Birgit Nilsson

RIP, Birgit Nilsson. Go read Sarah’s roundup of tributes, and listen to La Cieca’s tribute podcasts over at Parterre Box. Another project for 2006: get over my Wagnerphobia so I can listen to her Isolde and Brunnhilde.

(Fellow operaphiles in your 20s and 30s, do you, too, sometimes feel like you were born several decades too late?)

On teaching and finding one’s niche

This was the last week before the spring semester gets underway, and I spent most of it wrapping up a big web-design project I’ve been working on intermittently for the last year. It’s for an undergraduate class that’s been in the works for some time. I’m doing some librarian outreach work with the students in the class, too; I’ll be introducing myself on the first day, demonstrating the website, and (time and other projects permitting) sitting in on some of the lectures, which promise to be fascinating. (The story of how all this came about is a long one, but I hope to narrate it as an article sometime soon, if the other people involved are amenable.)

Yesterday I looked into the empty lecture hall where we’ll be meeting next week, to get a feel for the space, and I thought how strange it was to be about to re-enter the classroom, and at the same time not strange at all, because I’ve been teaching in one way or another ever since I got here. I’ve taught bibliographic instruction sessions for freshmen and sophomores; I’ve taught grad students and professors how to use Early English Books Online and its ilk; and at the reference desk I’ve taught more people than I can count how to navigate their way through catalog records, article databases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, WorldCat, and the open web.

I used to quiver with nerves in front of a room full of students. At the end of the best class I ever taught as a graduate student — a class that still makes me glow when I think back on it — I asked the students for feedback, and one of them said (not unkindly) "You seemed kind of nervous." I got past the stage fright after a while, but I always thought I did the most good when I could talk with students individually during office hours, when we could focus on the questions at hand and have a conversation rather than a mostly one-sided exchange. One of the best things about my time here has been the realization that the kind of teaching librarians do is exactly the kind of teaching I like best — with the added bonus that one tends to learn all kinds of unexpected things in the course of helping people find what they’re looking for.*

I made the right call when I ran off to join the librarians. But who’d have thought that would be how I’d discover my Inner Teacher? Not me, but I’m very glad I have.

* Not to mention the absence of grading, which is a perk in and of itself.

Language games

Link du jour: Language Is A Virus, a compendium of poem-generating (and prose-generating) games. Found via the sidebar at Say Something Wonderful. I’ve been having trouble starting any new writing projects of late, and I can already see myself trying many of these experiments. For instance, these, from Bernadette Mayer’s 82 Writing Experiments:

30. Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles,
walks, drives.

44. Write a soothing novel in twelve short paragraphs.

49. Attempt to speak for a day only in questions; write only in questions.

72. Write a work that intersperses love with landlords.

Or these, from Jonathan Mayhew’s 16 Writing Experiments (with apologies to Bernadette Mayer):

7. Stage elaborate contests (sestina contests, memorizing contests, rhyming contests).

12. Invent a private slang (a la Lester Young); attempt to get as
many people as you can to use the words you coin. Don’t use these words
in your writing; rather, conceive of the invention of this language as
an independent poetic activity.

15. Invent an imaginary city, complete with geography, history,
architecture, prominent citizens, etc… Keep a sort of "bible" of all
the information you compile. Then write poems set in this city.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have slang to coin and soothing novels to compose.

Four things

I’ve been memed! (Ta, wolfangel.)

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: cat-sitter, editorial assistant, lecturer, clerical underling in hospital chem lab

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Company, My Beautiful Laundrette, Le Rayon Vert, Singin’ in the Rain

Four places you’ve lived: Baltimore, Santa Monica, Florence, Philadelphia

Four TV shows you love to watch: Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (no-longer-running shows still count if they’re still being shown on some cable network or other, right?), House, Gilmore Girls

Four places you’ve been on vacation: Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, New York, Nantucket, Toronto

Four websites you visit daily: Bloglines, Salon, Arts & Letters Daily,

Four of your favorite foods: Capri salad, spicy tuna maki, cheddar scones, chicken biryani

Four places you’d rather be: San Francisco, Shenandoah National Park in the summertime, wandering the quieter corners of New York with my friend R., in a houseboat on the Tiber or the Arno

[Edit: whoops, forgot the four albums and four vehicles. The answer to the "four vehicles you’ve owned" one is "n/a", though.]

Four albums you couldn’t live without: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Handel Arias; The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs; The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God; Nina Simone, In Concert / I Put a Spell On You

Four people to be tagged: If you’re reading this and haven’t done it yet, consider yourself tagged.

New Year’s resolution

I didn’t see this New York Times op-ed ("Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right", 12/29/05, by UVa psychology professor Timothy Wilson) until I spotted a mention of it in one of our local papers. I’m not completely sold on the idea that thinking too much is a bad thing, though I have to say I’d agree that rumination makes already-unhappy people unhappier. But it was this paragraph that caught my eye:

What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social
psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle’s observation that "We
become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by
exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage."
If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best
approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than
sitting around analyzing ourselves.

My New Year’s resolution is to try out the suggestion in that last sentence and see if it works.

(Other New Year’s resolutions: to keep a list of all the books I read, like I’ve seen several fellow library bloggers do; to work on my public-speaking skills; and to try my hand at some verse translation. And, as per every New Year, to floss more.)

Assorted capsule reviews

The Master, by Colm Tóibín: At times a little inert, at times a little obvious in its efforts to spin together Henry James’s biography into the structure of a novel; nonetheless, it got increasingly absorbing as it went on, and it’s quite moving at the end. Among the best parts are the moments where Tóibín imagines James finding the initial ideas for his novels and stories. It made me want to read The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl (and reread The Aspern Papers and What Maisie Knew); it also made me want to pick up Leon Edel’s biography.

The current exhibitions at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, where I had several
hours’ layover in between bouts of travel: Loved the medieval Italian manuscripts — among my favorites: St. Jerome in the Gualenghi-d’Este Hours (number 19 in the "Comparative Images" list) — and the Dutch still lives. (This is saying something, as still life isn’t usually a genre of painting I get.) It did my heart good to be there; as a teenager, I used to go there with my dad. Looking at the paintings was like walking through the galleries with him again.

This year’s MLA: I didn’t go. But the very best of luck to those of you who had interviews (this includes you, T., darling).

Amtrak: Schizophrenic. South of DC, the Amtrak experience is a nightmare of hours-long delays, nonexistent customer service, and infuriating refusal to explain the reasons behind any of the above. North of DC, the train is still a viable way to get around,* and the Quiet Car (TM) is a fantastic idea. Every train should have a Quiet Car for those of us whose greatest nightmare is being trapped in a seat with someone who wants to narrate their life story.

House: Is my new favorite show. The phrase "addictive as Vicodin" comes to mind, even though I’m sure that phrase has been used before. (My holiday vacation included a mini-marathon with friends who’ve got the DVD of season 1. We were united in our boundless admiration for the brilliant and hilarious Hugh Laurie.)

Brokeback Mountain: Still haven’t seen it, but it’s coming to Charlottesville in a week, and to a theater I can easily get to, no less. Huzzah. [Update a week later: Still haven’t seen it, because every showing I’ve tried to get to has sold out before I got there.]

* Still: high-speed rail service between Charlottesville and DC can’t
come fast enough, and to all those currently whingeing about how this is
a bad thing because DC residents will move to C’ville, I say: you
try making that trip on Amtrak. I hope you enjoy the specially chartered Greyhound bus
they put you on when your train turns out to be seven hours late, or fails to show up at all.

What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?

(Cue Ella Fitzgerald singing in the background.) I’m back from my travels just in time for New Year’s Eve; later today I’m heading downtown for First Night Virginia. Regular posting will resume forthwith. Sarah has tagged me with the most intriguing meme I’ve seen in a while, I’ve got a "capsule reviews of everything seen on my winter vacation" post in the works, and I’ve generally been missing the blogosphere.

Happy New Year to you, Reader, and may 2006 bring you nothing but good things.

Going, going…

Apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been in the midst of the end-of-term, pre-holiday frenzy, with too many things to finish all at once: work projects, knitting projects, packing, finding presents for hard-to-shop-for uncles, et cetera. I’m about to go into offline winter-vacation mode for the next week or so; in the meantime, why not listen to some poets reading at Or some miscellaneous public domain audiobooks? (Hmm: this linking to poetry-recording sites is becoming a recurring theme. And look, OGIC of About Last Night is getting into it too! My New Year’s resolution: invest in a microphone for my laptop, try my hand at audioblogging, and maybe volunteer as a reader for LibriVox.)

I’m going to read Colm Tóibín’s The Master over the vacation, and perhaps some Patrick O’Brian, and a few downloaded journal articles on topics pertaining to a Potential Large Writing Project. And you?

Blogging by candlelight

We’ve been having an ice storm all day. Very cool-looking in that cinematic way that ice storms are (I thought of Tobey Maguire wandering raptly through the icy landscape in The Ice Storm* as I cautiously navigated the driveway to my building, admiring the icicles surrounding each individual conifer needle), but murder on the power lines. To wit: no sooner had I gotten home this evening than the lights went out, sputtered back on for a second, and went out again. I’m now wondering whether the power will come back on tonight, and if not, whether the food in the refrigerator will spoil if I reach in really fast and grab what I can out of it. And this won’t be a long post, because my laptop battery ain’t what it used to be. Ah well. It’s a good kind of night for reading by the light of a portable electric lantern and half a dozen assorted candles, even if I do end up dining on bread, cheese, energy bars, and a banana.

Unfortunately, the heat in this apartment is electric. As is the stove. Damn. Well, at least it’s not supposed to get down below freezing tonight…

* And then I got paranoid about being electrocuted by a downed power line, and hastened inside.

[Update, later: The power came back on several hours later. There for a while, though, the combination of December, frozen precipitation, cold rooms, and a spartan dinner followed by attempts to read by candlelight was enough to make me think "Wow, I’m just one consumptive neighbor away from a home reenactment of Act 1 of La Bohème!" Too bad there was no way to turn on the CD player and put on some appropriate music.]

Personal anthology: Osip Mandelstam

Take from my palms, to soothe your heart,
a little honey, a little sun,
in obedience to Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat that was never moored,
nor hear a shadow in its furs,
nor move through thick life without fear.

For us, all that’s left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive.

Deep in the transparent night they’re still humming,
at home in the dark wood of the mountain,
in the mint and lungwort of the past.

But lay to your heart my rough gift,
this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees
that once made a sun out of honey.

— Osip Mandelstam (tr. Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin)

(A poem that’s been on my mind intermittently ever since one of my favorite professors in graduate school read it out loud to a group of us who had gathered at her house for an evening of reading poems, our own and other people’s. There’s another translation, with the original Russian, here.)