Monday, April 28, 2008

If. . .

---you are in the greater New York metropolitan area;
---you are interested in the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, and especially his wacky astrological stuff;
---you found yourself captivated by recent posts about editing;

Then . . .
---you might consider attending this event on May 1st: it is a launch party for the book I have been editing for the last (it seems) two-and-a-half years. That's right; it's published!

(But I am sorry to say that our event goes up against several glassy events--this and this and this. Dang--I would have liked to attend them all.)

If you are simply too far away to attend, but too far away in the, say, Atlanta direction, then stay tuned for details about the Atlanta event on 17 May. I believe there will be a launch in Sligo during this too, but details for that have not been worked out.

Sorry to go on about all this: I am just quite excited.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Random 2m42s: The cactus plants are tough on pants Edition.

Tim Jarrett has thrown down the gauntlet.

OK, I'll play.

Here's the scoop. Joshua Allen says the perfect pop song is two minutes and forty-two seconds long. The gist of the argument is "get in and get out." In our busy world, we don't have much time for recreation, and any second that a song is too long is a second wasted. But, alack, a song can be too short, too. So, he concludes, as much by example as by mathematics, 2:42 is the magic number.

I have a few questions, I must confess. For instance, Devo's "Whip It" sadly it lacks a second. But friends, can you honestly tell me that it is lacking anything else? And Aretha's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" is, apparently, too long, as it lasts 2:43. But parentheses aside, what would you take away?

But I digress. The laws have been decreed, and I will go sit down.

Some people have already jumped on the mixtape bandwagon, starting, of course, with Allen himself. But there is more work to be done. So Tim asks, "Can you top his mix?"

In the spirit of the long-overdue Friday Random 10, and acknowledging that coming up with a decent-length mix of short songs requires quite a few of them, here is my mix(1):

1. "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash (2)
2. "Contrary Mary" by Lightnin' Hopkins
3. "Baby Please Don't Go" by Van Morrison
4. "Leah" by Roy Orbison
5. "Forever Blue" by Chris Isaak
6. "Deep in the Heart of Texas" by Gene Autry
7. "Do What You Wanna" by Ramsey Lewis
8. "Christ for President" by Billy Bragg & Wilco
9. "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding
10. "Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkel (live version)
11. "Do What" by Squirrel Nut Zippers
12. "Hold That Tiger" by Louis Armstrong (3)
13. "St. Louis Blues" by Django Reinhardt
14. "Gling Gló" by Björk Guðmundsdótti and Trió Guðmundar Ingólfssonar
15. "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" by Nick Lowe (4)
16. "Tarantella Napoletana" by ????????
17. "Michelle" by The Beatles
18. "Saint Agnes and the Burning Train" by Sting
19. "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case
20. "Sheila Take a Bow" by The Smiths
21. "Delicius Demon" by The Sugarcubes (5)
22. "Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite" by The Spaniels

Note (1): Because figuring out how much extra space recordings have at the end of a song is also, as Allen would say, a goddamn waste of time, I am relying on my MediaSource jukebox's read of the song length. This means that technically my mix is at least as efficient as Allen's.

Note (2): I'm referring to the version of "Folsom Prison Blues" from the concert album recorded at Folsom Prison and San Quentin. Even with the prisoners cheering after he says "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," it comes in 10 seconds shorter than the studio version. What does this tell us about the value of time in prison?

Note (3): Could someone who teaches where I do really leave off "Hold That Tiger"?

Note (4): I am sorry I do not know who is performing the recording of "Tarantella Napoletana," but how could I resist it after the Nick Lowe song?

Note (5): Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me for including a Björk song and a Sugarcubes song!

I'm burning my CD copy now. If you want one, lemme know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


As the semester is winding to a close (only two weeks of classes on the wall, two weeks of classes, take one down pass it--oh never mind), I am thinking a lot about my emergency surgery last spring. The sunlight is the same. The azaleas are the same. The dogwoods are the same. The feeling of almost being through the semester is the same. The feeling of trying to go back to the pool after time away is the same (well, similar). The sense of summer activities starting up around town is the same.

I consulted last year's calendar, and in so doing, found physical evidence of the pre-surgery me and the post-surgery me. The pre-surgery me made lots of plans, and wrote them all down in the book to keep track of them and make sure nothing fell by the wayside. The post-surgery me came at those plans with a heavy pencil and crossed things out--lunches for retiring colleagues, meetings, parties, concerts. In their place are physical therapy appointments, appointments with the infectious disease doctor, meetings with the Home Health nurse who would teach me how to use my PICC line and take blood samples from time to time. According to my calendar, I got my arthrogram done on Thursday, April 19, during the second-to-last week of classes. The weekend of pain was 20-21 April. My emergency surgery was 27 April, the last day of classes. Then summer vacation began, in a very narcotically foggy way. In the week of May 7, I recorded nine separate medical appointments, often two or three different ones on the same day.

Since my life is so structured by the academic calendar, I feel these dates less by the regular calendar and more by the academic calendar. Perhaps in some ways this is like marking holidays according to the phases of the moon, where there are other markers than a simple datebook to tell you where you are. I remember that my arthrogram hapened the week after I was in Ann Arbor for a conference. While I was there, I talked to several old friends about my shoulder, my not being able to swim, my not knowing what was up. I talked about not wanting to go the surgical route, because of all the complications I could imagine, including causing other problems in the shoulder. That week of school I had a bunch of meetings, trying to wrap up the business of the semester. I was scheduled for the MRI for Monday, but there was some scheduling snafu, and it was rescheduled for Thursday. (Memo to self: It is not productive to wonder whether if I had had the arthrogram done on Monday I would still have gotten an infection....)

I had the MRI/arthrogram done on a Thursday morning. I still remember watching the nurses prepare the needles and contrast solution according to "sanitary procedure." I still remember lying on the table under the camera with the enormous spinal needle in shoulder joint, while the radiologist kept jamming it around in there and then consulting a monitor to see whether now it was positioned properly. I remember feeling painfully vulnerable and violated. I remember walking out of the hospital in tears and shaken into a beautifully warm and breezy day. The whole scene is as clear as if it happened earlier this morning. This coming Thursday, 17 April, is the same day on the academic calendar, so it is my anniversary of the arthrogram.

The feeling of warm and breezy is the same. The smells of plants and pollen and flowering trees and rain-dampened dirt are the same. The sun rises in the same place and at 10:00 this Friday it will all feel very much the way it did on the day I left my orthopedist's office, frustrated that there was no definitive information from that MRI/arthrogram and very sore because (I thought) had had manipulated my arm and shoulder too much, given how sore I was after that long encounter with the gigantic needle. And then as the sun rises higher in the sky, it will look the way it did when I realized the pain was getting worse, and at high noon it will look very much like it did when my orthopedist's nurse, who I had called because I was worried about this pain, suggested that I take an Advil, as if I might not have tried that, say, before I called.

At night now, it still cools off, but we know there is something about even a night chill that feels like summer is on its way with its nights that offer no relief from the heat. And on this Friday night, I will remember finally getting some pain pills and taking them and feeling relief from the unbearable pain whose source I did not understand but now know was caused by a bacterial colony having a big party in my shoulder. I will remember that relief, and then I will remember the violent and uncontrollable nausea that the pills also brought during the non-time of the middle of the night, so that I was vomiting my guts up while trying desperately not to move my shoulder, where the pain had become indescribable and (since I could keep nothing down including pills), uncontainable.

Then perhaps this Saturday will be gorgeously warm, as it was when finally the PP loaded my pajama-clad and hopelessly pathetic self into the car, along with my mini trash can for puking, and took me to see that same orthopedist, who (thanks be) gave me a shot of antibiotics along with different pain drugs, this time combined with anti-nausea meds.

Friday, 25 April is the day I will honor the anniversary of my surgery, scheduled in a big hurry for the same day after an appointment with a different orthopedist--who became my shoulder surgeon--discovered evidence of infection in the joint. When I was lying in my hospital bed, all I could see was a silent view of waving trees and sky, and I thanked those trees and sky for their company. As I write this, the trees are leafing out as fast as they can, so they will look as lush and wonderful as they did last spring.

So these anniversaries are almost upon me. I will be too embarrassed to mention them to most people, because what I do not need now is to be told that I am being overdramatic. Since I have resumed the making of plans in advance, I will have other things to do on these days besides remember. I have a class and two thesis defenses scheduled on Thursday, and that evening I plan to go to a concert, a performance by the child of dear friends. (His spring concert last year was crossed out.) On Friday I visit my massage therapist. Next Friday in my calendar reads "Last day of classes," written in the same scrawling hand that noted the same fact in last year's calendar. I am back to making plans, though I do so now in pencil.

But in and among those plans, I need to decide how to mark these anniversaries.

Monday, April 07, 2008

If only classes ended a few weeks sooner. . .

Magpie sent me this. Wow.

Palmetto Alpaca Classic.

On Saturday, I bribed the Patient Partner to go to the Palmetto Alpaca Classic with me. How, you ask? Simple: lunch at Super Taco, so he could have a green chili burrito. His fav, but now that we don't live in Clemson, we don't get over there very often.

But I digress. I had mentioned the alpaca show? I had not yet been to a show at the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena, or, as we locals call it, the T. Ed. "Hey," the PP said, pointing to a guy in a cowboy hat driving an old-school Buick as we pulled into the parking lot, "Isn't that T. Ed over there?" I do not think that it was, but as I was bribing him, I did not say so.

On our way there, we tried to come up with what we would tell the alpaca farmers about why we were there. It turns out that we run an alpaca packing outdoor adventure company in the NC mountains, and we were there to find alpaca-specific harnesses, since the ones we had, designed for llamas, were too big for the alpacas and kept slipping, unless we added extra pillows for padding, and that got hot for the poor alpacas in the summertime. Then we thought maybe we were a French company, Alpine Alpacas, come to South Carolina, we would say in our outrageous accent, for the superior stock of alpacas.

Anyway, we got there right around lunchtime, so there was time to walk around the barn before the obstacle competition. If you are a knitter and have ever wondered why suri fleece is softer than huacaya, all you have to do is see them: the huacaya are fluffy and poofy, while the suri's hair lies closer and lanker and very shiny--like baby down or something.

It turns out that no alpaca food is as delicious as that in your neighbor's pen:

It felt like a cool damp day to us, in our sweaters and raincoats and boots, but the alpacas were cooking in their full fleece (most of the alpacas will get shorn in the next few weeks, once the temperatures stabilize a bit). They loved the fans.

The obstacle competition was a like in a dog show, but really the alpacas weren't that into it. The contests happen by age class, with the littlest kids going first, then middle kids, and then an open division where adults try their hand. We think the best competitor may have been in the littlest kids' group--a little girl whose alpaca just seemed to trust her, do whatever she wanted (walk zigzagging between cones, step up on a wooden step--they mostly hated that--walk through a gate, step onto a tarp, run, get into a trailer). Granted, as the human competitors got older, they were expected to convince the alpacas to do more complicated things, like walk backwards, or raise a foot (presumably for toenail clipping). But seriously: this girl had mad skills.

Later there was an alpaca costume competition. We joked about whether the judge would give a big speech, justifying the awards. You know, like "The toucan costume got extra points because it so succeeded in transforming one animal into another" or "While the hippy costume was very festive and colorful, we do not believe that alpacas should be forced to wear pink berets," but then he actually did! It turns out the requirements for that contest have less to do with creativity or beauty or hilarity, and more to do with how many parts of the alpaca are adorned. The Native American costume did well because in addition to a blanket over its body and a feathered headdress on its neck, it had bells on its legs. I bet the girl who dressed up as Dorothy to go with her lion alpaca was pissed that she only came in fifth!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What basketball game?

If you find yourself in need of something light (yet dark) to take your mind off other things, check out Joe Queenan's humorous take on "questions for discussion" at the back of the book.

Friday, April 04, 2008

World into world.

There is something surreal happening over at David Byrne's blog. Well, OK, it is technically not surreal in and of itself, but for me, reading it is.

This is one of those rare moments when one central piece of my cultural world is commenting on other central pieces. The writer, of course is Byrne, whose pop lyrics and music and even his rummaging around in the musical traditions of other places came to me at a crucial time in my discovery of the world. I know, that sounds melodramatic. But when I tried to write "in my discovery of music," that just did not encompass what I meant. I guess this is because "at that age," such simple things as music--as song lyrics or hooks or tunes--can bring a world with them. And did.

And one thing he is writing about is the concept of the standard, which he is exploring through songs from classic Disney movies and showtunes written by Cole Porter and George Gershwin. He explicitly talks about the Stay Awake compilation from 1988, the title of which I have been trying to think of since I re-encountered Tom Waits' version of "Heigh Ho" on Orphans. And although he does not specifically mention it, I cannot read his discussion without thinking of Red Hot + Blue, where, of course, Byrne contributed his own brilliant version of "Don't Fence Me In."

So, OK, strange enough.

But now he is planning to perform with Paul Simon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Which led him to contemplate what it is about Paul Simon's music that makes it so compelling. And Paul Simon was another one of maybe four or five performers whose music dominated my teenage psyche. In the course of that discussion he talks about You're the One, a more recent album, of course, but one that immediate struck me because its lyrics seem to get what it means to grow up, to grow older. But here is what David Byrne said:

Like many others, I grew up listening to and learning the Simon & Garfunkel repertoire. However, it was one of his more recent records — You’re the One — that really knocked me out, even more than Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, which one might expect me to identify with, since I was also collaborating with musicians from Africa and Brazil around the same time. The record didn’t sell that well, but to my ears, he had finally internalized all he’d learned from his earlier collaborations. He had made something that didn’t sound like any of his sources or inspirations, yet couldn’t have been made without them. We crossed paths somewhere and I told him how much I liked that record and maybe that helped break the ice.

Some months ago, we started meeting occasionally and we’d fall into talking about how we write and what the process is and where we get stuck and when it’s easy. I would sit, rapt, as I felt like I was hearing the words of a master songwriter, a kind of magician who was going to reveal to me, over lunch, some of his best tricks. Here was a more contemporary Gershwin or Cole Porter who was going to tell me a little of how it was done. Listen up.

Well, it didn’t happen exactly like that. Specific harmonic devices don’t always work for everyone in the same way, for example. At times, Paul and I might actually use very similar ways of writing words, but in the end, what we gravitate to — the lyrics we choose to be best and most suitable — is unique to each of us. So his tricks are essentially useless to me. I could, however, extrapolate, and find common ground in the decision-making process along the way. Our discussions yielded more about what might drive an artist to continue creating than they did songwriting advice. What does one do when confronted with a problem? And how can an artist remain passionate and interested in writing little songs?