12/31: a loopy, lovely lear

Now that Timon of Athens is done, I'm on to King Lear in my Shakespeare project. For this play, I bought a surreally illustrated version--all Shakespeare's words, but presented in a graphic-novel format with pictures by Ian Pollock. (You can view it at Amazon.) It's interesting to read Shakespeare this way: it kind of combines the experiences of watching a performance on stage or film and of reading the text on one's own. And I'm really loving Pollock's off-beat illustrations.

12/30: finally understanding something

I've read "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by Fitzgerald a number of times over the years. And I'm puzzled afresh every time: why is it so quick and insistently breezy, only to turn serious and sad at the very end? Today I think I understood why. I went to see the film that's very loosely based on the story, and everyone in the film works hard to do a good job. But the film seems to be aiming for the wrong tone and scale. Unlike the short story, it tries to be epic, and it saturates itself with poignancy. And it doesn't work. The subject matter is both so odd (a man who ages backwards) and cutting-to-the-quick (mortality) that maybe one of the only ways to keep the story afloat and keep it from becoming melodramatic or sentimental is to be quick, breezy, and serious only at the end. A genius move on Fitzgerald's part, though I don't think I would have realized it without seeing a film that tried an alternate route.

12/29: shakespeare resumed

In early 2007 I started working through Shakespeare's plays in the order in which they were (probably) written. I hoped to finish by early 2008, but I got distracted by various things. I still have 10 left, and I'm going to read Timon of Athens right now so that by tomorrow I'll only have 9 to go!

12/28: flannel-lined chinos

How prosaic! But also how perfect! I recently bought a pair and wore them for the first time this afternoon on a sunny-but-wintry kayak outing. They enabled me to paddle in warmth and comfort while seeing some beautiful things: the sunlight glimmering on the water's surface, a sky of ever-changing clouds, turtles sunning themselves, and birds, birds, birds--herons, moorhens, seagulls, geese, ducks, and even an eagle.

12/27: business interrupted & a rainbow

I had originally posted a notice here that I'd be offline for a few days because I was planning to be on a business trip to San Francisco. (Thanks for the good wishes, Sam & Wolfidy!) But my flight was cancelled, and the airline couldn't re-book me to get me to California in a timely way. There's just so little margin for error for travel during the winter holidays, I guess. So I'm back at home, already unpacked. And I just came in from photographing (or trying to photograph) a rainbow arching over the northeast. The photos are dark, but so is the day--making the rainbow all the more welcome.

12/26: top-bar hive is okay

Right now, we keep our bees in three locations: 5 hives here at the house, 3 down on a farm, and 1 at a friend's house. The hive at the friend's house isn't the traditional kind; it's a "top-bar" hive that Chris built out of scavenged wood. It's cool. But to check it causes more disruption to the entire hive than checking a traditional set-up, so we've mostly been leaving it alone. Which means that every time we drive by it, we cross our fingers that it's still alright. The past two days have been mild, even balmy, and we've stopped by the top-bar hive to see--happily--that the bees are indeed flying.

12/25: an unplanned morning

We don't really celebrate Christmas in anything like a traditional fashion, but there are certain things we do almost every Christmas: take a walk or hike, cook good food, watch a film. We knew that we'd do these things during the afternoon and the evening, so this morning we just charted our course as we went. By mid-morning we were both sitting in my home office, with warm yellow sunlight coming in through the windows (to the delight of the cats). Chris was searching for relatively obscure but nevertheless lovely holiday songs on the web and then playing them for us through his Mac. I was binding some notebooks for the upcycled notebook program I run, off and on, at school. The rest of the day has been good, but I especially liked spending the morning this way.

12/24: a lake view (unexpectedly)

We live above a lake, but there are so many trees between us and the water that we don't have what you could call "a lake view." Today, however, the setting sun was reflected on the surface of the lake, and I could glimpse it through the dark bare branches of the trees. The reflection was so bright, and the color so strong, that at first I didn't even realize that I was looking at the lake painted a glowing orange.

12/23: further than i thought

I'm still operating on the vacation plan of mixing work & leisure each day (see 12/18). On the whole, it's been a good, sanity-preserving plan, but it had begun to feel as if my grading was going to extend into the new year. So today I've been working on the Myth exams and--beyond all expectations--I'm 3/5 done with them already. If I grade for another hour or two this evening, I'll be 4/5 done, making tomorrow an easy last day of grading.

12/22: a new sweater

Today's the coldest day thus far this winter. When we woke up it was 12 degrees, and even with a bright sun it's only worked its way up to 32. (I know, there are plenty of parts of the world which are much colder, but for Arkansas this is chill indeed.) What a perfect day to receive a new sweater in the mail! It's a holiday present to myself--a beautiful darkish berry color & sweetly styled. I'm very tempted to put it on right now, but I want to save it for a trip later this week.

12/21: other minds

I tried my hand at zine-writing earlier this year, but as much as I admire the medium I can't seem to make it work for me. On the back page of my ill-fated zine (which only made it to two issues) I put a feature called "other minds," which contained a few favorite quotations. Though I'm not continuing the zine, I have kept "other minds" alive in a different format: I make a one-sheet mini-anthology of quotations each season. Since today is the first day of winter, it was time to make a new edition. So I've spent the late afternoon searching, collecting, compiling--and "other minds winter 2008-2009" is now ready for dissemination.

12/20: a veritable flock

I've written about bluebirds before (see 11/16), but I have to write about them again. It's a grey-brown day, and--happily, miraculously--a flock of bluebirds is flying up and down our ridge, drinking water from puddles and eating berries from trees. I've never seen so many bluebirds together in one place at one time. And their amazing blue is all the more wonderful against the neutral winter background.

12/19: abstract accepted

I recently submitted a proposal for a paper to be given at a conference in Wales this summer (see 11/22). This morning a message was waiting for me in my email inbox to let me know that my abstract was accepted. (Truth be told, it was especially nice timing because last night I was feeling a little low about my scholarly activities.) I am going to celebrate by kayaking this afternoon--one good thing deserves another, yes?

12/18: mixing work & leisure

As usual, with the end of the semester comes a pile of things to grade and a list of bureaucratic ends to tie up. Usually I power through it all in a fairly intensive stretch of a few days. But this year powering through doesn't feel right (or even possible). So I'm going to do one set of grading or one bureaucratic task each day--and then turn to other things. Today, for instance, I wrote a grant proposal in the early morning, and once that was done we took a load of packages to the post office, went shoe-shopping, walked along Tucker Creek, and picked persimmons. All this felt good.

12/17: a surprise letter

There were a number of good things about today: we weren't iced in; I had my last meetings of the semester; we had dinner with a friend at a local restaurant. But a truly unanticipated good thing was waiting for me in my mailbox when I returned home: a hand-written letter from a fellow 19th-century-British-novel enthusiast. (She's actually more than an enthusiast in that she teaches British literature at the college level.) In any case, she got my address from sendsomething.net and sent me a great note and Christmas card.

12/16: a wintry walk & a slip-sliding chris

The roads were too icy to go to campus today, so we worked quietly at home. By the late afternoon I was a bit stir-crazy, and we went for a brisk and welcome walk along the ridge. Very slippery! My snake boots turned out to be excellent ice boots as well, and I didn't lose my footing once. Chris' formidable-looking hiking boots were less effective, however. He slid a lot, sometimes quite impressively. After one particularly long slide we both laughed out loud in the crisp cold air.

12/15: safe, sound, and warm

We had an ice storm today. Although the winter in Arkansas is milder than in Pennsylvania where I grew up, everyone here is less able to deal with the little winter we do get. Roads aren't built with winter conditions in mind, and towns don't have equipment and road crews to clear the roads or sprinkle them with salt when they get icy. I got to campus this morning without incident (my Greek students had their final exam at 8:30 a.m., so I was especially keen to get there), and coming home this evening was slower-going but mostly fine. That is, until I reached my steeply sloped driveway--I tried, but my little car couldn't make it up. So the Toyota is parked at the bottom of the hill tonight, and I'm cozy inside, glad for heat, light, warm food, and the company of Chris and the cats.

12/14: not getting lost

We were driving around on some small country roads this afternoon. We know from experience that it's easy to get disoriented during random, unplanned drives on twisty, twiny, tiny roads. But I guess we've lived here long enough--and explored the nearby small roads often enough--that even if we try out a road or lane we hadn't noticed before we eventually reach someplace we do remember. Maybe this is how you know that the place where you live really counts as home?

12/13: road trip

We're driving to Danville in a little bit to get some pupusas at a Salvadorean restaurant there. It's about an hour drive away, so it'll be a bit of enforced relaxation, and it's tucked away in a very rural county, so we'll pass through some lovely countryside en route.

12/12: the moon, part two

This morning as we were eating an early breakfast the moon was in the northwestern part of the sky, and we could see it through our big windows as we sat at the table. A day that ended with a large and lovely moon gave way to a day that started with one.

12/11: hey look at that moon!

We took the telescope out onto the porch this evening and aimed it at the crazy white moon in the eastern sky.

12/10: lunch at The Mean Bean

The Mean Bean is my favorite restaurant in town, but it only serves lunch and only on weekdays. It's across town from campus, so I don't have much opportunity to go there during the semester--there just isn't time in a normal day. But we're in exam period now, which means I have a little more flexibility with my schedule on some days. I took advantage of that flexibility today by going to The Mean Bean for an early lunch with a new colleague. I had a Veggie Reuben.

12/9: reading for pleasure in a little pocket of time

I had some extra time between student meetings today, and I happened to have a novel in my backpack (Murakami's Kafka on the Shore), so I pulled it out and read for half on hour.

p.s. Somehow this post got deleted; I've rewritten it (I happened to remember what I had written about), but I'm afraid that the comments which visitors made couldn't be retrieved. If you don't see your comment here anymore, please know it was an honest mistake....

12/8: for my personal record book

I saw the best sunset of my life (so far) in 1988, when I was on a boat in the Aegean Sea. I saw the best sunrise of my life (so far) today, when I was driving to work at 6:30 a.m. and looked east over Beaverfork Lake.

12/7: rearranging Christopher Smart

I was playing around with Christopher Smart's Hymn 1, which he wrote as a new year hymn. I made a list of all the words in the poem which begin with an S, leaving out words starting with SH or the SH sound. I then rearranged the words until I came up with something I liked. I didn't end up using "sally" or "steeds," but here's what I did with the rest. It's just a little lark, but a little lark can be a good thing:

Spirits sublim'd speak sweetly,
sounding speckl'd symphonies.

Strive, special spirits,

Send spirit-seed.

12/6: deferred no longer

All semester Chris and I have said that we would like to get together with a new colleague and his spouse, but either we were busy, or they were busy, or we all were too tired. Later today, though, we're finally going to do it: we're going to drive down to Little Rock to have a casual dinner and some drinks with them at The Flying Saucer.

12/5: boys who knit

My spouse, Chris, is a better knitter than I am, and a number of years ago he helped to start the knitting club on our campus. The club's new president is a student of mine, and a nice picture of him was in the campus paper today to publicize the club. In the photo he's sitting, wearing a multi-colored hat and scarf which he made himself, and intently knitting a new project.

12/4: euripides a proto-feminist?

Was Euripides a proto-feminist? Who knows. It may not even make sense to ask the question in those terms. But some people claim that he was on the basis of the Medea, and other people vigorously deny that he was on the basis of the same play. We discussed the issue in Myth class today, and though we didn't have tons of time to hash it out (thrash it out?), people said good, smart, cogent things to support both sides.

12/3: film festival ritual

The Lord of the Rings movies came out in successive Decembers, and now each December we re-watch the trilogy on DVD. It takes us several nights to watch each film since we can only fit in about 30 minutes before we need to sleep, so the whole process takes a week or two. We're near the beginning of The Two Towers right now.

12/2: gregorian chants at the ready

We're binding books this week in my Vulgate Latin course. We've spent all semester learning about how important the Bible is for the history of the codex form in general, so binding books medieval-style is a way to complement our academic study of the history of the book. Tomorrow we'll be sewing our sections together, and some of the students half-jokingly/half-seriously suggested that we could listen to Gregorian chants while we work. So I searched through our CDs at home and found a collection of chants to accompany us at our task tomorrow.

12/1: more on mountain pies

So today's good thing is getting to share more about mountain pies--thanks for asking, Sam & Nikki! I only had them twice (that I remember) when I was young--both times, parents of my friends made them for us over an open fire and it seemed so special. The pies must have made a lasting impression on my mind because when we bought a house with a big fireplace last year, I almost immediately wanted to buy pie irons. They're like two tiny skillets, each at the end of a pole. You put a slice of bread in each and then add some filling. (For instance, tomato sauce and cheese is a typical filling, or fruit pie filling for dessert.) You then hook the irons together and clamp them shut, sealing the bread and the filling inside. The whole thing goes into the fire for about 2 minutes, and then when you take it out of the fire and open it up it's like a sealed toasted sandwich (but better). It's harder to describe than I would have thought! Here's a link to a page which has some pictures of the irons (we have the round ones): http://www.wisementrading.com/outdoorcooking/pie_irons.htm