Monthly Archives: March 2009

“The Day You Were Born, All the Flowers Bloomed”

EL DÍA EN QUE TU NACISTE / NACIERON TODAS LAS FLORES / Y EN LA PILA DEL BAUTISMO CANTARON LOS RUISEÑORES.

“…and nightingales sang around the baptismal font.” Today, which as it dawns dresses the fields in new colors, we have the mañanitas, and De colores, and many videos.

Our friend César Chávez, one of the very greatest of all Americans, was born March 31, 1927. He lived to be 66, but he would be 82 today. It is so like him to have been born in spring. Axé, César.

Axé.

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Regin Dahl

Regin Dahl died in Copenhagen on this day in 2007. His life marked several.

Tín er degningur
handan líkdampsins flókar.

Dit er morgengryet
hinsides ligdunstens tåger.

Yours is the daybreak
beyond the corpse-reek’s mists.

His father is on a stamp and I would be curious to know more about this man than is known.

When we visited we would eat lamb and speak of the islands further north.

I know the poem quoted here does not truly fit the present circumstance. And yet it does.

Dit er morgengryet. Yours is the daybreak. Morgenens ro.

Axé.

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Letters One Might Write

Dear visiting colleague, I place you far above my head and if you ask me for a letter I will pour out my brain. I so wish we could recruit or retain you or any people so sane and active as yourself. –Yours very truly, PZ.

Dear former colleague, if we could cover expenses and you could fit it into your schedule, might you consider giving a talk here in exchange for a truly great time that will musically blow your mind? You have become the person we are waiting for.

I am nobody to speak on matters so exalted. Yet it is true what they say, your work is “cutting edge.” It also fits perfectly with the purposes of our program, although my own research interests motivate me to invite you now. –Yours very truly, PZ.

This week I wrote both of these letters, being the person Reeducation claimed lacked “humility” and “honesty.” –Yours as ever, PZ.

Axé.

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Glenn David Andrews

It is the weekend, so we must sing. This is Glen David Andrews. This block of Decatur Street is a little like Fisherman’s Wharf or Disneyland, but he is not at all.

Axé.

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Baba Ghanoush

This baba ganoush is really good and note — you do not need a blender to make baba ghanoush. I had always thought you did, forgetting that blenders are new and baba ghanoush, old.

Axé.

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On Abuse and Addiction

ELLE

I think one of my students is on drugs.  It is the only thing that would explain her erratic behavior and the mysterious reasons given for it.

I recognize her behavior because I had mysterious problems too — mysterious because I did not understand them or their cause — as a result of my abusive relationship with Reeducation and therefore with myself.

I have been saying things are wonderful lately but it is only because I have flashes of brilliance. For a long time I thought I had lost access to these entirely. I have had Reeducation removed, but some days I still have its habits.

MOI, ONE

In retrospect I realize that I undertook Reeducation to learn how to handle family alcoholism, although I did not realize at the time that that was my precise purpose. I only knew there was something seriously wrong with me. I had long planned to see someone about it once I was well enough established in life to be able to pay for this.

One day I told Reeducation in passing that I had seen a wonderful set by a famous jazz band. That is how Reeducation discovered that living in New Orleans and not yet having acquired friends who shared my musical interests, I was going out by myself. With some thought I had developed a modus operandi to do this without getting hit on. Imitating some incredibly cool, older Black men I had seen, I would choose a tiny table with only one chair, order club soda, tip very well, close my face, and leave after the first set. This worked very well. You could work up until the 10 PM news, go out, see one set, and be home in plenty of time to be at work early the next day.

Reeducation could not believe it. At my age and station I should be getting drunk, staying out until all hours, and picking up men in hopes of getting pregnant. I was incredulous that so great a degree of self destruction should be considered typical. At that time in my life I had not yet met anyone who would come up with a program like that.

MOI, TWO

Now, however, I have encountered such people and I understand much more. I have strong reactions to such people, reactions I am studying.

Example A

Just before last Hallowe’en I met through a consulting job a woman who wanted me to go with her to hear music in New Orleans. Now, I will drive to New Orleans on a whim. But to go from Maringuoin at night with a virtually random person, to wander randomly in the French Quarter, seemed odd. I had an informal party to go to, involving some mutual acquaintances, and I said look, I am not going all the way to New Orleans, at night, with someone I don’t know, but you’re welcome to come to the party.

She did and the experience was chaotic and draining, although I could not define why — it was just a feeling. There was a strange aura about her. Having no particular commitment to her, I just cut her out of my phone lists. In retrospect I realize that she was an alcoholic and I had known it. The main pieces of evidence was that while she claimed to be looking for friends, it was quite clear that in reality she was only seeking drinking partners. The indirect piece of evidence was how on edge I felt — enough so that when later that weekend I encountered some other people who were differently invasive and who I now know are their own alcoholic environment, I felt myself bare my teeth: “don’t you even try, I have had enough already, push me any further and I will absolutely bury you.”

Example B

Early in the Mardi Gras season I actually did go to New Orleans with a relatively new friend. She is related to the “differently invasive” described above but on the surface does not resemble them. I felt drained in a way I did not understand, but in the same was as I had after meeting the Hallowe’en woman described above. After that I did not see a great deal of her, but weeks into Lent, when I did, I realized that she, too, was an alcoholic and understood why I had found her to be so draining. And as luck would have it, I ran into our mutual friends later that weekend. Once again they began pushing on boundaries, telling me in this case that I should be more tolerant of their friend. Once again I found myself virtually baring my teeth at them, willing to do whatever I could to prevent them from making me feel guilty enough about having perceived the drinking problem that I would admit that the real problem was that I had perceived it.

A FEW BASIC PRINCIPLES

It is my understanding that in science, if you repeat an experiment and get the same results, you can say there is a pattern. You can hypothesize that there is a real phenomenon out there — that you are not just imagining it, not just wishing it. You can therefore begin to analyze and interpret it.

And some postmodernists say the scientific method is oppressive. Reeducation said intellectual activity alienated one from reality. I have always found the opposite.

I also find it interesting that abusive people want you to mistrust your intellect, and overestimate the power of your imagination and will. What you observed is wrong, but those bruises, for example, are there because you imagined them into being.

Axé.

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21st Century

Are you used to writing of the twentieth century in the past tense yet? I mean, using was instead of has been? Are you used to the idea that we are now standing outside the twentieth century?

Axé.

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A Second Heretical Post, a Story, and a Question

Heresy

In my experience the decorous things to say are that teaching is fun, writing is work, publishing is difficult, service is boring, and administration is oppressive.

I was always warned to say I was not interested in teaching, because women who taught would never be taken seriously as researchers. In my actual experience it is far more politic to say one “loves” teaching — or even that one is honored to receive pay for services one would gladly volunteer if the university were to request it.

My own, alternative, heretical mottos are that teaching is work, writing is fun, publishing is likely, service is interesting and administration is creative. These last two heresies — that service is interesting and administration, creative — I have not pronounced before, and I fully expect complaints.

Story

Some of what I learned about service and administration, I learned at job I took when I was a smaller stela than I am now. This was when I still wanted to believe in the advice to new faculty of Gayprof, but thought I at least should be able to follow the advice of Dr. Crazy. What I discovered in my subunit, though, was a chaos greater than I could have imagined or believed possible — although I was now a fairly experienced person — and a great deal of desperation.  I had planned to teach my classes, smile, wave, and head out to the library down the road, but this was not so easy.

If I had been a new stela I would have gone on the market instantly, but I had reason not to do it. I could and perhaps should have pushed off into industry, but I had not yet figured out how to do so in that geographical area, and I had also decided to move there based on the decision to continue as an academic. For these two reasons, then, I did not jump.

The professor who had been there the longest at that point called a summit meeting to discuss our collective depressive crisis. We were getting nothing done during any day beyond emergency triage. Although we knew we should ignore local problems and concentrate on our own work, decades of inattention to local problems meant they now refused to be ignored. They bit us sharply every day, and our megaunit clearly expected us to deal with them. At night I dreamed of going to work and finding that classes had been cancelled so all available hands could go hold their fingers in dikes. Could we create a system that would permit us to manage things more efficiently? That was the question addressed in the meeting.

We decided that since issues with infrastructure were effectively preventing us from teaching, reading, writing, and publishing, we would have to confront these issues directly — even though most of us were still assistant stelae. I was the only one with a counterproposal. I suggested we let the major and the graduate program die the deaths that had clearly been clearly foretold for them, strengthen and broaden course offerings at intermediate levels, and expand the minors. That way we could organize the chaos and sail off to write our own books rather than, say, institutional grants or proposals for the revision of programs at high levels. Yes, it would mean we could not say we had a thriving major or a graduate program — but realistically, did we have those things now except in name?

My proposal was defeated resoundingly. I joined the majority and we did a great deal of work — work it was an unorthodox choice to do, but which we had voted necessary since our situation was so unorthodox. Since this was the majority will in a small subunit, I felt I had no option.

I had thought I could do what I call “walk like a Brazilian” (expect no good infrastructure, do the best you can, do not expect wonders, be genuine, but keep your eye on your research program and realize you will just have to watch a lot else fall through the cracks). But the job was exceptionally draining, and it was so in part due to the depression of the faculty and students who had been dealing with the situation for some time. So it seemed we could either continue to languish, or put in some work at the front end so as not to have so much blood let in the first place. And I think we could only have walked like Brazilians had we been better funded personally, and in better situations professionally — and the reason we were where we were in the first place was that we did not have these advantages.

So we made a decision and acted upon it.

Question

Professor Zero asks with a wicked laugh: how do you think that worked for us? Hint: program building is seductive. We learned a great deal and it was interesting. Our creativity was engaged. We grew professionally because of it, and I do not know that there was any other work we could have undertaken at the time. Still: program building is seductive, whereas publications last longer than bronze.

Axé.

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Pollo Mariscala

Chicken in chicken liver sauce.

2 tbs. lard or corn oil
16 chicken livers (that is a lot, and you need them all — buy two pounds)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small onion, minced
3 hard- cooked egg yolks
2 tbs. minced minced parsley

1/2 cup hot beef broth or more
salt to taste
4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
Freshly ground pepper to taste
White vinegar to taste
2 tbs. olive oil

Romaine lettuce
Cilantro

Heat the lard or corn oil and cook the chicken livers, garlic and 1 tbs. onion until the livers are browned but still slightly pink inside. Set aside 4 of the livers. Place the remaining livers, egg yolks and parsley in a blender and puree, adding the beef broth to make a smooth sauce. Pour into a saucepan, add salt, pepper and vinegar and simmer until slightly thickened. in a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and add the remaining minced onion. Cook and stir until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken breasts to the skillet and cook over low heat until chicken is just cooked through. The chicken should not brown. Pour the sauce over the chicken and simmer a few minutes longer. Serve at once on a platter garnish with lettuce and cilantro. Serves 4.

This recipe comes from this page, and pollo mariscala, from Veracruz, is one of the world’s greatest foods (no, I do not say “dishes,” I say “foods,” because I am very idiosyncratic and I feel that the essentialization of each dish to the status of a food gives it more authority). Do you have another recipe for it?

Axé.

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All My Detractors

1. Here is one Norman Savage’s comment, written today, on a recent post here:

Since Google cannot discern the wheat from the chaff, one of your pieces landed in my email alerts. I’m an old fuck, been around writing, reading and publishing for a very long time, but your piece, your writing, your bullshit, is some of the dullest, transparent, phony, pseudo-intellectual, insecure, vapid, and light inconsequential stuff I’ve read in a long time. But I can take that. In fact, I could even admire the shakiness if not for the lack of heart, sweat, and risk that real “art” requires. Maybe it’s time for you to get out of a pretty limited environment and shave into new mirrors. Pack a bag, stick out your thumb, and land somewhere where words cannot be hidden behind. It might buck-up your backbone.

Normally I just spam these sorts of comments but this is entirely too precious. I hope that it is not the recipes herein recorded he finds so inconsequential — they are actually some of the most valuable posts in the entire blog. One is of course surprised that Mr. Savage feels so superior to the major poets and singers quoted here, but it is understandable in a man to get bored with my interest in clothes. And I am not sure Mr. Savage has seen a blog before. And I do periodically get comments from someone who says I am “hiding behind words,” and it is really hard to see what they mean. This is my most personal writing, my intimate writing, the writing in which I reveal myself. It is written by the person you would recognize if you met me. “Art” is what I attempt to do in my studio — this is just my house. I do not write fiction, although I would like to try it one day. The things I publish under my legal and professional name are not about me and do not use the pronoun I.

2. Vapid thing that I am, I sometimes recover from scenes like the one of which I have been complaining, in which someone tries to talk me into taking a supporting role around some addict and becomes belligerent when I refuse, by going to the French clothing stores and feasting my eyes on the elegant racks. I seek luxury, calm, and voluptuousness, and I find that looking at lovely French clothes in a calm atmosphere is one of the things that works. Normally I do not buy, but today everything was being liquidated. I bought a silvery gray jacket with abalone shell buttons in an amazing cut, costing $78. I do not have enough jackets of the suit type, so this is very good.

3. Somehow the silly events of the past two days and Mr. Savage’s comment all remind me of certain pseudo friendly underminers in graduate school. They liked to emphasize that you could not work until you were in a state to work. They were saying this as an excuse not to work, and as a way to keep others from working. I perfectly agree at one level. I have to have my workspace neat and functional. I have to be reasonably alert. And if the roof is leaking, I have to put the call in for repairmen before I sit down to work. But you do not have to wait for the perfect time. I think that line was yet one more of those pieces of advice designed to distract. L’appétit vient en mangeant. I am so glad I do not have to deal on a permanent basis with any whitemen.

Axé.

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