Friday, February 29, 2008

We went and saw Salman Rushdie speak last night at the Maryville University Speaker Series. As you might expect, he was worth the price of admission.

Let’s see if I can paraphrase his main point: the world is under threat from what is generally perceived (though not accurately) as a war of cultures; when what is needed is a war of culture (the best in all of them) against willful and often religiously mandated ignorance. The Renaissance would not have been possible without a dialogue between East and West, with many ideas that are core to Western values developing out of that cultural conversation. In the renewal of that dialogue is the key to our best way forward.

Rushdie warned that the intellectual danger from the political left in the West currently arises from a potential fall into relativism where one ends up condoning things like female circumcision on the grounds of cultural difference, rather than abhorring this practice on the grounds of common humanity.

He suggested that the danger on the political right seems to be succumbing to fear such that you become/cause the very thing that you wish to prevent. He observed that Osama had hoped that the Sept. 11th attacks would cause the Muslim world to rise up against the West. That didn’t happen. It wasn’t until Bush invaded Iraq that the Muslim world did as Osama had wanted. Obama made this point the other day – that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until the invasion. Rushdie made allusions to the situation in South Africa where whites oppressing blacks became far more inhumane than the inhumanity they feared. Obviously there are infinite parallels: the most often discussed being the final fall of Rome, where the Romans had become the barbarians that they feared.

Rushdie borrowed the Dorothy Parker line on horticulture expertly, “you can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think”. He also discussed the origins of writers going on speaking tours ala Charles Dickens (warning that his last tour of America contributed to Dickens’ death). He talked about his own career, moving from advertising into literature, and on the value of multiculturalism globally.

He also talked at length about the failure of the narrative – naturalist/realist – voice to capture the surreal nature of modern experience. He discussed fiction as a collection of untruths that point at the truth – very Chuang Tzu (fingers pointing at the moon). He was kind to the label Magical Realism, though indicating that the same technique goes by many names from the surrealism of Kafka to the magic carpets in the Arabian Nights. He said that the work, the purpose of novelists, should be to oppose the forces that seek to limit, lock down, define or restrict the range of human experiences and instead should seek to open up the world to new experience, new knowledge, new possibility and understanding.

It was a wide ranging and insightful talk that has me anxious to read his forthcoming book.


We had to take Sebastian into the vet today. He has Canine Vestibular Disease – also known as “old dog” disorder. He’s fourteen and some months old, so the category fits. Despite the stroke-like behavior that had us terrified that they were going to have to put him down, it seems that he should recover over the course of the next few weeks. Right now though, he can’t really stand on his own. Essentially he’s lost his balance and is nauseous, but it should go away.


Thursday, February 28, 2008


Originally uploaded by jescope
The no-good arch fiend, Dr. Ivan Evilkisser, has used his powers of magnetism to move the entire city of St. Louis onto a barren field in Illinois!!!



Originally uploaded by jescope
Forget crawling, shoes mean I can walk, right?


Sunday, February 24, 2008


Originally uploaded by jescope
Hello from St. Louis!!!!!!



Originally uploaded by jescope
Happy Baby!!!!


Weekend Snapshot in which I demonstrate the unfortunate affects of four days rest upon my idiosyncratic self:


Renaissance Spam:

“Just what is it you don’t like about the basement?” asked I of my infant son – as intermittent protestations filled the air.

“I’m not very old and it smells of mold; furthermore, my toes are cold” said he – signing all this in proto-ASL.

“I’ll fix you up in just a snap, for truth-be-told, you need a nap.”

And so it came to pass that moderately whining son was rocked to sleep thanks to the magic of the FisherPrice™ rocker. (A wonderful hand-me-down of battery powered brilliance that came to us from my brother Kris’ son Allen via my sister Sandy’s son Henry.)

I am drinking freshly ground Hazelnut Folgers™, which mysteriously appeared in my cupboard, and reading The New Yorker™ review of current films (and blogging on Blogger™). I no longer go to movies as I lack the time and the financial portfolio – I find that reading the plot synopses is both more practical and more entertaining. I am reminded by this of Borges, who occasionally wrote reviews of fictitious books that he claimed he was too lazy to actually write.

Two days ago we put shoes on Elliot for the first time. Should one feel schadenfreude for one’s newly shod kinder? He had more traction in his Evenflo Megasaucer™ (a hand-me-across item from BJ’s sister Brit) as a result of the Velcro™ adhered, Carter’s™ Keds™. There will be no bandying about branding in this advertisement sponsored blog – the commoditization of abstract identity according to lifestyle association must still find its representation in actual, functional stuff. If you build good stuff that works for my life I will happily sing your praises – such is my sell-out/bought-in middle class status where my imaginative/creative self can no longer tell stories without (not so) subtle product placement.

Jes is away teaching a paperweights class at the glass studio for one hundred and ten dollars in gas money. I am thus gaining experience in solo parenting for the next seven hours. Since early January, as Jes has been slowly returning to work, we’ve moved into the world of child juggling. As she works mostly nights and weekends we have spared ourselves the horror of expensive and unreliable childcare. Because we only have one car that supports safe, backseat Babytrend™ Flex-loc™ technology (our Suzuki™ Forenza™), we end up swapping cars most frequently in the U.M.S.L. parking lot.

We had what turned into a tapas party last night for our returning friend Erica, who has just moved back from Atlanta to take a promotion in her company – the evil arch nemesis of the cable television viewer: Charter Communications™. We are ruefully subject to their monopoly, and I am blogging this defamation over their network. AT&T™ has not wired this part of the city because not enough people in this area have computers – so claimed a call center flunky with whom I once discoursed upon the subject – he may have been talking out of his #$@. When/if AT&T rolls out their TV/internet service locally, I will switch. Direct TV™ wants a three year contract for their internet service and to that requirement I say bah, fie upon it.

The Tapas Menu of last night:

Afghan Flatbread from the Feb. issue of Gourmet™ - think a turmeric/paprika/cumin flavored nan - with Mediterranean beat root humus (use beats instead of chick peas – looks like red play dough).

This was followed by roasted red pepper soup (leftovers I hate to admit – though I dressed it up by serving it in a modern style fondue pot and adding the sour cream as it warmed through via a can of Sterno™).

We have a number of full and partial vegetarian friends, but for the carnivores I served a Thai chicken satay that tasted like candy. I seared the chicken on a cast iron skillet and then sliced it up, slow cooking it in the satay sauce.

The main course was a coconut red curry with pineapple. I made a separate shredded chicken curry for the meat eaters to add independently to the vegetable base. I’ve started doing more – build your own main course – dishes as a result of various dietary restrictions. I think this started last summer at Brad’s lake house where I made a build-your-own gumbo. I can’t have shrimp and Jes/Vanessa didn’t want the sausage so the base of the soup became a platform for several gumbos.

I like the flow of the build your own tapas meal and might aim for that style of cooking more frequently. If I were a silly intellectual I might call it bricoleur cuisine ala Kenneth Burke. You could come eat at my trendy kitsch restaurant: The Brico Lodge. Is the world ready for such a high concept eatery? Taste, like truth, is an assemblage formed in dialogue between self and world with inexorably intertwined foundations, both bio- and ideo- logical. Would that be a good advertisement tag line?

That said, or abstractly queried, baby is awake and I am off to raid the Frigidaire™ for the Medela™ extracted milk which I will warm in the Munchkin™ bottle warmer and serve in the Avent™ (a UK Philips™ subsidiary) bottle to my boy Elliot™ (he prefers Avent™ to VentAire™ (an American subsidiary of Playtex™)) .


Friday, February 22, 2008

Hmmmm… snow day, snow day, snow day!!!!

Yesterday we had an ice storm; it has continued through today, and will continue into the evening. My enthusiasm for the time off is tempered a bit by the fiasco that was yesterday. They didn’t call off school until I got there. I had one of the more dangerous commutes of my adult life, followed by the even more hazardous return trip.

When I got in the truck to go to school yesterday the windshield was clear, and by the time I reached the highway, not five minutes away, I had to pull over and scrape. The ice was freezing to the windshield faster than the defrosters could keep up with. You can imagine what the streets, lacking defrosters, were like.

It took me an hour to get to work when it normally takes twenty five minutes. It took me TWO HOURS to get home and I narrowly avoided being involved in two separate accidents. I am still a little hacked off at my district for putting the kids and their parents, the other faculty, and myself on roads no one should have been driving on – only to cancel once we were all already there. I was certainly happy to get the call last night that they were doing an early cancellation for today.

Sooooooooooo, I am enjoying baby time and getting a few home projects taken care of. I took a two hour nap yesterday and then slept nine hours last night; apparently I had quite a sleep debt to work off. We are not planning to leave the house anytime soon – it feels like we’re hibernating. I made this roasted red pepper soup that is great served in a coffee cup with a dollop of sour cream in it: perfect hibernation fare.

I guess this is what people with blogs do – recount the minutia of the minutes for the masses (ah, make that the twenty or so people who read this). Still, it’s nice to have a few minutes for minutia for a change. I am off to give E a bath.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Baby Book:

On February 14th Elliot rolled over by himself for the first time. He scared himself when he did it and promptly rolled back. It was an auspicious day for him to roll over as it was his four month birthday and the one year anniversary of the test that told us we were going to have him. He may have rolled over before now, at night in his crib, but if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to commemorate its symbolic gesture…

To celebrate the day, I made Jes salmon Lucerne, stuffed red peppers, and fresh cut green beans sautéed in sherry and butter. We opened a bottle of Felsina Chianti Classico reserve 2001 that Kate had gotten us for our wedding – very good. I’ve been cooking a great deal of late. I am making roasted red pepper soup right now – baking the peppers at 400 for 45 minutes to get the skins off. I daydream about leaving teaching for cooking school. To take a thing you love and make work of it – no better for food than for literature, though in both cases your relative success is dependant to some degree on the palate of your “customer”.

Jes is in Illinois letting me work. We went and visited Sue’s stepmother Bonnie in the hospital this morning; she fell and broke her hip last week, but is recovering well. I left Jes and the baby with Sue so I could get some work done. We had gone for Elliot’s fourth month check up this morning. He weighs sixteen pounds and four ounces. He is in the seventy fifth percentile for most of his growth measures. He got the second series of four shots and a sugar “pill”. Hint for you future parents – take the Tylenol with you and dose your child just prior to the shot – can head off hours of screaming. With his last series we had no Tylenol and he was inconsolable – this time everything went very smoothly.

So I am home now, reading. I am reading/teaching Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. It’s good to get paid for reading great literature. I wanted to blog about odd overlaps – both authors use the word “capricious” frequently – I think in both cases the word conveys an awareness of the arbitrary way in which the powerful (patriarchs or Nazis) dispense both pleasure and pain according to whim. Though with Primo it could just be that the translator liked the word – works in translation throw a big old wrench into readings of authorial intention.

I recently experienced another synchronistic literary overlap event relating to pockets and identity. I’d just finished teaching Ellison’s Invisible Man to my A.P. kids and the narrator is very focused on the several symbolic items that are in his pockets as the story reaches its climax, on Lincoln’s birthday I read an article that discussed what was in his pockets at the moment of his assassination, and then in the Primo Levi book he talks about the loss of items of personal significance – the emptying of one’s pockets as a metaphor for the loss of humanity experienced by individuals during their arrival at Auschwitz.

I had my students write a DO NOW paragraph about what the items in their pockets said about their identity as a set establishing exercise. I talked about what all the keys that I carry around in my pockets are to, and what the some total of my keys says about a life that is focused on both security and access. The clicker on my key chain is not for my car, it’s for my home’s alarm system. Two of my keys are for paddle locks for the cables that tie up my front porch furniture and my backyard grills respectively.

Primo Levi talks about how life in the Lager (camp) was a war of all against all. He’s borrowing the phase from Thomas Hobbes. Levi makes it tangible with the ethics of theft – anything unguarded will be stolen. The fault for the theft rests on the inattention of the owner rather than on the thief, who would be a fool not to steal if given the opportunity.

As I sit in my dinning room, aware of foreclosures and evictions on my street, I wonder about Primo, Hobbes, and the kids I teach – most of whom are not well equipped for a war of all against all. It is the very lack of skills combined with a lack of opportunity that has me using a club on my steering wheel and chaining together my lawn chairs. Ah well, my troubled kids are troubling me – so it goes (just taught Slaughterhouse Five).


Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Music to check out…

Adele 19 http://www.myspace.com/adelelondon

Amy Duffy http://www.myspace.com/duffymyspace

Laura Marling http://www.myspace.com/lauramarling

Kate Nash http://www.myspace.com/katenashmusic

Amy MacDonald http://www.myspace.com/amymacdonald

Pine Leaf Boys http://www.pineleafboys.com/

M. Ward http://www.mwardmusic.com/deluxe/


Sunday blogging is best if done rarely, in order to allow for events to accrue. We are enjoying parenthood and watching Elliot grow in size and personality. Yesterday we took him over to BJ’s sister Brit’s house to meet her young daughters Abigail and Emma. It was BJ’s mother Terry’s birthday, so much family was there. Emma is two months older than E and has two little front teeth. E has begun to froth at the mouth in quantities sufficient enough to warrant an occasional bib – this is the precursor to teeth. Soon we will try “solid” food. Time certainly is flying. Before too long there will be crocuses in my side yard and incisors in my son.

We’ve discovered that baby stuff washes up in our lives like shells on a beach. Tempe, Brit, my sister Sandy, and my brother Kris keep showering us with hand me down toys and clothing. Saturday Brit gifted us with an exer-saucer, like a walker without wheels, and Elliot loves it. All of our other fiends and family persist in buying us new stuff for him which will eventually become hand me downs for other potential children in the expanded tribe – it’s a most strange and fascinating process: watching the village show up to raise the child (and to clean out their basements and closets).

Teaching is going better this semester, not that it went badly last term – but I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I’ve found a groove and have adjusted more to the institutional culture at my school. I’ve made a decision to stay where I am for a while and give the resume a chance to build up a few years under a single banner of allegiance. I’ve been jumping jobs yearly for so long that I may look like a bad risk to future employers. I don’t plan on teaching high school in the extended long term, I want to go back to college teaching, but for now I am staying put.

People keep asking how old E is and guessing six-months before we can answer. He has grown rapidly into a large child. The second question we often get relates to his sleeping habits, “through the night?”. We’ve only just started to put him down for the night in his crib, up until a week ago he’d been sleeping with us. He gives us about six hours in the crib before he wakes up and then he’ll sleep another few with Jes after I leave for work. People keep warning us that sweet baby karma necessitates that our second child will scream from dawn till dusk, here’s to hoping E’s temperament is the template.

That’s about it for us. How are you?