Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Passing

Claude Levi-Strauss: 1908-1909

Wow. I didn't know he was still alive. Levi-Strauss was a structural anthropologist whose work had a huge impact well beyond his field. A couple of years ago, for a presentation at a popular culture conference, I used some of his ideas to theorize about homosocial male bonds in the television show Friends.

Claude Levi-Strauss, dead at 100. He shall be missed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Passing

Mary Travers: 1936-2009

This one hurts me. One third of the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. I've loved their music since I was a kid, and even today it speaks to me. Some folk purists might have found things to criticize in the trio, but they were important figures in that they successfully packaged folk music for a mainstream audience. In so doing, they brought a message of peace and equality to many. We need more like her today, those who can show that it's cool and sexy to be kind.

As an adult, I really fell in love with Mary. I courted her through Youtube. The way she swished those blonde locks. That powerful voice. Her abiding convictions and activism. Marching at Selma. "Dust in the Wind" at the March on Washington. And always the hair. The way she jerked her head and swished that beautiful hair. Watching her, I always felt a profound sense of being born just slightly out of time.

Hammer on, Mary. We will miss you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Passing: Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Rest in peace Chi Phi brother.

Friday, July 3, 2009

MLA weighs in on Iran

The Modern Language Association recently put out a statment regarding the report of police violence on college campuses in Iran. I like the statement, and it is altogether fitting that we should stand in solidarity with our fellow scholars and students. And I'm a proud MLA member. Still, it struck me a little funny when I pictured Ahmadinejad's reaction: What? The MLA has made a statement?! This is getting serious!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Indie Profile: Readers Oasis--Quartzsite, AZ

Well, it is hard to say anything about Readers Oasis without first mentioning the owner-operator Paul Winer, who has his own unique way of beating the heat. I had passed this bookstore several times but I was usually on my way to the airport and hadn't had the chance to stop in. Finally, I set aside the time.

I had been "warned" about Paul some time ago, but I guess the details had slipped my mind. I was browsing the store when he suddenly appeared from around a corner and the effect of this mostly naked man suddenly upon me was startling. I tried to catch myself, but I think he saw me visibly flinch.

The store is an open-air diverse mix of books, magazines, music, videos, and memorabilia. It is located in the small desert town of Quartzsite, a community that balloons in the winter with RV-ing winter visitors. The store is homey and informal. I don't even think there is a cash register. Winer also keeps a sizable section of free merchandise, ready for the taking, quite a novelty in today's environment.

If you are looking for a specific book, and you want to find it quickly, Readers Oasis is probably not the best option. While there is some effort to section off areas by subject and genre, the divisions didn't seem very consistent. Nothing is alphabetized and many items are stacked one atop another. Come ready to browse leisurely in an eclectic, quirky atmosphere. It's definitely worth a stop.

Goindependent Rating: Three Emeralds

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reading and Discussion

Here's a video of me reading and talking at an event at Lakeland Public Library in Florida.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'll De-clare!

I got my new passport this week.

First of all: Wow, can one man gain a lot of weight in ten years! I look like I ate the guy from the last passport picture, then grew a beard and got glasses, then ate at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet every weekend morning for the entire decade.

It is time for some changes, people. A healthy diet, a vigorous workout regime.

But this strays from my main point.

Does anyone think the new passports are a little hyper-nationalistic? The entire book is filled with quotations lauding the United States and illustrations that broadcast the tried-and-true idealizations of our country. Were the old passports like this?

The liberty bell and the constitution seem almost mandatory. Fine. The bald eagle and lady liberty, too. The grazing bison, Mt. Rushmore, a steamboat rolling down the mighty Mississippi, fields of grain, a farmer plowing behind two oxen, two cowboys driving a herd of longhorns, a Whitmanesque locomotive, smoke billowing from its stack, charging across the frontier, a testament to American progress.

On the page with the train is the quote from Promontory Point: “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” Seems a little manifest destiny-ish, no?

Do I have any problems with any of these photos, specifically? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But the accumulative effect of them, along with the quotations. It just makes me wonder: When does patriotism become nationalism? And when does nationalism become jingoism?

Must we always mitigate the good with the bad? Do we need to remind ourselves that Washinginton and Jefferson owned slaves, that our taming of the Mississippi is causing coastal erosion at a football field a day, that nations of people were exterminated in our push across the continent.

I’m not anti-American. There is certainly plenty to be proud of, no? But what does that mean, to be proud of one’s citizenship status, especially a status we are born into by mere chance? Does the good done by my countrymen and countrywomen reflect on me in a way that should evoke personal pride? If so, should the bad done by my countrymen and countrywomen evoke in me shame? Isn’t that the logical extension?

But again…what is logic?

Probably, I’ve spent too many years in graduate school, sitting around tables and pontificating on stuff like this. Actually, I’m sure this is the case.

Happy travels.

Post Script

Of course, I'm never original. Many have already pointed out the obvious.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reading: Lake Wales Library

This was a special night. It was last summer in Lake Wales, my hometown. I thought I had lost these photos when my camera was stolen in San Francisco, but I found them saved on my computer.

The event was sponsored by my hometown library along with the Florida Humanities Council. My talk was on "Writing Small Town Florida," and I really enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to talk about my town and my family, my friends and memories.

Many of my family members were in the audience, including three grandparents.

I worked on my prepared remarks right up until the event, still drafting as I sat waiting in the parking lot, the AC of my mother's car blasting into my face. It was a warm, humid evening.

I watched as a few people trickled into the library. I watched them, and I felt a bit nervous. There was something different about addressing a crowd of people made up of many who had known me for so long.
A short woman got out of a car and made her way deliberately toward the entrance. I recognized her and felt a rush of emotion. It was Mrs. Hoagland, my senior year high school English teacher. I would have never expected her to attend. It had been almost twenty years. Yet here she was.

I count Mrs. Hoagland as one of my chief influences early on, a woman who encouraged me and who expected nothing less than excellence. She was a kind of icon at our school, a right of passage. One thing I remember very well is a poetry unit she conducted. We were all charged with writing a series of poems based on her specific prompts. On a regular schedule, she would select some of our work for recognition and post the work outside her classroom door under the heading "Fame and Glory."
I remember trying to casually walk by her door on those mornings, surreptitiously checking to see who was chosen. I remember having to restrain my excitement the morning that mine was among them.

I still remember the poem by heart:

My grand possessions I hold dear
Betray and torment me
In the Darkness
My hanging coat inches toward me
Hoping to seal my doom

A crack on the floor is an evil Serpent
Sent by the Great Dark Prince

Terrified, I close my eyes
Hoping to find relief

But in my mind my foes remain
Where they binge on my helpless soul

Here is where they live and thrive
Until the coming of the distant morn

As I sat in the car and watched people gradually making their way into the entrance, on the radio I heard, for the very first time, Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Dear readers, forgive my lack of irony when I admit that I teared up.

I thought, as I listened to those lyrics, that such a coincidence as this would never be acceptable in a fictional story. It would be unbelievable, over the top, totally sentimental.

Among those pictured here is my grandmother, partly obscured in the back row. She was a basketball player in her youth. She once made a shot from half-court.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Facebook and Egocentrism

Here I am again after another prolonged absence. I apologize, faithful readers. I hope you both will find it in your heart to forgive me.

My last entry is so topical, so embarrassingly so, that I need to get something else up.

So here are some thoughts.

I, like so many others, have fallen victim to Facebook hackers. What usually happens is that we get a message from one of our "friends" that asks us to follow a link. How they encourage you to follow a link varies and can be quite ingenious. My message, for example, stated that someone had posted a hilarious video of me that could be seen at this link. Of course, I was flooded with all of the horrifically embarrassing possibilities, and I clicked the link immediately to check the damage.

In reality, clicking on this link sent the same type of message to some or all of my Facebook friends. These friends are safe unless they actually click on the link like I did, whereupon they are potentially infected with a virus. Some people (the smart ones, ones that--perhaps--would never allow themselves to be recorded in horrifically embarrassing situations) do not click on the link. Others do click, and they fall subject to the same problem that I had.

So, to recap, one person is infected and spreads the infection to his or her friends who in turn infect their friends. It reminds me a lot of graduate school in this way.

What I've been struck with in this process has been the degree to which people (against all logic) are scrambling to place blame somewhere other than themselves. I see messages like "Don't blame me everyone! This thing started with [insert name of friend]. I didn't send it."

Of course you sent it!

You sent it the exact same way that the person sent it to you. Your friend clicked on something he or she shouldn't have. Then you did the same thing. If you didn't click, you wouldn't have to apologize to your friends. From my point of view, both users are equally culpable. Logic dictates that if you blame your "sender," then you should accept full blame with your "sendees."

But what is logic in human affairs?

I guess I understand the need to feel indignant. I suppose it's like being on the receiving end of a venereal disease. One doesn't see oneself in the long line of unfortunate infectees, all of whom became so in the same basely carnal way. We don't think of ourselves that way, as one in a long line of anything. We are each the central object in a universe designed to respond to our own needs and desires, our triumphs and heartbreaks.

It is why we have such difficulty imagining our own death, the notion that there could be a world without us, the unpleasant knowledge that--at bottom--we shed our mortal coil just like everyone else and that the world, the universe, goes on largely as it did before. What a concept.

On the bright side, we can find ourselves being very angry (justifiably or not) with those we haven't spoken to in the real world for years. Just another way the digital world can bring us closer.

In the meantime, keep a syringe of cyber-penicillin nearby.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Passing

Beatrice Arthur (May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009)

Remember Maude? Bea Arthur's character presented a non-apologetic, progressive, feminist character in a way that didn't totally alienate audiences. No small feat.

And the theme song was really cool.

Thank you Beatrice. You shall be missed.

Elegy to My Car

Automobilus Maximas

What dreams may come when we have crushed this metal coil
Have handed over, stripped of parts, gutted, skeletalized,
and cubed-- shipped out to that undiscovered country,
fence-shrouded in piercing silence to mark
the days with the other ghosts of tread?

What dreams for thee who lived out your final days
So much the butt of jokes, for thee who had such moments,
Who sped down quiet desert roads playing Bob Dylan
Through 120 degree heat and rising
Through unseasonal Canyon snows
Through Joshua Tree, cold Christmas night,
Las Vegas, Yuma, San Luis, rocking shock-less
Characteristic even at night we’ve been told,
Outliving your peers, struggling valiently alongside
burnt-colored youngsters and hybrids

Take rest now, resident of quieter streets
Stacked with companions one atop another
Silent and Still
Detritus of progress, hidden, shameful

Ring out the grief that takes a bow
To those that here we’ll drive no more
Ring out the long-earned dusty miles
Ring out for them of parts and oil.

O Wagon! My Wagon! our mutual trek is done
Our undivided trip is set, our paths we tread alone.

My kingdom for a shoe

In my dreams I am very often inappropriately shod. It's a running theme, in fact.

I'm back playing high school or college football, for example. Usually, I'm my 38-year-old self, but some loophole has allowed me to suit up for the team once again. I'm standing on the sidelines and waiting to get sent in, when I realize I'm not wearing any shoes. I look under the bench, searching for my cleats, but all I can find are a pair of penny loafers, which I put on reluctantly.

Last night I had somehow become an entry-level employee at some big financial firm. (I think I had left CNBC running in the background.) I'm at a table with all of the other new hires, a bunch of good-looking, young go-getters. We're all dressed in business attire. We are called in one-by-one to give a formal introduction of ourselves to the big-wigs and to explain how we think we can help the company. I'm confused, because I don't know anything about finance, but I try to scribble some notes down on an envelope. That's when I realize that I'm wearing flip-flops...with white socks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book in the News

I'm sending Raúl Castro a copy of True Kin, just in case he wants to pass it along.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

OK, I'm back, sort of

I'm somewhat surprised that, despite my long absence, this blog has some die-hard followers that extend beyond my mother and aunt. It has been some time since I've posted anything substantive. Quite a few things have happened. Or maybe very little has happened. I'm not sure.A few have inquired as to what I'm "waiting" for. I took my first two comprehensive exams. I haven't heard how I did, so I am waiting. I won't know until around 4/25. Wish me luck.

One interesting thing I did over the past few months was attend the national MLA conference in San Francisco. It was my first time on to both city and conference, and I was kind of excited about it, so much so that when I noticed that a young attractive woman (ahead of me in line as we boarded the plane) was reading from the conference program, I interjected, "Hey, you're going to MLA." I think that both she and I were slightly taken aback by my exuberance. I followed up with, "Um, me too." What followed was an awkward conversation where I further embarrassed myself and which ended with her returning to her reading.

I swore several complicated oaths against myself as I found my seat and settled in for the flight.

MLA is funny in that it attracts individuals who are virtually unknown in the mainstream world yet who are like rock stars in their own specialized community. I found myself thinking thoughts like, Oh my God, I'm standing right next to Gayatri Spivak. I could, like, stroke her hair if I wanted to. Or I can't believe I'm eating at the same buffet as Stanley Fish. OR What if I just ran up to Judith Butler and kissed her right on the lips. What would she do?

Having lived mostly in Florida and the Arizona desert, I'm used to warm outdoors and lovely over-cooled interiors. I found this somewhat reversed in San Fran; hence I found myself sweating a good bit more than I would have liked. There's no way to play it off when you're visibly sweating, no way to seem natural or relaxed.

Other than this, I was able to see people that I haven't seen for a long time. I also visited my publisher's display in the exhibit room. I was curious to see how prominently my book was displayed. Sadly, it was not even there among the hundreds of others. But I did get to meet some nice people from the press.

Of course, I broke from the formal events of the conference to explore the city. On the second night, I took a trip down to the famous Haight/Ashbury area and had a wonderful, wild time. I met lots of friendly people of many types. Unfortunately, my camera was also stolen, which contained many very cool photographs. That was a tough blow, and now that I think about it this was one of the reasons I kind of lost the desire to post.

So, in lieu of photos, I have rendered a likeness from memory (such as my memory is) from that night at "The Haight."

I was lucky enough to get a $300.00 stipend to attend the conference. This was for participating in a session geared toward community college instructors and was led by Gerald Graff, another luminary, and his wife Cathy Birkenstein. The session focused on their book for college writers, They Say/I Say. The book's premise is a little controversial, but for the most part I'm on board with them. Composition teachers, check it out.

Below is a faithful representation of a tender moment following the session. be continued...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Passing: John Updike March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

No matter what you think of his work, it's impossible not to recognize John Updike as one of the United State's premier men of letters in the 20th century. With over fifty books, including a number of bestsellers, two Pulitzers, two National Book Awards, countless essays and reviews, the man was a prolific success and recognized as a literary writer at the same time. This is increasingly hard to pull off, it appears. Considering him, he almost seems the last of dying breed.

I saw him speak once, at The Florida Suncoast Writer's Conference, circa 1997. After his keynote speech, I went up to the podium hoping to shake his hand, make that brief corporeal contact with a legend, but there were too many people lingering around him and I gave it up.

I always admired Updike's carefully crafted style. If his characters failed to move me, it was probably due in large part to my carefully cultivated disdain for middle-class suburbian life. The most recent work of Updike's that I read is a poem. I first heard it recited at an academic panel on scatology. It is called, "The Beautiful Bowel Movement." It showed me another side of him, one that I had to respect.

John Updike, dead at 76....He shall be missed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration thoughts from Road Dog Kathy

My inauguration was a bit frustrating, less than the momentous experience I was hoping for. I wanted to go down earlier, but my friends convinced me we could still get on the mall even if we didn't get up at 5 a.m., and alas, they were wrong. We got turned away. The mall was shut down by like 8:30 or 9. Hundreds of people were stuck in sort of no-man's land, not on the mall but not on the parade route either. Bleh. So we were lucky and had tickets to a Democratic Leadership Committee parade watch party, where we watched the inaug on TV and were served limitless champagne and oysters and bacon--wrapped scallops, etc. Not exactly the authentic and hard-fought experience of the common man rejoicing in this very uncommon moment of history. But, I suppose, it was moving wherever you were, and I did have some sort of inaug experience, even if it wasn't the one I had imagined. We did get to see the parade--we were right along the route, on 15th near the corner with Pennsylvania--and I did see the Man himself walk down the street. So... something.

Ric, what is the cure for deep pangs of historical regret? Why wasn't I on the mall? What can I do to stop asking myself that? Maybe you should post that: Why weren't we all on the mall? Or why aren't we all out there in our own ways, making history?

--Kathy Crutcher
Writer, Teacher, Philosopher

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Inauguration Comments from Down Under

So let me tell you how I am feeling today after watching the inauguration concert and Obama's presidential address.
I feel very emotional. Throughout both, tears were filling my eyes and occasionally travelling further.
I feel, for the first time in many years, that something might be changing much for the better - and this despite a greybeard's realism.
I am starting to think, again for the first time in many years, that your people and your leadership might be capable of inspiring others again, instead of making your country hated or a laughing stock.
I feel that you might, just might, have some intelligent, compassionate, hard-headed but sensible--a powerful word when you think about it--role to play in the world, not only directly but indirectly, through the way you handle your internal challenges.
I love the inclusivity of what I have been seeing and hearing. Yes, it's all just words and images but words and images are so important.
I wondered how, in my own country, Aboriginal people might feel about seeing Obama up there, and the same for so many other colonised peoples. I noted how Obama had sent a letter to the people of Indonesia, thanking them for their role in his upbringing.
I feel more hopeful than in a long time, despite the dire situation of the planet, and of global politics.
I am aware of the structural impediments to change.
I feel like wishing you, and your country, well.
I feel the awesome responsibilities on Obama and those who work with him and who support him.
I feel, in a most un-Australian fashion, like wearing my heart on my sleeve for a change and saying 'Well done Yanks and bloody good luck!'

-- Graeme Parsons
Darwin, Australia

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Those readers who have known me for a long time might know of my affection for the Star Trek universe, an affection that culminated in a quasi-obsession in the early to mid-1990s.

The franchise lost two important members recently, and I wanted to take a moment to remember them here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino
(November 25, 1920 – January 14, 2009)

Some don't realize that Montalbán first played Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series, an episode entitled "Space Seed." He reprised his role, of course, in the motion picture Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, delivering an inspired performance that anchors what many consider the best of the Trek movies. The character in Wrath is patterned in many ways after Melville's Captain Ahab, whom he quotes or paraphrases throughout the movie. Captain Kirk, whom Kahn blames for the death of his wife, becomes his elusive White Whale.

Majel Barrett
(February 23, 1932 – December 18, 2008)

Barrett is by far the most ubiquitous actor in Trek history. The wife of late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, she played "Number One," the Enterprise's first officer in the pilot episode "The Cage," which never aired in the series' original run. In the original series she played Nurse Christine Chapel, who had an unrequited crush on Mr. Spock. She has also supplied the voice for the ship's computer in, I believe, all of the series and films. Her best role, in my opinion, was the recurring character Lwaxana Troi, the sexy mother of ship's counselor Deanna Troi. Lwaxana was a favorite returner in Star Trek: The Next Generation and also made three appearances on Deep Space Nine.

Ricardo Montalbán and Majel Barrett, dead at 88 and 76 respectively. They shall be missed.