Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today is my blog's first birthday! In the past year, the country has elected a new president, and I've crawled a little closer to my dissertation. Thank you for reading, and I will do my best to continue to bring you my (ahem) unique view on books, pop culture, and the world around us.

Going over my stats and the number of visits I have had to the blog, it might be interesting to note that the most popular pages on this blog (according to are:
Thanks for a great year, and please stay tuned for more!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reach for the Sun

It's been a rough couple of days. Between dealing with angry/ anxious/ disaffected students and pressing forward with my work, I've been feeling a little worn down. While drinking a bottle of wine, indulging in some retail therapy, or eating a tub of Ben & Jerry's are certainly options for handling these issues, I'm trying to be a little more proactive about this. Consequently, even as I attempt to try and type of midterm assessments, I am listening/ watching this clip from the Scrubs episode "My Choosiest Choice of All."

Not only does the music provide instant uplift (who can be angry when listening to this song?), I have found that JD's assertion "In the end, it's about integrity" is very true. While it may be tempting to opt for the easy route, it is also important to remember that, when it comes down to it, sometimes all you have left is your integrity and your understanding of self.

Additionally, dealing with problems in this fashion does not leave you with any unpleasant aftereffects like hangovers, buyer's remorse, or stomachaches. So watch and repeat as necessary (I've probably watched the clip 20 times in the past two hours).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21: World Poetry Day & "Pippa Passes"

According to the wonderful resource ReadWriteThink by NCTE, today is World Poetry Day (who knew?). According to the RWT site:
Believed to have its origin in the 1930s, World Poetry Day is now celebrated in hundreds of countries around the world. This day provides a perfect opportunity to examine poets and their craft in the classroom. In 1999, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) also designated March 21 as World Poetry Day.
To honor of World Poetry Day, it seemed fitting to do two things. The first is to call attention to's new Animated Poems feature, which reveals poetry line by line. It is an interesting idea, even if I do like having the entire text in front of me when reading a poem.

Secondly, given the gorgeous (if chilly) weather today in Boston and the start of spring (at least in theory), here is one of my favorite selections that always reminds me of spring (and, less magically, freshman English class):

from "Pippa Passes"
by Robert Browning

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!

While other poems might contradict Browning's optimistic and rather simple assertion of the rightness of the world ("The World is a Beautiful Place" comes to mind), I find this poem comforting. Giving the ongoing strife in the world, sometimes it is important to take a step back from the numerous problems featured in the news (the economic crisis, the war, the problems in foreign countries, etc) and try to focus on the positive.

With this in mind, I'm not completely convinced that Ferlinghetti's "The World is a Beautiful Place" is that different from these few lines of "Pippa Passes." Although Ferlinghetti's poem takes a considerably darker and more satiric tone than Browning's, both pieces make the argument for focusing on what there is to enjoy about the world around us. While Ferlinghetti consistently brings up the problems facing society (bombings, war, death, and starvation), "The World is a Beautiful Place" might be read as an admonition to focus on the good things in life even in the face of seemingly unremitting turmoil. If "even in heaven/ they don't sing/ all the time," then perhaps Ferlinghetti is trying to tell us that, rather than waiting for everything to be perfect, we should try to enjoy what we do have.

With all of this said, I doubt that the titular Pippa would be nearly quite so happy if she happened to run into Mr. Ferlinghetti's nameless narrator.

Want more "The World is a Beautiful Place"? Check out my first and second posts on the poem.

A Little Bit of Column A, a Little Bit of Column B

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting as regularly as I was at the beginning of the year - grad school is slowly but surely going to kill me. Today is a prime example. On one hand, I got a great deal of stuff done (for school and other things). I went to Staples to get supplies, got some pants hemmed, printed out articles at the computer lab, and returned library books before I lost track of them and/ or started accruing the exorbitant fines (fifty cents a day) on them.

On the other hand, I have the deep and sinking suspicion that one of the dissertations in my TBR pile is very similar to what I was planning to do for my research and dissertation. While this may not completely nix my dissertation (and the year and a half of research and reading I have been doing in preparation for it), I am more than a little freaked out and just want to curl up in the fetal position.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Navy Barbie" by Lyn Lifshin

March, as my local bookstore display likes reminding me, is Women's History month. I initially toyed with doing weekly blogs about this, but I never got around to it. In an odd and ironic coincidence, this month also marks Barbie's 50th anniversary.

While Barbie has been the subject of many a debate, for better or worse, she is an indelible part of American culture. She has an entire empire (dolls, toys, videos, etc). Unsurprisingly, there have also been numerous parodies, books, and poems about her in popular culture. One of my favorite poems is Lyn Lifshin's "Navy Barbie" from the book Cold Comfort.

The poem brings up some very interesting ideas regarding Barbie's image and the issues surrounding it. Besides addressing the concept that, behind the big breasts and the glamorous wardrobe, Barbie is more than just a pretty face, it also forces the question of the accoutraments that make Barbie who she is. When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Barbie and all of her accessories (car, clothes, shoes, Dream House, etc.). However, Lifshin notes that these things are certainly not as great as they may seem: the clothes are uncomfortable, and when it all comes down to it, Barbie dresses up not for her enjoyment but for the enjoyment of others.

For all of the problems and questions that Barbie brings up, I still prefer her to the Bratz dolls and to Bella from Twilight. At least Barbie eventually pursued hobbies and careers beyond mooning over the undead and cooking dinner. Happy 50th Barbie - may the Botox be with you!

Spring Break: Grad School Style

Sadly (for me) I only have a few more days of spring break left. However, looking back on my week, it really hasn't been all that different from my usual routine. Here's a (very boring) overview:
  • Monday: Yay - no 8:00 am meetings! Except, I have an 8:00 am grading session. Plus it's snowing. After grading exam essays, my grading partner and I critique each other's writing for an hour. Good times.
  • Tuesday: Work at the non-university job. The hours are flexible and the boss is fantastic, so I can't complain too much. I have dinner at the Roadhouse, eat a facsimile of southern food (pretty good onion rings and mashed potatoes, okay chicken-fried steak), and talk with a lovely couple at the next table.
  • Wednesday: Run errands; it is as much fun as it sounds. Get accosted at the mall by a lady selling flat irons. Eat substandard delivery food.
  • Thursday, part I: Go to Cambridge for more errands. Eat at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant (pretty good - lots of meat). Take the wrong bus and get momentarily lost. Went home, did laundry.
  • Thursday, part II: Fire alarm starts going off at 7:30 pm. Wait outside for 20 minutes for the firemen and police officer to determine that it was a false alarm. Go back inside and finish writing blog.
Beyond the false alarm, it has been a pretty quiet week. I wish I had been more productive in my school-related work, but I still have until Monday to produce something worthwhile. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Review: The Secret Lives of Great Artists

Try as I might, I've never fully developed a great appreciation or understanding of art. Like opera, it is something that I admire but cannot fully comprehend. I know very little about artists beyond the usual stories (such as Vincent van Gogh and his ear). Consequently, when Quirk Books published The Secret Lives of Great Artists, I was very intrigued. After thoroughly enjoying The Secret Lives of Great Authors, I thought that this might serve as a good introduction to the lives of artists.

The Secret Lives of Great Artists is by Elizabeth Lunday, who also writes about art in Mental Floss magazine. While it has a great deal of provocative facts and stories about artists such as Johannes Vermeer, Edward Hopper, and Georgia O'Keefe, the book didn't hold my attention, and I found myself skipping around and reading the book piecemeal. Besides the more tantalizing bits of information (such as O'Keefe's tendency to paint in the nude), Lunday also includes a brief overview of the artists' biography and discusses their important works.

Like The Secret Lives of Great Authors, this book's format mimics tabloids and contains pictures of the artists. However, the book does not include pictures of the art work Lunday discusses. While this may not be a problem for people who are familiar with art, the average reader may not be able to vividly recall Durer's "Knight, Death, and the Devil." Even pieces that are part of the cultural lexicon, such as "The Arnolfini Portrait" (which has been featured in the credits of both Growing Pains and Desperate Housewives) are not usually known by their formal names, putting the art neophyte at a distinct disadvantage when reading this book. Although the book's website tries to provide pictures of the pieces along with some brief analysis and information, it is not particularly convenient to read in front of the computer so that you can reference a given piece of art. Furthermore, many of the links don't work, leaving the reader to the mercy of Google Images.

All in all, this book is interesting and could give you enough info to help get you through a cocktail party or two. However, the lack of actual artwork in the book and the plethora of broken links on the website make it a somewhat user-unfriendly reference for those looking for an introduction to great art and the people who created it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

RIP Rocky Mountain News

On Friday, the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. While I've never lived in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News first caught my attention when I saw a photo essay in Time entitled "Honor After the Fall," which was based on the work of two of the Rocky Mountain News's reporters. In its almost 155 years of publication, the Rocky Mountain News has won numerous awards, including several Pulitzer Prizes. It has covered stories ranging from last year's Democratic National Convention to the Columbine shootings to Jim Sheeler's "Final Salute," which remains one of the most powerful pieces of journalism that I have ever read.

RIP Rocky Mountain News - the journalistic world is a little darker without you in it.

Dr. Hibbert, C'est Moi

I'm sorry that I have been recently MIA. My work on my dissertation has started to pick up (again), so I've been reading research and working on my interview questions. Today I had a small interview/ focus group session, and as I was transcribing the tapes, I realized that I laugh. A lot. I make Dr. Hibbert from The Simpsons sound downright dour. While the session went well, I have learned that I need to curb my laughter to help my interview technique (and to keep me [or whoever I hire to do all of my transcribing] sane).