Delurk, delurk, wherever you are

I didn’t realize it was National De-Lurking Week until today. (It’s the
first week of Drexel’s winter term, and I had classes tonight and yesterday night. Consider this post a stand-in for the writing I’d be doing if I weren’t also printing out articles and scrambling for textbooks.) So, those of you
who’ve been lurking, feel free to de-lurk in the comments and say
hello! If you want to, of course. An inveterate lurker myself, I won’t
be offended if you want to keep mum.

Weird weather

It was freakishly warm all day yesterday, up to near 70 in the afternoon, which, in Philadelphia in January, just seems wrong. I could feel the rational part of my brain, the part that says "Something is seriously out of whack with our climate, even if we can blame this particular winter on El Niño," conflicting with my lizard-brain, which was saying "Spring’s here! Happy! Go outside now!" (I could also feel a kind of subliminal confusion at the combination of warm springlike weather and early darkness.) I wandered down to Rittenhouse Square, which was full of people in flip-flops and short-sleeved shirts, and ate some gelato; the line at Capogiro was out the door the first time I walked by. Then I came home and made a salad with cucumber and sliced strawberries, the kind of thing I don’t usually crave except in spring. My next-door neighbors, from the sound of it, were throwing a party.

I wonder: if warm sunny weather makes everyone as cheerful as it makes me, maybe this is why we seem to have such a hard time with the idea of global warming. Maybe we’re too busy heeding the instincts that tell us warm weather is great, which we’ve had millennia to develop before we heated up the planet.

I’m trying not to get all apocalyptic-minded, but when it gets to 70 degrees at the beginning of January, something’s wrong. Even when it’s a relief to wear short sleeves in January. (Wolfa has been thinking along the same lines.)

Coming attractions

Wow, after what seemed like a long cinematic drought, there are suddenly lots of movies I want to see. I caught Volver on my last day of vacation; though I wouldn’t quite put it among my all-time favorite Almodóvar films (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother, Bad Education), I still liked it quite a bit. It’s got family drama galore, a ghost who may or may not be a ghost, a mystery that gets resolved at the end, Carmen Maura (it was so good to see her again), weirdly beautiful village landscapes, an inconvenient corpse, and Penelope Cruz showing her acting chops. Also a really gorgeous song, which is where the title of the movie comes from.

Also on the to-see list: Pan’s Labyrinth (which I thought was here already, but is still listed as "coming soon"), Children of Men, The History Boys, and possibly Notes on a Scandal. Plus I’ve been hearing lots of good things about Dreamgirls. What’s on your to-see lists?

Story scenario, free to good home

I have an idea for a short story, but if I wrote it, it would probably turn out as a really lame ripoff of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Plus I can’t think of a plot. So I’m hereby offering it up to anyone who wants to have a go at it, if anyone reading this is interested.

Background: I travel from and to SEPTA’s Suburban Station on workdays. Like a lot of underground rail stations, it’s confusing as all get-out, because you never know which direction you’re facing. I can orient myself by the locations of tracks, but one side of the main concourse looks more or less like the other side, and the signage is less than helpful.* My inability to distinguish right from left doesn’t help, either. For this reason, there’s one exit that I first discovered at random, realized was exactly the right one for my usual bus stop, and then couldn’t find again for a month. I finally undertook a determined search and memorized where it is.

So here’s the story idea: a subway commuter keeps getting lost in the station, and keeps looking for the right exit but getting not quite the right one instead. Perhaps the station is unusually disorienting, and the commuter is new to the city. And one day, after returning from work — maybe after his or her usual train gets rerouted to a different track — s/he finds a staircase, a little out of the way, that s/he  has never noticed before, but it looks like it might lead to the right exit. Instead, it goes to another place, maybe another dimension, entirely … and here’s where my deficiencies as a would-be fantasy author appear, because I have no idea what happens next.

So there you have it. Anyone want to adopt it?

* For the love of God, SEPTA, would it kill you to be consistent in
labeling which exits lead to which intersections? Why does one sign
read "18th & Market" while other signs say only "Arch Street"
or "17th Street"? 17th and what?

MLA recap continued

So I went to four panels on poetry (What We Talk About When We Talk About Form, the presidential Sound of Poetry forum, Sound in Stevens, The Future of Poetry Criticism), three on early modern studies (Perilous Playgoing in Early Modern England, History of the Book II: Consuming Print, Early Modern Migrations), one on both of those topics (Spenser’s Acoustic Worlds), one on opera (Mission Impossible: Literary Texts That Never Should Have Made the Operatic Stage [But Did]), and the Saturday morning blogger panel. The History of the Book panel, the Sound of Poetry forum, and the
blogging panel were the standouts, for me, but they were all good; paper for paper, it was one of the best MLAs I’ve been to.

A couple of common themes emerged. One was the overall "Sound and Poetry" theme that was an official conference track this year. This seemed to lead to an increased appreciation for performance, both in the delivery of talks and in their subject matter. Both the Wallace Stevens panel and the Spenser panel incorporated readings of poems: the former ended with a recording of Stevens reading "Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself," which led to a discussion in the Q&A about his reading style and his accent ("That’s such a starchy Madison Avenue accent! Where did he pick it up? He doesn’t sound at all like someone from Reading, Pennsylvania"; apparently Stevens lost his accent at Harvard). The Spenser panel, to my very pleased surprise, started with two panelists doing a dramatic reading from Book 1 of The Faerie Queene. I thought this was a lovely idea, and one that should be more widely adopted. And most of the panelists at the Sound of Poetry forum (Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Yoko Tawada, Kenneth Goldsmith) gave talks that were also performances. That may have been the first time I’ve ever heard people at an MLA session yell "Wooo!" during the applause. Best metaphors from that panel: terza rima as juggling (Susan Stewart) and cinematic dubbing as "shamanic activity" (Yoko Tawada).

The other theme was one I started calling "everything new is old again": the way the more early-modern papers took up ideas that resonated with the age of the internets. At the blogger panel, Bitch Ph.D. took up the comparison between 18th-century periodicals and the blogosphere, pointing out some of the more intriguing similarities: pseudonymous publication, women authors who hid their identity, and letters to the editor, including fake letters — at which point a man in the row in front of me whispered "Sock puppets!"

The book history panel also got me thinking about blogospheric commenting after Christopher Ivic read his paper on readers’ contentious marginalia on Jacobean political pamphlets. Then Maureen Quilligan made the blogosphere comparison explicit in her response. Also, Juliet Fleming’s brilliant paper on readers who cut prints out of books for other uses, like decoupage, led to my scribbling "It’s early modern remix culture!" excitedly in my notes. Peter Stallybrass’s paper on early print commonplace books of quotations from English poets, and the marking of "pre-read" quotable bits in the margins of plays and poetry books, continued the thread. All were fantastically thought-provoking to someone of my bibliogeekish interests. I can’t wait to take the iSchool’s History of the Book class. (Actually, I wish I could sit in on this class. Mmmm, material texts…)

And I also have to give shout-outs to my former classmates and co-conspirators on the Early Modern Migrations and Perilous Playgoing panels. Congratulations, you guys!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! In 2007, I resolve to:

  1. Pick a time to work on writing projects (library-sciencey, lit-critical, and/or creative) and actually make myself sit down and write.
  2. Set manageable goals for said projects.
  3. Get out more. Also, delurk more, both in on- and offline life.
  4. Find small-scale, workable ways of becoming more politically and civically involved.
  5. Upgrade my wardrobe (the goal is "professional but still kinda hip") and continue doing my part to shatter the frumpy-librarian stereotype.

How about yourselves?

MLA recap: A short summary

Strangely enough — given that the last time I attended an MLA convention, I took a rather jaundiced view of the whole thing — I had a really good time at this year’s conference. Maybe it was that nobody asked me "Are you on the market?" Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t have to stay in a hotel room, and my friend T. was staying with me. Maybe the papers have gotten better, or I’ve just gotten better about picking the right papers to listen to; and maybe the fact that I didn’t have any of those MLA-trauma moments* that one tends to read about in Chronicle of Higher Education columns. It could also have been that I kept running into friends I wanted to see again, and managed to break a prior streak of really bad luck with arranging conference reunions.**

And there was the bloggers’ meetup on Thursday night, which led to warm fuzzy feelings of "My people!" combined with the weird but pleasant shock of finally putting faces to names. I recognized Clancy of CultureCat from her photo, but it was great to meet (among others) Dr. B., Carrie of a white bear, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Jonathan Goodwin, John Holbo, Scott Kaufman, Amardeep Singh, and Chuck Tryon. Not to mention the terrific blogger panel this morning, about which more in another post.

But the real difference, I think, was that this year, I didn’t feel like I had to defend or explain my decision to change careers. I updated a few people with my current job and educational status, but I never felt the need to justify any of it. And I came to a conclusion: I’m still vastly relieved to be out of the world of cranking out articles, worrying about tenure, and grading stacks of papers on weekends. But however dysfunctional I think academia is at the institutional level, I’ve retained an underlying commitment to the idea of scholarship, to having an intellectual life, to conversation about interesting ideas (not to mention a great fondness for the company of certain people who share the same commitments). My next meta-project: figuring out how to have an intellectual life encompassing both my new information-science interests and my old literary-critical interests. I may be doing some thinking out loud about that here.

One more note: I was sadly disappointed to discover that Labyrinth Books didn’t have a booth at the book exhibit. But I consoled myself with a few new books from other sources: Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700, by Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio; H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books; Susan Stewart’s Columbarium (I’d been waiting for the paperback); and, for fun, The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories. And (utterly shameless self-promotion) I went to the Blackwell booth and saw that A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, to which I’ve contributed a chapter, is finally out. Yay!

* E.g. going into a hotel bathroom and hearing someone sobbing in the next stall, or getting snubbed by someone famous, or seeing visibly terrified job seekers waiting for the elevators.

** Speaking of which, if any of you reading this are going to ACRL in the spring, want to get together now that I apparently no longer suck at following through on meetup plans? Barring any major unforeseen events, I’ll be there.

Experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.

I would be blogging the MLA right now, except that this morning, my computer unexpectedly decided that its server certificate had expired three years ago, and the tech support people at my ISP told me it’s a problem to take up with the manufacturer’s tech support rather than with them. (I’m posting this from one of the workstations at the back of the exhibit hall.) So until the technical difficulties are resolved, blogging will be sporadic. Sorry!

Notes from my holiday travels

  • Several of us drove to Virginia to see my great-aunt, whom I don’t get to see nearly often enough because she’s in assisted living several states away. Even at 96, she still uses words like "obscurantist" in everyday conversation. She’s one of my role models, and I hope we’re still discussing current events when she’s 100.
  • On the drive back, I prevailed upon my family members to let me hunt for the Met’s broadcast of Don Carlo on the radio. They were very sporting about it, considering I had to keep chasing the broadcast around the dial as we kept moving northward.
  • The Golden Compass is a fantastic book, in all senses of the word. I’m now itching to get my hands on the second and third volumes of the His Dark Materials trilogy. To everyone who recommended it: thank you!
  • This was the Christmas when I learned to make stuffing. There was a proposal to just make some Stove Top to go with the turkey and I said no, I’d find a recipe and make it from scratch. It was simple and quite tasty. Fresh sage was what really made it work; that and cremini mushrooms.
  • I’m hosting a friend who’s in town for the MLA, which I’ll also be attending (more on that anon). I may see some of you reading this at the blogger panel on Saturday, if not before.
  • My job doesn’t start up again until January 3rd, and classes don’t start until the 8th. There’s time to go see a movie! (I want to see Volver and Pan’s Labyrinth, and they both just made it to Philly.) And declutter the apartment! And maybe go shopping for shirts!
  • And, finally, I’ve seen this widget at several blogs, including wolfa‘s and Jane Dark‘s:
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Baroness Amanda the Eldritch of Bumpstead under Carpet
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

The year’s midnight

‘Tis  the year’s midnight, and it
is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
            The world’s whole sap is sunk
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk…

— John Donne, "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, being the Shortest Day"*

I’m off to spend a few days with family. Happy winter solstice, all!

* Here’s hoping that you find this time of year less grim than Donne did.