After a fight with your girlfriend, followed by way too much booze at a stranger's house party, you wake up naked in the bed of an unknown man, equally naked. Hard to believe for a straight-as-a-stick guy like you. Your whole arm is pinned beneath him, and you don't dare risk waking and confronting him, the situation, or yourself. So what can a supermacho, army-airborne-ranger-special-forces real man like you do, other than chew off your trapped arm and zip up your pants one-handed on your way to the hospital?
If I only had a nickel for every time that happened to me....well, I could buy a new prosthetic arm I suppose.
I mean, really, what would YOU do in that situation?
Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
The article in full bills this as a connection to blogging, with the idea that it helps your mental health--although what really attracts me, being the forgetful person I am, is the idea that it boosts memory. Now this doesn't really surprise me: as far as I know, it is pretty much common knowledge now that the more you repeat a specific memory, the stronger the memory gets, although maybe this does further suggest that writing about something is an especially powerful repetition. But it did remind me (*cough*) that every once in a while I think to myself I would probably better be able to remember all these various tidbits of political, scientific, or other information that I run across on blogs and other nooks and crannies of the intertubes if I commented on them myself and placed a marker link. So, say, if I want to remember just why Obama's policy not just on health care but on disability is so damn good, then at least I can easily figure out where I got that information in the first place. And I do have an especially bad memory for little tidbits, so I'll take all the help I can get. To get a little more meta about it, maybe that means you'll see me popping up more often with a link and commentary, or just a little discussion. At least, I hope so.
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Yes, my annual end-of-year mix CD is done. The cover and inside track list are below. If you got one last year, expect one in the mail soon. If you have a new address or want a copy, just drop me an email.
Hopefully I'll have some time to post a little more about some of my favorite new music of the year next week (it certainly looks as if I will right now). In the meantime, for the record I still haven't gotten the new albums by The Blow or Radiohead, or Feist's debut--hopefully I will have them soon. So they didn't make the cut just for that reason. Otherwise, I decided against the new Smashing Pumpkins just because well, upon listening to it a little more I thought it was kinda bland. I probably forgot some stuff. What other new music this year should I know about?
1. Sarah Vowell makes for good listening in the car. In particular, may I recommend The Partly Cloudy Patriot? Stephen Colbert voices Al Gore, too!
2. This American Life also makes good road listening, but man when they hit a dud story they really make the most of it.
3. W/re #s 1&2: I think short nonfiction is probably the ideal form of book-on-CD. I've tried Sherlock Holmes before, for example, and while the story was fine I nonetheless kept finding myself wandering off. With fiction I think I need to be able to read and pause and reflect, but with nonfiction it is in some ways like listening to someone tell an anecdote.
5. Just in case you plan to drive from Lansing to Toronto, you should know that traffic delays will double the projected driving time. Ouch. Seriously, there was about two hours of poking along through a city called Hamilton for, as far as I could tell, no reason at all.
6. I love Toronto. I want to move to Toronto.
7. Bet you thought I'd never post again, huh? Don't worry, I'll disappear again soon.
With the goal of having a real vacation this summer, and even getting to a country I've never been to before, I'm planning to head to Toronto in August. So I have a general question for anyone who has been there. What would you recommend doing? Ideas about the coolest museums, sites, etc, would be great. Also if there are any especially fantastic bands local to Toronto who might be playing, I would love to hear about them.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes." -- Billy Pilgrim, Slaughterhouse-Five
In some indirect way, I hold Kurt Vonnegut responsible for my decision to go into literary criticism as a career. I first read Slaughterhouse-Five as a senior in high school, and although I had been a reader for pleasure since I could remember, something about the book made a synapse fire and instruction joined delight and the purpose of writing those papers in English class made more sense. We had one of those moon-bat literature teachers who acted high most of the time and made us read some fairly mind-altering substances like Kafka and Marquez and Vonnegut. I don't remember how other people in the class reacted to the selections beyond complaints of difficulty, although it now strikes me as quite a challenging selection for high school students in a state where there is a ready supply of fundies to ambush any words that don't adhere to the Word. I'm glad I got the chance, though, because when my ambitions to go into science faded away in college, I had the experience of those works (and some stellar first-year writing courses) to make me think that, hey, maybe I could give literature a shot. My sophomore year of college, my friend Jill got me back on the Vonnegut love train with Galápagos and I spent a lot of my spare time in the next few years making my way through his entire set of novels.
I come from a small rural town filled with a lot of the attitudes you might assume would come from a small rural town, and I came out of it with a feeling for its constricting narrowness but without a very good sense of what was being excluded in the squeeze. I think of the ages 16-20 as the period where I heard the phrase "you can't be happy if." This was usually uttered by fundamentalists afraid of whatever they were calling the state of sorrow that day. People who don't get married can't find true happiness! You can't ever be happy if you are gay! And, most especially, you can't be happy if you aren't a Christian! I was skeptical. There were just too many people filled with the spirit who were not exactly spirited, and I had a hunch that a lack of belief couldn't really hurt your chances to be appreciably happy. When people said this, I mostly knew the squeeze was on, and that their belief was on the line more than my or anyone else's happiness.
There are plenty of people who still think this way, as well as the complementary bit of received wisdom that one can't have an ethical, caring relationship with the rest of the world without grounding it in (Christian!) belief. If there is one thing to take away from reading Vonnegut's work, though, it is the feeling of urgent necessity to care for one another that exists alongside his skepticism about religion as well as his extreme cynicism concerning humanity's capacity for more destruction. Indeed, the urgency only exists in relation to the realization that evil is a fairly banal reality of human life. "So it goes" is the logical prerequisite of "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
To elaborate: in Slaughterhouse-Five, the Tralfamadorians see entire books in one glance rather than as a linear sequence of words, much as they see time as a spatial dimension so that people look like "great millipedes—'with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other." Explaining to Billy Pilgrim the various "clumps of symbols" that make up their texts, they say that each "is a brief urgent message" like a telegram, all of which are experienced at once. This should immediately remind the reader that he or she is reading, albeit word-by-word rather than all at once, a book that is carved into discreet fragments that jump around in time and space: instead of cause and effect, a series of telegrams, and thus instead of a life leading up to a conclusion that is its most important moment, a sense of all life's moments as equally important. Death is in there somewhere, and we are reminded that death and destruction are pretty much headed for everyone. In Galápagos Vonnegut puts a star before characters' names when they are going to die; the joke is that the entire human race (at least as we now know it) goes extinct. Likewise, in the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, when Vonnegut tells a friend he is writing an anti-war novel, the friend retorts, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" Vonnegut quickly agrees. But the futility of the outcome never detracts from the importance of individual lives as they are lived; it in fact increases the urgency of behaving more humanely towards people in the time they do have. There's no life after death, but there is life itself, which now needs to be validated and enhanced in all its own right rather than as a preparatory stage.
If you haven't read a Vonnegut novel, try it out. They are quick reads, so you have little to lose. He's funny and kind and he is unafraid to look at our world in all its horror. I'm glad he was here.
...and for the first time in about six years, they canceled U of I classes. Unfortunately, unlike last time it didn't happen on a day I teach. So on with the work on class prep for me!
Question of the day, though: what did you do on your last snow day? I went with some people to the only acceptable campus bar for grad students to start drinking at 11AM. Usually not my cup of tea, but hey, it was good times. Maybe not the next day though.
But I'm guessing that in flailing around trying to correct your error, you shouldn't admit your opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination is the Dreamy McDreamerson everyone thinks he is. Biden on Obama, trying to amend: "Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican party has produced at least since I’ve been around."
Soooo you are running against him why?
Are there any bookies out there taking bets on how much faster Biden will have to drop out of this presidential race than he did last time?
Lately I've been working on my diss writing in a campus coffee shop. Every day this week, a string of students has proceeded through, the same question on every pair of lips:
"Hi. I turned in an application last week and hadn't gotten a call back. Have you had a chance to look at it?"
Sorry kids, but I think they are fully staffed for the service of my medium-mint-mocha-with-whipped needs.
All of which reminds me of the ritual humiliation of trying to find a job as a student: the vast majority of options consisting of food service permutations, and nonetheless turning in application after application and hearing nothing back. "What," I would think, "I'm not even qualified to wrap some jerk's burrito?" Actually, that's the job I did get as a freshman, but you get the picture. It's hard to accept the truth: they probably had a hundred applications from other students just like you, and they either hired the first person or one of their friends.
What follows is the song list for my 2006 mix CD, given to friends in an effort both to give them some good music and to encourage them to go get more where that came from (not me, the music store! Ya bums). A few things that should be noted: a) this is not a ranked list, but just the order in which the songs appear on the CD; b) the songs are not necessarily the best songs from the CDs, though in each case I did try to pick what I felt was one of the best; c) except in a special case that will become clear, the music only includes music released this year that I own.
Ultimately, I found myself unable to include a song from Morrissey's new album because, frankly, I found it a bit dull. To quote one of the songs: "blah, blah, blah."
Thank you! Thank you! No no, please, stop all that.
Let's see let's see. Wow, this caught me so off guard. You know, I woke up this morning, scratched my ass, went out to get my mail, and I just couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, to think that Time magazine would name me—ME!—person of the year! I'm just so honored. I mean, I've worked really hard to update my livejournal at least, oh, once a month. And I was really afraid that the judges would just think I was too lazy to post consistently, but now I know that they know that all those people who do write with some regularity are just blabbering. Who needs consistent political updates, entertainment reviews and notices of fun pop culture every day, or even every week? Who really needs to be an informed citizen or enjoy life more than, say, fifteen days a year? I'm so happy that the panel has realized that my lack of a work ethic is the gift that keeps on giving to today's reading public. Those imagined posts mocking Christopher Hitchens for his idiotic and sexist comment that women aren't funny, reviewing the new Christopher Guest movie—I think we can all agree it would all be so much palaver. So thanks, Time, for recognizing my achievement for what it really is.
Let's see, I should also thank…Huh?
You said that a couple of billion other people got this award too?
Mother [this content not deemed suitable for a prime time audience]!
Sometime in the next couple of days, I'll post my end-of-year music review. Until then, I pass on to you d_sameboy's recommendation, Dangerous Muse, for some electropop danceable goodness. Their whole EP, which I will be ordering shortly, is on their website. How awesome is that?
Last night I had not my first, but probably the most memorable yet, job anxiety dream.
I was in a classroom for a campus visit at a university that will remain nameless (although there is an actual job there). However, I was in the crowd rather than at the front of the room, participating in a general discussion. I thought I was supposed to be giving my job talk shortly, but I didn't have it with me and felt underdressed. I asked to be excused briefly so that I could go up to my room (apparently the classroom was connected to a hotel) at get my talk. I was told that my talk was not in fact happening at that time.
The more amusing part happened next, however. I had to go give a radio interview while walking, with the interviewer, around a horseracing track. The track was covered in horse feces and was extremely wet. If you have ever lived on a farm and had to work on it, as I have, you know the very unpleasant experience of walking through crap the consistency of mud. So I walked through the crap around the racetrack, gave what I thought was a very snazzy answer to a question about student writing, and then went to change. Sadly, no outcome was in view. That is to say: a good description of the humanities job process.
As a way to save money for Shrub's fantasy mission to Mars, the previous head had decided to let it die instead of upgrading it and keeping it in working condition. So this is some rare good news for science from this administration.