Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giving back a Booker

The short-list for the Booker International Prize has been released and the only reason I know this is because an Australia's on it. Yay for David Malouf, but the most curious part of the story is the fact that John le Carre asked to withdraw his name from the list, which honours a writer's body of work, because he doesn't "compete for literary prizes". Even curiouser, of course, is the fact that the Prize's chairman (Rick Gekoski, whose own life in books I admire) said no.


So many parts of this short, terse story to explore. Does le Carre not like any prize or just the literary ones given his oft-times relegation to the literary backwoods as both a 'popular' and a 'genre' writer? Would the Booker International seriously award a prize against someone's wishes? What would happen to the money if he won?

I know other authors have refusedor given back honours, awards and prizes. Jean-Paul Satre didn't want the Nobel Prize for Literature saying "a writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form". Indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (formerly Kath Walker) protested Australia's bicentenary celebrations by returning her MBE. "Next year, 1988, to me marks 200 years of rape and carnage, all these terrible things that the Aboriginal tribes of Australia have suffered without any recognition even of admitted guilt from the parliaments of England … I have therefore decided that as a protest against what the Bicentenary 'Celebrations' stand for, I can no longer, with a clear conscience, accept the English honour of the MBE and will be returning it to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England…" (cited in Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 - 1993), 2002).

The idea that honours could be foisted onto a writer whether he wanted it or not simply tickles me. "We're gonna honour you and you're gonna like it!"

Photo Source: www.johnlecarre.com

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

52 Poems (week 3)


We studied Browning in year 11 or 12, rocketing through 'Porphyria's Lover', 'Andrea Del Sarto' and 'My Last Duchess' on the way to our more in-depth study of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. This one, 'Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister', was on the list but glossed over. I read it now and it's nothing like I remember.

GR-R-R--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!
At the meal we sit together;
Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely
Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?
What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?
Whew! We'll have our platter burnished,
Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps--
Marked with L. for our initial!
(He-he! There his lily snaps!)
Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores
Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
--Can't I see his dead eye glow,
Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?
(That is, if he'd let it show!)
When he finishes refection,
Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
As do I, in Jesu's praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
Drinking watered orange pulp--
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
While he drains his at one gulp!
Oh, those melons! if he's able
We're to have a feast; so nice!
One goes to the Abbot's table,
All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble,
Keep them close-nipped on the sly!
There's a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine district damnations,
One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
Off to hell, a Manichee?
Or, my scrofulous French novel
On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in Belial's gripe;
If I double down its pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in't?
Or, there's Satan!--one might venture
Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
As he'd miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine...
'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia
Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!

And this sweet piece, which is more for the tongue than the eye: 'Love Among the Ruins'.
WHERE the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Half-asleep
Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
As they crop--
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
Of our country's very capital, its prince
Ages since
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
Peace or war.

Now the country does not even boast a tree,
As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
Into one)
Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
Up like fires
O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
Bounding all
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
Twelve abreast.

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
Stock or stone--
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
Long ago;
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
Bought and sold.

Now--the single little turret that remains
On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
Overscored,
While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
Through the chinks--
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
Viewed the games.

And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
Melt away--
That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
Till I come.

But he looked upon the city, every side,
Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
Colonnades,
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,--and then
All the men!
When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
Each on each.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force--
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth's returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.
Photo Source: Browning from news.bbc.co.uk's story 'In Pictures: Poets' Portraits'; poetry from Sephora's Beauty and the Blog.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Articles and applications

There's a little bit of writing madness hitting our house at the moment. I spent the weekend, apart from the jaunt to the hardware megastore, finishing off a magazine article due on Monday. For the next week or so, I'll buried in the mountain of paperwork for a research grant: pages and pages of immodest explanation and justification, and endless edits to hit the right tone for an overly educated but essentially generic audience.


I'm throwing my hat in for some government money, on the off chance that someone wants to pay me to do something for longer than a semester. What heaven it would be to know how I'll be paying my bills for the next three years. Although I'm joyous to have even the small amount of certainty I do now, living contract to contract is starting to wear thin, with the worry over next year's work now starting in March.

Photo Source: ARC logo from the arc.gov.au website.

Potting before the rain

Lovely Husband needed to go to Bunnings on the weekend for plugs or washers or some-such. I kissed him good-bye at the door and trotted off to the garden centre, wandering amidst the wet, earthy racks of herbs and veggies and the long rows of pots and trellis and stakes. I picked up a handful of bulbs, luxuriously purple irises, to bury in the front yard as a surprise for spring. I had picked up a packet of garlic bulbs before I realised ...der... garlic bulbs. I could get a whole head of those for a buck at the supermarket.


I got these instead: cramped little punnets of broccoletti. Not sure what the difference is between these and broccolini, but it looked similar on the tag. Some bug has taken a little nibble from a few of them already, so I sprayed them with our noxious-smelling mix of soap, chili, onion and garlic.


I also picked up punnets of peas, probably out of season, but those little tendrils are irresistible. That brick wall was calling for something that climbs. So I have sweet peas starting to push up their little heads in the bed and, hopefully, these eating peas will cope in their pots.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Signs of life


The cucumber is finally bearing something resembling fruit. They didn't get much of a summer and have been slow to grow, weighed down as they were by nasty aphids, which we now seem to have largely conquered. We moved the trug to a new spot in the yard and we're hoping that having my favourite brick wall at their back will help to keep them warm over winter.


The trug is still looking a little unbalaced as the beetroot refuses to pull its weight and actually grow. We'll probably pull the capsicum from the middle soon and try and plant something wintery in the space instead. I have some broccoli seeds, but might save those for the collection of deep pots I have lying around.

New songs on a Saturday morning (11-20)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one of this music escapade can be found here.


11. Jason Mraz - Plane (via Mighty Girl): Sweet-arse broken hearted love song
12. Adele - Someone like you: Love this but it certainly didn't help my mood any when I was spluttering over the final scenes of the final episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
13. Adele - Rolling in the Deep: God, her voice is awesome.
 

14. Jools Holland with Ruby Turner - Informer: Love his piano-playing skills. As BB King once said of him, he has 'a left hand that never stops'.
15. Jools & his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with Amy Winehouse - Teach Me Tonight: Amy with her hair down (literally).
16. Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit): The Black Eyed Peas' songs normally grow on me after a listen or two, but I'm not I'll ever get into this. Love the way they sample, but this is pushing too hard.
17. Cheap Trick - Surrender: Heard this on the radio in the car three times in the space of a week. The chorus gets me every time.

 
18. John Lennon 'with' Cheap Trick - Losing You: Very strange amalgam but rocks along.
19. Architecture in Helsinki - Contact High: I really liked 'Heart It Races' but hadn't heard anything else of theirs. Dig the eighties synth sounds.
20. Sneaky Sound System - I Love It: Heard bits and pieces of this a few years ago. Really dig how they use her voice.

Photo Source: Jools Holland from allmusic.com's profile of the artist; Lennon's drawing from news.bbc.co.uk article 'John Lennon's art goes on display'.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading 'The Nerds of Pride & Prejudice'

For several weeks after Christmas, my little pile of presents sat on the dresser, neglected while I got on with the business of summer holidays. Then when the family had returned home and worked loomed rapidly on the horizon, the house was finally put back into order and homes found for all the new bits and pieces. One of my new books, A Truth Universal Acknowledged: 33 reasons why we can't stop reading Jane Austen (edited by Susannah Carson), made it onto the little stool next to my armchair, then was promptly buried under the others. Just this week, though, I've pulled it from the stack and started dipping in. It's a perfect book for dipping, full of three or four page essays by all manner of people.


My favourite so far is Benjamin Nugent's piece, 'The Nerds of Pride & Prejudice', which contrasts Elizabeth and Darcy with Mary and Mr Collins, and the complete lack of meritocracy in Austen's fictional worlds. It's a sweet little essay, praising Austen's dialogue and drawing on his own nerdly experiences to highlight his horror at Elizabeth's eventual love of the prideful and essentially useless Darcy.
The awful thing about the place and time Austen wrote of was that young women like Mary Bennet stood no chance, their inclinations toward mechanical reasoning squandered because of their sex. But for contemporary nerds, young people disposed to think like Mary, it's helpful to be thrown temporarily into a world in which one's gifts are disregarded. If you read sci-fi novels, you'll generally read about worlds in which scientists ans the technologies they create drive the plot; if you read Austen, you'll read about a world in which technology means nothing and the triumphs and failures of conversational agility drive everything. Young nerds  should read Austen because she'll force them to hear dissonant notes in their own speech  they might otherwise miss, and open their eyes to defeats and victories they otherwise wouldn't even have noticed. Like almost all worthwhile adolescent experience, it can be depressing m but it can also feel like waking up (p. 94).
I'm certainly not much more disposed towards Mary or Mr Collins but it's a little jolt to my admiration of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Oh, I'll love her still but I might read her witty repartee with a new eye.


Photo Source: Frances Maloney's review page at www.bookgeeks.co.uk

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

52 Poems: Week 2

 Many years ago, Robert Gray was the Writer-in-residence at the university where I was slowly bleeding dry all of their writing subjects. I took creative writing, professional writing, discursive writing and journalism; I studied Australian literature, Romantic period literature and then bawled for more. I rearranged my schedule to learn from Helen Garnerwho told students their work was shit and then suffered through the quiet awfulness of Kim Cheng Buoy who couldn't teach worth a damn. And once I went and listened to Robert Gray, reading from his latest book of poetry.

I wanted to look at some Australian poetry, perhaps a little guilty that I don't do enough to seek out anything Australian: rarely watch Australian TV; rarely see Australian films; rarely listen to Australian music. This is from Gray's poem 'Wingbeat':
...IN SOME last inventory, I’ll have lost a season
through the occlusion
of summer by another hemisphere.
Going there
the winter tolls twice
across the year. The leaves of ice
in their manuscripts
are shelved on the air and each sifts
fine as paper-cuts along the wind...
 

And because I've been curious about her since I read 'Vale Dorothy Porter' but didn't dream of committing to a verse novel, I read this: 'Trouble' (just an excerpt below)
'JILL'
I challenge the mirror
‘how much guts have you got?’...

...I’m waiting

I want you, trouble,
    on the rocks.

Photo Sources: Dorothy Porter from the review of El Dorado at theage.com.au; magnetic poetry from Mr Giomini's Class Blog here on Blogspot

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Underfoot in Show Business (or Life on the Banks)

My stepmother, J--, and I have had a love affair with Helene Hanff for many years. We shared copies of her books and wept watching the movie of 84 Charing Cross Rd. As of last year, we had both made pilgrimages to the site of the London bookstore, gazing wistfully into either an empty store front or something entirely different, taking photos of the memorial plaque and thinking of people and books long gone.


I recently reread my copy of Letter from New York, made up of transcripts from the short radio broadcast Hanff did once a month for the BBC's Women's Hour for several years through the late 70s and into the 80s. J--'s birthday is coming up and I'd gotten in contact with the BBC to see if anything had survived of the original audio (no word back from them, of course) but it had started a craving for those books again, another reread which happens every year or so. So I tucked the tiny paperback into my bag and read it on my lunch breaks over the space of two weeks. Craving not yet satisfied.

Underfoot in Show Business is a funny little book she was asked to write before she became known for 84, with each chapter a story about life as an unsuccessful playwright in New York during the 40s and 50s. There is so much buried here. In one chapter, Hanff describes working in the Theatre Guild's press office, churning out publicity for a modern American opera by an untested pairing of a operetta lyricist and a musical-comedy composer, which they all thought would flop (in the words of the earliest critique: 'No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance'), having to change the name of the play from Away We Go to Oklahoma, and then days before opening adding an exclamation mark to 10000 press releases.

Hanff's eventual move into television writing (which she was ashamed to do and equated with prostitution) and then into books is also chronicled but in between that and the lunches with agents, producers and theatre greats like Irving Berlin, there's more about the daily grind to survive suffered by aspiring creatives throughout the city: living in bug-riddled garrets, sneaking into Broadway shows, summer work in regional theatre companies and, in one chapter, being an outside reader for a film studio, forced to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy over a single weekend in order to write a detailed synopsis, eventually billing them for 'mental torture'.

I'm no great reader of non-fiction but I've kept coming back to these books for almost twenty years. Hanff's books always remind me of this quote, which I found while researching something or other in a book of essays about intimate journalism:
 'Civilisation is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.' (Will Durant, Intimate Journalism: The art and craft of reporting everyday life)
I'm not interested in wars and victories, civilisations rising and falling. The stories I'm interested in reading are the ones on the banks, the ones that flash by unnoticed as historians steer their craft through the river of more momentous events and moments in time.

Photo Source: http://saturdayschild-jama.blogspot.com/2010/06/miss-hanff-and-bookshop-in-london.html

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New songs on a Saturday morning (1-10)

It's Saturday morning and I'm going back to my childhood. Instead of laying in front of the TV and zoning out with Rage or Video Hits, I'm trawling through online musical vistas.


As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. My exposure to new music seems to have been quite limited in the last few years. Although I have the radio on in the car and catch bits and pieces as I drive to work, to the gym, to do the gorcery shopping, but there's not a lot of music that fits into those brief jaunts. For a while, I've been culling new music from the soundtracks of TV shows and movies that I've seen or just waiting for Lovely Husband to find more of his lady-singers (whether wispy and retro) and shuffling them into my playlist. Now I'm going to cast about, follow links and generally be more pro-active in my search for something I like.


1. Dar Williams 'When I was a Boy' (c/o After Words)
2. War Paint 'Billie Holiday' (c/o Girl's Gone Child) - The way these ladies harmonise is divine.
3. War Paint ‘Baby’ 
4. Willow Smith ‘21st Century Girl’ - Got caught on her first single but feel some kind of discomfort about her age and that I may be watching a car wreck about to happen.
5. Dr Dre ‘I Need a Doctor’ - Okay, so I like me a little Eminem every now and then.
6. Ayo ‘Help is Coming’ - Love the modern reggae feel without the feel good/hippy preaching.
9. Pomplamoose 'Centrifuge' - perhaps this is cheating because I've been digging on Pomplamoose's You Tube channel for a little while, but never got around to listening to some of these.
10. Pomplamoose 'Little Things'

Photo Source: Rage logo from www.gimmebritney.com/2009/ 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Onion skin

 Somewhere on the way to making a bastardised Butter Chicken, this happened. I spent five minutes just looking and then another five looking at it from different angles before I went and got the camera.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

52 Poems: Week 1


Item no. 37 on my Before I Go list is to read a new poem once a week for a year. I've always been enamoured with certain kinds of poems before, copied them out on scraps of paper and then hidden them away in notebooks. But I've never really actively searched for new poetry before. That's what this item is all about: coming into contact with something outside my own favourites.

So Week 1 of my 52 poems goal is about establishing the baseline and looking at the poems I already like and then, next week, I'll try and find something new.

Besides the little pieces of poetry in A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six books (and a strange love of the way he uses the word 'trousers'), the earliest poem I remember discovering and liking all on my own is Walter de la Mare's 'The Listeners', particularly when the rider shouted to the empty building: "Tell them I came, and no-one answered, that I kept my word".

The next poem to captivate me, after years of pulling poems apart in high school and tinkering with them like car engines, was Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'The Windhover'. It was a love time before I ever saw the dedication "To Christ Our Lord" and even then, the language he uses is glorious.
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding...
I might just add learning this one by heart to my list. Besides the pleasure to be had simply from saying these strings of loveliness outloud, this poem is also now tied to an episode of Due South, when the mountie recounts the story of tracking a women through snow and sleat then, near frozen, reciting this poem to stay conscious and putting her fingers in his mouth to keep them warm.

When I was overseas, the house I lived in had a book of Leonard Cohen poems (the house had them because no-one knew who owned the book). Reading 'I wonder how many people in this city' felt like the ringing of a bell, the way I felt wandering through the streets of London before I knew it, before I knew anyone or they knew me. The other poem that delighted me was 'Gift', about handing someone a poem full of silence as a gift.


The last of my favourite poems is Ted Hughes, who I had detested without ever having bothered to read his work. His face, gruff and full of eyebrows, was enough for me to judge him. Then his Birthday Letters book was published and someone in the house had a copy. The red poppies on the cover leapt at me and, picking it up and expecting to be bored, I found this bothersome piece, 'Fate Playing'.
BECAUSE the message somehow met a goblin
Because precedents tripped your expectations
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it...
Something in it stuck to me and I've never been able to shake it loose.

Photo Source: Magnetic Poetry from Mr Giomini's Class Blog here on Blogsport; Ted Hughes from en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/19046

Monday, March 14, 2011

Still life with rabbit

Too blooming early

The bulbs I re-buried in the front garden after planting the lavender have peeked out from the grey dirt. I'm worried these little lovelies are peaking too early and I'm losing the teasing promise of colour to brighten the winter to come. I'm hoping the others stay dormant for a few more months.
The whole front garden bed is a surprise, really. Somehow, my weeding and planting has unleashed a haze of green across the bed, something grassy that's taken off in the freshly turned soil. It's staying for the moment because it's a lovely colour and I'm far too lazy to pull it all out just for it to regrow next week. I'm hoping it behaves.

In spite of aphids

  
The basil is starting to thicken out, despite attempts by miscellaneous insects to thin it. Little nibbles on leaves, blackened edges from where the sun has burnt the raw edges. That blue sky was a treat, gorgeously warm and just breezy enough to dry a load of laundry, before it clouded over and brief showers brought a cool change.
The cucumbers, whitened by our home remedies for aphids, are making a comeback, yellow flowers finally peeking out from underneath the prickly velvet leaves. Hopefully, the sun will stay out for long enough for the little tendrils to wrap themselves around the stakes and haul the plants skywards. I'm not optimistic about getting any actual cucumbers, but I'd love to see them grow.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bookishness in the city

Many weeks ago, my inbox pinged with an email from The Wheeler Centre, a marvellous and still relatively new institution involved with all things bookish in this city. They were bringing E. Annie Proulx to town, did I want to come? Yes, please. Here's my 20 dollars, and 12 for Lovely Husband, because he's still lucky enough to have a student concession card. I printed off the tickets and they sat in the back of my diary, forgotten, until I looked through my diary and saw the little Friday notation: Proulx at the Capitol, 730pm.
The moment I stepped inside the theatre, I'd wished I'd brought the camera. This poorly lit and poorly framed phone photo doesn't capture the overwhelming interior, like walking inside a strange medieval beehive. It's all projected angles, patterned pockets of shadows and more detail than the eye can handle. I wonder how well the poor souls of RMIT do in their studies, when they have to draw their attention away from these walls, this ceiling, to take notes during lectures. No ugly 1970s concrete bunker for them.

Lovely Husband comes to these things because he either doesn't want me to have to go alone or because he feels guilty for not doing more 'going out' things. He has no interest in Proulx's books or in the literary life, the bookish scene, but even he was entertained for the hour we had her on stage, talking about her newest book, the autobiographical Bird Cloud, and life in Wyoming. We both laughed. A lot.

The epigraph at the front of the book:
"a very curious dish of Viennese sausages which were sizzling hot at one end and frozen at the other-- at striking example of the non-conductivity of sausages at high altitudes" - H.W. Tilman

After the talk, Proulx agreed to sign books and I rushed to buy copies of Bird Cloud and The Shipping News. It's J.'s birthday in a few weeks and the present I've ordered most likely won't make it in time. So to make up for it, I had spent the 20 minute wait in the queue, scouring The Shipping News for our favourite line in the book, the line we laughed over when we first read it many years ago, the line we both occasionally remember and titter over again. So on her birthday, she'll have the book to open and a card, which will tell her to turn to page 57. And there will be Proulx's signature and the message 'For J-', right under the line 'Dog Farts Fell Family of Four'.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teaching JS Mill

I admit I loathed the compulsory philosophy and ethics class I had to take as an undergrad. The lecturer had the only monotonous voice I've ever heard in person, literally droning through his lectures. His were the only lectures I've ever fallen asleep in. I was bored by his outlines of how to construct an argument, how to be logical. And I resented the assignments, particularly the one that asked us to justify why we ate meat.

Irony of ironies then that I now have to teach much of the same material we covered then, focusing on freedom of expression and JS Mill. Oh Mill, how do I make thee interesting? How do I convince my students to read all the way to the end of each chapter? How do I break you down to explain the intricacies of your argument to my international students, who sit with dictionary in hand and a puzzled expression on face?

Further ironies abound that I'm grateful for the Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptists case because it gives the students a concrete example of what Mill is talking about. We shouldn't suppress opinions we believe to be false because that would be denying ourselves and others the opportunity to strengthen our own argument and develop a justified belief for why Phelps' opinions are horrendously awful, callous and contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, who they presumably worship.

So way to go US Supreme Court for your decision to overturn the original ruling, claiming that free speech trumps privacy in this case no matter how much it disgusts us. Bless you, because for the first time all semester my students grabbed hold of an idea and wouldn't shut up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In like a lion

I think I need to call someone and ask for a refund on my summer. Seems like the one I got was a dud. Now, it's the first day of March, the first day of Autumn, and wet and windy and 20 degrees. I'm not ready to pull up the exterior awnings, to close the interior doors, to put on the gas heater, to hang the clothes on racks and wait for days while they dry, to spend minutes thrashing in bed till the sheets are warm, to long for sunny, sandy beaches and clear blue water.

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