break point

Tuesday, 24 October 2017 09:25 pm
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oh god, student protesters disrupted lectures this afternoon for the second time in two days, and it was a really large crowd of protesters, this time, causing me to close the security gate on our offices in the slightly irrational fear of over-enthusiastic mobs piling catastrophically through the glass doors. I wonder how they've drummed up support? there seemed to be very little appetite for protest among students, and previous disruptions have been all of five or six of them. That'll teach me to incautiously send reassuring emails to students saying that I think there are very few protesters and closures are unlikely. Just what the Cosmic Wossnames need as an excuse to sock us in the nose again.

The dear little protesters spent half an hour or so singing the usual harmonious protest songs up and down the avenue, and my heart is sinking very heavily into my boots. I can't go through this again. I haven't actually recovered from the last round yet - this week I've been dragging myself around the show in a state of complete exhaustion, triggered, I think, by rising student demands as the end of term approaches, and the need to start planning the next iteration of the endless cycle of orientation and reg. Do not want. Do not have resources. Can't even. Nope.

The usual linkery-distraction refers. Merriam-Webster, as in the dictionary, has a time travel function, allowing you to look up the words that made it into the dictionary for the first time in the year of your birth. I am nominating this as a new, excitingly hyper-linguistic alternative to all the usual astrological birth-sign crap. I was born in the year of peer review, the delete key, ecocatastrophe, untenured, homophobia, mood disorders and the event horizon. In retrospect, this explains a lot about a lot of my life arcs. Also the year of autosave, futuristics and the straight arrow, so perhaps there's hope.
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Tumblr is doing a meme where you list the household in-jokes and catchphrases which would make absolutely no sense to an outsider. I have a bunch of family ones for those (my subject line is one, along with more Goon Show quotes than you could shake a sausage at), but actually a really huge bunch which echo around my social circle and which variously date from old CLAW days, the SCA, particular digs experiences, and my own irredeemable tendency to spangle my immediate surrounds with catchy quotes from things I love. If my usual readership has followed me over from LJ, there should be at least one person out there who recognises each of these...

"That grooves my ploons."
"Back, you leechies!"
"Well, you can write that down and stick it to the wall!"
"That's you, that is. That's your girlfriend."
"Magic carpet ride!" (or in fact any decontextualised quote from the Aladdin song).
"I dugged an hole!"
"That's no cat!"
collecting the laundry

My tendency to tell myself "This is not the droid you are looking for" out loud at intervals when fumbling around hopelessly is both far more individual, and far more instantly recognisable.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus has been formally closed until Sunday, while students march on campus and academics march on Parliament and students and academics disagree, generally politely, on why they should be marching and what's actually a realistic demand. It's like a slow-moving, disruptive and unusually verbose dramatisation of the generation gap, with occasional police presence. I am imitating the action of the Harry Potter, which is to stay in my room keeping very quiet and pretending I don't exist.

Recent interesting discoveries: student mass action is both a fatigue trigger and a source of more subliminal stress than I was aware of. Last night I actually had a sleep-walking dream, for the first time in years. A very tall man in flowing, fragmented, cream-coloured robes, like a cross between a Grecian statue and Rey from Star Wars, came through the wall above my bed, and I woke up with my heart pounding, trying to hold him back by main force. I don't think he was actively trying to hurt me, but he was very definitely present and invasive and insisting on being heard. I resent that in my bedroom at three in the morning. I'm picky about who occupies that space. Sometimes the cats don't even qualify.

I am, however, particularly delighted to note the pleasantly insane existence of what3words, which purports to identify a 3m square anywhere on the planet in three easy to remember words, and stuff all these postcodes or GPS, anyway. As far as I can work out, at least a portion of my house sits firmly in my subject line. I am somewhat delighted.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm working at home this week, trying to hammer this paper into shape, and it occurs to me that really I shouldn't be alternating bouts of paper-wrestling with evenings playing Oblivion, as my metaphors become rather unruly as a result. (Or, at least, even more unruly. My metaphors do lead weird and complex private lives of their own at the best of times). This is the paper I gave at the Ghent conference and which I was profoundly unhappy with, so it's basically being rewritten from the ground up. I am thus forced to rue my own basic incoherence on an ongoing basis, but also to realise that, unwieldy though it was, my argument was also rather unsophisticated - I am now trying effectively to level it up into new, elevated planes of density and implication. This has caused the damned thing to grow tentacles and about five extra heads, so that once more it's doing that grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car thing. Particularly since one of the heads it's grown was the result of incautiously using the term "modernity" and then feeling the need to research exactly what I meant by that, as a result of which I am now buried in the writhing coils of social theory and suddenly Marx, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, Habermas, Lyotard and jolly old Baudrillard are lining up to have their wicked theoretical way with me. It's not all joy in here, I can tell you, although there's a certain grim satisfaction in wresting the odd coherent paragraph out of the morass.

Also, I have a Sid incursion, and the headache isn't helping. On the upside, since I last felt the need to use the grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car image, some kindly soul has actually put it up there on the internet for these little moments of need.


In a neat juxtaposition of theme, the other thing I have to do this week is finalise my new car deal, and really the whole experience of car-buying and licence taking has not been unlike the grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car experience. Hopefully both car and paper-writing experiences will shorty result in an adorable tentacled alien baby.

(Subject line is naturally Men in Black, Jay popping the cardboard eight-year-old girl in the shooting range on grounds of generalised suspicion).

in like a lion

Thursday, 1 March 2012 11:00 am
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Hello, March! Was I alone in feeling a strange pleasure in writing the date of 29th February? Such an odd, interstitial moment, intermittent enough to feel not quite real. And I wrote it a lot yesterday, given that I was processing 45 orientation leader payments, entailing two separate forms, each of which had to be signed and dated twice. There's a reason why my signature has degenerated, over the last five or six years of signing curriculum forms, into a sort of snarled and loopy scrawl. In which, I may add, it rather beautifully reflects the frequently snarling, snarled and loopy existence of the writer.

I appear to have randomly remembered my undertaking to acknowledge my sources in my involuted subject line quotes. Thus, February! Reading in order from the top (or, if reading the blog's front page, from the bottom), I have referenced the following:
  1. Goats.
  2. Walt Whitman, by way of Ray Bradbury.
  3. Goats.
  4. The opening sentence to The Haunting of Hill House, which is eerily reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft on horror.
  5. A running gag on Pajiba, my favourite film review site, whose writers are frequently and beautifully rude and invariably refer to the actor Channing Tatum as Charming Potato, a sobriquet presumably aimed more at his acting ability than his appearance, although ymmv.
  6. Charlotte Bronte's introduction to the second edition of Jane Eyre, the one where she actually admitted authorship.
  7. The BeeGees, one of their more mournful early efforts. (Quiet in the peanut gallery, please).
  8. Goats, twice in a row.
  9. David Bowie. I appear to be contractually obligated to include a monthly Bowie quote. "TVC15", in this case.
The Goats quotation craze appears to be mercifully dying. Either that, or my life is less surreal at the moment. Hooray. I think.
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I've just run an ongoing orientation workshop, which entailed being in the venue early to set up data projectors and what have you. (We insert the usual ritual cursing aimed at my Cherished Institution's classroom "facilities" unit, which mostly facilitates frustration and despair). While I was waiting for the start of the session students were doing the usual student thing, which is to trickle in gradually (this process takes place from about ten minutes before the start of the lecture until about ten minutes after it's under way). I was struck, though, by the ongoing silence in the venue even as the numbers built. Surely students should be chatting to each other while they wait? They certainly have no problem chatting during the lecture itself.

And, of course, the answer is because almost every student is sitting in their seat in the modern attitude of techno-prayer, hands folded, head bowed, thumbs working busily as they send SMSes or read their email or whatever. It's visually quite a striking trend, looking up at the raked seats. Also, almost every student walks into the venue with their phone in their hand, presumably because they've been texting as they walk. Cellphones and their ilk have become communication and identity prosthetics, an integral part of both daily function and of self-construction. I am, because I text. Existence is only proven and affirmed in virtual space. And they say cyberspace isn't real. Hah.

I seem to have missed the cellphone thing, it's an occasionally handy tool rather than an integral part of my functioning, but I think the internet is absolutely a prosthetic self to me. I suspect I've never acquired the cellphone habit because both my work and my home paradigms are fairly sedentary - if I had the kind of job where I was more than ten metres away from my computer at any given time, I'd probably be giving my thumbs repetitive strain injury with the best of them. I become very, very twitchy if internet-deprived for more than a few hours.

But I mourn what we've lost, which is time. Time in the sense of extended focus, communication in anything other than bite-sized chunks. My students write increasingly terrible essays as the years go by, because you don't learn the skills of sustained argument and marshalling the logical flow of a large chunk of text by reading instant messages. And this is why they argue that blogging is dying, and maybe it is. No time, no attention to spare. TL;DR. All those words.

I like words, and I think they're happier in stupendous, horizon-filling herds.
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This morning I was in traffic next to a giant luxury 4x4 creature, which had a personalised numberplate reading, simply, "PRE-NUPT". I have been whiling away the morning speculating as to whether this was a lawyer or a satisfied divorcee. Either way, they have a lot of money.

While on the subject of random slogans, I was also entertained by a recent Daily Voice billboard which announced "ROAD DUG UP TO SAVE GOAT". This is beautifully cryptic, and would result in fascinating flash fiction should anyone be driven to attempt to construct the scenario which gave rise to it.

And Ursula Vernon gives us a wonderful term which completely describes and explains Twilight: Id-fic. Fiction which contents and appeals to deep, primitive, unrestrained desires, while not necessarily being any bloody good at all.

The last few weeks are catching up with me: I am exhausted, contralto, and inclined to snap when yet another student bangs repeatedly on my door in defiance of the notice which instructs them to knock and enter, because they won't hear me shout "Come in". Illiterate little buggers. On the upside, I am so tired that I can't even muster the energy to growl at them, which means they're getting a sort of slow-motion sympathy instead. I didn't even lose it yesterday when a particularly persistent little student mosquito, bored with my repeated refusal to grant him a place in Humanities since we're full and he applied way too late, emailed the Dean with a formal complaint about my, what was it, "misuse of authority". Since I was, in fact, simply implementing a faculty policy set by the Dean herself, she shot him satisfyingly down in righteous flames. Nonetheless, I think I'd have been rather miffed if I had the energy.
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Given that I am frequently guilty of theorising in the approximate realm of postmodernism, it's not really fair or consistent for me to take umbrage at undue jargonising. But, dammit, it's my umbrage, and I'm jolly well taking it. I gloss airily over the manifest iniquities of management and pc-speak that infect many meetings I am obliged to attend, and the degree of mental conditioning required for an apparently adult human to use "way forward" or "synergy" in cold blood. What's narking me off right now is emails couched in what appears to be mutated business-speak, if the business concerned is semi-literate, narcissistic and unduly self-important.

Is it just me, or is it basically rude to send me an email which contains the sentence "Kindly correct the transcript accordingly"? Particularly if you're a student talking to me, and you're referring to the email confirming your qualified status I've just sent on your behalf, as a favour, and in the middle of registration. "Kindly" always annoys me. It's a smug, condescending little word, which positions the writer as being obviously in the right, pointing out a glaring error to a lesser mortal who should have dealt with it already. It has the nuance of righteous irritation. I occasionally use it, but only when I'm annoyed beyond belief and wish to convey same in superficially polite but trenchant prose to the object of my fury. From a student to me, the supposed authority, it's unbelievably arrogant: the tone assumes that the correction of course will obviously be made, because of course it's a stupid error which the student is kindly pointing out to me.

Gah. It's made me all twitchy. "Kindly" always makes me all twitchy. As do "Thank you for your earliest attention to this matter" and "Your soonest response appreciated." Because nothing I could possibly be doing could possibly be more important than your request.

Of course, it doesn't help that the same student has some specialised spelling affliction which renders him unable to spell "course" - it's "coarse" throughout, on multiple documents. It makes the whole thing seem rather dodgy.

But the fact that I'm here to whinge about trivialities means that, against the odds, I've survived another orientation and registration nominally unscathed, and with the piles of savaged student corpses acceptably low. If I can just totter through change of curriculum next week, there may yet be calmer waters beyond. And my boss gives me chocolate. It helps.
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Mental Floss has just given me the word I always knew I needed. "Petrichor: The clean, pleasant smell that accompanies rain falling on dry ground. It’s from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of Greek gods and goddesses). The term was coined by two Australian researchers in 1964."

Hooray for Australian researchers. That rain smell is one I associate strongly with highveld thunderstorms and the start of the rains - it's particularly vivid when it's the first rain after the arid heat of the dry season. But even Cape Town rains manage to recreate it, especially at the moment with the alternation of hot and rainy. It's a sharp, keen, vivid, slightly wild smell, rife with generative promise, and I love the way those Australian researchers have constructed the word - petrichor is perfectly believable as the residue of a slightly otherworldly power. Like most instances of precipitation, it makes me very happy.

(And, yes, I'm quoting Toto lyrics. I like that song. So sue me.)

For some reason this year's Christmas seasonal stuff hasn't annoyed me as much as it usually does. It all seems a bit subdued: the city isn't packed with tourists to any unacceptable extent, the shop displays are not generally as in-your-face as usual, and my homicidal mutterings about the inappropriateness of jolly snow-encrusted Santas in African summer are more than somewhat below par. It might be that I'm still too tired to work up a good head of irritation steam, or that I'm working later than usual into the month and am tucked away neatly in an ivory tower away from the shopping frenzy. It's also helping that my sister and I have a no-presents-except-for-the-niece pact this year1, and I am spared the usual harrowings of present-acquisition. This is a surprising sense of release, and caused me to reflexively go off and donate madly to charity instead (Wikipedia, and St. Luke's Hospice - the former because its citation-needed refrain is wildly useful in explaining plagiarism to students, the latter because they were really lovely to my dad).

In a neatly circular conclusion to this wayward-puppy post, Toto have recently re-formed for a benefit tour for one of their members, who is an ALS sufferer. ALS was what my dad had. Everything is connected.

1 Presents for Da Niece are not a problem, because I acquire them off Teh Internets through the year. One of this year's books was Look! A book!, which Cory Doctorow recommended on the basis of its success with his 7-year-old daughter. It's wonderful, detailed artwork with a lovely sense of whimsy; Da Niece seems very taken with it. She's 6 this year, so it's proving a bit of a challenge to hit the right level of either complex enough to interest her when it's read to her, or simple enough that she can start to read it herself. I think this one works quite well in the latter category. In the former, she's about to hit the stage where she's ready for Diana Wynne Jones, and for Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath series. Heh.

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Two random inscriptions made me happy on the way home from campus today. One was a Daily Voice billboard which simply read "MUGABE IS A LOSER". Why, yes. Yes, he is. One has to wonder why it's taken so long for the media to notice. The other was on the back of the car in front of me. Apparently it was a deliriously absurd model called an "telstargle". Mature reflection suggests that there's a missing space in there at a critical juncture, but the momentary amusement was worth it. More serious things should have "argle" in their names.

In other news, I badly need distraction on account of how I'm supervising a Masters student's dissertation on vampires in literature, including Twilight. I am thus halfway through a re-read of the series, which would be driving me to drink if my Warfarin levels allowed it. Gods, they're badly written. I'd forgotten how badly written, and how horribly immature their characters. It's not insignificant that the major literary intertexts are Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet. The former is about unbridled adolescent obsession with an undertone of violence, the latter about really bad and obsessive romantic decisions made under the influence of adolescent lust and persecution complex. Sounds about right. However, aargh. The things I do for teaching.
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The student query flow, thank heavens, is starting to slow - I seem to have upped efficiency and communication a tad this year, so a lot of admin attempts were correctly located last week instead of illegally this week. Of course, that means last week was unspeakable. Conversely, today was almost conversable. I didn't bite anyone once!

Random linkery is random, because I should really be checking late qualifiers, and don't have time to think up anything meaningful. Just because, Dog Hates Dalek, which I can't embed because LJ hates Flash. What fascinates me is the fact that, even though this is a toy version of an entirely imaginary mechanical creature which goes both backwards and forwards, the dog has still immediately grasped which end is front and which is back, and can thus strategically approach without being EX-TER-MIN-ATEd.

Oh, and the latest MicroFiction efforts are up - they're increasingly inclined to clump at the end of the fortnight, although in my case I plead extenuating circumstances of work hell. I don't like mine much, it was very last-minute and seems a bit facile. Then again, when do I ever like mine? Memo to self, never become a professional writer, the self-loathing would kill me.

In the Department of Grimly Determined Attribution, today's subject line courtesy of Worthless Word For The Day, btw. Yesterday they gave us "steampunk", which seemed curiously redundant.
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Still a bloody week. Will be bloody for at least another week. (Is it just me, or was traffic particularly bloody today, as well?). All in all I don't propose to think about it. Instead, I shall distract myself, and hopefully you, pleasantly by indulging in two of this journal's ongoing themes: wols, and billboard poetry. (And, did you notice, I missed the blog's birthday again? 31st January 2005 was my First Post Evah, and I've blogged consistently at least twice a week since then. However, some sort of cosmic wossname dictates I'll never remember to celebrate the actual anniversary. Currently the actual cosmic woss. concerned is my job.)

So. 1. Wols. These are courtesy of [ profile] first_fallen, who made me very happy thereby.

I cannot rid myself of a persistent tendency to see these guys as an adorable gay couple in hipster glasses, slightly disconcerted by the hetero orgy they've just stumbled into in a dark corner of the library. The one on the left is saying "Goodness! Are her legs meant to bend that way?"

2. Billboard poetry. Today's lovely example:
You know a meme is universal when the Daily Voice invokes it. The Chuck Norris vs The Universe meme is thoroughly American, most recently an internet thing. Nunchucks, of course, are Japanese. Moering a skelm is about as Souf Effrican as you can get (Afrikaans gloss for my overseas readers: beating up a bad guy). That's quality multi-culturable layering right there, that is. Added points for the coy wordplay of "Nunchuck Norris", and for making me giggle until I nearly rear-ended the annoying BMW in front of me.

upsy/downsy day

Friday, 15 October 2010 02:51 pm
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So, on the downside, the large red notice on my door which says "I am not available for curriculum advice today" has been productive of several students cheerfully knocking and asking a question, prefaced with an airy "It's not curriculum advice!" It always is. On the upside, a recent foray into the admin office reveals that I have insidiously infected at least two of the nice admin people with the tendency to refer to students as "dingbats", giving rise to the "classic dingbat problem", wrong class numbers on a change of curriculum form. My word-fu is mighty. I smirk. Evil Gazelles 3, Word Fu 3. We shall fight on the beaches.

On the downside, the Evil Landlord, who actually does seem to have been ridiculously busy at work, forgot to pay the phone bill, and they cut us off two days ago. I would barely notice the lack of telephone, but it also cuts off the ADSL, which is cruel and unusual. This morning, in a frenzy of irritation and internet deprivation, I paid the bill online and phoned Telkom (ritual ptooey) to demand reconnection. Time on hold with abhominable hold music: 3.5 minutes. Time in conversation with consultant: 30 secs. Time taken for her to check the status of payment: about four and a half seconds. She promises it'll be reconnected this afternoon. Of course this remains to be seen, but the rug was pulled from under my feet with sufficient force by this complete failure of inefficiency that I startled the poor woman considerably by carolling "you are a marvellous, wonderful woman and I love you!" before ringing off. Forces of Chaos: 5. Forces of order: at least 10, and several millyun if they have, in fact, reconnected the phone. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.

On the extreme downside, I had a middle campus meeting this morning, and got ticketed for illegal parking, which particularly narks me as I honestly thought I was legal. On the mildly upside, there was just enough silver in my wallet to allow me to acquire a chocolate bar from the vending machine this afternoon. I love vending machines: we never had them in benighted Zim when I was a kid, and the exciting clunking noises and automated moving arms still make me very happy. (And even more inclined to buy chocolate). Annoyance 10, Consolation 6. We shall fight in the hills, and I think I'm still ahead on points.

Edited to add: millyuns ahead on points. Home internet restored. Telkom Strikes Back, however, in that the only time they've ever phoned me with a quality control survey was after today's phone call, which is also the only one ever where I had no reason to froth at the mouth. Most Misleading Survey Ever. Bastards.
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This conference trip was really enjoyable, and at the same time deeply surprising. I've mostly come to terms with how isolated I am in my academic interests here: there aren't really any other serious fairy-tale theorists in the country, and my other interests - genre, science fiction, the internet, children's lit, fanfic - are likewise not highly regarded. This has conspired to somehow give me the mental sense of being a negligible quality, academically speaking. A dabbler. Not serious. Certainly not theoretically accomplished.

My experience of the conference has revealed this as so much bosh. Distanced as I am from the European and American hubs of fairy-tale theory, I expected my book to vanish into the academic ocean with scarcely a splash or ripple. Instead, it was fairly high-profile in the conference consciousness: included in the conference recommended reading list, directly referenced by several papers, and quite a few people approached me to say they'd read it/liked it/had it and planned to read it/oh gosh let's talk about metafiction no-one else does! I didn't feel that my actual conference paper was particularly well delivered, and I always feel like a bit of a fraud trotting out the jargon, but again it received only positive feedback, engagement, validation. If nothing else my isolation means I do things slightly differently to the mainstream of this discipline, and my peers in the field seem to find that interesting.

Most importantly, though, I found that I actually fitted into this milieu without too much trouble. I deliberately don't socialise much with my academic contemporaries, I think that way madness lies, or at the very least princesses in ivory towers, but the result of this is that I'm very conscious of "not being a pretentious academic" in social settings. Not only do I self-consciously flag long words like marmalade when I'm holding forth, I self-censor like mad, and have apparently conditioned legions of my long-suffering friends into applying the firm hand of righteous mockery when the polysyllables become too polysyllabic. (And mad props to stv, for the suggestion that my next online identity of any sort is as "Polly Syllable".)

So it was a bit odd to find myself, for example, in animated discussion with one of the grad student presenters about Buffy and Supernatural and genre tropes, reflexively holding back on the jargon levels, only to think, "Wait! Hang on!" and crank it up instead. Which is, I have to say, fun. And tends to be met, capped and encouraged. And, somewhat to my own surprise, I pull it off. I actually know what I'm talking about. I know the critics being referenced, I have opinions on theoretical positions, I am swimming at ease in this verbal ocean and doing occasional back-flips in sheer joie de vivre.

As one of the nice professors pointed out after listening sympathetically to my minor rant about my employability in this country, this conference is a space in which no-one once felt the need to mention Africa. You have no idea how refreshing that is. And I am starting to realise, with slight horror, the actual and hideous extent to which this department, this institution, this intellectual climate, has sapped my belief in myself and the validity of what I do. It sucks. It must stop. I must go on more of these jaunts. They're good for the soul.

Ready To Start

Thursday, 5 August 2010 03:35 pm
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I suppose it's my own fault: if I insist on referring to students as "the gazelles", even if only in the cherished confines of this quality internet publication, I shouldn't be surprised when they run around in herds. Quivering. Leggy. Doe-eyed. And prone to leaving me in my office undisturbed for hours at a time, after which eight of them arrive at once and queue outside my door. Then I lash my tail and growl.

I have spent a small part of the undisturbed time blissfully learning how to navigate Glasgow, while simultaneously doing minor virtual errands such as confirming my guest house booking, insuring my netbook (I have to restrain myself from referring to her as "Baby", which is an almost irresistible impulse but is very, very twee) and printing out the manifold directions for demanding vast monies from my insurance in the event of medical disaster while perambulating. Nothing's ever simple any more. I am conscious of a wish that I'd insured my flight against ash clouds, but on mature reflection I think the university's research fund policy covers it. As a bonus, I can pronounce "Eyjafjallajökull", perhaps that'll count as a propitiatory sacrifice to the volcano gods. Sunday evening is very close now, and I still want to tinker with this paper. Time... is fleeting.

Oh, and we fired the gardener. He was devastated. He said his heart was broken. He tried to argue. It was all excessively horrible, although in retrospect I cannot actually acquit him of guilt-tripping. I think we were probably entirely justified, but aargh.
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My late papa was always very fond of reciting that deliberately pretentious and jargonistic version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" which goes as follows:

Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific,
How do I ponder thy nature specific,
Poised up above in the ether capacious,
Closely resembling a gem carbonaceous.
As a child I always heard "ether capacious" as one word, and had a vague but wonderful sense of the "ethakapacious" as a sort of expansive, magical, spacious realm up there somewhere. It was something of a let-down when I realised what was actually meant, although in fact "ether capacious" has its own slightly dignified and Victorian sense of enchantment. It almost certainly contains steampunky skyships.

In other news, NPR are streaming the entirety of the new Arcade Fire album. It's luvverly. Large chunks of it sound like someone else entirely, or possibly someone else entirely pretending to be Arcade Fire.

I also forgot to mention that my latest Microfic is up. They incautiously gave me a fairy-tale topic. Oh, deary, deary me. I suspect it'll only fully make sense to anyone who's read as many "Sleeping Beauty" variants as I have (the Arabian Nights one is my favourite, the girl actually gets a say), but hopefully it will be enjoyable, in a slightly pretentious feminist postmodern way, nonetheless.

sparbled and chased

Tuesday, 15 June 2010 12:47 pm
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Today's subject line courtesy of Worthless Word for the Day. "Sparble" is a verb meaning "to scatter or disperse", but mostly I just like the way it sounds. The sixteenth century has a good line in words.

We did Movie Club again on Friday night, finally, after several months of arbing around being disorganised. It was my choice, with a theme I delineated as "Weird-Arse French Animation", but in fact it might just as well have been "French drawings of boobies!" We watched Les Triplettes de Belleville, which I'd seen before and which is awesome, and Gandahar, which is obscure and trippy but also fairly awesome.

Les Triplettes de Belleville is your perfectly standard retro-animated quest narrative involving Tour de France cyclists kidnapped by the Mafia for an underground betting ring which is subsequently broken up by mad, musical, apparently indestructible old ladies. It's surreal, beautifully understated apart from the grotesque exaggeration of the animation (giant French noses ftw!), almost entirely without dialogue, and completely demented. Stv and I were braced for it, having seen it before, but I think it may have broken Jo's brain a bit. (The dog being used as a tyre seemed to get to her). Also, I find the frog-eating a bit difficult. The boobies come in in the initial "Belleville Rendezvous" 1920s music-hall song, performed by the titular triplets with a Josephine-Baker-style dancer. It's insanely catchy and has been revolving around my head, and in my dreams, since Friday. It's a lovely movie, for a given value of "lovely".

Gandahar was more of a gamble: late-80s French/Korean animated sf directed by René Laloux, who is also responsible for Fantastic Planet, which I haven't got around to watching yet. Gandahar has a dreamy, pen-and-wash style to its backgrounds and a sort of stripped-down simplicity to the characters; it features noble, beautiful Gandaharians, strangely twisted and deformed mutants, armies of metallic men with red glows in their chests, giant insane brains, time travel, incredible quantities of topless women, and an underlying peaceful-existence eco-theme that I darkly suspect James Cameron may have ripped off for Avatar. It's the kind of film that vaguely makes me wish I actually did psychedelics, I suspect they'd help; the plot is fairly tightly-knit and coherent, but a lot of the images are extremely weird.

I enjoyed the film, in a dreamy, detached sort of fashion, and I loved the art. I'm also fascinated that I've managed to hang around on sf blogs and sites and in sf criticism for about ten years and have never actually heard of this film apart from the random mention in passing which prompted me to order it. Clearly French sf flies below the radar. Possibly because of all the boobies.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010 01:05 pm
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The combination of this iteration of Sid (second day of headache, laughs at Advil) and the urgent need to interview 60 potential orientation leaders before Friday, has robbed me of the little brain I possess at the best of times. I feel as though someone's been feeding me lubberwort, which was today's Worthless Word, and which basically means junk food that induces idleness and stupidity. Thus, another wayward puppy post! Narrative thread, who needs it. Also, bullet points are my friend.

  • This Periodic Table of Superhero Powers is wildly entertaining. I am conscious of a wish that I was enough of a comic book geek to know the background story to Gt and Af.

  • I promised this to various people the other day: Tom Cruise is kicked in sternum by small cute blonde, goes backwards over craft table. I am far more amused by this than I really should be.

  • Doctor Hoo: the Doctor as owls. No, really. Wolsplosion! Ridiculously cute, and some of them are bizarrely accurate. Also, bonus points for neatly encapsulating two of my fixations.

  • This image brought to you courtesy of my headache, which needs consolation. I finished Season 1 of Vampire Diaries, which delivered some relatively satisfying television for its cheesy teen format. I thank my lucky stars that I am now old and cynical enough to read "I am tortured and betrayed" as "I am a total dick", otherwise there'd be a serious level of Damon obsession. Plus, psychopath, so done. But he's still ridiculously pretty.

    The only thing preventing me from a desperate plea for Season 2 is the fact that I have to watch a metric buttload of Helsing this weekend in order to mark a student essay. My life is frequently surreal.

Now there shall be several gallons of tea, because I just interviewed 11 undergrads in a row, and my head hurts.

words fail me

Tuesday, 11 May 2010 12:00 pm
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So riddle me this, readers: why is it that Humanities students, who are registered for this degree presumably because they like this reading and writing kick, are apparently constitutionally incapable of actually reading anything? There's this strange, Teflon-slippery resistance to actual text which characterises the undergraduate gazelle in its natural habitat. They start out by not reading my door, which is decorated with a variety of informative notices including a strict injunction to print out their record before they ask me anything about their curriculum, and which is further embellished with an Ursula Vernon Snoggox by way of reinforcement.

This is a snoggox. I feel it perfectly encapsulates my basic attitude of suspicious rage when confronted by a non-transcript-bearing student. They completely ignore it, and the notice. They further ignore all the notices which delineate, in words of one syllable, my consultation times, and bound cheerfully in at all sorts of odd hours, conspicuously failing in any way to brandish a transcript. Then they look wounded when I imitate the action of the snoggox and grump at them.

This quasi-religious abhorrence of the textual extends to actual classroom practice. I'm teaching internet sexuality at the moment. Their reader contains a choice selection of sex-bloggers, and bits of both the Very Secret Diaries and Cassie Claire's knotty bit of Weasleycest. Apart from being interesting, accessible and dodgy as all get-out, these extracts are further characterised by being short. Have any of the class done the required reading before the lecture? Not bloody likely. A couple of them, if I'm lucky.

I suffer a profound failure of empathy over all this. OK, I passed second-year English with flying colours despite having only read a third of Middlemarch, a novel I unaccountably loathe, necessitating having to fake my way through the exam question with every evidence of success, but other than that I did the damned reading and then some. My intellectual intake at the moment is down at the level of The Vampire Diaries, but even so I read eight books this weekend. Quite apart from my own problem of becoming ridiculously twitchy when deprived of text, it's a basic courtesy to your lecturer to prepare for the class.

I don't want to bemoan the decline in the undergrad student, because I don't think they have actually declined, much. Their schooling is a lot more undisciplined than mine was, but they're still bright young things. What has changed is the amount they read, because more and more their daily lives are not about text, they're about image. They all watch TV and movies, and they frequently impress me with their analytical insight watching movie clips in class. But they don't read as much any more; most of them certainly lack the obsessive, personal, continuous, instrumental relationship I had and still have with books. I read my set works because they were books, not because they were set works. This also explains why so few of these kids relate to the internet in the way I do: most of my interactions are textual, I spend a lot of it writing and reading rather than looking at pictures. For me, it's always about the words. For them, large tracts of words are not just irrelevant, they're increasingly opaque and difficult, because increasingly their skills and focus are going elsewhere.

This is, of course, inevitable; culture changes continuously under technology, and by definition we're all obsolete the instant we acquire a competency. I can't rail at this and say it shouldn't be happening, that would be futile, but I find it sad. I have to work increasingly hard to share a vocabulary with my students, and it's very difficult to teach across a divide between worlds.

On the upside, Vampire Diaries took a sudden upswing in Episode 5, and is suddenly about things that are a lot more real and interesting than all the teen angst. Either that, or the Stockholm Syndrome's got me.
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So, I went to all the lengths of using a Led Zepp quote for yesterday's subject line, getting thereby my knuckles rapped for undue "Stairway to Heaven" reference, and it turns out that actually I needn't have referred to bustles at all. I apparently not only spell a damned side better than the actual furniture dealers who sold us the bloody things, I also now know a lot more about Victorian chairs than they do. What we have are not bustle-back chairs, they're balloon-back chairs, as seen here. Clearly I rather fell for the shape of our balloon-back chairs because I am a hopeless pushover for all things Victorian. Also, I really like the way our new chairs follow the Victorian tendency to curve the back of a balloon chair, it's comfortable to sit on.

Bustle-back chairs are somewhat different, and in fact relate more logically to the bustle concept in that they have a padded back in two large curvy cushions (the original 18th-century bustle was effectively a pillow tied around the waist to sit just over the butt, for gods know what dubious aesthetic reasons). On a chair the effect is slightly less dubious, possibly on the same general principles of Victorian leg ruffles being less offensive on a piano than on a person, viz:

I am also pained to note that the horrifying tendency to refer to a balloon-back chair as a bustle-back chair is, by concentration of Google hits, something of a South African perversion. Except, on strict Language Log principles this isn't horrifying at all, but an instance of inevitable semantic drift, now with added geographical and cultural implication.

Extemporanea: bringing you a fine array of weird semantic analysis on obscure and useless subjects since 2005. Just think: if it wasn't for Google I couldn't inflict it on you. Actually I could, having a large and well-stocked university library practically on my doorstep, but I probably wouldn't.


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