Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Fiona just defined the word "knuckles" for me. She said that baby pigs drink milk from their mommy's knuckles. This gets even better when you realize that one of her favorite songs of late has been the Jim Gill's song "Knuckles Knees" from the album Jim Gill Sings Do Re Mi on his Toe Leg Knee in which "knuckles" is pretty much every other word. I don't have the heart to correct her definition.

More than it might first appear

Good god I'm on a lucky reading stint! (Which isn't that big of a surprise considering the number of books I currently have checked out of the library....)

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is my latest literary thrill. The book is composed of thirteen chapters which comprise thirteen stories about thirteen year-old Jason Taylor. There aren't obvious transitions between stories, but they are all clearly connected even when their tone varies widely from nearly gothic moments in "January Man" and European philosophy in "Solarium" to contemporary political repercussions of Thatcher and the Falklands war in "Stones" and the liberated ecstasy of a boy in nature in "The Bridle Path". There is a load of complexity lying beneath the simple surface plot of a year in a 13-year old boy's life.

What ties all the disparate parts together is the main character who allows us to understand both the cruelty and the beauty of a 13 year old boy. Jason's awareness of social castes and rites does nothing to help him get through life any easier than anyone else. Instead he shows us all the stumbles and excruciating moments as he navigates a year while writing poetry under a pseudonym, trying to avoid the local bullies and confronting daily wrestling matches with "Hangman," which is what he names his stammer. There are moments of longing and joy and excitement as you watch Jason's maturation over the course of the book. I may have related to Jason even more closely when I realized that I was the same age as the main character in the year that the book is set, 1982.

The writing is beautiful and Jason's internal observations (things he'd never dare say aloud) can give you shivers, like this line, "Listening to houses breathe makes you weightless". To go from shimmery prose like this to the condensed slang of adolescent boys (everything is "epic", that is, until that word is no longer hip) gave me an appreciation of the variety of prose in which Mitchell is proficient. There is so much British slang used in the book that it serves as a warning to any American writer who thinks they might be able to reproduce such dialogue--they would invariably get it wrong.

And on that subject, I have just two teeny weeny uninvited editorial comments: one, the only American who appears in the book (and then only very briefly) uses the word "polystyrene" for "styrofoam" and "stone" for the "pit" of a cherry. Why didn't the editor catch that? (Though I realize this is a small blip compared to all the errors in American speech that Deb at Blue Pencil found in Joanna Trollope's novel Girl from the South.) And there was one faulty food reference that I detected: after the main character's mother has gone back to work, he comes home to find "the pressure cooker sat on the stove, leaking stewing steak fumes. (Mum starts them off in the morning so they cook all day.)" That wouldn't be a pressure cooker she's using if it cooks all day--that would be a crock pot, slow cooker or whatever they call such a contraption in England. A pressure cooker is used to cook things faster than normal, the kind of pot you might use when you come home from work and are trying to get dinner on the table (the lid is sealed to the pot so when the liquid inside boils, it is trapped inside the pot. Having nowhere else to go, steam builds up pressure. This results in shorter cooking times.)

But these really are small complaints when compared to the wonderful story that takes you so many unexpected places.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I woke up Sunday all perky, knowing that there was something to look forward to, but not quite remembering what that would be. And then I got distracted making blueberry pancakes from the pounds we picked at the Dexter Blueberry Farm on Friday. Of course, my kids wouldn't eat blueberry pancakes since they are pathologically afraid of anything that could be construed as "good for them" even when it is drowned in maple syrup.

So I forgot that the Yarn Harlot was coming to the AADL and instead continued on our mission to finish the office that we have been building for, oh, let's be generous and say 4 years, though I think 5 would be a little closer to the truth.

We are in the home stretch: we finished staining and finishing and putting up all the trim (that's a lot of trim when you realize that the office has 5 windows) two weeks ago. We have the bookshelves in and this weekend we embarked on the hunt for a desk which finally, after going to every flipping depressing-as-hell furniture store in Ann Arbor, landed us at Ikea on a Sunday.

Take my advice and don't go to Ikea on a Sunday. We got lucky and arrived just before the insane hoards of people and were able to get the kids into Smalland so they could play in the ball pit for 45 minutes while we tried to track down what we wanted. By the time we left, they were running shuttle buses to remote parking areas and there was a 25 minute long line in the cafeteria. So we didn't get to end the trip with a dose of gravlax (it's good gravlax) and instead dealt with our plummeting blood sugar levels with 50 cent hot dogs, potato chips and lingonberry juice that they sell on the way out the door.

So I didn't get to see the Yarn Harlot due to my own feeble-mindedness. But I am typing this not from the crammed-in-back crappy addition (that we plan to pull down sometime in the future when we have recovered from this renovation experience) but from a clean new desk, on a new chair, in my now functional office! Still more to do here--gotta get the blinds up, a door knob on the door and all the books on the shelves--we retrieved 15 bins of books and papers from my parent's basement where they have been stored and inaccessible for years.

I made a dinner that was the antithesis of lunch:
Clockwise from the top: kale and beet greens from the garden sauteed with garlic and dried hot peppers, steamed green beans from the garden, salad with feta and the first tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions from the garden, beets from the garden, Avalon organic pumpernickel bread, and boiled new potatoes from the Farmer's Market

And after dinner, I settled in and did the incredibly therapeutic action of sifting through the box that contained all my Northwestern papers and files. There was a recycling bin on the other side of me and I dumped anything with the phrases "paradigm," "dialectics," "mimesis," and "theatre as metaphor" into the recycling bin. What do you know? Not one paper survived.

When I drove the two full recycling bins of verbal wankage to the recycling center on Monday and tipped them into a dumpster, I felt a remarkable levity. My escape from academia was a really close call--I am still grateful for the awkward moment when I walked in on my lovely advisor crying in her office because the politics of the department were so fucking ugly. It was an encounter of only a few minutes, but I remember leaving there and thinking "That'll be me in 20 years if I don't get out now."
And got out I did, but seeing all those papers again, and chucking them, made me realize how different my life would be if I hadn't had that revelatory moment. I could still be blundering along producing incomprehensible babble that no one wants to read. Getting rid of the reminders of one of the more screwed up parts of your life is a wonderful way to remind you of how good your current life is.

And if you feel a hunger for academic discourse or you just don't have enough confusion in your life, check out the AADL Friends Bookshop in the coming weeks where my collection of books with titles like Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics will soon be available for purchase!