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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Of Edgar And Literature And Abraham Lincoln

Occasionally while lost in the throes of literary passion, I forget that I am in a room full of jaded, ultracool sixteen-year-olds who find much of anything written before say, yesterday on their cellphones, pretty extraneous and boring. I get all excited and emotionally invested in what I'm talking about--flinging myself about the room, perhaps even welling up a bit and getting verklempt and all, gesticulating meaningfully--and they watch, not the least bit amazed or impressed. Oh, at first they were frightened, sure, but now it's become so commonplace that they just sort of wait me out until it runs its course and the moment passes and I come back to them.
This week, it happened with Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar is...well, I feel like I am A Special Defender Of His Memory. This man has been so vilified for so long that I never let an opportunity go by to set the record straight on his story. (And, yes, I am on a First Name Basis with him. I've studied him and his works and taught him for so long and protected his legacy so unstintingly that I feel I have the privilege.)

I always start out introducing Edgar by asking the students what they think they already know about him. They trot out the usual crap: he was a drug abuser. Wrong. He was an alcoholic. Wrong. He was crazy. Wrong. Sigh. About the only thing they get right--and gleefully announce--is the fact that he married his 13-year-old first cousin. That much is true. Then I tell them the whole story of how he called her "Sissy," how he lived with Virginia and her mother for a time and was concerned with the scandal it was creating, how he and Virginia were childless for their entire marriage, and how the most recent scholarship says the marriage was likely never consummated based upon the above and other letters and evidence. I tell them about how Edgar's biography was first written by his archenemy, Rufus Griswold, and how it became the accepted story. And then, I tell them to look at the photo of Edgar in their textbooks while I read them a better bio of his life. And I say, "Can you just see the terrible sadness in this man's face? Look at him. His whole life was one of want and loss. He practically gave his genius away. The story we're reading today was sold for only ten dollars! Let's give it more than that for him." Later, as the students were analyzing the story in groups, one group called me over to ask me a question about the story's theme. We talked about the evil inherent in man, and man's instinct to struggle to survive. I related it back to Edgar's life. "Poor Edgar," I said ruefully. "I just want to go back in time and try to save him from it all."

The two girls smiled at me. "Oh, Mrs. D.," one said. "You can't do that. Then he might not have written all these stories. And then Stephen King might never have written any of his stories. "

"That's true," I said. "But, haven't you ever looked at an old photograph of someone and seen something in the person's face, in his eyes? Something that told you what that person had seen or been through?"

"No," one girl said, eyeing me cautiously. I think she was starting to worry that I'd be off again into one of my little spells.

"I hate old pictures. They creep me out," said the other girl.

I was undeterred. "Well, I have a thing for Abraham Lincoln," I began (probably an unwise choice of words, I soon realized by their expressions). "I read books about him like crazy, for some reason. And when I look at his picture, into his eyes, it's like I fall in. I can just completely get him. I find him fascinating and human and incredible. But his pictures; I can't explain it. It's not entirely like that with Edgar, but I care about Edgar."

Just then, another student in another group raised his hand. As I moved away, I heard the boy near the girls' group say, "What was that all about?"

"Mrs. D. was talking about Poe and Abraham Lincoln," one girl said.

"Yeah, she kills me," the other girl said. "Now, I'll never be able to look at Abraham Lincoln's picture the same way again. Or Poe's. She does that to me a lot."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Merci, Gracias, Dankie, Amyaji Chezu Tinbade, Yokoke, Dank Je, Mahalo

OUR COMMENTERS!

Now that it's deeply November, we here in the U.S. of A. have entered into that dangerous Wad O' Time known as **THE HOLIDAYS**. (Of course, if you believe the Retail Giants, we entered into that WO'T right around September 30th and never get out of it until July. Except on February 15th, when we are allowed to take a small breath right before they put out Cadbury Cream Eggs and chocolate bunnies and bikinis and sunblock. Because you know, then it is time for Easter and Memorial Day and Fourth of July. But I digress. Who, me? La.)

In the midst of all of these festivities and hubbubberies (I did just make up a new plural there), it is easy to lose track of things that are important to us, the blogging community. Born out of this concern and exigence was Thank Your First Commenter Day, a blogging community holiday brainchild of Neil, host of Citizen of the Month. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2005, Neil decided to use his blog to thank his very first commenter for giving him some validation for putting himself out there in the blogosphere. He suggested that all his fellow bloggers do the same. I did that and thanked my first commenter, St. Jim of So. Maryland for commenting on one of my very first posts back in my early days of blogging, now over 2 years and some 204 posts ago. Even though St. Jim is a friend of mine, it still was exciting to have a comment and some feedback on the Internets. Regular visitors to the Dept. may notice that St. Jim has been in absentia for some time now. Perhaps I have thanked him too vociferously and he now thinks I am stalking him. Which I am not. (I don't stalk anyone these days, except maybe occasionally Daniel Day-Lewis and that is primarily out of habit. A bad, old habit that is, like smoking for some people, hard to break and almost instinctive in nature.)
Sigh.

Bearing that in mind, I am adapting Thank Your First Commenter Day this year a bit and simply thanking all my commenters. Let's face it, all of us bloggers are a bit vain and/or egotistical in our own way, or we wouldn't be putting it out there on the Internets for everyone. We would be squirreling our innermost thoughts away in password-protected Word documents or scribbling them in inky longhand on countless spiral notebooks hidden in cartons deceptively marked "Tax Receipts 1985-1990" under the steps. We want to be read. And, more importantly, we want to know we've been read!

I love my commenters! DO YOU HEAR THAT? I LOVE YOU, MY COMMENTERS! I love that you read DEPT. OF NANCE and that you have something to say. Being naturally chatty myself, I automatically want to respond to you. So I do. In comments. Such fun! Thanks a bunch for chatting along with me. And if you've never commented before, I hope sometime that you do. And, St. Jim, thanks again. And sorry if I've frightened you. Sigh. It's only once a year. Tradition, you know. And as for you, DD-L, oh never mind. I'm so over you it's not even funny.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I, Nance, Do Solemnly Swear, To Do My Duty...


For years I have fantasized about the Dept. of Nance being a real Department. As my masthead says, I do believe that the government needs me. Someone has to right the smallish wrongs being perpetually perpetrated everywhere in our otherwise civilized society. It has become increasingly clear to me over the years that we are, in fact, unable (or, even more sadly, unwilling) to do this ourselves. I am happy to do this task. It is bipartisan in nature. Both Democrats and republicans seem to commit these egregious faux pas and societal sins, so I can work within the bounds of any administration without interference. I am a separate entity, beholden to no one. I can be funded by the Supreme Court's order and a constitutional amendment in perpetuity.
Or whatever.

I do not require a huge office, just a moderately-sized one with adequate ventilation and good natural lighting. I do not need a big staff, just a secretary and one other assistant who may even be part-time as long as he can drive me as required as I will not be driving myself since I do not plan to drive in Washington, D.C. It is too trafficky and strange to me. Finally, I will not clean my own office. I will, however, supply and water my own plant or plants.

Once installed, I will immediately act. Much like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I will begin a strenuous agenda of reform and will, within the first 100 days, show my vigorous commitment to making life better and more civil for the American People. Here is my short list of what I will do:

1. Require all theaters to install cell phone jammers.

2. Require all sit-down restaurants to take reservations regardless of party size.

3. Ban all inflatable lawn decorations.

4. Decree that all underwear is visible in public only at fashion shows.

5. Ban all leggings. Forever.

6. Decree that all Christmas decorations, music, displays, sales, and ads are prohibited until December 1st. The only exception made will be for craft stores. Period.

7. Require spelling to count ALL THE TIME, EVERYWHERE.

8. Ban the sale of Crocs except at swimming pool stores and garden centers, where they belong.

9. Reinstate Pluto as a planet.

10. Ban the mention of celebrity birth, marriage, public brouhaha, or rehab issues from legitimate news broadcasts.

11. Bring back the following retired Crayola crayon colors: blue gray, orange red, raw umber, violet blue, lemon yellow, orange yellow, and mulberry.

12. Ban the wearing of baseball hats by anyone not at a baseball game.

13. Make "telling someone about this dream I had" in detail a felony.

14. Abolish call waiting (a.k.a. "licensed rudeness").

15. Prohibit anyone over the age of 12 from wearing animated characters on his or her clothing or person.

I could, of course, go on and on and on and on. But this is, as I said, my short list and will likely occupy much of my first 100 days. (That, and decorating my office, hiring my secretary and assistant, and selecting my plant or plants. Plus, I will have to acclimate myself to Washington, D.C. Heretofore, I have only been there as a tourist. Once it becomes my workplace, I will have to view it in a new way, as a Beltway Insider. ) I trust that, in Brainstorms, you'll give me more to do.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Salmagundi: Politics, Gravy, Madison Avenue, Brian Williams, and Verbal Vexations


On Sundays I wake up, make some coffee, grab The Cleveland Plain Dealer off the front porch, and settle in for over an hour of reading and shopping-by-advert. Then, by 10:30, I hunker down for Meet the Press with Tim Russert and whoever he's got on the hot seat. Most of the time I'm hoping it's not a republican because Sunday is traditionally supposed to be a Day of Rest, and I get way too steamed up and hectic if I have to debate one of Them. They sit there, pretending They cannot hear me, regardless of all the cogent and salient points I make, and I end up irritated and frustrated and all hackled-up for the rest of the day, almost, in my Democratness.
It's just not good.
But I digress.

Today in the PD, Macy's has an ad for their bigass Veterans Day sale. (Macy's is always having a big honking sale, so I never take them seriously. If you ever go there and pay full price for anything, then you are foolish and perhaps stupid. Between their coupons and shopper's cards and sales, there is simply never a reason to.) Anyway, in the ad today, there is some jewelry. A strand of "genuine freshwater 8mm pearls." Now, get this: the original price is 80 bucks. The sale price is 40 bucks. But for Veterans Day, you can pay only 19.99! What does this tell you about Macy's? Does it tell you that: A) they are really honoring those who fought in the service of their country? B) they care deeply about the consumer? C) their jewelry prices are incredibly jacked up to begin with and are not to be taken even remotely seriously? Oh, I think we all know the answer to that one. And that is just one example of the ridiculousness in this ad.
Supposed $320 Liz Claiborne suits are being offered for $59.99. My friend Sue used to work for Macy's and said new shipments arrived with the tags already marked down and stickered with the sale prices. Alrighty then.

How exciting is this: Brian Williams is broadcasting The NBC Nightly News live from Cleveland, Ohio tomorrow night. Sadly--and I wonder if this is directed entirely at me--they are keeping the final location of his remote broadcast site confidential. Sigh. Because, as you know, I would absolutely recruit Rick to drive me there, possibly with tasteful forest green cravat in hand, to witness it. In total silence, of course. I respect his journalistic integrity. I have even given thought to what I would wear, had I gone to see him. Tomorrow's weather is forecast to be overcast with a possibility of showers and a high at 6:30 PM, EST of 56 degrees F. I would wear my black pencil skirt, black sweater with red cami and my tartan pumps. I would have to wear my black leather jacket and possibly employ my red tartan umbrella, which, when not in use, would be at my side, tastefully rolled. Brian, know this: If I knew where you were going to be, there I would be also. Tastefully attired, and giving you quiet and fashionable moral support.

Barack Obama was on Meet the Press today, and I was again struck by the irritating proclivity all politicians have developed lately, republicans and Democrats alike (and believe you me, it pains me tremendously to have to say that), when speaking in interviews or in debates, to use the very rude imperative "look" as a sort of address, absolutely to the point of nastiness. When Tim Russert asks a question, they say, "Look, what we've got to do in Iraq is..." or in a debate, they say, "I'm not saying my opponent is wrong, but, look, the point is...". Not to pick on Obama, but he really beat it up today. I went back and read the transcript and in his 40 minute interview, he used "look" as an imperative a staggering 14 times! I'm sorry, but that's just awful. And it always sounds petulant, rude, and well, bossy!

And while I'm at it, here's another thing Obama's interview got me thinking about: this constant badgering of candidates who say they're anti-war but vote consistently to fund it. Russert got Obama on that one, too, and Hillary's gotten it ad infinitum. Is it just me, or is this The Most Disingenuous Question Ever? Who in his or her right mind is going to sit in a big comfy chair in Washington D.C. and play a game of Political Chicken just to prove a point and leave thousands of soldiers in hostile territory with depleting supplies? Why is this question even a question? Is the person asking it even remotely serious? Why hasn't someone called them on it? Like Joe Biden, who has to be the sanest straight-talking non-PC guy up there in the Dems' row. Am I missing something? Please tell me because I hate being an idiot and not knowing it.

My snark level rose a bit yesterday because I had to go shopping in our local "Lifestyle Centre." Which is a snobby way of saying "upper-crust stores that are not housed in a mall, so I had to be cold and walk in the wind even though Rick drove me right up to the front door of Express because he is wonderful like that." I realize that, when I choose (read: have to because no other stores have my size in decent dress pants in NE Ohio) to shop there, I am going to necessarily deal with a much, much, much younger demographic sensibility. To be brief: the music was way loud. So loud, in fact, that Rick waited outside for me to shop for pants. Which took almost an hour. So loud that the salesgirl had to bend down and put her head to my head in order for us to communicate. I felt like crying. Or screaming. Or both. Later, I went to Bath and Body Works to buy another bottle of Lavender Vanilla body mist perfume, which I love.
And, they apparently no longer make. !?!?!?!? I love this scent. It has been my perfume for years. I am constantly told how good I smell. I am serious when I say that students come up to me and just smell me. And now it is no longer available. Oh, they continue to make it in lotion, candles, bubble bath, and something called "pillow mist", but not in perfume. This is unacceptable. I am completely bereft and pissed. I am...berissed. Or...piseft. I'm mad.

Finally, (and thanks for staying with me, whoever you are) let me just give Thanksgiving its due since hardly anyone else (except for the folks at Butterball) does. For many, it has become a stumbling block in the path of the Christmas Juggernaut. But I love this holiday, for which no one has to go mad shopping for gifts, mail out cards, do a ton of decorating, buy special music, or string up lights on every conceivable edifice. Thanksgiving means getting together with family and possibly friends and making and eating comforting food, like turkey gravy. To me, turkey is the best possible flavor of gravy ever. And I am a huge fan of gravy. My dear friend Ann from Florida, who might love gravy more than I do, once said, "As far as I'm concerned, most food is merely a vehicle for gravy." I hear that. I am all about the rest of the dinner, too, though. This year, it's my turn to have the kind of stuffing I want, which means adding cornbread. I don't know why Rick and Sam and Jared even care; they eat massively no matter what.

So, how about all that? And, what's going on in your head this Sunday?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Day The Music Died


These days, everyone's got an Ipod and everyone's listening to them practically 24 hours a day. Many of my students arrive to my class "plugged in," and the first thing they have to do is yank the buds out of their ears and wind up the wires and stash all the equipment. (I have a "no electronic or digital equipment of any kind" rule in room 245, period. Even their calculators can record, store text, and serve as Cheating Devices. It's incredible. But I digress.)

I have an Ipod. I got it by default. My husband had it sent to him free as a promotional gift because he is a Cleveland Cavaliers season ticket holder. It's one of those Ipod Shuffles. I was the only one at the Dept. who didn't have an MP3 player, so I ended up with it. Rick loaded it up with a bunch of MP3's that were on our computers, leftovers from the Napster Frenzy of CD Burning, and I was presented with my Very Own Customized Collection of Music.

Which I almost never listen to.

I also rarely listen to the radio or CD player in my car, put on the stereo or radio in my house when alone, or listen to any music when I'm taking one of my 45-minute baths. Right now, I'm typing this post alone in my home office, and the only sound is the forced-air furnace and the tapping of my keyboard. I could put on a CD, bring up Pandora in a separate browser window, or turn on a radio. I could even stick the earbuds of my Ipod into my ear and listen to my favorite songs. But I won't.

It's odd, isn't it, this lack of music in my life? Sometimes I think about it and try to trace back to where it began. It's relatively recent, I think. I don't know when music stopped being pleasant and soothing and started to simply add to the cacophany of my life--serving as yet one more thing I had to think about.

Radio is the worst. Too many commercials and interruptions. And, no, I'm not going to start paying for radio. It's bad enough I have to pay for television. I'm not in my car long enough to really listen to radio much anyway. But if I actually would hear a song, it would be at the end or in the middle. Or, if I heard a song that I didn't feel like hearing, then I had to flip stations endlessly. It's too annoying. So, I gave up on radio, except for NPR, but when I found myself listening to someone droning on and on about--and I'm not kidding here--Norwegian Folk Metal Music--I realized that I was turning into something that wasn't fit for society. I leave the radio off.

And I don't even keep CDs in my car. Again, it's just become noise to me. A CD by one artist invariably contains one or two that I don't like. And then, I have to skip. Or, I get bored. Or I find myself trying to figure out irksome lyrics. Pretty soon, I'm driving and trying to get a handle on the music stuff.

I'd rather have the quiet. I'm a public school teacher in a building of over 2000 teenagers. My whole day is full of talk and chatter and humanity. But no music. I still wonder at my new aversion to music.

When I was younger, my taste in music was largely informed by my older sister, Patti. She was a child of the sixties and a Beatlemaniac. In addition to the Fab Five, she turned me on to artists like Three Dog Night, Carly Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, and The Moody Blues. I'm forever grateful for that.

Later, I listened to Seals and Crofts, Cat Stevens, and anything Elton John put out. I went through a brief KISS period (didn't everyone, now really!) and bought KISS Alive! on vinyl and wanted "to rock and roll all night and party every day." But I got over that and moved on to disco like everyone else and stopped following actual artists and sold out and just went to clubs and danced to horrid music that had an incredible backbeat.

But then came the Eighties, and that's the music that I really still love. Or loved? Or choose to listen to when I think of music. My Ipod has Duran Duran on it. And "Voices Carry" by Aimee Mann, then with Til Tuesday, and Flock of Seagulls and Thompson Twins and Bowie and Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac (so 80s--they ruled the 80s) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and George Michael (before all of that) and Rod Stewart and Talking Heads (come on, "Once in a Lifetime!?" listen to it!) and Wang Chung and The Cars.

Now? Hell, there's like, no one now. Music, quite frankly, stinks now. I hate most of it. Rap? Please. That's not music. It's nagging. If I want to hear someone yammer at me, I'll call my mother up and finally tell her some of the stuff I used to do in college. Awhile back, I liked Train. But their latest song is crappy. I liked Anna Nalick. But she only put out one album; I played it to death and her career is, apparently, dead. Not too long ago, Gina put up a video of a good song by a band, Aqualung. I liked it, so I had Rick download, er, get me some more songs by them. But I've only listened to them a couple of times and I don't like all of them. That's how it is with me and music. I get disappointed and I give up.

But, my point--and I believe I did have one and I am getting back to it--is this: at some point, the music left my life. I find it disconcerting and aggravating to listen to any kind of music. I am bewildered by the number of my peers for whom music is still a large part of their lives. I wonder if silence is anathema to them, or if they do balance the music with quiet. I realize I am in the minority; it is I who is the oddity.

And it wasn't always this way.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Brian Williams' Worrisome Career Move


In an absolutely startling career move--whether it's upward or downward remains to be seen--The King of Cravats, The Parliamentarian of Ties, that Nobleman of Neckwear, my news anchor crush Brian Williams will be hosting Saturday Night Live tomorrow night.

This brings to light several concerns.

First and foremost is how on Earth will I stay awake? I haven't been able to stay awake, even on Saturdays in the summertime, past 11:30 pm since I was about 30. Don't suggest coffee or Red Bull (how the heck do people drink that stuff? And is it carbonated? Because if it is, I automatically cannot drink it. Ever since going on my migraine medicine, I can't drink anything carbonated. Except champagne. I've managed to find a way to drink that! But I digress.) because caffeine late at night doesn't really keep me awake, it just makes me pee. A lot. But now you're tragically overinformed. (So what else is new at the Dept.?)

Secondly, if he wears a tie, or several ties (not all at the same time, but it is a comedy show...), is it incumbent upon me to do a Report? I would guess not since the title of the Tie Report is actually "The NBC Evening News' Brian Williams Tie Report", although I suppose I could do a special report. But, that sounds way worky for me, and I am nothing if not slothful by nature.

Thirdly, what if seeing Brian Williams do comedy makes me lose respect for him as a serious journalist? I have to admit, there are times when he is on location and wearing his hideous, ill-fitting shirts that my admiration fades just a wee bit. And, on occasion, when the camera pans down and shows that seriously ill-advised belt that he wears with the ostentatious silver accoutrements, I find myself cringing and my thoughts straying toward one tall, silver-haired, bold-cravat-wearing David Gregory (who fires some really snarky queries from his White House press room seat and gets called "Gregory" by The Angel of Death who actually looks like he wants to weep rather than call on our Hero). Imagine if the SNL cast makes Brian Williams don a toga or a chicken suit or some such undignified garb! (Oh my god! Could you imagine Brian Williams in short pants and a beanie with a helicopter propeller atop it? And carrying an all-day lolly?) Quelle horreur!

Finally--and this is really the big worry--what if he sucks? Really, now, what if he stands there and just lays a big, fat old egg? How will he--or more importantly, I--recover from that? Will I just lie in my bed, under my comforter, and softly whimper? Will I become bitter and blame it on the lousy writing of the inferior Millennium SNL team? Will I soldier on till the end, hoping it gets better or just turn it off at the musical guest?

Did Peter Jennings ever do SNL? Did Tom Brokaw? I know Walter Cronkite never did. If Brian Williams takes the comedy world by storm, we might see him hosting the Oscars. Then, winning one! And after that...?
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