freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I spent the weekend, as threatened, playing the latest Inquisition DLC, with rather more swearing than usual. This was because (a) I've been playing Mass Effect for the last month, and all my finger-twitches are habituated to big guns and biotics and using the space bar to interact rather than pause, and (b) because the latest Inquisition DLC is hardcore. It's all Deep Roads, caverns and underground cities and what have you, and you spend the first half of it being beaten up by hordes of Darkspawn, and the second half being beaten up by hordes of <spoilers> who have particularly nasty abilities in terms of <spoiler> and <spoiler>.

There was an especially bad set of curses at the point where the nasty, lengthy combat chipping away at the two rather ferociously indestructible <spoilers> ended with one of them, down to the last tiny fragment of health bar, falling through a glitchy bit of wall and getting stuck behind it so I couldn't finish them off, and I had to reload the damned combat and replay it four times before I managed to circumnavigate the glitch. (By dint of equipping my two tanks with the hook and chain thingy, gradually dragging the two bad guys out of the area and holding them away from the walls with static cage while we hacked at them. I confess to a certain vindictive satisfaction when the second one finally fell.) But it was at this point that I also realised why a moderately demanding DLC was ending up with me or my party down several times a combat and utterly out of healing potions: because (a) I was playing with the difficulty level at Hard rather than Normal or Casual, and (b) because this was my pacifist Inquisitor.

My difficulty level has been set at Hard for the last two games, despite my general lack of interest in heavy combat, because after the mumbleteenth replay of the same game I am so damned good at the tactics that combat was neither challenging nor enjoyable. And the pacifist Inquisitor is a combination of genuine roleplaying interest with sheer bloody-mindedness. I'm playing a human mage, which means a Circle origin - i.e. I've spent my life locked up in a mage tower learning magic while Templars breathe down my neck to make sure I'm not summoning demons. Magic in this world is heavily controlled, and I found myself wondering how likely it was that a mage would emerge from the Circle with any experience at all of combat magic. Because Dangerous and Bad and Templars wouldn't approve, surely? The most likely character trend would be towards academic geekiness and abstract or practical rather than combat spells. So my mental commentary at the start of the game constructed my Inquisitor as being horrified by the combat and somewhat violated at the idea of using magic - which is a very internal, personal sort of energy, I'd think - to kill stuff. And I developed her as far as possible without combat spells.

This was tricky, but possible - lots of support (barriers, resurrection, dispel, the whole spirit hog) and containment rather than damage (static cage, ice mine, etc.) I went ice rather than fire or electricity, as being less violently energetic, and eventually, and slightly counter-intuitively, developed her as a necromancer - i.e. animating already-dead corpses and scaring people off with Horror rather than destroying them directly. I also, in sheer self-defence, because you really can't be non-combat entirely in this sort of game, made the assumption that using a staff was a reasonable distancing mechanism, killing with a weapon rather than with your own life-force. The upshot being that she's fairly good at support but hopeless if anything gets close, hence the frequent dying. It was an interesting play-through, particularly in the demanding DLC setting, and interesting to see that it is possible to angle the game towards specific and slightly more coherent role-playing choices.

Of course, to play a demanding, combat-oriented DLC with a pacifist Inquisitor on Hard difficulty is sheer cussedness. I cop to the sheer cussedness. Possibly with pride.

My subject line is Death Cab for Cutie, a song which is a bizarre and idiosyncratic mix of sappy romantic with morbid. Fairly appropriately: if I have to spend a weekend following things into the dark while dying frequently, I have to say that this DLC is simply beautiful, especially in the lower levels where it's all dark blue shot through with lyrium veins, and in the final area which is <spoiler> and <spoiler> and generally exquisite.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the department which spawned me also despises my academic interests, and thinks they are Fluffy and Frivolous and UnAfrican. I am aware of this, and invoke my superhero power of Sheer Cussedness to insist on simply bumbling along doing them anyway, with considerable satisfaction and in the teeth of the odds. And, to be perfectly fair, while I will defend to the death my belief that fairy tale and genre and Gothic and non-realist narrative are neither fluffy nor frivolous, and that popular forms are valid and interesting in their own right, in my heart of hearts I know bloody well that they are as unAfrican as all get-out, at least in the contexts and iterations in which I pursue them.

What I do is really very Western: it's rooted in Western fairy tale, Tolkien, Victorian fantasy, the English detective story, Edwardian children's literature, and a resolutely educated technophiliac access to internet culture. It would mean, I think, absolutely nothing to a black kid straight out of a township, or from a rural community. It would be alienating, confusing, a language and idiom which was part and parcel of the strange, only semi-permeable membrane which keeps university culture - or, at least, the culture of this particular university - in the little Europe-fixated bubble which forms its identity, try we never so hard to transform. Black kids don't sign up for my seminars. I completely get it.

And, of course, to simply say that I should study African fairy tale is not, to my mind, a solution. While black languages and cultures absolutely have their own rich and varied non-realist and generic traditions, my access to them is limited by a similar membrane, a cultural and linguistic remove which I'd have to permeate only by acquiring the several new languages and multiple layers of sociological and postcolonial theory which would effectively make me into an entirely different creature, academically speaking. It's actually a fascinating mirror of the first problem: a black kid trying to understand, for example, Mary Shelley, is having to acquire equally wholesale an entire universe of cultural experience simply to place the text in context, and they're doing it from a starting point a whole lot less privileged than mine.

All of which is not, unfortunately, going to persuade me to transform myself into the differently-shaped, less eccentric academic creature who might actually be able to talk to said black kid about fairy tale on something like his or her own terms. Because, unAfrican or not, I like the shape I am.

In darker moments, I despair of being relevant. But I can also take heart from the little moments which hold out hope of bridging, just for an instant, that cultural divide. We had a fire drill yesterday, which of course ends up with the contents of the entire building disgorged into the road outside, including those of the 450-seater lecture theatre in the basement. One of the kids from the lecture was wearing a t-shirt I immediately coveted. This one.



He was a black kid. I didn't talk to him, so couldn't gauge his background; he may well have been an international student. But I'm hoping that he wasn't; that he was, at least, a middle-class black South African whose upbringing and experience were enough to introduce him not only to the (have you noticed how lily-white? Native American Metaphors notwithstanding) world of Twilight, but to enough of the far more robust Gothic tradition which gave rise to it that he can regard sparkly vampires with ironic distaste. Because I do read about impundulu even if I don't feel competent to write about them, and I'm made happy to think that somehow, somewhere, his world and mine might gradually converge. That's a conversation I want to have.

discombobulated

Thursday, 11 August 2011 03:35 pm
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Bleah. Talking to my nice therapist lady this morning about various Stupid Ex-Boyfriend Incidents way back in the mists of time (disclaimer: applies to no-one who's reading this) has put me into a profound depression for most of the day. Either that or the increase in my Warfarin dose has made me draggy and tired. Apparently my blood remains determined to clot madly, recking not the insane quantities of anti-coagulant we apply to it. Adds whole new dimensions to "bloody-minded". I contemplate with a certain quiet smugness the fact that it can't make my hair any worse owing to how I cut it all off.

Since I'm uninspired, and have moreover not much to talk about owing to the tight correspondence between my return to work and my return to Dragon Age II (the "Escape My Life At Any Cost" clause; newsflash, plotting still irritating and inadequate, romance options mostly insulting to right-thinking female players, but can I stop playing? noooooo1), I fall back into random linkery. These will be familiar to those of you who retain any consciousness whatsoever of my Delicious feed.

Hmmm. Apparently the entire upbeat content of my life has migrated to the internet. I console myself that it's better than no upbeat content at all.



1 Looking at that parenthesis, to the hypothetical question "Does that apply to Dragon Age or my life", I am forced to answer "yes".

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It's not surprising that I hate going to the dentist, everyone hates going to the dentist. Having someone else poke around inside your mouth is an uncomfortably intimate sort of thing even without the pain and the grinding noises and the horrible little supersonic whines of the drills. But I really hate going to the oral hygienist, in whose chair I've just spent an ungodly half an hour. I'm very rigorous about brushing my teeth, but her exertions make me feel as though I've been caught out living in a filthy house with an unmade bed. And she always guilt trips me about flossing.

Flossing is the curse of modern Western civilisation. Who really flosses, anyway? It's the perfect millstone around our neck, compounded of a horrible constellation of impulses - health, beauty, self-discipline, inconvenience, guilt, pain, boredom. I'm very bad at remembering to do it because to me it feels as though it's about beauty: it suggests that I should be aspiring to shiny white toothpaste-advertisement teeth, and I mentally classify it under the same heading as wearing make-up or blow-drying my hair. These activities nark me off not just because they're about superficial ideas of beauty, but because they demand that I take time pandering to them. Life's too short to spend half an hour every morning blow-drying, making yourself up, and flossing.

Of course, this is utterly wrong. Flossing isn't just about shiny white Tom Cruise teeth, it's about preventing plaque build-up and therefore about reduced fillings and healthier teeth, insert dental infomercial here, and less time in the dentist's chair in the long run. I'm perfectly aware of this, and therefore my time with the oral hygienist is nicely balanced between resentment, pain, guilt and self-loathing, with a side order of Herodotus's crocodile (little tooth-cleaning bird in my mouth! crunch!) and my heels lifting several inches off the chair in sheer muscular tension. She's right. I should floss. But I probably won't.

Last Night I Dreamed I threw over this admin job and emigrated to Nicaragua, where an unspecified nice man had promised me and a bunch of other people new jobs, which turned out to be in (surprise!) university admin. At some stage I was sleeping in a sleeping bag out on a hillside somewhere, and woke up with the dawn to find myself surrounded by the beautiful, half-tamed jaguars which belonged to the resistance movement.

dark night of the soul

Wednesday, 20 August 2008 08:29 am
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So, dragged the Evil Landlord away from his cherry-wood piano-stool construction manoeuvres to see Dark Knight last night. Huh. )
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Gods dammit, I'm losing weight. I had to take in the waistbands of all my skirts a couple of weeks ago, and the wretched things are all down round my hips again. Clearly I need to package the combination of reg week, kitchen renovations and my gym routine, and sell it for millyuns as a diet plan. Either that, or I'm pining for the fjords. Taking suggestions as to which particular fjords.

I spent most of the weekend wrestling with Gaiman and Miéville, which is not quite as sexy as it sounds (although, given that at heart I'm an academic, it's still pretty darned sexy). Really, I'm an organic writer: I feel my way through an argument more or less intuitively, which might explain why I've driven a select array of argumentative ex-boyfriends nearly demented over the years. This paper has fought me desperately for several months, and only really started to take shape this weekend: the secret was to delete all the careful plans I'd hammered out, since they weren't working, and simply allow my thoughts to develop from paragraph to paragraph. As a result I am actually managing to synthesise my take on urban fantasy with a nice constellation of buzz-words, including metropolitanism, alienation, subaltern cultures, hybridity and quite possibly, if I can beat it into shape, Foucault's notion of heterotopia. I feel ... well, intellectually pretentious, actually. Also slightly smug, since what I'm really doing is shoehorning a discussion of fantastic/alternative Londons into a postcolonial journal. Go me. At this rate I may submit the paper only a week or so late.

Last Night I Dreamed: werewolf dreams! Family home in the country, occupied by a large family comprising five or six kids between the ages of 8 and 22; lots of dogs, cats, big garden. The unstable bachelor uncle, who was this sort of blonde James Marsters-style number with long hair and bad teeth, turned out to be the werewolf; he spent a lot of the dream rampaging round the house in hairy man-beast form, howling and trying to talk in slurred and thickened monosyllables severely hampered by fangs. I don't think he ever actually ate anyone, although one of the cats might have been bitten, but there was a great deal of barricading of frightened people in rooms and general, unlocalised menace. In the end he went to ground in the basement of a girls' residence and was offed by a janitor with a torch. I diagnose way too much X-Files.
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Gah. Woke up at 5am this morning with my foot violently in cramp, no doubt possessed across time by the spirit of me aged 5 on Christmas morning and completely unable to sleep from excitement. On the upside, there were slipper socks in my Christmas stocking.

Just to prove to [livejournal.com profile] schedule5 that I actually did achieve something vaguely like a Christmas tree:



The decorations are variously (a) ornaments given to me in a spirit of malice by various friends, mostly [livejournal.com profile] schedule5[livejournal.com profile] starmadeshadow, (b) SCA tokens, (c) glass beads nicked from the Evil Landlord, and (d) all the half-pairs of earrings I could find. At last, a use for them!

Also, because if I do this obsessive thing I do it properly, David Bowie singing "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby. In 1977. Surprisingly endearing.



Merry Hogswatchoid wossnames, all.

Last Night I Dreamed: I put Golux on a leash to take her to the vet, but she escaped and ran away, to the annoyance of the vet's assistant. Much of the night was spent chasing the darned cat around the beaches and tropical environs of an extremely beautiful lake, while avoiding the strange, stick-insecty creatures which were mostly like two flat mother-of-pearl circles, joined and with legs. On mature reflection I think they may have been animated Naga jewellery. At another point a live performance of The Princess Bride intervened.
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Gawsh, time for the seasonal, ritual expostulation. Right, then. Hey! Who let that December in here? Darned bouncers, no good, admitting any old seasonal riffraff. I can feel my inner Scrooge beating his chest and growling, in a gentlemanly, Victorian fashion. And the mall this morning? not pretty, and there are still weeks to go.

So, on the subject of things ending in "olly". My credit card is a mess1, and my future uncertain. So no change there. But, unusually, putting these circumstances together with my Exploding Bookshelf Crisis and concomitant tendency to shy and flinch at clutter, I'm going to do the Frank, Manly Thing this Christmas. I know the immediate circle of Cape Town Friends tends to madly exchange gifts at Christmas. Please, this year, for the love of my sanity and the seams of my credit card, allow me to opt out. I will not expect presents from y'all this year. I repeat: put the presents DOWN, and back away slowly. I do not want presents. I will not distribute any myself other than to family and the Evil Landlord, although I may randomly shower people with home-made biscuits at unpredictable intervals. I love you all, but I'm broke, and trying to be sensible.

To make up for this more than usually Scrooge-like manifestation (and to cause [livejournal.com profile] schedule5 to swoon with obsessive Christmas glee), I will instead achieve something not entirely unlike a Christmas tree, for purposes of putting pressies under when I host my family for Christmas lunch. It will have precisely three decorations on it: two snowman earrings and a sort of festive china shapeless creature thingy in a red hat, all given to me over the years by evil friends in a spirit of Christmas malice. You can all point and laugh at my pitiful stabs at festive cheer when you come round for the Boxing Day Braai, which is definitely happening and to which you are all invited.

Now, in protest at the fact that the Evil Landlord is out tonight and I'm not allowed to watch Farscape without him, I'm proposing to pig out on leftover biryani and veg out in front of X-Men III, a copy of which I'd entirely forgotten I'd bought. Yay superheroes!


1 Particularly after the nasty random incident with the David Bowie this morning. On the other hand, hooked on "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell"2, which fits right in with my habitual Christmas spirit.

2 Yes, not early Bowie, I'm broadening my horizons, although I also copped Ziggy Stardust. Why, yes, the new obsession is progressing quite nicely, thank you!

wheee!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007 04:30 pm
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One batch of marking down, two more to go, four hours' sleep last night. I am high on sleep dep and the incredible relief of killing the shambling monstrosity that is a foot-high stack of Frankenstein scripts. Also, it's bucketing with madly unseasonable rain, my garden is happy, and I'm all exuberant with the simple joy of damp. (See Childhood, Zimbabwean, Drought-Stricken, for the use of). Being basically incoherent I shall, for no adequately defined reason, proceed to babble about handbags.

I have the handbag bug but bad, and have always admired the self-control of women who don't. (Go on, own up). Some vague, subliminal hope that I might at any moment fall through a wormhole, be collected by the Tardis or otherwise be whisked away to a better existence, leads me to evince a deep-seated need for basic life support items to be on my person at all times. Since this category includes not just the usual wallet/keys/diary/pen but variously,
  • a tape measure,
  • an electric torch, Leatherman and random screwdrivers,
  • a notebook for inscribing Great Thoughts and sudden sizzling ideas for papers,
  • my cellphone (mostly, when I remember), a memory stick and my Ipod (or, rather, [livejournal.com profile] dragonroost's Ipod on long-term loan, loaded with my music),
  • several packs of tissues for purpose of Sid-control,
  • UV blocker, cortizone, hand cream, lip balm, antihistamines for allergy attacks, three types of headache pill,
  • comb, hairbrush, hair clips, glasses case,
  • jo&stv's spare house keys,
  • the book I'm currently reading,
  • my shopping list,
  • a supply of chocolate and the only permissible Earl Grey (Twinings)
  • and, for two memorable weeks, three mouse-shaped cat toys with Real Mouse Fur that I kept forgetting to remove,
this means that either I need a handbag shaped like a small ten-tonne truck, or I need a Bag of Holding and have done with it. (I think that sentence made sense. Elegant, no. Sense, possibly). The last time Da Niece unpacked the whole shebang, a pastime of which she is fond, she also unearthed two AAA batteries, the Obligatory Embarrassing Feminine Hygiene Products, a random curtain ring and the kitchen sink, and it took me an hour to find everything and re-pack.

I tried very hard to overcome this pantechnicon tendency: when my lovely leather bag, courtesy of my sister, gave up the ghost six months ago, I resolutely bought a much smaller one and resolved to be disciplined. This didn't work even faintly. Apart from the frustrations of being denied the correct tea, falling over my feet in the dark, failing in my duties as Headache Drug Pusher to my immediate social circle, and missing that poignant, unmistakable frisson that comes from reaching into one's handbag and feeling fur, I could never find anything in the jam-packed space.

So now I figure that I'm going the wrong way about appeasing Anoia, who is undoubtedly Goddess of Things Being Scrabbled For In The Bottom Of Handbags in addition to her other multitudinous duties. Bugger all this restraint. Restraint is over-rated. My new handbag is a sturdy canvas monstrosity with nine separate zip-up pockets and a cellphone pouch. It can hold A4-sized objects, making it suitable for secreting small piles of essays if necessary. It has oodles of space and a sort of interesting space/time arrangement which enables whatever I'm looking for to spring into my hand without the need for extended groping. In a pinch, it could stash a three-course meal, a bottle of champagne, a sawn-off shotgun and/or all three of the cats.

Better still, the final optimum arrangement of junk to pockets leaves one zip-up external pocket free that is exactly the right length for my knitting needles. This was meant.

And, to return to the vague thought which prompted this whole celebratory rant, it'll easily hold my camera. This means I will routinely be able to randomly photograph things that catch my eye, like interesting billboards, interesting clouds or the wonderful contraption I fell over on my way to my office this morning: a three-storey telescoping pole with a brush on the end, used to wash windows, and manipulated by a muscular gent who wields the whole thing at about a forty-five degree angle, panting and sweating. It was a wonderful combination of perfectly logical and perfectly silly.
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As a result of a random concatenation of circumstances1, I just spent an hour reading through The Panopticon. It's a knitting blog2. It's very well written and very funny, and features Delores Dolores the cabaret sheep. It has also, in a response straight out of left field, and a horror hitherto unknown in my personal life, left me with a serious desire to overthrow the prejudice of a lifetime and take up actual knitting.

I feel an intervention is required here. I would be grateful if the relevant people would perform the following tasks:
(a) Non-knitting friends, please forcibly restrain me from this madness, pointing out its roots in psychological insecurity, life-avoidance and the frivolous desire for pretty clothes, and the unavoidable fact that, whatever I might fondly imagine, it's likely to teach me exactly the opposite of patience.
(b) Knitting friends, of whom I seem to have incredible stonkloads, please advise me as to the most user-friendly, low-grade projects likely to ease me gently into the long, hard process of converting some of my many thumbs to actual fingers while entangling myself in miles of yarn. The ultimate production of genuine articles of clothing would be a bonus.

God, I must be mad.


1 Following links from science fiction sites. Strange but true.
2 Yes, I should be marking. What's your point?

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My sf class is beginning to horrify me somewhat. 19 students and not one of them knows what a LOLcat is! How can we possibly discuss cyberpunk, Neal Stephenson, Sumerian mythology and memes if they don't know what a LOLcat is? Honestly. Modern youth.

Today I also ended up having to explain fan fiction, anime, viral marketing and yaoi, the last being particularly surreal because I couldn't remember the term. I think my students think I'm terminally weird, and perhaps I should be worried about my possible levels of geekdom, given that I'm not a programmer. Like [livejournal.com profile] khoi_boi, I cracked up at yesterday's XKCD. While database programming is a creature of enigma to me, at least I recognise the principles involved, and the rest is simply me resonating with the sheer bloody-mindedness.

I should post more owls. Neil Gaiman has an endearingly small, fluffy one in his garden. Head-bobbing and all. Owl head-bobbing is killer cute. Had I an actual income, I might be bidding in Ursula Vernon's bird commission auction. She'd do an amazing owl.

Also, just because: Lollipop!David Bowie!.



Other amusing band versions at http://www.flipflopflyin.com/lollipops/index.html. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers one made me laugh.

Last Night I Dreamed: more epic apocalypse, this time alien invasion. Lots of alien spacecraft popped up all over the world, including landing messily on major cities, and over a deserted Zimbabwean road where I was busy turning into a bird. Some of them looked like air filters, torus-shaped, others were classic flying saucers (a couple horizontal rather than vertical, and rather plastic). They were rather enigmatic: they tended to land and simply sit, while strange murky things moved mysteriously within them. Then I discovered that they'd already infiltrated human society, leading to an involved episode in which I was trapped in an old house in a city somewhere with two guys who were busy cocooning themselves for transformation into alien form. They stuck me and some other guy into a corner with sticky alien spit and went happily about their transformation while we tried feebly to escape. We'd just broken free and were being chased through the house when I realised that my fellow prisoner had grown an alien head in place of his own.

For some reason I'm particularly tired this morning...

angels and demons

Friday, 1 December 2006 10:21 am
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Hey! Who let that December in here? Darned bouncers ought to know better. Now it's chased away November with me having done only a fraction of the work I intended. Doom, apocalypse and woe. On the other hand, my Star Wars calendar has cute Luke shots for December. He looks much better in black.

More literary wittering. I still haven't read The Da Vinci Code, mostly out of cussedness1, but also because I picked it up in a bookstore once and was so horrified by the incompetent mutated journalese of the opening sentence that concerned clerks had to pry the book loose from my rigid fingers, sit me down and feed me brandy before I'd stop screaming2. Now, courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] pumeza, a rigorous, academic and beautifully rude dissection of Dan Brown's grammatical and stylistic iniquities, by a bunch of university linguistics experts called The Language Log. "Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better." Make sure you read all the links on the bottom of the page, the bit about mixed metaphors and animal imagery is hysterical. The review of Digital Fortress, here, also contains the marvellous slapdown: "In short, to call this novel formulaic is an insult to the beauty and diversity of formulae." Hee.

This week I also discovered Spaced, which jo&stv have been bugging me to watch for months. Am hooked. I lay on the sofa for an entire evening watching the first series uninterrupted, and laughing like a loon. It's intelligent, lateral, wry, genre-conscious, unabashedly geeky and inventively filmed, and also makes me wonder whether stv (a) is Simon Pegg, (b) has modelled himself entirely on Simon Pegg, or (c) is a truly bizarre example of parallel evolution. I'm also slightly horrified that I caught so many of the pop culture references, which are geeky to the max and brand me irrevocably as a sf/fantasy-reading, roleplaying, computer-gaming, comic-fondling, pervy Brit-fancier beyond any hope of redemption. Have resolved only to ever watch British TV in future, a determination I confidently expect to fizzle the next time I jones for Buffy, i.e. next week3. Concerned friends might avert this by bringing on Season 2 of Spaced.

Oh, yes. Still no mole, although a fresh outbreak of molehill in the garden suggests it may have tunnelled through the floor and escaped back into the wilds. Let's hope.
    1 In the same way that I still haven't seen Titanic. After a certain point, hype is simply annoying and counter-productive, at least to those who consider bloody-mindedness a cardinal virtue. Which raises an interesting question, actually. My nominations for the Seven Cardinal Virtues: bloody-mindedness, wit, laterality, empathy, sensuality, open-mindedness and intellectual suspicion. Any other nominees?
    2 I may be exaggerating a little here.
    3 Or until the promised evil pirated copies of Heroes materialise, causing me untold glee. Book club, so about cultural exchange.

nekkid

Thursday, 14 September 2006 06:58 pm
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There's something about the process of choosing books for book club which leaves me floundering and slightly shattered. This morning's particular experience may have been partially due to the dual effects of the curiously disorienting and space-warping navigational challenges of the Waterfront mall (memo to self: stick to the familiar entrance in future, even if it's twelve miles and a seething sea of schoolkids away from the end you want to visit), and this morning's thundering headache. Whatever it is, put me in front of a general fiction shelf and ask me to choose ten books for an eclectic audience of 6 other women, some of whom I don't know all that well, and my brain seizes solid while I whimper gently and attract concerned glances from even the psychotic misanthropes who staff Exclusive. Drool may also be involved.

Part of the problem is that I actually don't read that widely outside sf/fantasy, which is Bad and Wicked, if not downright Evil, in a self-respecting English academic (not that I currently am, actually); in a spirit of self-broadening I ration myself to one sf and one fantasy, plus one crime novel. The other seven choices are wide open. A weird sort of effect kicks in where I know that I should be all Serious and Academic, but know I'm not really, but expect the other book club members to expect me to be anyway, so I try to ratchet the Literary quotient up and down simultaneously, ending up in a sort of mental self-arm-lock, and drool.

Choosing books is actually horribly personal, and makes me feel very exposed, and my so-called academic identity really only makes it worse. I console myself with the thought that today, at any rate, at least some of the choices were essentially random, on account of how the headache was preventing me from seeing straight, and I probably chose a couple of things that were two to the left of where I was actually aiming.

Scored Banks's Algebraist, though, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so it can't be all bad.
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For the last year or so my street cred as an English academic, bookworm, pseudo-intellectual and suchlike has been seriously under threat within the confines of our book club by a serious failure on my part, viz. a continued inability to read The Time-Traveller's Wife. All other book club members have raved about this work. Various reviewers have swooned, squee'd and led the cheering throngs in spirited pom-pom routines from the sidelines. I, on the other hand, have somewhat grumpily tended towards a repeat pattern of behaviour which entails reading the first two pages, growling, losing interest and retreating to, even odds, either pulp fantasy or semiotics.

I have come to the conclusion that, in fact, this is simply sheer bloody-mindedness on my part. I distrust and suspect the whole process of widespread cultural hurrah! to the extent that, in many cases, I simply resist consuming that particular cultural artefact beyond the point of reason. (Instances submitted in support of this: Titanic, which, vague interest in Victorian costuming notwithstanding, I have still not seen.) In other cases I'll actually deign to read or see the text, but my subconscious will deliberately, and with malice aforethought, refuse to allow me to enjoy the damned thing. (Along these lines, and with apologies to jo, Kung Fu Hustle and Shaun of the Dead). Even worse, I don't even feel guilty about it. I'm not sure if it's repeated exposure to cats or students which has conditioned me to consider rampant cussedness an actual virtue.

Which brings us to last week's dose of 'flu, during the course of which my mental strength was sapped sufficiently that I curled up on the sofa one afternoon and actually read The Time Traveller's Wife. It's a very good book. It's a beautifully written, amazingly perceptive, sensitive and very moving exploration of love and death. It constitutes a wonderful example of a science fiction novel which is not, in fact, a science fiction novel because the interest in human relationships entirely overshadows the technological gizmo which allows that exploration. (Another case in point: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) However! While I enjoyed and admired the book, it didn't actually blow me away. I have no desire to rush around babbling about how amazing it was. It was not a life-changing experience, or in fact even very high in my personal mental hierarchy of Great Books I Have Read. Murakami shakes my world a lot more; Terry Pratchett inspires me to exactly the same extent with admiration for his perception of humanity. Yay Audrey whatshername, but drooling fangirl I am not. I suspect my dutifully cussed subconscious is putting the brakes on because it disdains to leap on any bandwagons.

Which is an interesting theory, except that it utterly fails in any way to explain my ongoing dedication to Lord of the Rings.
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What's with this time of year? If I'm going to have a bout of depression, it's usually in January, for no adequately defined reason. At the moment I am not alone in being hormonal, headachy and generally grumpy: Lara is epicly headached, jo&stv are (shock!) disinclined to socialise, the Evil Landlord has been half asleep for the last two weeks, although admittedly we may simply have exhausted him with all the mad partying over Christmas. I came home early from Karen's birthday dinner last night, owing to a punchy headache/nausea combination, and then had a lovely bout of sleepwalking - I woke up to discover that I'd carefully taken down several of the pictures in my bedroom, leaning them neatly against the skirting board beneath their hooks. No idea what the hell I was trying to do.

So, what's causing this? Post-festive-season letdown? Heat-stress? The fact that, yet again, the mountain has made a spirited attempt to burn down? (Although I have to admit the cool hazy blood-red sun effects are a somewhat dirty silver lining to the clouds of smoke). Or is it that horrible New Year angst which causes one to face another year, reassess life, the universe and everything and realise that, fundamentally, one's successes are limited, one's grind is ongoing, and in the greater scheme of things one is lowly pond scum on the surface of an uncaring universe? So not fun.

The horror that is academic admin is starting to gear up, causing me to dismally fail to rejoice in the fact that, as junior dept. member, I get landed with a motley array of the boring jobs. This week: training for curriculum advice. I actually quite enjoy the actual advising of students, although it's exhausting, but the training is that amazing combination of utterly necessary, since they change the curriculum structures randomly on an annual basis, and boring beyond belief. I also have to go forth on Friday and enthuse at innocent first-years for fifteen minutes about why they want to study English. Why was that, again...? I could think of lots of reasons if it wasn't January.
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Today should have been extremely annoying. On the downside (here we go again), the Army of Reconstruction more or less colonised the house this morning, deploying a painter in the Evil Landlord's bedroom and a clutch of noisy electricians in the roof (they stuck a foot through the guestroom ceiling). The otherwise nice and greatly appreciated charlady added to the chaos by vaccuming, washing etc, which entails me being chased out of my study at intervals while she cleans it. Escaping to campus was not much more encouraging, since the morning's library activities revealed that the two major, central works by Barthes have been nicked from the shelves. Semiotics, apparently, are not productive of honesty, strangely enough, since Barthes seems to espouse a rigorous and straightforward approach. (Unlike Derrida, who thinks in corkscrews, and would seem a likely candidate to inspire arson, embezzlement and grand theft auto). To crown it all, the nice editorial lady at the press that's (eventually) publishing my book, thinks that my proposed revisions are insufficiently radical and hints, terrifyingly, that time is not an issue and I should be committing to more far-ranging and long-term additions. I do not wish to spend the rest of my life doing this. It's beginning to annoy me.

On the upside, however, a jaunt to Makro this afternoon, with jo of jo&stv fame, was amazingly good fun. I love Makro. Its huge warehouse is piled with insane quantities of unlikely stuff in incredible juxtaposition: you go around the corner from office furniture and are in the middle of milk products. Plus, it has forklifts. Life with forklifts is complete. Also, the stv part of the dynamic duo cooked us Thai again this evening, and I am pleasantly full of excellent food and wine.

They didst with pitfall and with gin beset my road, but I bloody well had a good day anyway. Buggerit.
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Courtesy of scroobious, a wonderful collection of cussed Britishness about the bomb blasts. Definitely worth a read.

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