I really read some of the books I read.

I picked up Zinnia by Jayne Castle at a library book sale years ago because it had a cover with my second favorite z-flower on it, the author has a cool last name, and it was cheap (probably 25¢). I re-read it recently because wacky as it is (interplanetary exploration, interior design, human prisms for hire for talented psychics to use to focus their talents with, government required matchmaking and deadly carnivorous plants all play a role) this futuristic romance is fun.

Our local library stocks no Jayne Castle, but has a rather extensive collection of Jayne Ann Krentz (same woman, different series). I selected Sweet Starfire because the dust jacket suggested it takes place on a different planet. Indeed, Sweet Starfire is no Zinnia, but it does has interplanetary exploration, murderous carnivorous plants, ghosts of alien races, louts, rogues, tough virgins, social commentary, man-eating insects, and mind controlling extra-alien lizard eggs with the best of them. Jayne is good enough that it makes more sense than it should, but really, my editor self would point out that it couldn't make that much sense.

Apparently, sometimes I can still quiet my inner editor.

*The Devil in the JL and Open H, are both about divorce. TDitJL makes moving on with ones life sound like quite the romp, while OH, an Oprah selection, succeeds in conveying how very pathetic one can feel (and be) when one is suddenly single. I have many friends who would enjoy TDitJL, but I can't think of anyone who needs to read it. The characters in OH felt real enough that I will consider reading more Elizabeth Berg, but if one is going to plot something that is clearly a crazy fantasy, one might as well make it a Zinnia. OH is fine but I can't think of a good reason I'd recommend this over many other fine books.

**I'm fairly sure I actually said "random" but here my editor kicks in and points out that random means far more than lack of uniformity.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dianthus loves his new present

While it might be debated whether the new dryer was a present for Dianthus turning 14 months or the Mister turning considerably more years*, there is no doubt as to who thinks it is more fun. He put himself in without any prompting, by the way.

*Or perhaps something for me as an offering to the rain gods. We haven't had a functioning dryer since we moved in and we haven't needed one. I surely don't want the rain to hold off on account me wanting sunny days to hang out clothes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dianthus Digs

At his grandparents' house over Labor Day weekend, Dianthus learned how to dig potatoes.