Archive for category Homelife
School started today, which meant a number of students coming to my office to ask what I thought about the new Hobbit movie. The short answer is I liked it.
. . .
The long answer — indeed, the long-winded long answer of a scholar who publishes on medieval literature, Tolkien, and fantasy in general — follows.
[In what follows there will be spoilers concerning both book and film. You've been warned...]
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a good movie, and I mean that in all sincerity. If you like this sort of thing at all — and if you don’t, why the hell are you reading this review? — then you’ll enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s entertaining.
That said, Unexpected Journey is not a great movie.
And, truth be told, it never could be.
Read the rest of this entry »
Some weeks ago, a student of mine posed a question to me in the minutes before class began:
If you could meet five people, from any time in history, who would they be?
I didn’t have time to think about the notion then, and I’d essentially forgotten all about it until just now. But I’ve pondered it for the past three minutes or so, and I think I’ve got a working answer, which is to break these five spots into categories — personal, religious, political, cultural, and spiteful — and I’ll choose one figure from each.
For many reasons, this kind of list is inherently dependent upon the context of the moment and the individual. My answer probably won’t be the same tomorrow. And even my idea of categories might break down altogether: After the next presidential
lie-a-thon debate, for instance, I might want just five political figures; that would give me more folks with whom to drink away our dreams for the future of this nation.
Regardless, here’s the list for now:
1. [Personal] My Grandfather. When I was in eighth grade, I won the school science fair and got to go to the state competition. My grandfather on my mom’s side had been a science teacher, and he was, in the purest sense of the word, a good man. We had always been close, and so I called him. He was thrilled. He said he was proud of me. He was coming to visit us soon, and he couldn’t wait to hear all about it. That was the last time I spoke to him, and I’d like to see him just once more, just for a moment, just to tell him that I love him and to hear him say — as I hope he is — that he’s proud of me.
2. [Religious] Jesus. Some good comes from religion. So does a whole hell of a lot of evil (far more than comes of atheism, as it happens, but that’s another topic). In fact, I’m devilishly tempted to fill the rest of this list with religious founders just so that I could get them all to see what is done in their names. Then I’d parade them out in front of everyone so we could all get their stories straight. Probably wouldn’t go well, though. I suspect that a great many Christians would stone Jesus in the name of Jesus. Would be surreal, but sorta not cool.
3. [Political] Thomas Jefferson. I will freely admit my bias in saying this: I think that mine is the greatest country on the planet. And it is so because of a group of flawed human beings who saw their weaknesses and their strengths and wisely came together to form for this new world a new vision of freedom. I’d like to chat with them all, frankly, but I think I’m most fascinated by Jefferson. No, America doesn’t get everything right. Health care is a mess. Our political system is dangerously fractured by demagogues and ideologues. And in the name of freedom we are astonishingly willing to sacrifice our freedoms and those of others. Frankly, I’d like to know what Jefferson would think of it all. I don’t know that he’d have great solutions, mind you — he’d probably be too mesmerized by my iPhone to think straight — but it would be fun to talk with him about the issues just the same.
4. [Cultural] Geoffrey Chaucer. I know, I’m a homer. It’s honestly a tough call betwixt my boy Geoffrey, Shakespeare, Mozart, and Michelangelo, but in any case it mostly comes down to me wanting to shake the man’s hand. Sure, I’d also like to ask them some questions — “So, Geoff, did you really intend to write more Canterbury tales? And how did you die, anyway?” — but more than anything I would just like to shake their hands firmly, look them in the eyes, and say thanks.
5. [Spiteful] Adolf Hitler. I want the chance to kick him in the gonads. Scratch that. I want us all to have the chance to kick him in the gonads. Town by town, country by country, I’ll take Hitler around the world he wanted to rule and give everyone an opportunity to line up and swing away. I’ll ask only for donations — a dollar, a dime, a can of corn for the homeless, whatever you can afford — and it’ll be the greatest tour in history: “Kick Hitler in the Sack! In Topeka for One Night Only!”
So that’s five for the moment. Who y’all got?
A writing retreat is a good thing.
With no worries but the words, the pressures of life relieve a little bit. And being surrounded by like-minded people frittering away on their keyboards … well, you tend to get a fair amount accomplished.
Now add in a beautiful location, good weather, and good friends old and new. That’s what made my recent days at the Woodthrush Writing Retreat (ironically) indescribably awesome.
I’m fried. That’s the sad truth of it. Teaching an overload, ramping up duties for this and that, working night and day on the Owain Glyndwr project … I can honestly say I’m not firing on all cylinders.
I like to think that other folks — my students especially — don’t notice, but even if they don’t, I do.
And I don’t like it.
What I especially don’t like is how the strain of the constant workload has essentially shut down my fiction writing output.
And that, folks, is why today is a Very Good Day. Because today I head up to a writer’s retreat run by Mary Robinette Kowal. For the rest of the week, I’ll be surrounded by writers. There will be no Latin or Anglo-Norman to translate. There will be no essays to grade. There will be no articles in need of revision or submission in need of editing.
Just me, good people, and the fiction.
I can’t wait to get started.
If you know anything about me you probably know that I am fascinated by a great many things in life, some of them quite obvious to those who read my musings here on the site. Perhaps less obviously than my interests in the Middle Ages and science and Tolkien and writing and Jeeps and the Broncos, however, is this:
Probably this goes back to the teacher in me, but I am consistently fascinated with the ways we present information to one another.
I bring this up because today I came across this terrific article in the New York Times that attempts to present the information about Usain Bolt’s recent gold medal run in the Olympics in a different way. It turns out that it’s part of series of multimedia infographics that the NYT has been running throughout this Olympiad, and they’re all terrific at combining multiple streams of information into a format that is highly accessible to the human mind.
(The videos also, as it happens, do a terrific job of working out scale, a problem that I recently mentioned in regards to the Mars Curiosity landing.)
If you’re interested in this kind of thing, do check out the Information Is Beautiful website, run by David McCandless. Or watch his TED talk, which is really terrific and insightful. Here’s one of my favorite McCandless infographics, visualizing the two primary political parties here in the United States. I have it posted on my office door as a matter of fact:
quiet silent around here for quite some time, for which I’m sorry. On the other hand, I don’t really regret it, if you see the difference. Because the honest truth is that it’s been quiet because I’ve been ridiculously busy (even for me!).
Here’s the run-down of the summer’s events:
Graduation, followed by a highly compressed three-week summer course — in the middle of which I spent 5 days in Michigan at the Kalamazoo Congress. That’s where we last left things hereabout.
Some weeks ago, I bought a bike. The fact that I haven’t posted about it surely shows how busy I’ve been — because it’s a cool bike and it’s worth talking about.
Indeed, since I live and work at a college and I ride the bike in the biggest city park in Charleston, I’ve ended up talking a fair bit about my new wheels, to both colleagues and students. I didn’t buy the bike to “get noticed,” but there’s no question that it has happened.
Why, you ask?
Because my bike is a folding bike. More than that, it’s a really cool folding bike.
As background to how I got these nifty wheels, I should point out two things that loomed large in my decision making:
- I live in Charleston and have no garage. These combined facts mean that storing things outside will result in rust and algae blooming upon them. If you want to keep something nice you need to keep it inside, which means it’ll take up living space. I was thus in the market for a folding bike.
- The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve started to favor quality over cost in my purchasing decisions. That’s not to say that money is no object — believe me, money matters in our house! — but I am increasingly interested in viewing purchases across a long term investment than across a short term impact. I was thus in the market for a good quality folding bike.
What I decided on was the Tern Link D7i. Tern is a new company, but it’s a sort of off-shoot from Dahon Bikes, which is a well-established player in the folding bike field. I liked what Tern seemed to be doing for the price range they were at, and the early reviews of their bikes looked positive.
On December 1st, I wrote a post that was equal parts letter to Sharp and expression of lament on the passing of my beloved graphing calculator.
My Sharp EL-9300C had been with me since high school. We’d lived in 6 states together. We’d shared gains and divided losses. We’d integrated laughter, derived smiles, and even graphed hearts.
Alas, the calculator croaked. I’d say it was an untimely passing, but I reckon that twenty-odd years is pushing it for graphing calculator lifetimes.
I can’t complain but …. well, it still hurt.
Fast-forward a few months and … lo! It has risen!