freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
One of those upsy-downsy days. On the downside, the faculty office continues in meltdown, with the faculty manager still off hissy-fitting and the shattered remnants of a once-functional administrative system trying desperately to reconstitute itself in her absence, severely hamstrung by the almost complete lack of institutional memory given how many people have left in disgust in the last year and a half. I have perhaps two and a half actual allies in this whole clusterfuck, to whom I have taken to delivering, of a morning, ceremonial batches of The Chocolate Brownies of Moral Support. (They're very supportive brownies, on the same principle as an empowering lemon bun).

Perhaps as a symbolic externalisation of my designated place in all this, while I was walking down from my car this morning, one of my Cherished Institution's seething population of half-evolved starlings flew deliberately up behind me and whapped me over the back of the head for no adequately defined reason, causing me to stop dead in the middle of the path and ask it "what the fuck was that for?" in tones of pained reproach, while passing students laughed at me. It seemed symptomatic of the whole.

On the upside, the Exam Tent City appears, against all odds, to have survived exam season unenflamed or otherwise disrupted, which is frankly more than anyone expected. (Lovely argument with Jo at dinner the other night about whether or not the Tent City approach can be statistically correlated with the lack of protests, which of course it can't on account of sample size, but I am a narrative rather than a numerical creature and must have plot causality. I do enjoy exposure to other thought paradigms, though, it's exercising to the faculties). Elsewhere, I have spent large chunks of the week moving lost, unhappy students out of other faculties into Humanities programmes, which is a surprisingly low-effort sort of positive validation thingy, it's fairly easy to make them puppy-dog levels of happy about escaping the wrong choice of degree. One of them this morning, after I'd lengthily assisted him to find a path through the ridiculous snarls of the music curriculum, informed me that I was a "delightful human being". That sort of thing definitely helps.

On a sort of lateral, neither up nor down side but definitely a side, this morning I informed the Deputy Dean most nearly concerned with my operations that I was looking for employment elsewhere and might be reasonably expected to resign in the next few months, after which he clutched his head and said "oh fuck no now we're completely fucked and may as well pack up and go home". This was a worrying combination of validating and guilt-trippy, but has usefully reified this actual getting the hell out thing to the point where, well, now I have to find a new job, don't I? the Faculty Exec is discussing my departure. (I have, in a Marked Manner, completely neglected to inform my actual boss, who is the aforementioned hissy-fitting faculty manager, she can stew in her own juice until someone tells her, I care not). I feel that statements of flight are a Good Thing, overall, but it's left me feeling a weird mix of relieved, terrified, and lighter.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, to whom I have been listening a lot because reasons, partially reasons attributable to discovering their FFS album, which is a collaboration with an American band called Sparks and is a an FF-ish, louche, lush, burlesquey sort of Threepenny-Operatic sound with indecent amounts of verve and pleasing levels of piano. Recommended.

happy times

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 11:19 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
So, the SA government, bless its cotton socks, has announced, perfectly predictably after much backing and filling, that free tertiary education is not viable, and radical student movements are seething. We lost two days from last week with protesting crowds prowling the campus with sticks, and lectures have been suspended yesterday and today. The Management of our Cherished Institution has decreed that lectures resume tomorrow, with increased security presence and an interdict on illegal protests, and the campus staff, bruised and slightly numb, can only brace themselves in expectation. In our court: the new SRC, just elected, rejoices in a majority of Democratic Alliance-identifying student leaders, hell bent on keeping campus open. Against us: interdicts and opening have infallibly in the past provided just the venue protesters need to rampage with maximum effect. I am not, shall we say, sanguine. I think it's highly likely we'll be delivering another truncated semester, and we'll be bloody lucky if we manage, in the teeth of the odds, to run undisrupted exams.

In all of this the faculty office is having an outbreak of management fuckwittery, coupled with serious bad timing: the faculty manager has taken two weeks off in what seems to be something of a snit, after trying unavailingly to banish the whole admin office to middle campus, and the deputy has two kids in hospital after a car accident and is likewise absent. There is something of a blitz mentality among my colleagues: keep your heads down, keep calm, carry on. Hope it doesn't explode.

I am playing a shitload of Fallout 4 again, because cynical apocalyptic black humour seems a viable response under the circumstances, and I significantly lack the emotional energy for anything other than a retreat into videogaming. In particular, I am deeply enamoured of the soundtrack, which gives you, via an in-game radio station, a truly lovely succession of songs from the 40s and 50s. These are beautifully and somewhat evilly chosen to fit into the post-nuclear-war black humour of the game, and mine the hell out of the 40s genre of novelty songs, hence "Uranium Rock" and "Atom Bomb Baby" and "Craw Out Through The Fallout". They also use sad love songs ("End of the World", "I don't want to set the world on fire", "Into each life some rain must fall") capable of reinterpretation in light of wandering the raider-ridden gun-toting post-apocalyptic landscape (and I have to say, the way in which a lot of these songs mix up love/sex/death/explosion metaphors is ... deeply disturbing, "Butcher Pete" and "Rocket 69" oh my god). And they sprinkle the playlist with syrupy feel-good croonings such as my subject line (also "Accentuate the positive" and "Dear hearts and gentle people") which you are obliged to read severely in the inverted position, wincing. I have downloaded two soundtracks and a bunch of individual songs from ITunes and am playing them on rotation in the car, chortling. It's helping.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Ow. Apparently the concatenation of a lecture-invasion (stressful), a slightly poisonous and anxiety-inducing faculty staff meeting (lots of people passively-aggressively documenting unhappiness, which always brings my shoulders up around my ears) and weird weather (warm berg wind day followed by sudden cold snap and rain) was sufficient to constitute a migraine trigger, because I lost most of yesterday to ow and ick. Tension and pressure changes, yup, that'll do it. Fortunately taking the small high-tech wafer migraine med (the one with the space-age plastic purple box) and sleeping for five hours yesterday morning more or less settled its hash, and I was basically functional by the evening.

This was good because the Dreaded Thak is in town for a flying visit and spent the evening with me, meeting the cats and showing me kid pics and catching up on gossip in both directions. The kind of friends who live on different continents and intersect only at multiple-year intervals but with whom one picks up exactly as though one saw them yesterday, are beyond price. The cats also approve of this random importation of house-guests for the sole purpose of supplying the feline overlords the requisite additional petting, adoration and warm laps.

In completely unrelated news, I badly need a scientific explanation for my current ear-worm, which is Mika's "Grace Kelly", which has colonised my unsuspecting cerebellum for slightly under a week, including surviving a migraine. Like a cockroach. I know and really like this song, it's catchy and boppable and familiar. I don't recognise the title, I have no conscious recollection of ever actually hearing it in the wild, it appears to have arrived in my brain by some sort of osmosis or teleport. Nor do I in any way recognise the name or existence of the singer, who seems to have been generated in a lab with equal quantities of physical and vocal DNA from Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie under a project description which simply reads "GANGLING", "ENDEARING" and "(POP)". I do not know why this wretched song is so familiar. Maybe it's the Mozart Rossini. (He's stuffing around with Barber of Seville in the lyric line).

Anyway, because the only possible response to an earworm is to pass the damned thing on, like a cold, please do click play.

Aargh. I have edited this to correct my shameful misidentification of opera. Apparently I mentally conflate the Barber of Seville with the Marriage of Figaro when under stress.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Last night I dreamed I looked out the glass door into the back courtyard, and there was a man (twentysomething, coloured, nearly shaved head) lying motionless on the astroturf in approximately the recovery position. And I was wondering if he was dead, or injured, but he apparently felt me watching and moved, so he was just sleeping. In the dream I was vaguely assuming he'd had a drunken rather than a criminal night, but was nonetheless a bit alarmed about finding him in my garden, and asked him to leave on the grounds of being somewhat scary, and he laughed at me a bit and obligingly did so. Possibly by evaporating, I didn't see him climbing any walls. It was all very odd, but as anxiety-related people-are-getting-into-the-house dreams go, relatively unthreatening. I think all the horrible insults to black bodies coming out of the current American fuckwittery are getting to me, there's a sort of subliminal protectiveness that kicks in.

I take back everything I said about Trump being lost and overwhelmed, incidentally. Trump is having the time of his life implementing fascist autocracy and wholesalely castrating any governmental bodies that could potentially restrain him. Even if his inner circle of batshit insane fascist jerks is leading him around by the piglike snout, the current fuckwittery has his big greasy pawprints all over it. Pundits are reading this as a trial run at an actual coup. We are all so fucked.

On the "fiddling while Rome burns" principle, possibly, jo&stv had a dance party on Saturday. This is a thing they do every couple of months, known as the Minimum Viable Party; they choose a day, send out invites, and if a minimum threshold of people is reached, they clear out the living room and hold it. Dancing starts at 8pm and finishes at 10pm sharp, because we're all old. (Even with the strict 2-hour limit I'm unfit enough that I'm usually achy for days afterwards). There's a theme to the playlist, which stv djs with great deliberation and not a little fiendishness. Saturday's was 80s cheese, unabashedly. He borrowed a chunk of my music collection to assemble it. I have a lot of cheesy compilations.

There's something about 80s pop music that's essentially, I think, innocent, possibly because people of my vintage were young when it hardwired our brains. It's also an iconic enough musical identity that it has familiarity value even to younger people, the ones who weren't in their teens or twenties when the cheese was prevalent, and familiarity with the music is a basic tenet of good dance parties. It was the largest MVP turnout we've ever seen, probably 30 people or so, and it had a lovely, joyous, uninhibited vibe which said we were all regressing like mad and completely unashamed about it. I spent a lot of it bouncing around the dance floor in a fit of giggles, because, honestly, Tiffany, "I think we're alone now". Or "Walk like an Egyptian". And my late 80s experience swung heavily Goth, but stv threw sops to the Gothy remnant of us with "Tainted Love" and "Love will tear us apart", and besides, I was also into Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. And it closed with "Wake me up before you go-go", because it had to, and alas George Michael. It was a lovely evening, I had a blast. In the current state of geo-political ramification one has to take one's pleasures where one can.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
At this point 2016 can officially fuck right off and die. Seriously. I do not want this 2016, it is skraaatched. In my personal iconage, it has taken from us David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Sheri S. Tepper. It has given us Brexit, Donald Trump, destructive student protests and cancer in my cat. It and all its works can take a long fiery hike straight into the sun. Today it's the death of Leonard Cohen, who is not quite a personal icon but is still a Significant Good. It feels like adding insult to injury. Also, people keep posting covers of "Hallelujah", which infallibly makes me cry even in circumstances when significant portions of America haven't just lost the collective moral and political plot.

On the upside, Tumblr is circulating relevant post-election Cohen lyrics, namely from "Everybody Knows", which is a favourite of mine and also satisfyingly and appropriately despairing.
everybody knows that the dice are loaded
everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
everybody knows that the war is over
everybody knows the good guys lost
everybody knows the fight was fixed
the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
that’s how it goes
and everybody knows
In this dark time in American politics, I re-recommend you copperbadge's unabashedly fantasy wish-fulfilment political AU with the Avengers taking the White House. Leader of the Free World. Balm to the political soul.

Further in the Department of Frivolous Escapism With Which I Propose To Distract Myself, I hear really positive buzz about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whose release date has been delayed to next year, which is a Good Thing because if they released it in 2016, 2016 would infallibly fuck it up beyond redemption. Interesting details on the game's developments here; I like what they have apparently done to tweak the combat system, and I am really excited about the increased emphasis on character interactions, because as you all know I am a mad and desperate fangirl for Bioware character interactions. The statement "The squadmate with the least amount of lines in Andromeda has more lines than the squadmate with the most amount of lines in ME3" made me go "squeee!", although not quite as ear-splittingly as if they'd replaced "ME3" with "Inquisition". I shall set aside a two-week leave period around Andromeda's release date, upgrade my computer, and permit 2017 to establish its bona fides appropriately while waving two fingers in 2016's general direction. Because really.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

I've been playing this as background music for the last couple of days, while doing anything except actually, you know, videogaming... and it's excessively lovely, a perfect confluence of two of my passions, gaming and classical music. These are full-on orchestral suites, beautifully arranged. As I type, Legend of Zelda is making me cry. They have an actual ocarina. I'd forgotten how much of that game allowed you to use a musical ear to short-cut the puzzles. Also, note to self, if they ever ported Zelda to PC I'd probably lose several years to playing the entire back catalogue.

The interesting thing, though, is how emotive I'm finding it even when I haven't played a lot of the games - in fact, Zelda is the first one in this sequence that I've actually played. But I still loved the other suites, Assassin's Creed, The Last Of Us, Journey and the Mario mix and all. I think this is an index of how game music is written - to be stirring, emotional, to figure the hero's journey, whether introspective or martial or whimsical, to embody the frequently beautiful landscapes of the gameworld. Like gaming itself, videogame music has to distil reality into an essentialised version of itself. Which means it packs a punch, to say the least.

The subject line is from "Beauty and the Beast", because I had to have something from the Heroes album.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently you can take the girl out of the SCA, but... If you don't read Mallory Ortberg, on The Toast or on Twitter, you should, she offers an extremely high class of batshit lateral. The latest of hers to do the rounds, Two Medieval Monks Invent Bestiaries, is a particularly fine specimen. The traditional Earl Grey was snorted through the traditional nasal appendage.

I am still at home with bronchitis and a lovely, hacking cough which causes Hobbit to dash terrified from the room at frequent intervals. My nice doctor has torn her hair slightly, prescribed an asthma pump, and booked me off for the whole week. I am playing an awful lot of Inquisition. Random investigation (occasioned by a weird game corruption which Teh Internets seem to think is the result of having too many different saved games) suggests that I am not, in fact, powering my way through a fourth playthrough (Qunari mage, female, romancing Josie), it's actually my seventh1. I appear have spent a certain proportion of the last few months playing Inquisition in a fugue state. Also, I am now good enough at the damned thing that I'm wandering through on an elevated difficulty visiting areas in the wrong order so I fight things a good 6 or 7 levels higher than I am, and I'm still cremating them with some efficiency.

Finally, this blew my mind. Metallica cover, plunging me straight back into my Honours year, aargh nostalgia. All-girl band. Aged 9 to 14. Watch the drummer in particular, she's bloody good and she rocks.

1 Human rogue (dual wield), female, Cullen; Elven mage (rift mage), female, Solas; Human mage (knight enchanter), famale, Cullen; Elven warrior (sword/shield), male, Dorian; Elven rogue (archer), female, Cullen; Human mage (knight enchanter), male, Dorian. I am not, apparently, compelled to monogamy as much as I am in other iterations of Bioware games, although there's a certain Cullen and Dorian theme emerging. This is because Inquisition is beautifully written, far more so than earlier DAs, and I genuinely like and respect a much higher proportion of these people. (Dorian is entirely endearing, and Cullen's character arc over three games is very nicely drawn; both achieve the balance of damaged/conflicted with likeable which earlier DAs have largely flubbed). Next up, Dwarven rogue, female, (dual wield, still my favourite class), probably Sera. Blackwall annoys me and Iron Bull is frankly terrifying.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My mother is visiting from the UK, which is lovely, and Cape Town is even behaving weather-wise and giving her some sun. (She does not enjoy the British climate). However, the myriad grotty little buggers who comprise her charges at the school where she works apparently gifted her with a merry end-of-term chest infection, so she's been coughing a lot and losing her voice. She's coming out of it. Now I've got it. It hurts to breathe, and my voice is becoming progressively more throaty and baritone. Blargh.

I'm consequently even more spacey than usual, which means that I distinguished myself last night by (a) attempting to head off to a Secret Soirée gig at jo&stv's at 6.15 under the firm delusion that the actual time was 7.15 (fortunately mother restrained me), and (b) completely omitting to bring the ticket with me. Fortunately the nice girl on the door knew me (she's a Humanities student, apparently. Many years of curriculum advice do have their perks.) and let me in anyway. Secret Soirée is fun, you contract a favourite local band to come and play in your living room, encourage all your friends to buy tickets, and the organisers throw it open after a certain point for random strangers to sign up. This meant that the gathering was a lovely mix of strangers and friends, with the obligatory sprinkling of People I Taught Once, People To Whom I Have Given Curriculum Advice, People Who Were Friends Of My Housemate Lo These Many Moons Ago, and People Who Look Suspiciously Familiar Because I Have Probably Seen Them At This Band's Previous Gigs. Cape Town is a very small, very incestuous community, really. Anyway, Mean Black Mamba. Blues/rock, with an entirely phenomenal drummer. Lovely gig, I'm sorry I had to leave early on account of Lurgi. And I hope the dog has recovered, she is not apparently a blues fan and felt the need to give some of the songs an aggressive barking. Everyone's a critic.

I should also record for posterity the slightly surreal start to the week, which was the house alarm technical guy phoning me to cancel our appointment (I need to replace an alarm sensor with one which does not fire every time Hobbit yawns) on the grounds that he'd been bitten by a spider. This is somewhat close to the bone as I'm still playing Inquisition and its giant spiders have a characteristic scurrying motion which gives me the screaming abdabs, but the poor guy sounded completely weirded out by the occurrence. Spider bites hurt like hell and can be utterly debilitating, but presumably he feels that it's not entirely consonant with his manly dignity to be incapacitated thereby. Alas.

I should now resume my scheduled croaking-at-students, the angst levels seem unusually high this morning. On the upside, someone yesterday emailed me after a consultation to say they were "inspired by my professionalism", so there's that.

(Subject line from Belle & Sebastian, "Funny Little Frog", which occurred to me because of the frog in my throat).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
In my last post about the inscrutable Cosmic Wossnames inflicting themselves on orientation and reg, I inexplicably neglected to mention 5, Teeth. My teeth historically seem to choose the start of the year to crumble, possibly because I'm tense and grind them unconsciously, or possibly just out of spite - a few years ago it was emergency root canal during orientation. At any rate, I had 7 fillings over the last six weeks. Very minor fillings, I hasten to add, but he did 5 of them in one marathon 90-minute session, out of which I emerged pale and shaking and went straight into a day of registration in which I slurred at students like a drunk for several hours. Because registration, clearly, doesn't hold enough terrors all on its own.

I wish to issue a Public Service Announcement at this point. For the sake of your teeth, avoid lemon juice! Over the last couple of years I have made a material difference to the health of my teeth by drifting into habits of (a) drinking hot water with lemon in it, and (b) drinking that lovely Woolies bottled fresh lemon juice, more of a lemonade as it has sugar added, but it's still pleasingly tart. Even though a teaspoon of lemon juice in hot water is not much, and even though I dilute the fresh lemon juice to about a third with sparkling water, the lemon is acidic enough that it weakens tooth enamel noticeably after less than a year of the habit. (Apparently this extends to citrus in general: orange juice is not quite as bad, but has the same general effect). My teeth were starting to erode along the sides, causing the hygienist to do that doom-laden sharp intake of breath thing, and requiring these incredibly fiddly little flanking fillings across three separate teeth. (Matters are exacerbated by my Evil Sinuses, which cause me to sleep with my mouth open, which dries out the teeth and makes them more prone to decay. Apparently. Hence the decay in my front teeth, which is unusual).

I have a particularly lovely dentist, a very quiet, gentle, reassuring man who is also, it turns out, a quiet, gentle, reassuring, completely demented Pink Floyd fan. He was shooting me full of local anaesthetic prior to the five-filling marathon, and made some comment about making me "comfortably numb", to which I went "Pink Floyd!" in a reflex trained by my undergrad days, during which various of the CLAW types were madly into Floyd and infected me whether I liked it or not. (I did. Apart from the statutory mandate which requires you have your mind blown by watching The Wall in undergrad, it's interestingly complex and provocative music). So he put on "Saucerful of Secrets", which I had on bootleg tape back in undergrad and have always loved, and proceeded to enliven the fillings by imparting gentle nuggets of Pink Floyd biographical information of the more outré and unlikely variety.

There's something peculiarly apt about listening to early Pink Floyd while being shot full of drugs and drilled. It was also one of those unexpected gut-punches to the memory. I haven't really listened to Floyd since those much younger days, and it thus has unfettered connection with all the complex associations of nostalgia and wistfulness and regret that attach inevitably to music that's been important in your life at important times. It was all, at any rate, nicely distracting.

The Great Car Music Trek has raged through She Wants Revenge and embarked, as my subject line suggests, into Sisters of Mercy. Apparently it's all about the nostalgia up in here. Gothy, post-punky, gloomy nostalgia. Appropriate to teeth.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Well, that was lateral. Apparently last week's continual student demands + a three-hour session training curriculum advisors had a sneak build-up exhaustion effect, because I was completely wiped out this weekend. Saturday morning was fine, pottered around, talked to the cat, played some Inquisition, went out to do some shopping, hit Saturday crowds, and the wheels fell off. I can't handle crowds when I'm tired. I get shaky, and wibbly, and headachy, and want to crawl under my bed and never come out. I ended up cancelling both social engagements this weekend (sorry, nice people, I'm feeble) and actually napping on the sofa for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, much to the delight of Hobbit. (Recumbent human forms are clearly designed expressly as Hobbit-cushions, and induce sprawling and purring to excessive levels. Also biting, although somewhat lovingly). I never sleep in the afternoons unless I'm ill, but actually I think I'm a bit ill. Apparently this is a glandular resurgence, judging by the state of my neck (the Blunt-Toothed Vampire Nibbling effect). Phooey.

I also played much less Inquisition than I would otherwise have, because it's new and quite demanding and requires concentration which I don't really have right now. However, sufficient Inquisition was played that I can report the following:
  1. Inquisition still pretty. Ye gods, it's beautiful. The texturing and detail and the vividness of the different settings are quite something, I'm becoming wonderfully lost in these lovely landscapes. And it's huge. The whisper flies across social media somewhat repetitively - a lot of players are slightly intimidated by the scale. The sections sprawl in beautiful open-world profusion, although with possibly excessive levels of mini-quest grinding.
  2. Inquisition varied. The designers have apparently taken to heart the consistent player crit of Dragon Age II, which was the insultingly repetitive nature of the settings: rather than being all the same dungeon/bit of shoreline/house, they are all madly different and individual. And pretty. I approve. (Played bits of the Deep Roads yesterday - exquisite).
  3. The open-worldness is coupled with a completely marvellous and happy-making innovation, which is that structures and caves are not separate areas, you wander from one into the other without a loading screen, in one giant, open world. I cannot sufficiently express how wonderful this is. It suddenly and weirdly ups the realness factor in spades. (Which is just as well, as generally the wretched thing takes ages to load).
  4. Inquisition has ripped off its initial theme music wholesalely and unabashedly from that Billy Boyd song he sings to Denethor in Two Towers. Honestly: the first two and a half bars are pretty much identical. This seems to be a theme in video games - Skyrim steals theirs from Pirates of the Caribbean. I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to bolster recognition and identification.
  5. Inquisition all bloody wonderful, but not entirely Dragon Age: currently it feels like a rather more politically detailed and better voice-acted version of Skyrim. (And not just because the crafting is interesting). Companions feel a bit perfunctory, with to date no detailed mini-quests through which they join the party - they're just kinda there as a fait accompli. I haven't met any new ones yet, either. And so far they don't have huge amounts of personality. Reserving judgement a bit on this one, maybe it's just a slow start, but I right now it feels as if they've put even less effort into the companions than they did in DAII. Which is sad.

The Great Car Music Trek has catapulted me with alphabetical insouciance from early Eurythmics (Be Yourself Tonight) to late (Peace), which is entertaining because the first song on Peace is "17 Again", which is a direct engagement by an older, wiser and more cynical Eurythmics with their brash early days. I have completely ear-wormed myself with "I Saved The World Today", which is ridiculous catchy and causes outbreaks of singing in the corridors. Subject line accordingly. I'm a bit dead this morning.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had an outbreak of Summer on Tuesday and madly encouraged the nice hairdresser man to chop my hair short, in the interests of getting it the hell off the back of my neck. It's now a shortish bob, which as per usual I will defiantly refuse to blow-dry at any price, and which will thus never look quite as sleek and grown-up as it does when I leave the salon. I've noticed a bizarre thing, though. Yesterday and today have been filled with colleagues being ridiculously and uncharacteristically chatty at me. They bounce into my office to discuss minor points, they engage me in conversation while I'm swearing gently at the photocopier, they laugh at my involuntary word-play in meetings. (I am incapable of professional meeting language. There will be play, and often metaphor, high-coloured, for the use of. Mostly people just look blank.)

I am driven to the conclusion that this haircut is possibly (shudder) ... cute. At any rate, it seems to make me more approachable. I'm toying with the idea of seeing what black-rimmed hipster spectacles do to the effect.

A quick public service announcement: the PC version of Dragon Age: Inquisition is released tomorrow. I pre-ordered it from Origin, on the grounds that it was half the price of the disc version on Loot for the deluxe edition and comes with Cool Bonus Stuff. They opened it for preload on Monday, and, the cardboard-and-string internets of our beloved country being what they are, I have been gently downloading it in the background (and swearing at the resulting slow loads of Tumblr gifs) ever since. We were at about 82% this morning. The gods willing and the geeks don't rise (or the damned cat doesn't climb on the keyboard in my absence and accidentally halt the download again), it should be finished just in time for official scratch-off tomorrow. I shall thereafter vanish into obsessive Dragon Age companion-flirting with a muffled squeak, probably for the next few weeks. Or months. Posts, and actual human interaction, may be a little thin on the ground, and unduly dragon-flavoured. Don't take it personally. With any luck they won't fumble the dismount as badly as they did in Mass Effect 3...

The car music system is still with the Death Cab. We're now in Transatlanticism, which I think is the last album I have on this player. I must acquire more Death Cab, I only have about three of them, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords is worth it for the title alone. For the record, my subject line is from "Expo '86".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, is it just me, or are we - in the sense of Western culture generally - raising our young these days to be more and more entitled, and less and less in touch with reality? I have had in excess of twenty years on this campus dealing with undergrad students, and I swear there's been a noticeable increase over the years in what I think of as the Unique and Beautiful Snowflake problem: individuals who present with a sublime obliviousness to or disregard for the rules, because the rules can't possibly apply to the narcissistic urgency of the individual's particular moment. A lot of these kids have apparently never been introduced to a boundary, or to an obstacle which someone - I suspect helicopter parents - hasn't caused to magically dissolve. They don't get "no you can't" on some profound level - it does not compute, captain.

If you're trying to wrangle student curricula as a day job, this becomes very quickly exhausting. It's worse at the moment because mostly what I'm doing is signing forms to add Summer Term courses, and statistically students who are using the Summer Term - a repeat of a few select courses in a compressed one-month format - are somewhat more likely to be flaky because they are doing so to compensate for failed courses. But, ye gods and flying spaghetti monsters, this week has been hell. I would estimate that approximately a third of the students I've seen have arrived without the necessary documentation (a printout of their transcript) and have breezed straight past THREE large-lettered signs on my door, one in bright red, which announce that I CANNOT give any sort of curriculum advice without it. Probably a quarter of them have arrived outside my consultation times (also clearly outlined on my door), and have blithely bounced in regardless. I am more or less inured to the failure to read notices, there are some brick walls against which one does not continue to beat one's head. It's the attitude of surprised confusion when I point out that they're out of line, usually followed by a helpless blank look, as though they're expecting me to somehow make this problem go away. If I tell them to come back later or send them off to do the necessary printing they are often angry, resentful and slightly hurt. But I need this now! and you're here! and there is no way that anything you could be doing right now could possibly be more important than what I need this instant! You monster! or, worse, you're not doing your JOB, which is clearly to pander to me in every possible way!

Yesterday was particularly bad, because I saw in quick succession two young ladies of the more overtly gazelle type (blonde, fashionable, wide-eyed) who didn't play fair because they erupted into my office outside my consultation times each with a parent in tow. It's very difficult to establish boundaries when there's a parent in the background tapping a foot in a what-are-we-paying-for-anyway sort of mode. (One of them sent the parent in first, because she knew damned well I'd turn her away). It's all very well to do a we're-both-busy-adults, hail-fellow-well-met performance which says that we're just making an exception for your darling daughter out of courtesy and because you, the grown-up, are too important to wait, but are they aware that there are four and a half thousand undergrad students in this faculty? Most of them have parents. A high proportion of them have the same narcissistic sense of their own unique importance. If all of them do this, it'll never stop. The boundaries are there for a reason, because I have a number of important and demanding things to do other than deal with students, and boundaries make my job possible.

But they weren't the problem. They annoyed the hell out of me, but it was the last student of the day who sent me home shaking, weepy and feeling slightly sick. He arrived outside my consultation times and without the documents. I sent him away. He arrived back with the documents, still outside my consultation time, and did a loud, over-acted surprise and annoyance thing when I said I wouldn't sign the form, because the front desk had sent him to me! Which I know they hadn't, because I went down there twenty minutes earlier and specifically reminded them NOT to send students to me outside my consultation times. So I signed his damned form to get the hell rid of him, but told him that this was unacceptable and he should read my door notices in future, and that he couldn't assume I'd be able to drop everything to deal with him. At which point he yelled at me for yelling at him (which I hadn't done), yelled about being a student so I couldn't treat him like this, threatened to report me to the Dean, shouted a bit more, and left. He was very large, very loud, very male and very threatening, and the fact that he was utterly and completely in the wrong did not in any way stop me from feeling sick and shaken, and from lying awake half of last night rehearsing ways in which to defend myself to the Dean in case the wretched student does actually take his self-importance that far.

I have lots of friends who have kids, and they certainly aren't raising them to display any such self-entitlement, but clearly they're a minority. What the hell are we doing to this generation? How are they going to react when they get out into the real world and it hits them with real consequences and limitations which they can't simply ignore? Are they going to crumble and flounder, or are they going to evolve into sociopaths, sublimely detached from empathy and perspective, wresting the world to their will because they can't conceive of it being any other way? Either way, I'm a bit scared for the future.

On the upside, my car music has now done David Bowie A-Z (literally: Aladdin Sane to Ziggy Stardust) and has ambled onward to the David Byrne/Brian Eno collaboration Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which is beautifully soothing. My subject line is from "Home", possibly my favourite track on the album.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For no adequately defined reason, radio announcer auditions, courtesy Wikipedia. This is enormous fun to read out loud, particularly since the Parade's End Effect has been replaced by the Granada Sherlock Holmes Effect and I'm still enunciating with bell-like British clarity. Go on, try it. The sacred, secret crypts of Egypt and a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth. You roll it around your tongue and spit it out.

One hen
Two ducks
Three squawking geese
Four Limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alverzo's tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians dressed in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred secret crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time on Tuesday or Thursday, it really doesn't matter.

My subject line is David Bowie, "Time", one of the great Bowie piano pieces which I will, by gum, teach myself to play sometime very soon because it's awesome. My car music is still cycling through Bowie, currently Tonight by way of The Last Day, which is the new one and curiously pleasing.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My nice therapist defines my job as one in which I have to take the stereotypical maternal (nurturing) and paternal (disciplinary) roles simultaneously, which actually goes a long way towards explaining why the work I do sometimes feels as though it's pulling me in half. Not so much butter spread too thin, as stretchy strings of cheese on separated pizza slices. Yesterday's little dilemma was horribly characteristic, sparked by a student who wants the faculty to intervene and grant her a DP the department has refused. (DP is Duly Performed - acknowledgement that attendance and coursework are sufficient that the student is permitted to write the exam. And dear sweet FSM but DP appeals have been stratospherically high this year, student denial levels seem to be on the rise. The faculty won't intervene, DP is departmental business, but the gazelles desperately want us to wave a magic wand and make it all better, did I mention maternal role? because helicopter parenting is apparently a thing these days. I saw one appeal, cced to me by a HoD, in which said HoD patiently explained to the student that the appeal was being turned down because she'd written one test out of three, achieving a mark of 18%, and attended one tutorial out of four, and how the hell the student ever thought she had any grounds whatsoever to appeal beats me. Because, apparently, "desperate" overrides "reality".) Anyway, yesterday's particular child is desperate for the DP because it's for a course she needs to graduate.

So I check her record, and in fact she can't graduate even if she strong-arms the dept. into granting this particular DP, because back in her first year she's incautiously taken and passed two versions of the same course, and only one can count towards her degree. This is clearly an error that's slipped through several levels of checking; it's a small, fiddly, not-often-relevant rule, and advisors and office staff don't always remember it. I remember it, because it's my job to do so: I am in fact the repository of exactly this sort of technical knowledge of our degrees, and I pick up a lot of errors that other checkers miss.

So, if I don't notice, it's highly likely that no-one will. Because I have noticed and annotated her record accordingly, the student will be unable to graduate in December even if she achieves the disputed DP and passes the course; she'll have to pay several thousand rand for an additional course, which she'll have to do in summer term (expensive extra residence fees) because she can't come back next year, her study permit has expired. She has no legal grounds for complaint; students take responsibility for their own course choices every time they sign a form, and the exclusion of the dual credit is clearly specified on the course description in our handbook. Someone should have caught it, and I'll (once again, wearily) add it to my list of things to emphasise in training advisors and admin staff, but she should have caught it herself.

If I pretended I haven't noticed the error, and supposing she was granted the currently disputed DP and actually passed the damned thing, she could be saved all of the above. She'd graduate with the right number of credits; it's not such a huge solecism that two of her first-year courses have overlapping content. I have enormous power in this particular instance, in that if I kept quiet it's unlikely anyone else would spot it, and even if they did it's not unreasonable that I occasionally miss things, so I wouldn't be blamed. She's distraught, facing enormous implications in time and money. It would be kind to let it slide.

But I can't do that. Half my job is to facilitate the success and happiness of students; the other half is to protect the quality and integrity and logic of our degree structures, and the even-handedness with which the rules are applied. It's perfectly clear where my duty lies in this instance, and if nothing else my own Lawful Good would utterly prevent me from that kind of fuzzy dishonesty. Her degree is only worth anything at all because gatekeepers such as I are continually protecting its integrity. But because of the absolutely dual nature of my working identity, in that moment of decision I cannot win. I defend the quality of the degree with stern paternalistic self-righteousness, and the maternal empathy half of me feels horribly guilty because of what it'll put the student through. It's a bugger. Stringy cheese, I tell you. Stretched. (Also, it leaves me with a strong need to play that one computer game stv was describing, where you're a bureaucrat at a border and have to make increasingly grey-area calls. I can't work out if it'll be cathartic or redundant. It has to be tried.)

At any rate, student angst levels are materially assisted by my current ongoing alphabetical trek, by album title, through the endless vistas of David Bowie. Right now we're into late middle-period, which is the much-decried 80s pop outbreak, by virtue of Labyrinth (hence my subject line) and Let's Dance in quick succession. You can say what you like about 80s pop, my cheesy metaphor from earlier may well be relevant, but I was a teenager in the 80s and can't help responding. That shit is hard-wired.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I think I'm getting better at this, possibly because therapy. The student can tell me about her depression and anxiety as a result of her mother committing suicide at the end of last year, and I can be sympathetic and practical and hold off dissolving into tears about it until the poor child has actually left my office. The other student earlier this morning was about her brain-damaged mother and death of two brothers, and I also managed to not actually cry even though she was. Empathy makes me, in general, pretty good at this job, but it's a bugger.

There was a Teaching & Learning conference on campus yesterday, around which I wandered for most of the day, attending sessions which looked randomly interesting. It was all a bit surreal as I had approximately 3 hours of sleep on Sunday night, owing to (a) the inexplicable and unprovoked insomnia which prevented me from actually being able to get to sleep until 2am, and (b) the cat incursions at 5am which woke me rudely up from an already slightly fitful slumber. (Wake up to characteristic "thump thump thump ... THUMP" which means the drug hedgehog is being tossed around and killed inventively, with acrobatics. Listen for several minutes, thinking, damn, Hobbit, must you truly discover your inner kitten in the middle of the bloody night? Gradually realise that, in fact, Hobbit is sprawled along my shin, and has been since I woke up, which means the bloody neighbourhood tom has broken into the house in order to play with Hobbit's toys, which is frankly just rude. Particularly since he clearly ran off with it when I erupted out of bed to chase him away, I found the wretched thing in the back courtyard this morning and was impressed, despite myself, by the fact that he somehow managed to elevate himself through the bathroom window with the toy in his mouth without dropping it. I shall have to lock up the toys as well as the food when I go to bed).

At any rate, being sozzled on sleep deprivation is not a bad way to enjoy a conference of this nature, the subject doesn't call for dense theory so I could follow the good presentations and it was pleasingly easy to switch off for the bad ones. (I took my Ipad along, and whiled away the bad presentations reading porn. Fanfic is dashed useful as it looks like bland text on the page if anyone sneaks up behind you and looks over your shoulder.) I think the lack of mental energy was also good for subduing the angst levels, which tend to elevate somewhat in the presence of all these amazing, engaged, reflective teachers who are paid to do it properly and have time to theorise it instead of having to tack small remnants onto the back end of the admin job. Sigh.

My car music system has finished up the Belle & Sebastian and is merrily engaged with Crowded House, who have the inevitable side effect of making me sing along to about two-thirds of the tracks. Also, to regress mentally to my Masters years, when I shared the digs with Michelle and Dylan and the former addicted me to Crowdies. Still a slut for catchy. Also, music is absolutely and inescapably about memory and association. As stv would say, context!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, dear. In pursuit of watering the burgeoning and increasingly verdant collection of pots in my back courtyard, I seem to have accidentally watered the Hobbit. He is slinking about the house at half his usual volume and twice his usual density, looking matted and hedgehog-spiky and somewhat cowed. I would be feeling more guilty except he's amusing like this :>.

In the Department of Random Ongoing Fangirling: so it turns out that if you slow the Sherlock theme down it sounds like something from a Tim Burton soundtrack.

I am obscurely charmed by this. Particularly since it beautifully accompanies fanart such as, for example, that by La-Chapeliere-Folle on deviantart, which won't let me link to the image, phooey. The Sherlock/Burton crossover appears to be inevitable. I blame Sherlock's silhouette.

Random fanfic rec! surprisingly, not Sherlock. This is an exceptionally beautifully-written slow-burn Harry/Draco fic which does my favourite thing in Potterfic, which is to explore the manifest iniquities and logical flaws inherent in Rowling's Slytherin/Gryffindor stereotyping. She really doesn't do nuance or sophistication or real human impulse in her moralities. Fortunately many fanfic writers absolutely do. This one is set mostly in pub arguments and is amusing as well as true.

The subject line is because it's a beautiful sunny day and my car sound system is onto The Life Pursuit, the Belle & Sebastian album voted most likely to make me randomly happy. It's all catchy, boppy, whimsical tunes, and I am a slut for catchy.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am Randomly Amused this morning.

  1. My lovely new car is a lovesome thing, god wot, but it has a rather cheap and nasty sound system. As a result, I can't persuade it to play music off my MP3 player in any format other than through individual tracks in one ginormous string. This means that when it randomly resets, as it does occasionally if I don't switch the car off in exactly the right order, it starts at the top and works down, playing my musical collection in strict alphabetical order by (a) artist and (b) album title. The last time it did this I thought, right, clearly the Cosmic Wossnames are trying to tell me something, let's just let it. In the last week it has thus played through Arcade Fire and Bed on Bricks in short order and is currently in the middle of the more than elegant sufficiency of Belle & Sebastian which characterises my music collection. I am thoroughly enjoying the resulting slight whiplash, as well as the chance to rediscover odd corners of my musical taste I'd forgotten about.

    The Rules dictate that I don't skip tracks or otherwise disturb the order, other than the obligatory repeat of "Crown of Love" and "Wake Up", because I'm physically incapable of listening to either track just once. (Other than that I have decided, on mature reflection, that "The Suburbs" is probably my favourite Arcade Fire album, possibly because "Wasted Hours".) I'd forgotten how much fun Bed on Bricks are - they're a local outfit of some maturity and skill, not to mention considerable iconoclastic whimsy ("large Nigerian..."), whose overall style is eclectic but sounds at times like Chilli Peppers circa "Californication". And, for no adequately defined reason I haven't actually listened to any Belle & Sebastian for months. They tend to land me on campus in the morning obscurely soothed regardless of how many actual BMWs have cut me off in traffic. Possibly it's the Scottish accents.

  2. I think I posted the gifset of the cute wol bathing in a previous post, probably accompanied by the horrible moist owlet pun with which it was doing the rounds. Someone in my Tumblr feed unearthed the YouTube video which spawned it, which features not only the full bath experience (bathing birds are ridiculously cute, I love the air of ferocious concentration), but the bit where someone dries the bedraggled wol with a hair dryer. This makes me obscurely happy because I have rather lovely memories of my dad doing the same to his peregrines, when they'd been sitting on their block in the garden during a highveld thunderstorm. They do the same thing the wol does, spreading their wings to dry under them. I do like birds.

  3. Obligatory BC content: the Sherlock fandom is currently all up in arms because Benedict Cumberbatch, in an interview, was somewhat patronisingly dismissive of fanfic. (Not that this is anything new, he's characteristically a bit tone-deaf to fanfic issues and tends to make pronouncements which are clearly based on extremely sketchy knowledge; I suppose the fandom will eventually stop having small volcanic eruptions about it on the grounds that exhausting). What's tickling me no end, though, is the beautifully in-character fan responses: the current meme is to pick up on the rather outrageous interviewer phrasing of fanfiction as something which turns Sherlock into "a lustful cock monster". Current games: strategically place "lustful cock monster" into Sherlock dialogue on the "in bed" principle. (On John's forehead in the drunken Rizla game scene. Replacing SHERLOCK in the opening credits. "William Sherlock Lustful Cock Monster Holmes. If you’re looking for baby names.") Design new and ever more pink and sparkly t-shirts, icons and banners declaring "LUSTFUL COCK MONSTER" in defiant capitals and sprinkle them across the internet. Summarise the fic elements he mentions in the article and write actual fanfic to match, claiming that you're allowed because Benedict did. Etc, etc, etc.

    I love this. Apart from the fact that it's given me the giggles all morning (particularly since I teach a Sherlock seminar on Wednesday afternoons and have spent most of the morning making screencaps and constructing a Powerpoint on "His Last Vow" in between internet noodling), this is the essence of fan production. Take an element in the canon text which is clearly not addressed to you (and this is almost always a female "you") and which is ignorant of your actual desires and interests. Appropriate the hell out of it. Comprehensively reject the version of you it enshrines. Recontextualise, reshape and reimagine it in ways which do authentically reflect you, and which incidentally comment somewhat trenchantly on the limitations of the original text. Share and enjoy.

    I keep saying it: fanfic is a political act. The fact that it's enjoyable is almost incidental.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This would be all a lot easier without the discovery that my camera has a broken catch on its battery lid, which is why it's been telling me that the battery is flat after four photographs for the last few months. I have thrown out, with unnecessary imprecations, an awful lot of perfectly fine batteries. Further book stack photos are taken with my cellphone, with something of a reduction in quality, apologies.

There has been something deeply satisfying about arriving at the realisation that both Jasper Fforde and Gregory Maguire annoy me utterly and don't have to be given shelf space. Also, that while I enjoyed the C. J. Cherryh, I look elsewhere these days when I have a yen for feminist sf, and will probably never re-read these. And Kim Stanley Robinson is Worthy But Often Incomprehensible, and life's too short.

The subject line is Franz Ferdinand. I have been rediscovering Franz Ferdinand as driving music over the last few weeks, it's bloody good fun, although falling very distinctly into the category of "Rock Music Which Makes Me Drive Slightly Ferally". The song is "Live Alone", which has been making me laugh because it's so bloody apposite just at the moment. Anthem adopted, forthwith.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is mostly for [ profile] wolverine_nun and [ profile] noirzette, although any of you witterers with a musical background I wot not of are free to enjoy it as well :>. Musical notation as described by cats. This has just made me giggle for five minutes straight.

In additional to felinious musical notation, the dreary grey cactus desert that is work is currently being enlivened by (a) teaching third-years internet eroticism, with added Powerpoint, Secret Diaries and clips from Avenue Q, (b) the memory of an excellent girls' night at Fork last night with the Jo and the aforementioned [ profile] noirzette (tapas and that Black Pearl cabernet/shiraz blend), (c) the joyous contemplation of the metric buttload of public holidays infesting the next few weeks (if I play my cards right I can have a four-day weekend followed by a four-day week followed by a three-day weekend followed by a two-day week followed by a five-day weekend, score!) and (d) the next in the Chocolate Digestive Biscuit saga, which this week is the miniature Woolworths ones. These are generally a pleasing thing, although slightly chewier and less melty in the biscuit region than the larger versions, and surprisingly difficult to eat neatly. Even if you consume the whole thing in one bite you still end up with chocolatey fingers. I'm going to have to extend the experiment to find the optimal eating position. Darn.

Further to the Fork experience (Fork is great! lovely food and only very slightly hipster, as befits a Long Street joint), I note with some alarm that my driving skills have a serious deficiency. I'm significantly bad at driving a social expedition into town, which in hindsight is perfectly logical, since it's not something I've ever done. I've driven small/old cars for long enough that I'm never actually designated driver for social groups, someone else with a larger car always drives. I'm thus really bad at (a) navigating into town from friends' houses, and (b) concentrating on the road while chatting. Given that the Great DVT Debacle and associated Warfarin seems to have permanently shrunken my booze capacity, I end up drinking a lot less than most of my compatriots, which means it's only logical for me to be designated driver a lot of the time, which means I'll get lots of practice in. Score!

The subject line, as is only inevitable, is from the musical Cats, specifically the Jellicle variety. Jellicle cats sing jellicle chants.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I wish to report the following, in mitigation of a really long post hiatus:

  • The complete inability of the campus network to load an LJ post page, suggesting I have to flee this sinking LJ ship sometime soon, this is ridiculous.
  • A return to work after two days at home battling the sinusitis/glandular fever/chronic fatigue Trifecta Of Doom, which finally caught up with me after the reg/orientation hellperiod.
  • Three separate students in tears in my office today over my inability to wave a magic wand and cause the rules to cease to apply to them. This is a representative sample of the last few weeks.
  • An addiction to chocolate digestives. (The Woolies ones have lovely crumbly biscuits with substandard limp pale chocolate coating. The McVities biscuits are chewier and not quite as good, but they have a dark chocolate version which is my current favourite. The weather is still hot enough that chocolate digestives are somewhat messy and can only be eaten in pairs, sandwiched together. This is my story and I’m sticking to it. Further dispatches from the Chocolate Digestive Addiction Front to follow.)
  • A retreat into a Skyrim replay, or to be more accurate a re-re-re-replay. This is a traditional summer escape from (a) orientation/registration woes and (b) the heat. All that snow is very soothing, although I still can’t tactically outface frost mages worth a damn and end up filled full of ice spikes and immobilised shortly before being dead. Then again, on a re-re-re-replay I’m playing on Expert level, so there’s that.
  • The conviction, over the last week of car music, that the Fratellis exhibit possibly unhealthy fixations with (a) romancing slightly demented and dysfunctional ladies, (b) romancing older women and (c) sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, or at the very least sex, booze and rock’n’roll. Figures. Also, memo to self, must acquire their new album.
  • A fast-developing fear of the house-hunting process.
  • Exhaustion.

The subject line is from the Fratellis, "Whistle for the Choir", one of my favourites of theirs - they actually write lovely ballady things. In honour of the two-hour load shedding power cut this afternoon, which was a slightly demented mix of frustrating beyond belief, and curiously restful.


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