21 December 2010

Lunar Eclipse 2010

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable occurrence in wee hours this morning. A total lunar eclipse. "The first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice (Southern Summer Solstice) since 1638." What does it mean for the Moon to be overshadowed by the Earth just as the Sun also faces its shortest day? I don't know. But more than just astronomers got excited about it; the astrologers, solstice worshipers, apocalypse predictors, and all sorts of folk looking for omens seemed to get worked up as well. 

Me? I slept through it all last night. Most of America did, I suspect. 

I know, and you probably do too, all the explanations about the dust in the atmosphere giving the moon that rust red tinge just as the full (umbra) shadow of the Earth is cast on its surface. All the ancient stories of animals swallowing the moon, of the gods turning away from mankind, all that is just window dressing in folktales to amuse children in these enlightened times. 
The thing about large astronomical events in this age of technology is that we are jaded. We have seen distant galaxies up close in our telescopes and on our televisions. We can look at pictures that tell us so much more than we can get with our naked eyes. It is so easy to catch not only the instant replay at a reasonable hour but also the condensed and interpreted synopsis of the event that most of us don't bother reading the full story in any case. 

I have seen a total lunar eclipse before, more than once over the years. But I still remember the first one. It was several decades ago when I was home from college for summer break, or was it winter then too? I don't know, too long ago to really remember. My parents were living in rural Wisconsin so it had to be after 1970 (because that is the year when I left for college the first time). I remember my cousin watching with me. My parents, aunts and uncles, in the house playing cards--paying no attention beyond an occasional: "that's nice, dear." 

I clearly remember standing in that yard, watching the shadow crawl so slowly across the surface of a nearly full moon. As if the moon were a woman drawing a blood-red veil over pale skin and turning her back on us. We stood in the yard for a long time. And at the point of total darkness, when the moon was just a dim spot of blood in a black sky, I remember feeling chilled. Caught in a  silence that felt like it might go on forever. I remember my mother telling us to come inside, it was too late to be out in the dark. I remember being unable to look away until I saw that first hint of returning light at the penumbral edge. Until I knew the moon was coming back from whatever dark place she went.

So why didn't I go watch last night? 

Maybe I am jaded by the scientific explanations now, too.  Or maybe, just maybe, as I get older--well into my fifties and facing yet another birthday in a week--maybe those demons chasing down the moon are coming just a little to close for comfort these days. Too close for me to want to look at them closely anymore. Demons of days lost, the loss of years, and with them the loss of chances, of people, of friends, of family, of those who once would have watched with me. The shortening of days and the turning of winter seasons are all too poignant to watch as my losses mount up. We do not face the dark with ease as we grow old. 

06 December 2010

Seasons Come, Seasons Go

Just three weeks ago this was the view walking across campus from the East Campus Parking Deck toward Olin Hall.

Today, after the first real snow of winter, this was the view.

Isn't it amazing how fast the seasons change, how quickly the years fly by. Is this a function of my getting older?

05 December 2010

Things you think about when you can't sleep

It's 4 am on a Sunday morning when I could be asleep, but since I am not... Funny how the brain works. I wake up a lot in the early morning hours, 3am, 4am; then I just lay there in bed thinking. I used to get up and write (poetry, stories, blog posts), but I haven't been writing much at all since early last summer. Not that I don't have anything to write about. In fact the opposite is more true. I have far too much to write about... so much in my head I just don't really know where to begin and (this may sound odd) on top of that I don't know anymore who I am writing for.

One of my fiction writer friends says she writes because she has to. If she didn't the words, the ideas, would just keep rolling around in her brain and drive her crazy. I can understand that. Sometimes I wish my brain had a switch--on, off, clear cache... reboot.

Somehow, though, for me writing has to have an audience. And therein lies the rub. If I write about most of the stuff in my head anywhere I send it, post it, or share it, it is bound to offend someone. The thing about stories is that they want to be told. They don't want to sit in notebooks or lie about in drawers. So I feel compelled to publish, to share. My biggest problem is I am not good at audience. Although half my audience is generally chuckling and enjoying the story immensely, the other half is invariably bored, or worse: pissed off.

One of the first poems I ever published was about my grandmothers, my mother, and my daughters. I was looking at how women carry on through generations. My mother's only comment was about the stanzas she was in, and what she said to me was: "That's a lie, it didn't happen that way."

What I had been telling was her story as I had heard it, from her, from my dad, from others. Filtered through my writer's sensibilities and my (imperfect? biased?) observations of her as her daughter. What she saw in herself was so different that she was angry at my less than flattering portrait. But the woman she saw herself as could be seen only through her filters. Two different stories. Both accurate if disparate views. My story was about an ordinary woman with with extraordinary desires leading an ordinary life. The problem is no one wants to be seen as ordinary. Not really. Certainly not my mother, who spent most of my childhood telling us how happy we were and how lucky we were to be us--this ideal suburban family. What I still see looking back is a husband who got drunk, ran around looking to other women for affection he didn't get at home, because he never made enough money to support five kids or to satisfy a woman who had her dreams of movie-stardom thwarted by the realities of motherhood and the embarrassment of dependence on her own mother for handouts and hand-me-downs. When I tell the story my way I upset my family. When I tell the story the wasy they want it to be seen, it's not as good a story.

In some ways there are beautiful stories in there, in my head. The problem is my characters don't ever look heroic when seen by those who inspired them. Especially when inspired by people I care about most.

Right now I have the urge to write about my daughters. But I know if I do I will anger at least one of them, confuse one of them, and amused the third. Do I dare that chance that they will or will not see my fiction for fiction?

22 November 2010

The news this fall is that I got a new car, an Elantra Touring. Couple of reasons: one, I liked the ratings for the vehicle on safety and repairs, and two, I have seen Hyundai plants in Korea and I like their ethic toward their workers. So here's my new baby.
It has a lot of room in the back. Not like my Caravan, but good enough, and the gas mileage is exceptional. (Side note: I have been driving Chrysler minivans for 15 years. And I love them. But the gas prices were killing me and my 2005 was in "little things go wrong" phase of its existence. Better to give it to my son who is capable of fixing the little things.)

The only question I have left is how to pronounce it. Americans say "hun-day" but in Korea they said "heh-youn-dai." Is this another word like "gyro" (guy-row/hero/yee-rose)?

02 November 2010

Is Your Cat Plotting to Kill You?

They do often dig very deep in the litter box. Could there possibly be bodies buried in there? Check out the Warning Signs at How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you.

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

25 August 2010

Websites and Facebook and Wikis, Oh my!

The NEOMFA is in the process of getting a new website. For the last 3 years. No. Really. Partly it's that the people involved don't seem work or even all talk to each other until someone nudges them. Our first web designer at KSU fell off the planet with the project. The current web design team is fine. Comes up with lovely graphic (all very steampunk and industrial) which bodes well for the new NEOMFA "Rustbelt" look. But they don't doe HTML so we need a web tech to put the pages together. Enter UA webteam. But the pages are currently at YSU. And their webteam and helpdesk can't seem to agree on how to get me access to the pages. So we have more temporary pages. Sigh.

The today I came across this xkcd comic with sums up my feelings as I tried to navigate the webpages of four universities and find the info, forms and deadlines, needed by our upcoming candidates for graduation.

At the same time there are the ongoing Twitter and Facebook pages to update. If I post to Facebook it drops into Twitter, but not the reverse (or you end up with a nasty loop of continuous back and forth reposing of the same message!). File that under "things we learned the hard way."

One way cool thing to stay tuned for is the (in process) NEOMFA wiki page that is currently being created by our oh-so-savvy NEOMFA GA, Shurice.

12 July 2010

I Can Haz Dragon

So it’s 3-something in the morning and I can’t sleep and after wandering aimlessly around the internet my Google feed reader points me to SFFN and The Dragon Diaries: Part the Third. Now I am ROTFLMAO and know that, with visions of dragon happy-meals dancing through my head, I likely won’t sleep anymore tonight. (Have you ever tasted a mime? Not funny. Did you know that if you eat a unicorn you could get sparkly rainbow indigestion and glitter farts? How do you shuck a knight anyway?)

The Dragon Diaries is a whim of author Kelly McCullough who, in delightful twitter-sized tidbits gives us a peek into the mind of an adolescent dragon (a la cheezburger).

You will discover the life of a dragon is sometimes fun: Met a knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering. Ated him. Ated pretty lady he kept whining about too. Hard and cold on the outside, but soft and warm on the inside. Yummy! Thinking of lounging on my hoard today. Dragons are supposed to do that sometimes, aren’t they? And Nap + Sparklys = Win!

And sometimes difficult: Saw the pointy-face horse again today. Still looks delicious. Want! Maybe cat is wrong about obsession being unhealthy… Just realized that pointy-face horse is kind of Sparkly… Sparkly! Sparkly! Sparkly! Sadness. Sticking fake horn on normal horse doesn’t make it sparkly. Doesn’t improve flavor either. Ated horse anyway.

Then there is the ubiquitous dragon wisdom: Am entertaining job offer from Fafnir, Fafnir, Tiamat & Lung, dragons at law. They tell me it’s mostly just about ateding opposing counsel. Mmmm, lawyers.

And the ever so much more accurate cat wisdom: Cat talked me out of ateding polling station, says ateding should be reserved for actual polti… polict… polst… elected people.

I now have visions of the dragon being let lose in Washington, DC. I have a little list I want to share with the dragon. And I am reevaluating the advice my cats give me. Think I'll go find some sparklys for my pillow now and see if I sleep better, maybe dream of dragons. Thanks, Kelly.

Kelly sez: For an explanation of how this got started, the original Dragon Diaries SFN post is here. The second DD post is here. To find out where it goes, you can watch the experiment continue on twitterand facebook for however long it continues.

24 June 2010

When does Fiction cross the line?

It's a TV series about a doctor, or a bunch of cops and lawyers. You know it's fiction. Yet I can't tell you how many times someone has said, "Oh, I saw that on [insert show of choice here]" and proceeded to tell me some "fact" they now know about medicine or the law.

This conflation of fact and fiction is nothing new. The stories he made up of
King Arthur were "chronicled" as history by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century. A popular (fictional!) mystery series today features the (real!) 19th century author Jane Austen as a solver of murder mysteries. I could go on and on.

So when the real and larger-than-life-damn-near-American-institution poet Walt Whitman becomes a fictional character in the breakout novel by Canadian author and poet George Fetherling, no big deal right? Or is it?

From Charles Demers' interview of Fetherling in the Vancouver Straight.com online news we hear that Featherling is not a Whitman fan:

“I don’t like Walt Whitman,” Fetherling explains over lunch on Denman Street, just a few blocks from his beloved Sylvia Hotel. “His ideas have killed more people than malaria.…He was practically one of the fathers of Americanism qua-ism." Later on in our conversation, Fetherling posits that Whitman “would be a Fox [News] commentator if he were alive today”. There aren’t too many gay 19th-century poets you can say that about.

Here's the rub. In Fetherling's novel the Whitman character's gay lover is part of the plot to assassinate Lincoln. So line it up. American poet. Civil War record as a nurse, civil servant. Heroic sounding, no? And he wrote this Leaves of Grass thing, defining America, right? Iconic, right? So does Fetherling's portrayal of Whitman tarnish, as one respondent says, a great man's reputation?

Fetherling has published a book about Walt Whitman that the reviewer describes as “a plot-driven potboiler about the Lincoln assassination…”

At the heart of Fetherling’s novel Walt Whitman’s Secret, we learn that Whitman’s friend and lover Peter Doyle was a co-conspirator with [John Wilkes] Booth, the man who murdered Abraham Lincoln, that Whitman knew of the plot beforehand, and that he did nothing to alert the police, merely advising his friend to cut ties with the plotters.

It’s a very terrible, very ugly allegation, because it places Whitman close to being an accomplice, and because it brings into question the moral foundation of Whitman’s being.

Has Fetherling proof? I asked him this at the Vancouver launch of his book, and he said no. He went on to claim that as he is writing fiction, he is not required to prove anything; moreover, the law of defamation no longer applies, given that Whitman died in 1892.

I am not talking law, but ethics.

> Richard Harvey / North Vancouver

Is it fair to Whitman? This is a work of fiction. Not to be taken too seriously, right? But also by Demer's account, a potentially great novel, so one that might be taken very seriously:

But the bulk of the novel is a quiet, deliberate, beautifully wrought meditation on two things: on the one hand, the life devoted to literature and its attendant hustles; on the other, the uneasy relationships between the United States, the Confederacy, and Canada.

As a work of postmodern fiction this is makes an excellent plot device. But there are a number of interesting questions that a work like this raises. What does a writer of fiction owe to the historical truth? Is there any historical truth at work here, anyway? Should we even ask a question like that of a work of fiction? Can this fiction tarnish the truth of Whitman's life? Post mortem does it even matter? How gullible are Americans anyway?

Sadly, it is that last question that worries me the most.

Still, I am looking forward to reading Featherling's book. To be honest I am not that fond of Whitman either, but that is not why. I want to use both Whitman's work and Fetherling's novel side by side in a class I sometimes teach: Classic and Contemporary Literature. Because if this isn't an example of the classic influencing the contemporary I don't know what is.

11 June 2010

Another spring is rapidly coming to an end . . .

. . . and I have been slower than usual about blogging. Again.

No surprise really. I have had a less-than-wonderful 2010 so far. Broken left knee. The discovery that I am allergic to my long-term asthma medications (and the accompanying icky red rash on my face from them). Car broken into and backpack with laptop and accessories stolen (value totalling $2500+ of which insurance only covered $900. Top that with the lovely tax day discovery that I owed the IRS $3000+. So, yeah. Not a stellar spring.

On the other hand, the need to strengthen the knee led me to doing more bicycling--got out the old bike to refurbish and found that it was less expensive to buy a new one. So one brand-new retro bike later (which incidently reminds me of my childhood) and I'm on the road. I still say I need pink plastic handle tassels and a wicker basket. Maybe even a little bell.

Of course although I am having a ball with it and cycling like a mad woman between my home and Angel Falls for coffee, and to the library for books, I have already taken my first spill and ripped up my right knee. Good news is Steve made me buy and wear a helmet. Bad news is I tore my best black jeans and it hurts. Good news is I am limping evenly now that both knees are boo-booed. Bad news is the left knee is still swelling a lot at night, good news is that the road rash is is tender enough that it distracts me from other annoyances. And it all is healing, albeit slowly. Getting older sucks.

On the family news, my grandchildren are all walking now. Juliette here is 11 months. I haven't met her yet and won't until the end of summer--can hardly wait.

Chloe (1 year) and Liam (four years) are as adorable as ever. Happily they will be nearer after July when they move to WI from AZ. I hope to see more of them once in the midwest.

And Emelie is her usual precocious 2 year-old self--Disney princess that she is.

So in many ways the glass is both half empty and half full.

Guess we will see what summer brings.

31 May 2010

Bikes, of all things

Had a crazy impulse day yesterday and just thought I'd share. So here's the sequence....

My knee, the one I broke back in March has been getting better, mostly. The bone is healed, but the tendon is still wonky and pretty painful. I need to work it to make it stronger, but in a low impact way, so lots of walking is out. Steve suggested his stationary bike, but that is boring so we dug old bikes out of the garage to see if we could clean them up and get them working.

Both needed new tires, chains, brakes, seats. And a lot of wire-brushing and paint. We had hours (maybe days) of work ahead of us. But off we went to price parts. Ironically, we found the price of the parts was more than the cost of new bikes. So in a crazy flurry of impulse shopping late last night, we bought two new bikes instead.

His is a snazzy red and black mountain bike. Go fig. But mine, oh mine, is a lovely retro lady of a bike in pale metallic green. It is almost a dead ringer for a darker green bike I had as a kid. I fell in love immediately.

Now picture this: it is 9:30 pm on Sunday night, yet two grown adults are cruising on bicycles in the quiet back streets of Highland Square and laughing like kids on a joy ride.

We only did about a mile or so last night, but it was enough to feel the beginnings of "the burn." Sometimes getting old sucks. Things we did as kids that were once so easy are now so much more work. And also more scary. We bought helmets, too, last night--since landings aren't as simple as scrapped knees after 50. Still, I am liking this bike thing--helmet, knee brace, and all.

This morning we'll be taking the new toys to Angel Falls, the coffee shop a mile away, for muffins and cappuccino. Wind in our faces. Bumping along over the brick streets of the neighborhood. I could get used to this.

21 April 2010

The Key to Fixing Global Warming? China.

In November, Chu and Obama flew to China for talks with the Chinese government. During a welcome ceremony, they sat in a banquet room in the Great Hall of the People around a Buckingham Fountain-sized table decorated with a life-size faux-peacock centerpiece atop a gold tablecloth and listened to a choir sing “That’s What Friends Are For.” During the visit, US and Chinese leaders also signed a flurry of agreements on clean energy. One in particular pleased Chu: the creation of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center. The agreement calls for both countries to ante up $75 million and to bring together their top clean energy scientists. . . . read more at Wired.com

Posted using ShareThis

13 March 2010

Hike for the Homeless

Thank you to everyone who participated, volunteered, donated and supported St. Joseph the Worker's 12th Annual Hike for the Homeless!

There were 1,300 participants and the event raised $65,500!

All money raised at this event is helping homeless individuals become self-sufficient through meaningful employment.

St. Joseph the Worker is a non-profit organization in Phoenix Arizona. Thanks to Blue for sharing this video and information: http://www.sjwjobs.org/hike2010.html.

07 March 2010

19 February 2010

Crackberry indeed!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman without a cell phone is in want of a Blackberry.

I am in the throes of serious Crackberry withdrawal here. This morning my phone went belly up with a "552 reload software" issue. First I spent the better part of the morning trying to reload the OS. The trick is to get the phone to recognize it is connected to the computer without it going into a booting loop over and over again. Found some helpful hints on Crackberry.com. But I have Vista. And Blackberry Desktop v 5.0. So the articles I found were out of date.

By 4 pm I gave up and went to the local AT&T store. Spent 45 minutes waiting for an AT&T rep to tell me he had never seen this before and had no idea what was wrong with my phone but I could: (1) try to fix it myself (Been there! Done that!), or (2) if I want to wait until next Thursday they can ship me out a replacement (NOT), or (3) tomorrow I drive to Cleveland to the service center where I can at least get handed a replacement. Sans my apps. Sans all my saved data. Sans contacts. But, hey, a new Blackberry. And it isn't even Christmas.

In the meantime I feel so out of it without my phone. No doubt about it. I am addicted. Crackberry indeed.

So if you were wondering--no, I am not ignoring your call. Yet.

08 February 2010

A Quote for February, and for Lovers

"The terrible thing about love is that it takes away your safety net, your balancing pole. Even the tightrope you walk upon will disappear beneath you, yet love expects you to keep walking anyway, arms outstretched, one foot after the other, on nothing more than air."

— Christopher Barzak, from The Love We Share Without Knowing

07 February 2010

How Social Gaming is Improving Education

In an article by Greg Ferenstein on Mashable.com, we are told that:

Audits of the U.S. educational system have revealed that the highest hurdle to adopting skills-based teaching practices is the lack of an easily implementable curriculum.

Enter social video games as a solution — immersive environments that simulate real-world problems. Today, technologically eager schools are replacing textbook learning with social video games, and improving learning outcomes in the process. Here’s how they’re doing it
: How Social Gaming is Improving Education

Especially interesting to me, personally, is the use of the virtual world Second Life as part of the curriculum where hands on training and role play can teach a critical skill set, as in this example Ferenstein mentions:

Loyalist College in Canada recently boasted “massive” test score improvements for its border officer training via simulation in the virtual world of Second Life. “No single technological addition has ever impacted grades at the college in such a positive way,” says Ken Hudson, their Managing Director of Virtual World Design. Indeed, the results speak for themselves. According to the report:

“The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56% success in 2007, to 95% at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted.”

In another example, 6th graders learn geography from Google Earth, collaborate through an internal social networking platform, and present ideas through a podcast. Administrators hope that wrestling with the question of “How can a system function within a larger system?” will bolster critical thinking skills. Many experts contend that so-called “Scaffolded Problem-based learning” is known to improve academic skills and enhance motivation. With all these new toys, it’s no surprise that one student admits his least favorite part of the day is “dismissal.”

Having used social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Blogger), 3d technology (Second Life, Google Earth), as well as online texts (Project Gutenberg, NetLibrary, JSTOR and other online databases) and media (YouTube, TeacherTube, Ohiolink Digital Media, Hulu) in my classrooms, my personal take is that anything that enhances the learning experience, keeps the student's attention, and gives students tools they will need in the real world, is a plus! There is no reason to suppose that just because it is fun, technology can't also be eductional. As Ferenstein says:

Social gaming has a come a long way from the days when a dozen students would squint at a 10-inch screen of Oregon Trail. The 2000s seemed to be the decade of case studies: Bold educators willing to experiment with developing technologies. But now, the involvement of major funders, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, points to an industry that is on the cusp of freeing education from its 2D textbook prison.

Mashable link posted using ShareThis.

23 January 2010

Home Renovations or why I have no life anymore

I have been in a very creative mood of late. Did a copper ceiling tile backsplash (ok, faux-copper, really plastic) in the kitchen 2 weekends ago. This weekend the upstairs bathroom was on the list.
Just finished the third base coat of Venetian plaster on the lower half of the bathroom walls. It was a good way to deal with damaged plaster and old brick-scored plaster without having to rip it all out. I have decided I am am liking the blue. I was going to go for a terracotta color at first, but Steve liked the blue green. Now I need to apply the topcoat/sealer, which will deepen the color and bring out green highlights (or so the pictures on the instructions tell me).
Next it's paint the woodwork, finish stripping the floor, finish up this pine floor (refinish? paint a faux rug? tile?). After that I need to decide what to do about the stupid pipes that run across the floor behind the toilet that are left from the days when this was a multi-apartment house (take 'em out? sink "em into the floor? or paint 'em bright copper, add mechanical bits, and call it steampunk?). Steve sandblasted the heat vent cover at work this week and, lo, it was white brass underneath! I think I am just going to clear coat the hell out of it because I love the weird copper streaks that showed from where the brass is thin. I guess back in 1918 brass-plated copper was the deal.
Of course, the vanity for the sink in here has got to go--I have this old dresser that I want to polyurethane within an inch of its life, then add a glass bowl and faucets to convert it into a sink. But that is a project for another weekend--after painting and floors. And after painting the downstairs powder room. And adding bookshelves to the third floor library. And tearing up the nasty kitchen floor.
Also after grading papers (yes, already, even this early in the semester), and getting my book revamped to send to another press for further rejection, and... and... and... You get the drift.

06 January 2010

The Graveyard Book: be afraid of live people...really!

Stumbled on this today as I was preparing my syllabi for Spring semester. And since I am using The Graveyard Book in my Fiction Appreciation class I thought I would post the clip of Neil Gaiman's interview with Stephen Colbert here for my students and all of you to enjoy.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil Gaiman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

And if you haven't read Neil's books . . . what the hell is wrong with you?