Random feline bullets of fall

It seems like the universe has been strewing my path with kittens lately. To wit:

  • The barbershop a few blocks from where I live has adopted a marmalade-striped kitten, which is already starting to grow up into a marmalade tabby cat. Often when I pass by, I’ll see the kitten napping in the store window, or sometimes sitting outside with a leash on its collar attached to a chair.
  • Yesterday on the train home from work I sat next to a young woman who was smuggling another marmalade kitten out of her dorm room in a big suitcase. She had one end of the suitcase partly unzipped so she could entertain the kitten by dangling a bit of string through the opening. I was taken aback by her use of the suitcase as a cat carrier, but the kitten seemed to be taking the whole thing quite calmly.

I think the universe wants me to get a cat.

In other miscellaneous good news, this week’s oppressive un-fall-like heat has been decisively lifted by a series of heavy rains, the air is now properly crisp and cool, my latest BPAL order arrived unexpectedly early, today is the start of a three-day weekend, and I’m going to see the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of Rigoletto tonight. Life, in short, is good.

On the sticking power of poetry

Dale of mole has been posting about poetry and memorization, and how it makes poetry “available when we are in the moment of need or desire.” I can’t resist following that lead. It’s a subject on which I’ve now written about a ream of academic prose, but my fascination with poetry’s memorability goes back much farther than my choice of dissertation topic. I started deliberately learning poems by heart when I was thirteen, and I did it because I really, really hated to run.

My eighth-grade gym teacher would periodically make us run a mile’s worth of laps around the track next to our athletic field. I’ve never been much of a runner, and I usually ran the first few laps and walked the rest, bored out of my skull and hating everything, but especially the chore of having to trudge in an endless loop at 7:30 in the morning. Repeating poems to myself was the only way I could stand it. At first all I could remember were a few lines at a time, but before long I started to work at it, and as I plodded, I would be thinking “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree…” or “I met a traveler from an antique land, / Who said, Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert…” or “They shut the road through the woods / Seventy years ago.”

The thing about remembering a poem, one line at a time, one word leading to another, anticipating when the next rhyme is coming around or where the line is about to break — the great thing about it is that it’s a form of heightened concentration. It helps push other thoughts to the side. Almost as if the poem were a mantra, or a charm against “whatever it is that’s encroaching” (to borrow a phrase from Charles Simic). Poetry sometimes seems to be quite close, even now, to its early roots in incantation, and I think memorization brings one near those roots. It certainly worked that way when I invoked Coleridge and Keats against the tedium of running. I’ve been having an unusually rough couple of weeks, and I’m finding that it still does. Now it’s more likely to be Ashbery, or Stevens, or Bishop, or Yeats, but the fact that they’re still there in my head is strangely encouraging.

I once had a student tell me at the end of the term that he had loved John Donne’s Holy Sonnet VII, the one about Donne’s grief for the death of his wife. He (the student, that is) had just lost a family member, and he said the poem helped put into words what he was feeling. It moved him so much that he memorized it. Years later, I still think of that student and wonder if that poem stayed with him. I hope it did; I know the poems I’ve lived with have stayed with me.

The next best thing to knitting in class

I’ve chosen my topic for my thesaurus for Content Representation: it’s going to be about knitting. In addition to helping me get back into a knitting frame of mind as I figure out what my next big project is, it’ll furnish me with an excuse to acquire a few new knitting books. (For the terminology, of course.)

I couldn’t do an opera thesaurus after all, as we were advised to stay off of topics that involve a lot of foreign terms, and operatic terminology is so heavily Italian (with a bit of German thrown in) that it wouldn’t have worked. But it’ll be neat to work on an assignment that requires me to think about the distinctions between laceweight, fingering, worsted, and double-knit yarns. I’m feeling the urge to make a sweater already.

I’m still mulling website topics for my other class. Further bulletins as events warrant.

The perennial appeal of geeky t-shirts

Today I saw a student wearing a "Schroedinger’s cat is dead" shirt. (Hint: look at the back view as well as the front view.) I want one for myself now. Actually, ThinkGeek shirts are quite popular among my iSchool classmates; I’ve also been thinking about getting this one.

I’m still waiting for someone to put the old joke about Werner Heisenberg and the traffic cop* on a t-shirt, but it would probably make for too much text.

* If you haven’t heard it before: The traffic cop pulls Heisenberg over and asks "Do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenberg replies, "No, but I know where I am." *rimshot*

Department of own-horn tooting

Today I found out that the book of essays on Shakespeare’s sonnets to which I contributed last year has been reviewed in September’s issue of Choice, and my chapter was named as one of the "highlights." W00t! Someone read it and liked it!

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to lately. Thinking about the Shakespeare essay has reminded me that there are a bunch of nebulous projects, some academic and some creative, that I’d like to work on. I’ve been contemplating using a bit of vacation time to go somewhere (not necessarily distant, just away from home) during winter break, armed with nothing but notebooks, my laptop, some light reading, and my file of ideas. It might just end up being a battery-recharging trip, but even so, I think my muse and I need to spend a bit of time together getting re-acquainted.

Two things that have made me happy recently

1. San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, explaining why he’s changed his mind and decided to support gay marriage. Mayor Sanders, if you happen to read this, thank you for restoring a sizeable chunk of my faith in humanity. (Also spotted at Alison Bechdel’s blog and Bitch Ph.D.)

2. Amazing altered-book art by Brian Dettmer. He takes books and partially cuts away the pages, leaving a forest of illustrations and bits of text that stand out three-dimensionally. I think this one is my favorite.

Short bits

Apologies for my lack of recent bloggage. I’ve been busy with various projects, trying to get a head start on the reading for my Drexel classes, and sniffling from the pollen in the air. Ah, fall. And thanks to all of the above, my mind’s completely scattered. So here are a few shards.

On the to-read list: William Gibson, Spook Country (I finally read its precursor, Pattern Recognition); Alex Wright, Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages; Junot Díaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and I’m slowly getting back into Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, which I started reading ages ago and then put down. James’s sentences are a kind of antidote to fall-induced attention deficits.

On the to-cook list: butternut squash soup, lamb stew, and (made last weekend) Concord grape pie, which I highly recommend to all.

Best thing about this time of year: startlingly painterly light on the banks of the Schuylkill as the train approaches 30th Street Station, making it look almost pastoral (for a moment or two, anyway). That, and finally wearing long sleeves again.

And I missed it yesterday, but: yarrrrr!

In search of class project topics

I’m going to be creating a couple of sites for the web-design class I’m taking this fall. As far as I can tell from looking at previous students’ work, the content can be just about anything. Which leaves me with far too many ideas for what to do for my final project site.

Here’s what I’ve thought of so far. Anyone care to help me narrow it down?

  • a bibliographic guide to the British ghost story
  • a site about opera in the movies (movies about opera performers/performances/fans, movies that reference particular operas in various ways, movies with heavily operatic soundtracks)
  • more installments of “the overeducated humanist watches TV” (no, scratch that, I don’t watch enough TV; apart from Battlestar Galactica as the Aeneid in space, and Lost as The Tempest meets Stanley Milgram,
    there’d be very little actual content)
  • suggestions for how to live on the super-cheap (a skill set I honed to proficiency the first time I went to grad
  • a recipe site, heavy on Italian cooking
  • something about cities and walkability (i.e. an excuse to spring for a digital camera and go around Philly taking pictures)

I’m also going to be constructing a thesaurus for the content-representation class. We just got a preliminary syllabus, a couple of weeks before the start of classes. Heaviest reading load of any library-school course I’ve taken so far, but hot damn does it ever look interesting. Image indexing! Topic maps! Folksonomies! George Lakoff! The semantic web! Stuff I’ve been wanting to take a class on for ages! W00t!

Anyway, I’m waiting until I know more about the final project before I choose a thesaurus topic, but I’m hoping I can pick something operatic. Or maybe the world needs a knitting thesaurus. We shall see.

Streets as hyperfiction

This is such an interesting idea: a story told in stencils on the streets of San Francisco, with the locations of the stencils (an apartment building, a street with hills behind it, a burrito joint) acting as a kind of illustration or setting for the story. And it’s a hypertextual "Choose Your Own Adventure" type of story, to boot.

Is it my current obsession with all things place-specific and geographically-based, or is this part of a trend? My first thought, when I read about the San Francisco stencil fiction, was of locative art. Stencils are lower-tech than GPS, but the basic idea — using the environment as an intrinsic and crucial part of the work — sounds a lot like what people are doing in other media.

Now I want someone to try this in Philadelphia. Especially if the story can somehow incorporate the local mystery of the Toynbee tiles.

(Link thanks to if:book.)

Cataloging Jefferson’s library

Over at LibraryThing, someone suggested cataloging the libraries of famous people, and the project quickly snowballed into a collective effort to catalog Thomas Jefferson’s book collection. Anyone on LT can join in and claim a section of the catalog. I’m doing Pastorals, Odes, and Elegies, and have been deep in 18th-century editions of Theocritus and Ovid this afternoon. Great fun. It’s the kind of thing you probably have to be either a librarian or a hard-core history geek (or both) to enjoy, but the great thing about LT is that it attracts precisely that kind of crowd.

Anyway, knowing that at least a few friends from UVa still visit this blog from time to time, I especially wanted to point them to the TJ-cataloging project. Mr. Jefferson’s library lives!