Summer agenda

Since last September, the trials and tribulations of institutional academic life have applied ample psychic weight to my daily consciousness and have indeed dominated my waking (and sleeping) hours. But the spring semester has ended and June is nearly here — June… June! when I have to be finished with the last of the lingering todos on a very long and very overdue list of things I owe to other people. So, what is on the agenda for June, July, and August? In short, as little of a schedule as possible and a wish list of experiences:

  1. Try the creations at each of the Top 10 Falafel Spots in NYC (according to cityeats) — this is basically just an excuse to return, again, to Taim, which is well worth the trek down to the West Village.
  2. Go to the movies… a lot… and watch, among others:
    The Way, Way Back 
  3. Summer tv viewing: including “The Yard” (free on Hulu), “Arrested Development,” and (it might finally be time for a re-viewing of) all five seasons of “The Wire.”
  4. Taste test of lemon ricotta pancakes across the city.
  5. Thanks to E, I am now hooked on “Sherlock” — it’s the kind of show that begs a second and third viewing before the first has finished. So the two seasons’ worth will keep me occupied for at least a little while, especially as I play one of my favorite tv watching games: Guess where they are (the show is filmed in London, thus making the viewing and the gaming especially satisfactory.) And besides, who wouldn’t watch a show whose titular character is played by an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, who could very realistically be the love child of Fred MacMurray, circa “Double Indemnity” and Dennis Quaid, circa pretty much any time.
  6. Embody and communicate a love of anything as much as Bobby McFerrin does here:

    or as Leonard Bernstein does here:
  7. Walk and walk and walk with no destination in mind, including in and out of the corners of Philadelphia, through the Sheffield Peak District, and along the Thames for as long as my legs will lead me.
  8. A photo a day for the summer (or as close to it as I can come). Here’s one I took in Central Park a couple of weeks ago:

    20130507_102155
    The not to secret Cherry Blossom walk near the Reservoir
  9. And my real summer reading list
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Witness by Karen Hesse
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Gladly willing to accept any and all company who want to go along for the ride.

eve

The hour is late, although I suspect a few more will pass before I can surrender to sweet slumber — and even that will feel like too little, as the alarm is set to twinkle well before what seems like a humane wake up time. L and I were talking this weekend about the ever alluring “else” — that is, what else we’d be doing if not this. The “else” game is intoxicating and one that cannot be kept at bay when the hours that spill out in front of you are unfettered for days on end. But now, the “else” game feels like a punishment. Still, we played. There were other “wheres” that came with ease, but as for “what”… despite a year-plus spent pondering this very question, I came up empty. Initially. I realize that within mere hours of returning to campus, I had been transported back into the rhythms of others — ones that were tuned to manic frequencies, with every beat seemingly consequential, each transition or hiccup leading only closer to an impenetrable wall of agitation.

Tonight, on the eve of the new school year, I settle once again into the realization that is strangely comforting: this is exactly what I would be doing. Almost. I would eliminate all of the administrative duties, the negotiating of adult petulance (for which I have little patience and even less sympathy), and abolish most of the meetings that are currently mandated, if not by force then certainly by social pressure.

But the bulk of this gig I would want to continue — some of the teaching and especially the research that affords time spent with young people which yields stories about which I do want to continue composing artifacts and narratives.

But if I had my druthers I would do less and limit the extent to which I had to manage projects and be instead steeped in the doing — doing the work rather than talking about the work (which can also be the work, itself… sometimes). (However, with great power… or so the saying goes…)

My delusions are not of grandeur but rather of increased simplicity.

Perhaps in a society that swallows whole ideas like the four-hour work week and obsesses over talent as a commodity more desirable than consistency or effort, doing less and simplicity are counterintuitive. Doing less is swiftly translated into decreased revenue and fewer luxuries, not only for the self but also for those to whom and for whom you may be responsible or answerable.

Immediately my mind drifts to the documentary series “Alone in the Wilderness” that chronicles the experiences of Dick Proenneke while he is living in the Alaskan outdoors. Over the course of countless pledge drives on PBS (the public broadcasting service in the US), I have watched the entire series at least a few times, and each time I catch a glimpse, I stop — mid-sentence, mid-phone call, while drying dishes — and listen to his tales of not merely surviving, but living off of the land. Proenneke films and narrates while also living the experiences about which he is crafting stories. This video excerpt below, that comes from the second video in the series, documents Proenneke’s return to the cabin he had built a year earlier. Simply put, he takes his leave of the civilization with which he was familiar to pursue nature’s beckoning calls. For extended periods of time. Away from the everyday. To something else.

Proenneke also sets out on a new life after the age of 50, like Duncan E. Slade’s turn to art education. (I’m making a mental note to pay extra attention when my 50th birthday rolls around for whatever life changes come my way.) His narration is unhurried, keeping in harmony with his patient practice of living in the wilderness.

Unhurried. But purposeful. I think I remember writing something about this earlier this year.

So I’ll seek out unhurried but purposeful ways to be responsive as new students share their anxieties or as colleagues threaten to spiral deep into their own frustrations. I suspect a visit or two to Dick’s cabin couldn’t hurt, either.

Happy new year!

Size matters

When Y asked me to reflect on what elements or affordances characterized this past year as simply sublime, I was momentarily rendered speechless. Everything, I wanted to say – that is to say, nothing: no appointments on my calendar for days at a time, no mandatory meetings to plan more meetings (in between which no actual work is accomplished), long blissful stretches of time of silence and solitude (and not only when I was sitting Vipassana), no guilt when spending full days free from agenda with my spouse, friends, or family. A full sense of nothing. No thing.

The answer, it turns out, was far less philosophical. I relished my limited wardrobe, namely a predictable uniform of jeans in some form and a tee shirt whose sleeve length was determined by the weather. It was the denim, however, that was the linchpin, the signifier of time spent away from judging eyes, the reassurance of moving through the hours and on the streets on one’s own terms. Of course, in an academic environment, jeans have become commonplace (thank goodness!) and form the core of my work wardrobe, as well. Ah, but the freedom from a work wardrobe

My penchant for dwelling often in the comfort of denim showed when, last week while walking upwards of seven or eight miles between domicile and commercial enterprises, several times in fact, I was made suddenly aware of a sad reality. The year’s ocean crossings and multi-terrain, varied climate travels had taken their toll on these woven denim relics and had rendered all of my remaining jeans utterly worn (through). And then the other shoe dropped: I needed to shop for new jeans.

It has been years since I stepped foot into a store with the express purpose of purchasing a pair of jeans. I had taken a page out of my father’s book of “find something that fits and buy multiples” – and so I had done just that. Only now, the jeans stockpile was no more. (To be absolutely truthful, there are still two or three pairs tucked away on a shelf somewhere – or now, in a suitcase waiting to be unpacked having traveled back from Philadelphia to New York – that will do in a pinch, but they are one critical assessment short of the donation bag. When will I learn that trends are not for me?)

Syllabus planning, book writing, email responses, phone calls – they all took a back seat one afternoon as I steeled myself for the task at hand. The Center City crowds seemed overwhelming, so used to the quiet of my neighborhood had I become that constant chatter blended with car horns and diesel engines struck a cacophonous chord in my ear. Simply to escape the noise, I opened the glass door of the first store ready with anticipation to be enveloped in the icy cool blast of air conditioning, although it was less of an embrace than a full frontal attack by the air duct register hung above the main entrance.

My air assault was followed by a cloyingly sweet greeting uttered by a salesgirl with an oddly brusque looking face; she took on a completely different appearance when she smiled. This was not to be the place, I determined quite quickly and, with a perfunctory tour around the store, I skirted the glare of the first salesgirl and scurried out without so much as bothering to feel the fabric or decipher the code for the different jeans leg openings.

Similar scenes played out in three more stores, although I did manage to take a few candidates into the dressing room, only to be completely confounded by a) what passes for denim and b) the sheer lack of understanding on the part of jeansmakers about the meanings of words like rise and flare and straight as they pertain to the garment of their livelihood. In short, no luck.

I didn’t intend to purchase jeans from The Gap, nor do I intend this as an advertisement for the brand or corporation. But my curiosity and historical familiarity pushed me to pull open the excessively tall doors that are initially resistant and then, without warning and with encouragement of the spring hinges, augment the motion by swinging widely. It’s a wonder more people aren’t injured for just entering the store.

What happened next was swift, free from overthinking, easy. I tried on six pairs of jeans in a range of waist sizes, lengths and styles. One worked well, the same style name I remember purchasing nearly a decade earlier, but the length was a bit long. So I gathered up all of my things – because by this point in the afternoon on a day full of meetings, gym, and errands, I had acquired an additional few bags of various shapes and sizes that, in addition to my laptop bag, were hanging off of me – and avoided the wider abyss of the store by making a beeline for the jeans display and within a few seconds located the right leg length in the right style and size. Oh, if only that was the end…

I repeated this search and rescue operation two more times and in doing so came upon a strange fact: jeans of the same style, rinse, and size may have different material composition based on inseam. Length!

With the matter finally resolved, and with my new purchase tucked away between my sneakers and old gym clothes, I checked my watch on my left hand as my right found the metal handle to push open the large glass door. 97 minutes. That was the time it took to find a new pair of jeans and to be reminded that despite the industrial revolution and all the technical revelations in manufacturing, individual hands – thousands of them – are never far from the journey taken by the material goods in our everyday lives.

And then I remembered a short film produced by a young man — a teenager — who I met at an academic conference. For his poetic take on hands, take 2:21 minutes and watch this (part of the DigMe video collection):

happy

Sydney Pollack’s documentary about architect Frank Gehry — the one who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the crazy mind behind LA’s Disney Concert Hall, and other distinct structures that demand passers-by pay attention — includes extensive looks at the design process, one that for Gehry now involves assistants who translate his verbal mutterings or napkin scribbles into models. During one scene, as Pollack sits alongside and observes while also videotaping, Gehry and his assistant are cutting and taping pieces of metallic silver cardboard to create a physical facsimile of a building design in progress. Gehry is unhappy with one side and suggests that it needs to become crankier. The solution: corrugation. The clip below is just over three minutes long, and right at the 3:00 mark, as Gehry sees the problem wall come alive anew, he exclaims: “That is so stupid looking, it’s great!” and a few seconds after that, he throws his arms in the air and exclaims “wheee!”



A recent addition to my personal ever-expanding hopper of examples of “adults embracing glee” comes from the Monty Python crew. The sketch is titled “Ministry of SIlly Walks” — it is absurd, some may say overly childish, and yet, with precision commentary about, among other things, the peculiarities of bureaucracy. (I originally wrote that: bureaucrazy…)



Perhaps to be happy can require, at times, a bit of silly — or, as these researchers suggest, a forced smile.

The focus of the post was inspired by a recent one on Kate’s blog about the happiness of nothing (in which she, too, draws from the wisdom of the mighty Python), who was responding to a prompt on Side View’s Weekend Theme: Things that make me happy.

framing the artist

There’s little I can say that hasn’t already been said about the film “The Artist.” Prior to seeing it, I had read very little about it and had read almost none of the available reviews — just a feeling I sometimes get with some movies for fear that the words of others will ruin my own viewing experience. I knew that it was a modern take on silent films and that my mother-in-law had raved about it. This afternoon, after an exhausting few days of post-illness recovery, I finally left the flat and sat in a nearly empty theater just around the corner and took in this cinematic experience. I’m embedding the tap dancing, fancy-filled trailer here.

George Valentin is at the one center of this dual-nucleus film and is portrayed by the devastatingly charming Jean Dujardin who, along with his film co-nucleus Bérénice Bejo, the utterly enchanting female lead, offers a layered, nuanced, and loving letter to a key moment in film history. In addition to the two main actors, this film also serves up a panoply of supporting actors all of whom deliver poignant and punchy performances regardless of how many or how few minutes they are on screen — including James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and Penelope Ann Miller who call attention to the many dimensions of screen presence that go far beyond vocalization or verbalization of lines in a script. Eyebrows move, shoulders shrug, hands gesture and hold strong, looks are held and broken, there are dance numbers, and playful and meaningful glances and grazes. And what comes through in this film, more so than in many I’ve seen recently, is the strength of the visual framing of the story. The characters and the narrative are elegantly and precisely framed, especially moving are the shots that incorporate staircases and mirrors in fantastic ways. My teacherly self wants to recommend this as a core text through which to explore this practice of framing and the play of sound, song, and speech off one another. And the pop culture connaisseur in me can’t help but think of the ways in which the stories about artists in the public sphere are framed and played out in various texts and media outlets. Or how, in my walks through the city, I have seen artworks framed by adjacent structures and the ways in which my own movement helps or constrains the ability to see the art.

Art from afar
Art from afar
Art up close
Art up close

And for those who have watched the film, click here for a parting gift — a bit of video fun in which the much-celebrated lead of The Artist, whose voice we barely hear in the film, collaborates with FunnyOrDie to put his vocal talents on display in this excellent example of self-parody.

while you were sleeping

jet lag is a strange thing. your body fights it, tries to trick its power, and ultimately falls hard under its spell. the result: walking zombies. in this zombie-like state, attempting to ward off Jette Lag — likened in my mind to a nefariously comical villain from an 80s-style spy movie — we went on a stroll last night that took us to the the south bank via the waterloo bridge. the video below was taken at dusk, as the busy london workforce rushed over the bridge to one or other tube stop. just behind the bridge to the southeast, is the ever-turning london eye all lit up in electric blue.

after a bit more walking and overuse of the tube daily travelcard purchased by mistake — and therefore one must get full use of it, even if it is just to go one tube stop while fully absorbed by the human crush that is london rush hour — the penultimate stop on this delay-JL walk was the nearby Sainsbury’s supermarket; not a Sainsbury super as the internet had promised, but just a Sainbury’s local. the plastic, blue shopping basket was full of an inexplicable collection of odds and ends including frozen meals created by the Quorn company* — fantastic news for a soy-free vegetarian! at the self-checkout the computer politely asked if we would like to register our Nectar card. what is this Nectar card, so full of the promise of untold bounties and joy — implied, perhaps, by the very word nectar. a store helper heard me muse this out loud and asked whether i’d like to join this “national loyalty program” and not being one to shy away from a program that accrues points for purchases i’d make anyway (case in point: my love of fatwallet.com), i agreed, we swiped, and we were on our way!

nectar card info packet

the evening was a blur that included a simple but surprisingly delicious meal (me: green salad with steamed broccoli and roasted cashews and the Quorn tikka masala and basmati rice). prepared, by the way, in the micro-flat’s micro-kitchen that is par for the course in london abodes — well, maybe not quite so micro. more flat pics to be unveiled as time passes (and as i find clever ways to photograph its unique features).

the micro-kitchen - a model of efficiency

post-dinner: setting up a temporary, unlocked mobile phone and taking in some BBC news before passing out at a respectable 8:00pm local time.

all in all, not a bad way to start getting situated in this town. today’s mission (other than finishing up a few lingering Stateside todos): take the long, meandering, city-exploring walk i usually like to do upon first arriving in a new place, regardless of how familiar it already is. it’s my way of getting a lay of the land so that i end my map-reliance sooner rather than later. and of course, find a good cafe or two 😉

*in the States, a completely different and much more limited assortment of Quorn products can be found in select grocery stores.