Monday, March 29, 2010

1st Day of Classes + Abramovic's Doppelgänger + Right Wing Liars & Code Pink

Returning to teaching after a short break is always easier than after a long(er) one. I'll say no more about my classes for now except that my performance of John Cage's 4'33", which I improvised on/using my computer (projecting the keyboard onto the hanging screen), and followed by giving students a double-sided copy featuring the first two versions of the score (cf. below) on one side and Cage's original commentary about the piece, along with a series of questions I sought to have the students answer at that moment and without a lot of thought, appeared to go over well. It also was the first musical performance I've given since adolescence (band).

What a quarter this ought to be.

* * *

Speaking of conceptual art performances, I would have paid double to see this particular Marina Abramovic performance at the Met: what began this past Saturday, March 27, 2010, as another day of Abramovic's reprise of her marathon sitting-still-in-silence performance, "The Artist Is Present," turned into something quite different, when a young woman wearing her hair in a black knot over her shoulder, just like Abramovic, and dressed in a long blue caftan, like Abramovic, took her place across from Abramovic and, to the bemusement, awe, consternation, and surprise of other attendees, proceeded to mirror Abramovic's performance with a remarkable one of her own. She did not speak, she did not move, she did not nod off or rise to use the bathroom or anything else: for the rest of the day, she matched Abramovic's presence with her own, leaving only when the gallery closed and guards politely ushered her out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back from Break + Prototype iPhone Blog App + Tea Party Teabaggers 101

Spring break came, I left the grid for a bit (including, amazingly for me, Twitter), but now the new quarter is set to begin. I am teaching two classes: one is a continuation of the advanced fiction writing-novella class (Theory and Practice of Fiction), and the other is a brand new experiment, an advanced creative writing class, Concepts of Conceptual Art. I'm charged up about both; the novella class's first half-quarter went pretty well, I thought, and all of the students produced what approximated the beginning of a long work (long short story/novella) by the end of the quarter, so now they'll be refining these and extending this work to create something that is or approaches a novella. Our final reading is Don DeLillo's curious, powerful novella, Pafko at the Wall, which he originally published as a folio in Harpers in 1992, but which he later incorporated as the prologue to his greatest novel (in my opinion), Underworld (1997). After DeLillo, it's on to their work exclusively.

With the Conceptual Art class, there isn't enough time to explore all the theorists, artists, and movements I'd hoped to, so we'll start with a bit of background, moving from Idealism (Plato) to Formalism (Aristotle, Kant), then look at Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, Marcel Duchamp (+ Dada and Surrealism), and Clement Greenberg, one of the chief formalists against whom many of the American conceptualists were reacting, and then explore conceptual music (Cage, Finer, Reynols), conceptual art and performance (Situationists, George Brecht, Alan Kaprow, Adrian Piper, Yoko Ono, Sol LeWitt, etc.), and finally conclude with conceptual writing (Warhol, Stephens/Nathanaël, Philip, Goldsmith, Mesmer, and Lewis Obadike + Obadike). Things aren't as schematic as this appears, and I will be including some theorists like Lucy Lippard, Rob Fitterman, perhaps Benjamin Buchloh, etc. I also am going to have them create a number of projects, ranging from event scores to a durational project. I hope it'll be as fun for them as it's been for me to conceive the class. Tomorrow, too, I hope to perform Cage's 4'33" for them as part of our opening discussion.


Just a glimpse of something really cool: C, who's doing development projects with his new company, created a prototype iPhone app of this blog, pictured below. It's not available for downloading yet, but I've been playing with and testing it since he created it, and it works really well.  Doesn't it look cool?  I'm looking forward to him creating many more.

My blog as an iPhone App
Prototype app of my blog on my iPhone
My iPhone Screen Shot
Screenshot, from my iPhone (JTs is the prototype app)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Abstraction Plus Abstraction Show @ Kenkeleba Wilmer Jennings

One of the things I did while I was back in New Jersey was drop by Kenkeleba Wilmer Jennings Gallery in the East Village to catch the "Abstraction Plus Abstraction" show that's running until early April.  This exhibit is showing concurrently with "African American Master Abstractionists" at Anita Shapolsky Gallery, one of the sponsors of the two shows, and together they constitute of the largest shows of important 20th century abstract art by African Americans.  Shapolsky, whose gallery roster includes Louise Nevelson, Antoni Tapiès, Karel Appel, Buffie Johnson, and William Saroyan, writes:

This is the first time I am exhibiting an African-American group of artists. My gallery has exhibited black artists over the years in group shows. Many galleries have never shown them. The public should be made aware of good art whoever does it. 
The artists in this exhibition are truly masters of Abstraction. The black art movement was helped by the W.P.A., the G. I. Bill (after WWII) and the Civil Rights movement. With all that, most artists had to go to Europe to paint and sell – similar to the jazz musicians of that era. Many of these artists did show in the fifties and early sixties but like all abstract artists, they were eclipsed by the Pop and Minimal movements. Today, many galleries are showing younger artists of all races. This group of first and second generation black artists has fallen through the cracks and should not be forgotten.

I hadn't been over Kenkeleba Wilmer Jennings in a few years (perhaps it was as long ago as 2001-2002, when Chris Stackhouse was part of a group show there), and before that, around 2000, I participated in organizing a show and preparing a catalogue-style pamphlet there, curated by Adrienne Klein and sponsored by my former employer, New York University's Faculty Resource Network, of faculty artists from historically Black colleges and universities (Louis Delsarte, Arturo Lindsay, and others).  In any case, I'd never met artist Joe Overstreet, one of the gallery's founders (with his wife, Corinne Jennings) and a major abstract painter himself, but he was there and I got to speak with him briefly about the show, which includes pieces by Betty Blayton, Ed Clark, Sam Gilliam (mentioned in Seismosis, no less), Richard Hunt, Herbert Gentry, Overstreet, as well as landmark artists from an earlier era, like Hale Woodruff, Charles Alston, and Alma Thomas.  When I saw that these artists were part of the mix, I realized how important this show was.

I'll let the images speak for themselves, but if you want to catch the concurrent New York shows, you still have a bit of time; there'll also be a show this upcoming fall at the Opalka Gallery at the Sage Colleges in upstate New York.

Anita Shapolsky Gallery
152 East 65th St, NY, NY 10005
(212) 452-1094

Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba
219 East 2nd St, NY, NY 10009
PH: 212-674-3939
Until April 24, 2010

Opalka Gallery will also feature these artists:
Opalka Gallery - The Sage Colleges
November 5 - December 12, 2010

Betty Blayton
Forced Center Right, 1975
mixed Media / canvas, 36" Round
Joe Overstreet (b. 1933)
Untitled Dragon, 1997
Alma Thomas (1891-1966)
Untitled, 1966
Watercolor on paper
Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)
Untitled, 1979
Watercolor on shaped paper
Charles Alston (1909-1977)
Abstraction (ca. 1950)
Charcoal on paper 
Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)
Caprice, 1968
Oil on canvas

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Break Is Here! + Health Insurance Bills Pass + Immigration Reformers Rally in DC

My grades are now in, which means that Spring Break week begins. It's more of a symbolic break--and brake--than a real one, though, since I still have to finish a syllabus for a new course I'm teaching next quarter, but that's always an enjoyable task. (Well, all except the document-scanning part.) I'm hoping the weather stays beautiful here so that we can start planting by this weekend, before I head back to Chicago, where, I read and heard, it snowed. Yikes. It was 70F here on Saturday, and between the scaling of prose I did get out and about. Spring, please, hang around.


The Democratic Leadership
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrates
with other Democrats after
the health care reform
bill passed through the House
of Representatives by a vote
of 219 to 212 Sunday.
(Kevin Dietsch/UPI)
Perhaps it was always so, but politics these past few years have sometimes seemed more thrilling than the most artfully created dramas. To put it another way, there's an art and some farce to--and tremendous artifice in--our political system that was greatly on display yesterday. As I read short and marked up stories and essays and cooked, and C did his thing, we periodically would stop and watch the speechifying and punditizing and all the other lead ups to the dramatic vote last night for the terribly flawed, Republite, but still necessary Senate Health Insurance Reform and Reconciliation bills which passed last night, 219-210 and 220-209 respectively, in the US House of Representatives. We should all give great credit to President Barack Obama and his administration, and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her caucus's leadership, for pulling off this major and longtime-coming accomplishment.

The recent path to last night's momentous events, easily the most important of President Obama's presidency and one of the landmark non-military votes of the last 35 years, involved ugly scenes and behavior of the sort that have been all to common in our history. Tea Party protesters massed outside the Capitol Building called civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and a fellow Democrat, Indiana Congressman Andre Carson "nigger"; they spat on black Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO); and hollered "faggot" at out gay Congressional leader Barney Frank (D-MA).  In addition someone hurled bricks through the windows and doors of Representative Louise Slaughter's upstate New York office, and someone shattered a window at Congresswoman Gabrielle Griffiths's (D-AZ) Tucson-area office window.  These acts mirrored some of the most hideous racist, homophobic, and violent rhetoric that emerged during the 2008 campaign, and which has reappeared in various forms in the Teabaggers' protests and gatherings over the last year; in all cases, fear, ignorance and hatred of the Other is motivating these people as much as any economic or economically ideological concerns.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Goodbye to Ai (1947-2010)

I learned today that the poet Ai (born Florence Anthony, in 1947), passed away on Friday. Perhaps she isn't as well known these days as many of her peers, but when I was in my 20s, she was a poet many writers I knew talked about, with excitement and awe. Her mastery of the dramatic monologue form; her vivid, searing poetic images and narrators, who included murderers, lusty spouses, people on the very brink of life, as well as famous historical figures; the visionary quality of her voice; her lyric consistency; and her control of the line all thrilled the writers and readers I knew. We would wonder to ourselves and to each other: how does she inhabit these disparate voices so? How does she balance the beauty and pain in them so well? Who is she and where did she come from? What would it be like to hear her read her work live, to talk with her, to study with her? What is she like as a person?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lt. Dan Choi, Freedom Fighter

On Thursday, West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and New York National Guardsman Lieutenant Dan Choi (above, photo from powerfully concluded a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) rally, featuring comedienne Kathy Griffin, to repeal the abhorrent and failed Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy with direct action: he and Captain Joe Pietrangelo II, who unsuccessfully tried to take his discharge as a result of DADT to the Supreme Court, chained themselves to the White House's gates. According to Qweerty's report, GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee was arrested for helping Choi lock himself to the gates. HRC head Joe Solomonese and Griffin allegedly agreed to accompany Choi to the White House, but neither did. Griffin also supposedly had cameras on the HRC rally premises, for her show, but it's unclear if they captured Choi's protest.

From YouTube user goodboydc (John Aravosis), video of Lt. Dan Choi handcuffing himself to the gates:

From Lt. Choi's press release:

“Hello. My name is Lt. Dan Choi. I am being discharged from the US Army because I am gay and dared to say it out loud.

Today, I am here on a mission with Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, and we are asking you all to join us. We’re calling you to action because we are at a turning point — a moment in time where talk is no longer enough, and action is required.

Equality is not going to happen by itself.

You have been told that the President has a plan. But Congressman Barney Frank confirmed to us this week that the President still is not fully committed to repealing Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell this year.
And if we don’t seize this moment it may not happen for a very long time.

Some may tell you that I am one of the lucky ones. I have been welcomed back by my unit with open arms. And it would be easy for me to stay quiet and hope that change will happen.

But what I was taught at West Point and learned in war is — hope is not a strategy. As officers, James and I both find it a dereliction of our moral duty to remain silent while thousands of our brothers and sister are not allowed to serve openly and honestly.

Capt. Pietrangelo was honorably discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2004 and I will be subject to the same shortly. As officers we are here today fighting for those in the ranks, and we need our Commander in Chief to do the same.

Our fight is not here at Freedom Plaza, it is at the White House. We are walking to the White House right now to send the President a message. So…take out your cell phones and your cameras.

Document this moment. Join us as together — we make history.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Musings

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In today's The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr. meditates on an unknown Irish forebear, asking "Who's Your (Irish) Daddy?".  He, like me and quite a few African Americans, has Hibernian roots and branches in his family tree, and many of us know little about those Gaelic ancestors except apocryphally, though for many years historians, family archivists and genealogists, and in recent decades geneticists, have filled in the gaps.  In the piece the wise professor traces out his own family's Irish bloodline, paralleling the portrait he painted a few years back on his genealogical shows, African American Lives, which I've written about on here before.  As the programs devoted to his own family's stories demonstrated, there's probably more Ireland in him than West Africa, a bit of knowledge that he didn't originally appear ready for, though who living in this society could blame him? Gates's story, as I noted above, isn't uncommon, though his depth of knowledge about his family unfortunately remains so. While genetic ancestral testing raises many problematic issues, what I've taken away from Gates's work is the idea that in concert with genealogical research, it can really open long-hidden doors about our families' past, which is to say, our own.

My own familial links to the Emerald Isle are evident in part in my last name, which is often mistaken for two other common Irish (and English and Scottish) names, King and Keane.  All my life it's been misspelled, despite being only five letters long, and increasingly is mispronounced (have people forgotten that English has silent Es?) Years ago I wrote a poem on this very subject, noting how I'd heard differing stories about where a certain Keene, a white settler in western Illinois who went west to the Gold Rush, returned, and married an enslaved or free black Maryland-born woman, came from. It was titled "Origins." Thinking of it now, I'm also reminded of the story my late father used to tell of how his father would wear a green boutonnière in his lapel on St. Patrick's Day, and Irish Americans in St. Louis would sometimes hail him, and others curse him, but many were baffled by the display. He nevertheless knew why he wore the green carnation and where his name flowed from, and was quite proud of it. As to whether he attended the St. Patrick's Day parades, I do not know. We never attended any growing up, nor did I got any when I was old enough to drive to them. I do recall the excitement that arose among my classmates, though, when the holiday was approaching, and the possibilities for parties and drinking began to abound. Among the many parties I attended in high school I can't ever remember a St. Patrick's Day one--Halloween, birthdays, toga parties, parents-out-of-town yes, but a drinking fest to commemorate the Irish saint: no.

My grandfather's stories, which became my father's, became mine. And so, in sophomore year, back in the pre-Internet genealogy days, when I had to prepare a family tree for my Irish-born, Benedictine instructor, I placed those Irish (Scots-Irish) Keen(e)s where I was told they belonged, along with assorted African Americans, and some Native people from in and around Missouri. All of them had a story or two, including one ancestor named Plunket Spotser. My teacher, who, though still a part of the monastery that ran my high school, now serves as a parish priest for a rural district outside St. Louis, was somewhat bemused when he studied the links. Where did you get this information? he politely asked. From my parents, I said. He nodded and appeared to take it all in stride, though I wondered then whether he also did not wish that he could dial someone up, some record bureau, for a bit more verification. I was nevertheless proud that I had the most colorful and interesting family tree, and there were many branches that had not been touched.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Senior Readings + Epstein on Publishing's Future + Problems of Digital Media Preservation

Customarily in the university's undergraduate writing program, graduating senior majors and minors read at the end of the academic year, in late May and early June. This year, however, the readings moved to this just-concluded winter quarter, which meant that the spring quarter wouldn't be so overloaded, but it also translated into 2 readings per week for several weeks at first, and then 1 reading, usually on Tuesday evenings, up through this--exam--week. For the last three months, 2 to 3 seniors, paired with a faculty member who teaches in the program, have read.  I participated this evening in what was the final reading, with three seniors, Allie Keller (whom I taught in her introductory fiction class), poet Meriwether Clarke, and Aaron Kuper (a poet who was in my Situation of Writing Class). I hadn't heard Allie present her fiction in several years, and had never heard Meriwether or Aaron read, so it was a pleasure to hear all three of them. Aaron, who has a connoisseur's eye for books (once he brought for show-and-tell a well-maintained, hardbound, mid-20th century copy of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol at a midwestern bookshop), seemed to have taken to heart one key suggestion of one our class readings, of reading other poets' work in addition to your own, in Dana Gioia's "Can Poetry Matter?" I didn't know that he was going to do so (he read poems by Millay, Verlaine, and Sandburg), but I'd decided, after the panel discussion on Saturday and a review of all the translations I have done, a great many of them for and on this blog, that I'd pick a selection of them, and read four to end the program.

I've never read any of my translations at the university, so this was a first for me, but I'd also never read any non-English texts aloud either, so I chose one poem each from French (Alain Mabanckou's "Séjour Terrestre"), Portuguese (Manuel Bandeira's "Desencanto"), Spanish (Severo Sarduy's final poem from his series, "Cuadros de Franz Kline"), and Italian (Eugenio Montale's motetto "Il fiore che ripeti"), and read both the original and my English translation. It was, to put it simply, really fun. I ended by reading one of my favorite poems from Seismosis, "Color," which with several others was recently translated into French. I didn't want to overdo it, though, so I read only the French translation of "Process," the one-line poem that opens and closes the volume. The English and French ("Processus") rhythms differ, but the words themselves are quite similar. And with that, I helped to bid our wonderful seniors goodbye. Congrats to all of them, and as I said at the reading, it's been a honor to work with and teach them.


I mentioned before that in the Situation of Writing class we read Jason Epstein's charming, memoiristic survey of his profession, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future (W. W. Norton, 2001), which explores both the transformations in the last half-century of mainstream literary publishing in the US and Epstein's particular role in them.  In "Publishing: The Revolutionary Future," a short piece that appeared in the March 11, 2010, New York Review of Book, Epstein revisits many of the themes in his book. He once again discusses many of the major challenges facing his industry, as well as the current possibilities inherent in the electronic and digital platforms that had only just begun to appear a decade ago. In particular, he touches upon several issues that he didn't explore as much in the earlier work in part because of the state of e-publishing then: the question of social networking sites' role in the creation of new works; the potential proprietary problems with digitization; and the "cloud" approach not only increasingly central to computing but to thinking itself.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ides of March + Torii Hunter Disses Afrolatino Ballplayers + Basquiat Doc Playing

Today are the Ides of March. So what, you say?  Take heed, take heed...


Over the weekend Reggie H. had sent a note around, via Facebook, commenting on the recent comments at a USA Today roundtable by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter that referred to the large number of Afrolatinos in baseball as "impostors." Hunter's specific comments were:

"People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they're African-American," Hunter said. "They're not us. They're impostors. Even people I know come up and say, 'Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?' I say, 'Come on, he's Dominican. He's not black.' "

He continued:
"As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It's like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. It's like, 'Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?' ... I'm telling you, it's sad," he said.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The 2nd Last Class of Quarter + Split This Rock Festival

Last week marked my second "end of the quarter," because the graduate schools' classes run an extra week, so after saying goodbye to my class of senior undergrads a week ago, I unfortunately had to reprise this on Wednesday with my smart and talented group of graduate fiction students.  This quarter I tried to loosely structure the readings along a trajectory that ran from very short (we began with microfictional stories by Melanie Rae Thon and Amy Hempel) to near-novella-length (our final story was Haruki Murakami's "Honey Pie"), and from realism (cf. Thon and Hempel above) to works that included elements of or were outright SFF (Nalo Hopkinson's long story "Under Glass" represented the culmination of this). For the last two weeks of the quarter I like to have the students read either a novel or a theoretical book, so this year I returned to James Wood's excellent though somewhat prescriptive treatise How Fiction Works (FSG, 2008), which, from what I could tell, the students found beneficial.  Throughout all my classes this quarter I taught the work of a number of authors I've never tried before, and they appeared to go over well. These include Jason Epstein, Percival Everett, Amy Hempel, Cristina Henríquez, Fanny Howe, George Saunders, Muriel Spark, Melanie Rae Thon, and Wells Tower.  Of course teaching new texts equals added work, but part of the joy of assigning new materials is that doing so requires that I must also read and think about different authors, styles, texts, than I've become used to. One of the other benefits of these new works is hearing the students' thoughts on them. The undergraduates' and graduate students' in-class commentary, critical papers and annotations, and creative responses, all served to illuminate these works in new ways for me.  Next quarter I'll be teaching works by authors I haven't before introduced into the classroom, including Vito Acconci, John Cage, Don Delillo, M. NourbeSe Philip, Nathalie Stephens/Nathanël, and Andy Warhol, among others, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes over.

I do wish our break was longer, though, because it represents the only time that my mind gets a breather, and I'll have opportunity not only to read a bit for pleasure and leisure, and rejuvenation, but for my own work as well. Writing while teaching multiple fiction classes is always tough, and the abrupt return in January was even tougher than the usual post-summer transition. But such is the teaching life.


I returned early this morning from my short visit to Washington to attend the Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation of Witness 2010, and I'm very glad I was invited to participate and able to attend.  The festival, first conveived in 2003 by poets opposing the Iraq War, and held for the first time as a full event in 2008, spanned 4 days and included readings, panels and workshops, a book fair, film screenings, and performances, and took place at venues throughout DC's U Street Corridor, including Busboys and Poets bookstore; the Thurgood Marshall Center; and the True Reformer Building; and in the Columbia Heights & Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, including Marx Café, Bell Multicultural High School, and the Dance Institute of Washington.  It even included a public cento, read aloud on Thursday at Upper Senate Park, to call attention to the misuse of public funds for war instead of for public education, health care for all, jobs, and other socially vital uses, that began with lines quoted from Adrienne Rich's  poem, "An Atlas of the Difficult World," from that eponymous collection. One of the things I loved about this conference was its atmosphere of political and social commitment, its very different cross-section of attendees from other poetry conferences (like AWP, for example), and the community-based venues. Also, with the focus not on networking or job-hunting but on social activism, people here (as at Adfempo, for example) related to each other on a very different, more relaxed basis.

My main contribution was contributing to a panel discussion that Reggie H. organized on the theme of Black LGBTQ Literary History and its relation to social activism. Other panel participants included poets Lenelle Moïse and Jericho Brown; Cheryl Clarke, one of the most important black lesbian poets of the last 30 years, was scheduled to join us but wasn't able to make it.  The panel tackled a number of issues, including the politics of our work and our work as political art; the ways in which we saw ourselves engaging in social activism; the question of non-traditional aesthetics and Black/queer literary canons; and dialoguing across boundaries. As part of my commentary, I drafted remarks towards a paper on "Translation as Activism," which I hope to complete and publish somewhere, and in the process of conducting research for it, I learned about the Translation and Activism: First International Conference, which occurred in 2007, at the University of Granada, Spain, and from which came a very important document, the Granada Declaration, concerning the necessity and importance of engaged, ethical, global translation and interpretation practice.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Congrats to NBCC Winner Eula Biss!

I'm in Washington, DC, to attend and participate in a panel (organized by Reggie H.) at the Split This Rock Festival, and will post more of that later, but I wanted to offer my heartiest congratulations to my wonderful, generous, and outstanding university and writing program colleague, Eula Biss, who was just awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, for her 2009 book, Notes from a No Man's Land: American Essays (Graywolf Press)!  A J's Theater monthly pick many months back, Eula's collection essays the topic of race with tremendous insight, grace and brio, and is worth picking up. Soon! Congratulations, Eula!

More soon!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

T'is the Baseball Season (Almost)

Major League Baseball teams are now in spring training, which means that the 2010 season is just weeks away. I'll write more soon, but here are some photos from sunny sandlots. Play ball!

Florida Marlin Hanley Ramírez gestures towards 2008 & 2009 National League Most Valuable Player St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Dontrelle Willis winding up in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
New York Met Johan Santana taking a warm-up throw against Houston (AP Photo/Richard Drew

Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day + On the road to vegetarianism?

Happy International Women's Day!  Today, all over the world, countries are celebrating the lives and contributions of women, and in some countries, like China, Vietnam and Russia, today is a holiday. This year's United Nations global theme is Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all, a goal that we're far from all over the world, including the United States, though we continue to make advances.

Throughout today across the US, there have been some 130 official events, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's tribute and reception in the White House this afternoon.

The first International Women's Day took place in 1911, so next year will mark the centenary. In honor of today and next year's 100th anniversary, think about how you might make a contribution to improving the lives of women and girls across the globe.  One thing I thought of this morning was that poor and working-class women and girls in Haiti and Chile are particularly vulnerable right now, and could greatly use various kinds of assistance.  If anyone knows of organizations that will channel aid of kinds to them, please let me know, and I'll post the links here.


On a completely different note, I've been trying to figure out a way to write on here about how I've become an almost-vegetarian since January (2010), which has also meant, interestingly enough, that I've lost about 15-18 lbs. (I was 219 lbs. on January 4, and I range between 200-203 lbs. today.) This has happened less from me consciously dieting, but rather from cooking even more regularly than in the past, eating less meat--I've gone long stretches, perhaps the longest a week--following more of a pattern in what I eat (coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, fruits and a sandwich for lunch, a cooked meal for dinner, with wine and dessert), and mostly centering my diet around fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.  In the process, and while not really changing my daily driving routine and not going to the gym any more (usually 3 days/nights max) than I have in the past, I have shed the pounds and yet I am eating many of the things that people are urged not to eat: lots of CARBS.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Oscars

As of earlier today, 3 million or so people were unable to watch the Academy Awards because of corporate greed. Disney/ABC wanted more money from Cablevision, and as a result, the cable company was no longer broadcasting ABC to about 3 million customers, which would have meant no Oscars tonight. Once upon a time, cable customers could simply unplug the cable from their TV or VCR, attach a pair of UHF/VHF antennae (remember the rabbit ears?), and let these behemoths fight it out. Since the shift to digital broadcasting, however, unless you went out and got that converter box or had one shipped to you (they're about $20 at some discount retailers, I believe), you're out of luck. ABC would certainly obviate this problem by not trying to cadge more money out of Cablevision, but they could also simply set up a live feed on their Website. But that's too simple, obvious and thoughtful, so, as a result, it was going to be no Oscars for many, unless of course they were able to go to someplace with a different cable carrier, or the DTV box.  Shortly before or as the Oscars broadcast began, Comcast and Disney reached an agreement, and the show was on.

I don't have Cablevision--in fact, I had only one choice of a carrier at my new place in Chicago; monopoly!--but I had originally planned not to watch tonight's show.  Not only am I not interested in them this year, but I have hardly seen any of the films up for contention, with the exception of provocateur Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon and District 9, which shouldn't be up for any award except for cinematography. Best picture? What a joke!  I still haven't seen Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire; Avatar; Up in the Air; The Hurt Locker; Julia and Julia; Inglorious Basterds; A Serious Man; or Up. I haven't seen Invictus; Crazy Heart; The Last Station; An Education; The Lovely Bones; The Messenger; Nine; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; Sherlock Holmes; The Young Victoria; Bright Star; Coco avant Chanel; Star Trek; Il Divo; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Faubourg 36; The Princess and the Frog; Ajami; Transformers; Coraline; The Secret of Kells; Food, Inc.; The Cove; Un prophète; La teta asustada; El secreto de los ojos; The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers; Which Way Home; or any of the nominated short documentaries, short animated films, or live shorts.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Writer Liao Yiwu Detained in China

A few weeks back in the Situation of Writing class, which is now concluded, we talked a bit about dissident writers and writing, but I thought about this ongoing issue and how little it's discussed these days as opposed to during the late Cold War period, when I was in college and the US was engaged in its decades-long ideological and political struggle with the Soviet Union, when I read about the plight of Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), a poet and critic, and bestselling author in Germany.  On March 1 Liao was headed for Beijing to connect with a flight to Cologne to attend the lit.Colony/lit.Cologne festival when Chinese authorities pulled him off his plane. Liao was detained, questioned for several hours, and remains under house arrest.

Philip Gourevitch reported about this in a recent New Yorker, adding much background information about Liao's work and activism, but I've seen almost no mention of it in the mainstream media. In fact, I rarely if ever see any discussion of the treatment of Chinese dissidents in the media or among government officials, not least conservatives/Republicans, who still love to rant about "communism" and "socialism" (and harp on Cuba and Venezuela, no less) however terribly misapplied both labels are: I guess the price of China's underwriting our unsustainable way of living is, despicably, official silence.

But back to Liao: this was the second time he'd gotten in trouble involving potential travel to Germany. As the Human Rights in China website (h/t Pierre Joris) points out

In early 2010, after Liao Yiwu accepted the invitation to attend lit.Cologue from March 10 to March 20 – with planned activities including lectures, readings, performances with German musicians, and meetings with German readers – he was warned by police that he would not be permitted to leave the country. On February 8, Liao Yiwu wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask for her help, a letter which HRIC previously released in Chinese and English. According to Liao, German officials have relayed a message from Merkel to Liao that she would try to intervene, but that, if unsuccessful, he could wait for the next opportunity.

After Liao’s letter to Merkel was made public, he was threatened by Chengdu police on February 26. They even asked him to cooperate with the government by saying that he did not want to go abroad. The police also warned him against accepting international media interviews, telling Liao, “They are harming you and don’t care whether you live or die.”

This is the second time in less than six months that Liao has been denied permission to travel abroad. In October 2009, Liao was not permitted to go to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

End of Quarter + DC Marriage Equality a Reality

Is it true that 9 weeks have passed since January 4, 2010? They must have, because the undergraduate quarter is over on Friday; next week is Reading Week, and exams and final papers and projects follow one week later.  Today was the final meeting of the "Situation of Writing" class, and I must say that I'll really miss the students in that class. Today we concluded our discussion by discussing articles on MFA programs by Menand, Delaney, and Greif; on Rick Moody's Twitter short story, the e-book truce between Amazon and the publishers, and on the old vision of hypertexts vs. new(er) ones; and on Rebecca Mead's New Yorker article on the twin Dickman poets (yes, that's their last name). We also momentarily touched upon graphomania and Alice Flaherty's The Midnight Disease, which I'll have to give more time next time, just as I think I ought to return to Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters (other than Moretti's book on global literature, is there anything out there that's comparable and not weighted down by leaden theory?). There were a good many other things to discuss that we didn't have an opportunity to (though we ran the table on the syllabus!), but as I told them today, I felt like I learned a great deal from them, as I always do. We also had the final quarter meeting of the novella class, and they turn in the opening 10 pages tomorrow, but I'll be seeing them in all the old familiar places next quarter (the semester continues), so this isn't an ending, but a brief hiatus. My final class meeting is next Wednesday; I really enjoy these graduate writers, so it'll be hard to say goodbye to them as well.  After 7 years, I'm still not used to the speed with which a quarter zooms by; on the one hand, we always get a lot done in a short period of time, but on the other, I always feel like it's just too short.


If you'd told me 10 or 5 or even 2 years ago that Washington, DC would allow same-sex marriage before New York City or State, New Jersey, or even states like Illinois and Washington State, I'd have said you need a wakeup call. But, the unbelievable is now, wonderfully, reality: in the nation's capital, marriage equality is a reality!  At DC's Superior Court, 151 couples lined up for marriage licences today. It's taken many years of struggle but this dream is now a reality, and, as I've said, it--legal equality--will eventually be the law of the land. But for today, let's celebrate this good news from DC!
Rocky Galloway and Reggie Stanley (from Rod 2.0 [])

Monday, March 01, 2010

J's Theater's Fifth Anniversary + Skyping in Class + N/olympics

Somewhere around the middle of last week, this blog reached its FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! It's hard for me to believe that five years have passed since I began writing here, in late February 2005, primarily as an experiment (a blog post every day, for a year), but they have. The posts have dwindled in recent years as I've had more heaped on my plate, but I always treasure the exchanges with readers that have occurred, and appreciate everyone who still is motivated, even occasionally to drop in.


As I was originally typing this entry, I'm figuratively floating high above a certain midwestern city. I say this because I was able, for the first time, to seamlessly integrate Skype into one of my courses, and it worked without a hitch! As part of my "Situation of Writing" class, I thought it would be nice to have the course's current students speak with a fairly recent university graduate who's working in publishing, and one of them, poet, fiction writer and critic Jeannie Vanasco, graciously agreed to do so.  An assistant editor at Lapham's Quarterly, and and formerly worked for TriQuarterly, The Poetry Foundation, and the Paris Review, Jeannie also took this course when she was an undergraduate major (in both the poetry and fiction tracks), and I thought she might have some great and useful insights to offer the students.  She did. The hurdle I foresaw, however, was the technology; while I regularly incorporate a host of electronic and online technological components into my courses--from using Blackboard for discussion groups, as a library, and as a posting site, to subject-specific blogs in the past, to Twitter now--and while I have used PowerPoint slides and still images, and screened streaming films (we'll be watching Martin Ritt's great film about the blacklist period, The Front, starring Woody Allen, next week), and last spring even utilized lots of YouTube clips, this was the first time I'd tried Skype.  It worked perfectly. We were able to see Jeannie clearly and without any onscreen pixillation and few sync issues.  She also was able to hear most of the questions the students asked without a problem and her voice came through without distortion.  This has me very excited about using this for future classes, including one next quarter. I know it's old hat to some, but I felt like this was a huge step and am still very cheered by it.


The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are now over, and, perhaps for the first time that I can recall, I didn't watch a complete broadcast of any events after the opening night stadium entry of the athletes; I may have caught a few snippets when changing the channels or clips on the news, but unlike in prior years, I didn't sit through hours of speedskating, bobsledding, the alpine skiing events, an ice hockey match, or any figure skating. When I noticed people tweeting about Johnny Weir's fanciful costumes, I had to look online because I'd missed the performance in real time.  I note my not-watching not to feel superior or register my alienation, though perhaps a bit of the latter is part of the mix, but just to point out how much I think my own interests and patience have changed. The narcissistic, jingoistic, and at times saccharine human-interest coverage of NBC's commentators, coupled with the tape delays for maximum advertising impact, were bad enough, but it also seemed to be the case that, despite the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Olympic Committee and games organizers were more interested in getting on with things than seriously and realistically addressing the problems with that venue and others (such as some of the alpine hills, where a dangerous bump at the bottom of the downhill course initially led to devastating crashes among the women's elite skiers).  Perhaps this was just my perception, and I realize a lot of money was riding on these games happening and not being delayed or postponed at all, a death or two or none. And I'm aware that any participating in lugeing or alpine skiing or any other similar sport realizes the perils involved.  I also realize that NBC, having paid billions, has the right to feature the games however they want, and if it's Bob Costas mocking countries' outfits or freestyling with mind-numbing digressions, so be it. Nevertheless,  Kumaritashvili's death and the daily athlete-and-medal hype, which extended into newspaper accounts, left bad tastes that I could not get past. (Yes, the US won the most medals, and Russia's poor showing has sent President Dmitri Medvedev into a tizzy; Canada, however, led in golds, a nice home victory.) I debated whether I should watch yesterday's Canada vs. US ice hockey final, and decided not to, only to learn that it was a thriller. But I don't feel I missed anything, even if the US had won. In 2 years the summer games will be in Rio de Janeiro and in 4 years time there'll be another Winter Games, in Sochi, Russia, and all of the hoopla that beset Vancouver will be forgotten, though, I hope, not Kumaritashvili and his very sad, preventable death.