Spreading the love

Found via Bardiac:

If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better
place just because that person exists and who you would not have met
(in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same
sentence on your blog.

(Explains Bardiac: Copy the sentence without naming which bloggers you’re talking about. I can say this about multiple bloggers, as a matter of fact. Thanks, y’all!)

Lord, deliver me from your followers

Crikey. Florida doctor’s office prescribes ‘ex-gay’ treatment. That’s right. A doctor’s office. Somehow, I don’t think the American Medical Association recommends verses from Leviticus as a treatment for bronchitis.

What’s that old saying about how it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you? I’m just glad I’m not applying for any jobs in Daytona Beach.

(via the Eighth Carnival of the Feminists at gendergeek, via Feministe)

Secret to productivity: Step away from the computer.

I was having one of those headless-chicken workdays today. I have them on occasion. Probably everyone who works in an job involving multiple responsibilities, everyone who spends a lot of time staring at a monitor, has days like this. There I was, spasmodically switching (and twitching) from one task to another, half a dozen different application windows open on my screen, feeling really busy but knowing I wasn’t getting much done, and generally doing my best headless chicken impression.

Then, for the last two hours of the day, I had to be away from my computer. And during those two hours, I suddenly rediscovered what it feels like to get things done. I started writing down some ideas for an article I’m putting together. By the time the scribbling covered several notebook pages, I noticed my attention span had come back and there was much more waiting to be written than I’d thought. Best of all, I recognized that old, exhilarating feeling of possibility that I remembered from diagramming dissertation chapters.

I don’t think I would have gotten all that down if I’d been inputting it into Word with a panoply of documents, browser windows, and half-composed e-mails sitting in the background and demanding my attention. I had to sit down with a pen in my hand and only one thing to do. So I think I’ll build some designated analog-only time into my schedule and see what happens.

Lifehacker and 43 Folders cover this kind of thing all the time, of course, but it bears repeating: Sometimes you have to step away from the screen with the half-dozen open windows and go do one thing at a time. Even when you ordinarily like to multitask. (Oh, and fountain pens are awesome. But fountain pens are always awesome.)

Of course, the first thing I thought when this revelation dawned was "I’ve got to blog about this," but hey. There’s no way I’d turn the computer off permanently.

Literary speed dating!

Jane Dark of Evensong Martini Club points to, and responds to, the best meme ever: if you were going to a literary speed dating evening, what three books would you bring?

It’s the sort of question that immediately provokes second-guessing, because one has to think carefully about the the impression one’s books make. Will my Renaissance-era favorite authors make me look way too academic? If I show up with Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, fond as I am of that book, will everyone assume I’m ripping off the idea from "The L Word"? And so on.

And there’s the question of how familiar the books are, as well. If books are a common language, then bringing books nobody’s heard of would be like trying to converse in Latin.* And bringing books everyone has a copy of would be like limiting the conversation to extremely well-worn catchphrases. I’m suddenly reminded of how LibraryThing calculates the relative obscurity of people’s collections. (I feel another LibraryThing post coming on! Maybe later.) On the other hand, unfamiliar books are good for starting conversation, wouldn’t you say?

So here’s my provisional list: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges; Shadow Train by John Ashbery; and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.** I tag anyone and everyone, but especially Bane, Cleis, the dynamic duo of About Last Night, and Clancy.

* Actually, I would date someone who could converse in Latin. Though I know from having tried it that forming complete Latin sentences on the fly is well-nigh impossible, so we would have to switch to English after exhausting our stock of dialogue from Latin for All Occasions.
** Is it cheating to post runners-up? Probably. But I also considered The Faber Book of Opera, A. S. Byatt’s Possession, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

First (and last) lines

I’m seeing the American Book Review’s list of the greatest fictional first lines linked everywhere (it keeps popping up in my del.icio.us inbox and all over the blogosphere). I suppose 1 and 2 were the inevitable choices for the 1 and 2 spots. But I was happiest to see numbers 30, 37, 79, 82, 87, and 98. Oh, yes, and 14 too.

By the way, why are great last lines harder to think of than great first lines? Is it that they’re not as easily lifted from the context of the rest of the novel? Or is it just that we’re more likely to remember the beginning of something than the ending of it? Over to you, Reader.

(The honor for Best Movie Last Line Ever goes, in my opinion, to Some Like It Hot, hands down. Somehow it’s easier to think of great final movie lines than great endings of novels. Odd. Also, great last lines of poems are harder to think of than I’d have expected.)

Too busy reading to post

In my current stack of things to read / finish reading / start reading / dip into and sample:

I’m also getting back into Henry James approximately a decade after reading him in college. That ten-year hiatus seems to have been key. More on this later when I’ve turned my thoughts into some kind of articulate shape.

Happy Mozart’s birthday!

By now you probably know that if he were still around, he’d be 250 today. In the midst of the barrage of tributes, it occurred to me that Mozart and I go way back; I saw my first Mozart opera* twenty (yea, verily, twenty) years ago. So I thought I’d write a retrospective of the past two decades.

1986: My fifth-grade class goes on a field trip to see a student
production of Bastien und Bastienne, a production I remember very little of, aside from thinking the set was pretty and being
mightily envious that Mozart composed it when he was only a
year or so older than I was.

1987: My mother lets me stay up late to watch Die Zauberflöte
on "Live from Lincoln Center." The Queen of the Night’s arias make me jaw drop: I had no idea it was even physically possible to sing like that.

(The ensuing years were largely Mozart-opera-less. Then I went off to college, and…)

1995: My roommate invests in the 1992 James Levine recording of Le Nozze di
and puts it on immediately upon waking up each morning. Never a
morning person, I find myself nonetheless much more willing to get up
and face the universe with Figaro and Susanna’s duet playing in the background. Before long I’ve
started to sing "Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio" and "Voi
che sapete" in the shower. Little by little the whole thing works its way permanently into my memory banks. It’s still quite possibly my favorite opera of all time.

1996: I see my first Don Giovanni at the Lyric with a group of fellow students. Grand, overwhelmingly seductive, terrifying. I’m transfixed, even from the highest row in the balcony. I see my first live Zauberflöte there later the same semester; the high Fs are even more stratospheric than I remember.

1997-98: I head off to grad school just in time to miss the Lyric’s
production of Le Nozze (damn it all). I exemplify grad-student
workaholism that year and the following year, and barely lift my head out of the books.

1999 or 2000: I realize that my life has been getting sensorily deprived as a result of nonstop reading and seminar-paper-writing (an
occupational hazard of Ph.D. programs). I resolve to listen to more
music. I discover my university’s excellent concert series and start
springing for tickets.

2000: I become friends with a colleague who adores Mozart’s operas. We
go see a student production of Le Nozze together, passing her opera
glasses back and forth. We bond over a shared fondness for the absurdity of
the "Sua madre?" "Sua madre!" "Sua madre?!" exchange.

2001: I go with said friend and several others to see my first
professional production of Le Nozze in a nearby city. The Countess
moves us all to tears in Act 3. Afterwards, speeding homeward on the
highway at one in the morning, we talk about how she’s the prime mover
of the whole plot, and yet everything
seems to come to a halt when she appears; time and action stand still, and her music is all its own.

2002: Same opera company stages Don Giovanni. Awesome, though not quite as magnificent as I remember the one at the Lyric being.

2003-2004: My new laptop has a DVD drive. Having already explored the
public library’s collection of opera on video (including Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s film of La Clemenza di Tito with Tatyana Troyanos), I make the acquaintance of
their collection of opera on DVD. Among the highlights: Così
Fan Tutte
with Cecilia Bartoli, who bowls me over with the emotional
depth she brings to "Per pietà, ben mio."

2004: I move to Charlottesville and stumble across the Sunday Opera
Matinee while browsing the radio stations one afternoon. The hosts turn out to like
Mozart too; the most recent Sunday opera was Mitridate, Rè di Ponto.

2006: The DC Opera is staging La Clemenza in May! I’m so there. I’ve never seen it performed live. There’s so much still to hear and see, I need at least another twenty years.

* Singspiel, technically. But still.

Personal anthology: Ted Hughes

I half-remembered this poem several weeks ago, during a wind-storm so loud that at first I couldn’t even identify the sound when I stepped out of my front door. I looked it up, and it’s been rattling around my head ever since. I had forgotten the startling lines "Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, / Flexing like the lens of a mad eye," but not the image of the whole house ringing "like some fine green goblet in the note / That any second would shatter it."


This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up —
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

— Ted Hughes (via the Wondering Minstrels)

UCLA alumni group says: We don’t know how to think.

I’m not going to post much about the UCLA alumni group that’s paying students to report on their "radical" professors, because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re going to insist that a professor talking about politics in the classroom is enough to "brainwash" and "indoctrinate" students, then what you’re really saying is that you think the students are too mindless to form an opinion of their own and too gutless to even think of disagreeing with their professors. Which is insulting to all concerned.

I’m surprised that these recent UCLA alumni would try so hard to imply that they and their fellow students are dumber than the proverbial box of hammers. The ironic thing is that this does, in fact, reflect badly on the quality of their education, but not at all in the way they intended. It suggests they have no idea how to think through the premises of their arguments, and that they never learned what a freshman composition student ought to know by the end of the semester.

The myth of the undergraduate as a fragile little flower whose sensibilities must be shielded at all costs from anything that would make them remotely uncomfortable, even an opinion they don’t share, is really bizarre when you look at it. It reminds me of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest:

I do
not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance
is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately
in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.
If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and
probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. (The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 1)

I hereby suggest that the Bruin Alumni Association rename itself the Lady Bracknell Society for the Preservation of the Delicate Bloom of Ignorance.

(Other responses to the UCLA story by Jill at Feministe, Bardiac, Michael Bérubé, scribblingwoman, Kieran Healy, et alii.)

Too bad I can’t just commission these.

Via Sarah of Prima la musica, poi le parole comes an irresistible meme: nominate four currently living, breathing people likely to produce interesting and stageable libretti, and four books which could be re-worked into, again, interesting and stageable libretti. As I commented over at Sarah’s blog, I have a hard time coming up with anything as good as her answers (I love, love, love the idea for turning Christina Rossetti’s "Goblin Market" into an opera), but here’s my effort.

For the four potential librettists:

  1. Anne Carson. Though I don’t know if she counts for the purposes of this question, because she’s already writing libretti. I heard her read her oratorio, "Lots of Guns," at a reading a couple of years ago (it’s in Decreation, her latest book, along with an opera libretto I haven’t read yet).
  2. Sarah Waters, who has a wonderful way with the kind of grand, unabashed emotion and multilayered melodrama that nineteenth-century novelists and composers liked to wallow in — hence, I think, her fondness for that time period as a setting — and because Tipping the Velvet demonstrates that she can write one hell of a trouser role.
  3. Neil Gaiman. Because he’s one of those authors who can do anything they like in any genre they like (I mean, he wrote a Sherlock Holmes story set in H.P. Lovecraft’s universe, for crying out loud!), and because his imagination is the kind that constantly juxtaposes the everyday and the mythic.
  4. And, finally, I have to steal one of Sarah’s answers and nominate Stephen Fry, because I am a huge fan, and the very thought of him writing a libretto would make me happy.

And for the four books to adapt:

  1. I want to see an opera based on a Jorge Luis Borges story. Most of them, I suspect, would be unadaptable (I can’t see a libretto coming out of, e.g., "The Aleph" or "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"), but I think it could be done with "The Garden of Forking Paths," an old favorite. It’s got enough of a plot to cross over to the stage without being static, and the central passage — the reading of the labyrinth-novel and Yu Tsun’s sense of the "invisible, intangible swarming" of possible futures — would be fascinating to see translated into words, music, and action. Plus, it’s the only Borges story I can think of off the top of my head that has music in it.
  2. I was going to nominate Henry James’s The Aspern Papers, another old favorite, but I see it’s already been done before, by a composer I’ve never heard of. I’m still putting it on the list, though.
  3. John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, which gets my nomination for "Jacobean play most unjustly neglected by composers and librettists." (Also been done, but not nearly enough.) It’s got everything: obsession, murder, corruption in high places, a secret love affair, and over-the-top mad scenes. And the scene with the echo from the Duchess’s grave is just begging to be set to some really eerie music.
  4. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Think of the possibilities for the composer to quote the musical idioms of every period between the Elizabethan age and the 20th century. And think of the Orlando/Elizabeth I duets!