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SYCORAX PINE





Last Build Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2018 11:45:59 +0000

 



I've moved!

Mon, 10 Dec 2012 04:01:00 +0000

You can now find me at www.sycoraxpine.com.  Frabjous day!  Please don't forget to redirect your subscriptions to my new address.

See you there....(image)



The Banal Omnipresence of Pants

Sat, 08 Dec 2012 19:30:00 +0000

Today, D rolled out of bed, walked sleepily into the living room, and said, "I'm going to jail.""I know, honey," I replied, a tremor in my voice. "I'll wait for you. No matter how long it takes.  As long as it's today."I'm in Honolulu now, where D is in his last couple of weeks working on the show that has kept him here for two-and-a-half years.  It's bittersweet, really.  But they've decided to ease his leave-taking by spending much of the penultimate week filming in one of the state's rare prisons. In terms of the surrealism that television production has wrought in our lives, is this up there with the time he came home to discover he was inadvertently covered in the fake gore of Criminal Minds, and spent hours channeling Lady Macbeth, all scrubbing and muttering? Who's to say?From Halawa Prison. Strangely, this is also the mood D's in when he gets home.I did feel an echoing twinge of dismay, edging into full-blown guilt, that while I planned to go off snorkeling with a visiting friend, D was in jail."The worst part about jail," D said to me, while breaking down why it is that we couldn't visit him on the highly secure location shoot, "is that they make us wear pants.""Yes, that's the penal system and its endless oppressions," I said supportively."I really hate pants," he sighed. "I have bad news for you: in the frozen north, you are going to have to wear pants *every* day. Unless you take up my suggested kilt regimen, which my mother and I agree is a look you could totally rock.""I do have good legs." He settled back into resigned anticipation: "Ugh: prison." Cry of despair: "PANTS.""It's true what Baudrillard said, I guess: the prison only exists to obscure the fact that it is pants themselves, in their banal omnipresence, that are carceral."WaikikiDecember 8, 2012 [...]



Infernal Contortions, Nether Contemplations

Sat, 24 Nov 2012 04:08:00 +0000

See how he's made a chest out of his shoulders;And since he wanted so to see ahead,He looks behind and walks a backward path. -Dante on the sorcerers and false prophetsThe Inferno, Canto XX "It used to be," says my mother over breakfast yesterday, "that when you went out with your kid, your kid was like an actual person." "Um. What?" I'm a little surprised to find my personhood in question so early this Thanksgiving morn. "An actual person. Someone you would talk to. People used to come up to me on the bus and say, 'I can't believe how you talk to your daughter!'. Now your kid is just someone to be kept quiet with technology so you can concentrate on your own screen."(You may remember that my mother told me, upon receiving news that I'd acquired a smartphone, that I was "up to my eyeballs in assholedom."* She feels strongly about hypermediation.)"We first noticed this in London," interjects my father, "All of these parents, pushing around their kids in strollers and hushing them while they tapped away at their phones. Contemplating their own assholedom.""Is that the new navel-gazing?" I ask."Yes," says my mother. "But it requires a twist.""My tablet!" I cry, rushing out of the room for my computer, "Meet it is I set it down!"**Washington, DCNovember 23, 2012*My mother: "So what's new with you and D?" I: "Not much. We found an apartment and moved into it. He's working. We're continuing our transition to being assholes with smartphones." My mother: "Mmm."I: "For instance, today he realized he'd forgotten some paperwork he needed for work, so I offered to photograph them using an app he'd downloaded that turns iPhone photos into PDFs, and then email them to him so that..."  My mother: "OH MY GOD: you are up to your eyeballs in assholedom."  ** This joke would be better if I actually owned a tablet.  But what can you do: sometimes Shakespeare won't be held back by the mere mundanities of fact. [...]



On This Day

Fri, 23 Nov 2012 04:50:00 +0000

Friends, both virtual and corporeal, who support, question, correct, and laugh. The interest and energy of my students. A range of places, limpidly beautiful, that feel like home when I return to them. D: just D, in every way. Independence. A job that's exhausting and challenging and thrilling. Language. Prospects for peace. Food as a metaphor for social communion that slips between the secular and the divine. The reminder that the things we love are ephemeral and fortuitous, and we should kiss the joy as it flies.


Washington, DC
Thanksgiving, 2012 (image)



Contorted by Literacy

Thu, 22 Nov 2012 12:39:00 +0000

Hallo, America! You didn't all have to rush to the airport to welcome me back to the warm bosom of the mother country, but I appreciate the gesture.Of course, the warm embrace got a little cooler when the first thing I saw upon deplaning in Dulles was an entire store filled with shirts that read, "Don't blame me! I voted for Romney." Can we just retire that as a political concept, elephants and donkeys all?  It's not patriotic to hope that your country will fail so that you can gloat.My parents, bless, picked me up last night at the airport an hour outside of my hometown. I'd been in the car for less than a minute when my mother told me not to be such a brown-noser. But she hasn't yet told me, with a glint in her eye and a tongue in her cheek, that I'm a Nasty Bit of Business*, so I'm counting this one as a win. I told  my parents that I've been having back and neck problems from, as my friend Ch.  told me, gathering all my intellectual discontent between my shoulder blades."We'll, no wonder, if you're always hunched over a computer or a book in that unnatural position," says my librarian mother, "I've always felt that you were going be a wizened, contorted old crone by the time you were 40.""This is going online. Right this second," I mutter from the back seat."Just so long as you're not all bent over as you type it," floats back the inevitable reply.  Washington, DCThanksgiving, 2012 *"Nabob" when she's feeling particularly pressed for time. [...]



Luck in the Library

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 17:37:00 +0000

A student came to my office for a meeting yesterday. As our discussion of his paper revision wound down, he stared at his bag, looking vaguely abashed. 

"Also..." he said, after a moment, "I'm, um, writing a paper for another class about the ideas we talked about from Aristotle earlier in the term." He leaned over to take a slim, battered volume from his backpack. "So I went to get the Poetics from the library. And there was an envelope in it." He finally met my eyes. "And inside, there was a note, and it talked about you."

"Um." (I said wittily.)

"It told me to come to your office."

"Oh!" I sighed, both relieved and strangely disappointed in my Da Vinci Code speculations, "That's my student's documentary. My Honours students each have to document one class from the term, and turn it into a work of art. This student was dealing with a class in which we discussed and practiced Dadaism, and talked about chance relationships with documents and archive. So she made her documentary in the form of a paper chase, in which her colleagues (or other random students) would encounter the clues when they opened library books, and either discard them or follow them as they wished."

"Okay," he said slowly, while I laughed and laughed with the delight of chance success. 



Halifax, NS
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
(image)



A Murder of Logos

Fri, 09 Nov 2012 01:00:00 +0000

Wish me luck: today was the day when I proved to the Canadian government (nay, all of Canada) that I am a competent speaker of English, in a series of tests that consumed the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I won't find out the result, on which my application for permanent residency depends, for another thirteen days.  While I fret away the time (because really, how beyond embarrassing would it be if I did poorly on this test?), I thought I'd give you a blow by blow of the day. Morning  I have a nightmare in which anxiety about the oral test causes me to break, suddenly, into a logorrheic deluge of academic jargon. "I don't know what language this is," my examiner will jot on his notepad, "but it sure isn't English." Wait: is "logorrheic" a word I should avoid in my oral test?10:00-10:30 a.m. : The Oral TestI think I may have nailed my spoken English test, given that my examiner kept grinning at me delightedly throughout the highly scripted exam, as if to give the questions a certain hipster irony. But I will say this, nation of Canada: if you wanted me NOT to break into academic logorrhea, WHY did you make "celebrity" the subject of the exam? I mean, how am I supposed to respond to a question like, "Why do you think society focuses so much on celebrity?" without breaking out the jargon? At one point I found myself talking about rituals of surrogation and sacrifice. God, I hope they'll still let me stay in this country.Noon-4:45 p.m.: The Written TestUpdate #2: I may have thought, when I took the GREs, that I would never again have to take a standardized test. I may have thought when I took the SATs that I would never again fill in a computer-legible sheet of bubbles. I may have forgotten, in the years since I was a child, that I am historically terrible at reading comprehension tests, despite having devoted my entire career to it, because of the curse of the overanalyzing mind. This was hubris, all of it.  Side-bar: The Aural TestAlso: I have become a terrible listener. During the "Listening" test, I became distracted when the first two questions were about a woman who was registering for a drama workshop ("Did they just say 'drahma'?" I thought, "Ha! Suck it, Canadian pronunciation! Wait: was that the information I needed for this question? DAMMIT.") and an account of how a woman undertook the research for her dissertation ("OH GOD, HOW IS SHE EVER GOING TO FINISH A PROJECT WITH THAT SCOPE?? THIS MAKES ME SO ANXIOUS."). So if they deem me an unworthy speaker of this fine language, I think we'll know why.  The AftermathI call D as I leave the testing facility, which is temporarily at a university just to the north of mine that goes by the unsettling moniker, "The Mount." "It's 5 p.m., and it's already pitch black," I say to D bitterly, "What's that about?""Daylight Savings?  Northern latitudes?""Well, I don't care for it. Not at all.  It's gothically gloomy, and freezing cold, and RAINING, and I have a long steep walk ["the Mount," remember?] back to my car because there was nowhere on campus I could park for four and a half hours." I shift to a stage whisper: "Also, I'm really grateful that I teach where I do, because this campus is so freaking... outdoorsy.  Which is beautiful, but, I mean, we live in CANADA.  It's freezing cold and I'm about to fall down this hill.""Yeah, I couldn't hear any of that," comes the reply from Honolulu, where it's morning, and 80 degrees. "Well, I'm trying not to yell my criticisms while I'm actually still ON this campus.  Although, come to think of it, I am creepily alone in the middle of these woods.  Where am I?" Eventually I reach rock bottom, orient myself, and begin climbing the next bit of hilly allegory to where I parked my car.  It gets even darker. A large bird flies overheard to land on a well-populated po[...]



The Gauge and the Gambol

Wed, 31 Oct 2012 01:01:00 +0000

Here's how the day began: I was peering anxiously at Liverspot's engine temperature gauge* as I bumped down Farfara Way, wondering if it was behaving eccentrically (it wasn't), when I nearly veered off into a wooded ditch to avoid hitting a young buck who was standing in the middle of the road. Liverspot's never had the most responsive brakes.What does she do in there with all those bricks of paper? Here's how the day ended: I went off to schedule my English language tests for immigration - both written and oral - and to reflect on how embarrassing it would be if I failed them. Coming home, I slowly chased a deer back up the driveway, trying my best to imagine that a car could gambol.* Yes, my car's name is Liverspot.  S/he's a 2001 Camry, and a particularly unappealing shade of brown, so I gave the car an avert-the-evil-eye name.  What of it?  (Although I can't say it's been particularly successful, since last Monday s/he left me by the side of the road in a cloud of smoke.  But that's a story for another day.) Luckily we have another car, a 4WD Escape designed to help us navigate our long, LONG, steep, and gravelly driveway in the snowy winter.  How steep is the road to Farfara (our house)?  Every single new visitor who has ever come to our door - including every delivery man and one group of Jehovah's witnesses - has had the same first comment: "That driveway! I bet it's a nightmare in the winter."  "Tell me about it!" I always say, "I live here!  Wait, is that a Bible you're holding?".  So we had to get an SUV to handle the driveway in the winter. (How did I go from being the person who didn't even know how to drive five years ago to owning two cars, one of which is an SUV? I don't like the direction this is heading - it begins to feel as if I'm, in Mère Sycorax's words, "up to my eyeballs in assholedom.")  It's grey, sleek, and comfortable, with a cool-running engine, impeccable brakes, and inexplicable multi-colored disco lighting for your feet.  I call it "The Barge She Sat In."Farfara, Nova Scotia30 October 2012 [...]



The Mousening

Sun, 28 Oct 2012 03:32:00 +0000

I just spent the last half hour in solemn confrontation with a mouse in my kitchen. It began with a rustling on the counter; I ran into the kitchen in time to see him scurry behind the toaster oven. "I CAN SEE YOU!" I accused at high volume, to his great alarm, "YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT I CAN SEE YOU RIGHT NOW." That is when I decided to video-conference D in for the rest of the mouse battle. "Ok," I said to him, when he asked what was going on and what he was looking at, "I've trapped a mouse behind the toaster oven, using the Tardis cookie jar as a blockade. So unless this mouse is a Time Lord, there's no way he's getting away." I think our mouse might be a Time Lord.I also quickly came to regret bringing my own backseat mouse-trapper to the battlefield. D  kept asking why I wasn't using a box with a stick tied to a string, as I erected increasingly elaborate Rube Goldberg contraptions.Here's how the confrontation ended from D's POV: D: "Why don't you fasten those two cookie racks together with a twistie tie?"Sycorax Pine: "I don't know whether I have a twistie tie. Let me just see whether there's one in... AAAH!!!! AAAAH!!! AAAAAAAAAH!!!!!" The video feed shudders with in a clatter of baking tools and hideous screams.D: "What's happening? What am I looking at? Why am I talking to our food processor now?"SP: "I CAN SEE YOU! I CAN TOTALLY SEE YOU!"D: "Where is he? What happened?"SP: "Behind the dish drainer. Look, little friend, I just want to humanely trap you and take you outside so I don't have to call the exterminator to kill you. Can't we come to some sort of understanding?"Mouse Time Lord: [!!!]D: "I THOUGHT YOU HAD HIM TRAPPED. HOW DID HE GET OVER BY THE DISH RACK?"SP: "Look, if you aren't in the trenches, you don't know what it's like."Later...SP: "Do you approve of the account of the mouse battle I posted online?"D: "Yes, but you are still leaving out a crucial part of the story."SP: "That I was outwitted by a mouse?"D: "That the mouse didn't escape via a TIME MACHINE, but rather through a weakness in your defenses. It's like being a Time Lord, but even more like just walking through an open door."I concede nothing. FarfaraOctober 27, 2012 [...]



The Vivid, the Gothic, the Spiderporcine: Thief of Shadows

Sat, 15 Sep 2012 19:28:00 +0000

Winter Makepeace: what a name. I would object on the grounds of generic overexuberance (let's not forget that his sisters go by the similarly abstemious names Temperance and Silence, and one of them ran off with a semi-reformed ne'er-do-well named Lazarus), if I hadn't just come across three separate, apparently devout ancestors named "Love" (each after her grandmother) in my genealogical explorations.  Three Loves amidst a sea of Margarets.  That's my kind of naming.In this fourth in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, the ascetic Winter Makepeace, overseer of a foundling's home in down-at-the-heels St. Giles, is by night the Thief of Shadows, a super-hero avant la lettre called the Ghost of St. Giles, who wanders the streets defending the disenfranchised and forgotten.  Quite early in the novel he finds himself at the tender mercies of Lady Isabel Beckinhall, who is working very hard to convince the world of how scintillating her surface is, and how very little lies beneath it.  The romance that unfolds after she rescues the Ghost from a rampaging mob, all without ever removing his mask is nice enough - the lovers are likable, and the skepticism about the rapaciousness of an aristocratic economy is welcome in a historical romance - but nothing feels particularly wrenching or revelatory. Isabel in particular never really gets off the ground for me as a character: although she's kind and realistically self-questioning, her various characteristics don't ultimately congeal into a coherent personality.  Winter's does to a greater extent, because he is the more unusual persona, but the problems which lend conflict to the romance (having to do with his self-denying tendency to devote himself fully to any task he takes up, whether it be superheroic scurrying about on rooftops, running a children's home, or caring for a family) are all too easily solved when love (sweet clarifying love) helpfully reshuffles his priorities.  I wish that unusual characters like Winter would maintain their distinctiveness (in his case, his chilly austerity) when and after they fall in love, rather than thawing into a rather generic heroic suaveness and confidence.  My favorite scenes with both Winter and Isabel were those in which they were uncertain: it's their prickliness that drew me in, not how polished and dashing they could be.The gothic genre (to which this book only lightly belongs) has developed a reputation for drawing its personalities in broad, bravura strokes, but I'm not sure a really skillful evocation of the genre should  should mean half-hearted characterization as much as it means dynamic environmental tension.  These characters were psychologized (and likable) but they weren't vivid.  And in the gothic mode, everything should be vivid.Stray notes:The editor in me feels honor-bound to point out that there are some infelicities (as they say) in the writing here: sporadic and awkward archaisms, unnecessary interjections of "telling," etc.  It's fairly rare, but I'd like to have seen these ironed out.  Know that this also isn't a piece of decorous realism: if you are seeking a painstaking evocation of historical social mores, go elsewhere.  Hoyt's more interested in building a warm affection between her characters (which she does deftly in all of her novels that I've read), and they routinely find themselves in situations that defy the period's standards of social decency.  Speaking of which, there's one scene of rather explicit banter about how hard Winter and Isabel like their mattresses - all par for the course, except that they are having this conversation over the head of Isabel's young ward, who finally asks why they are speaking of riding their mattresses when they should be sleeping in them.  Honestly, now, I[...]



Lost Spirits and Formal Sporrans: The Angels' Share (AFF)

Sat, 15 Sep 2012 14:52:00 +0000

And the Atlantic Film Festival begins, with this frolic of a fairy tale about whisky and redemption, a sort of SIDEWAYS that, in place of neurotic, pretentious, SoCal yuppie wine geeks, gives us scarred, working-class, Glaswegian ex-cons. Which, to me, makes it about a million times more charming.It's not a deep film, and it's a resolutely sentimental one, but it left me in an awfully good mood.  Ken Loach draws his main characters with his wonted decency and detail, although tangential characters sometimes descend into the sort of caricature that left me with the uneasy feeling that if the film had been set in London instead of Glasgow, it might have starred Hugh Grant.  (One character is so profoundly foolish that even his companions can't quite believe it.)  A large portion of the film dances at the edge of neorealist inaudibility, or perhaps muttered incomprehensibility, and to be honest these were my favorite sections: this film could do with a bit more muddiness, a bit more obscurity in its moral message.  I loved The Angels' Share best when it seemed not to care what we thought, or whether we were even keeping up.What saves it from utter didacticism as a tale of the last big score that allows a fundamentally decent man to escape the trap of criminality and violence is the performance of Paul Brannigan as handsome, scarred Robbie (and, needless to say, the way Loach patiently frames that performance).  Robbie's just been told by a judge that he's had his last chance, and only gotten it because of the stabilizing influence of a girlfriend who's just about to make him a father for the first time: when next he finds himself in trouble, he's going to prison, and probably for some time.  Brannigan's Robbie is fiercely smart and mutely shameful; he discovers an unusual perceptiveness to the nuances of whiskey, a drink he never cared for before, but despairs of ever getting a legitimate job when the violence of his past is written in sharp cuts on his face.  In every scene, his eyes show his ambition warring with his despair and regret, like a doppler map of coming weather.  I was half in love with him myself by the film's end.  (Wait, am I not supposed to admit that?) allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/NcQIvmR21VU" width="560">The film's title, like everything else about it, is both squirmingly earnest and defiantly evocative.  The angels' share is the percentage of spirit that evaporates every year from the stored whiskey: it represents what is lost, but also what is offered up.  It is the spirit of generosity and the poetics of pragmatism, and it emerges as a social metaphor for those who've been written off.  I found myself warming to the title the more I thought about it, even in its final, most literal invocation. "Everything about this film screams Nova Scotia," said the festival programmer to us as we took our seats, "It's set in Glasgow; it's about people turning their lives around; and, you know, stealing booze."Sure enough, when our Dogsberrying group of misfits make their way to the Highlands in kilts, and "I'm gonna be (500 miles)" started up, a not insignificant portion of the audience (including me, and not just because I was expecting the Doctor to show up) sang along in clear, broad Scottish accents.On the other hand, this is the sort of film which rousingly plays the Proclaimers as kilted Glaswegians seek out legendary whiskey in the Highlands. You've been forewarned. The Angels' Sharedir. Ken Loach (2012)6.5/10   Here, share in my good mood: allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/FPKgPB80jNA" width="560">d And now, a personal tangen[...]



Doe (A Deer, A Female Deer) vs. Me (A Name I Call Myself)

Wed, 05 Sep 2012 00:25:00 +0000

Look, this is what it means to live by yourself in the middle of nowhere: I just had a prolonged conversation with a deer and her two fawns. SYCORAX PINE: "Oh, look: the deer are back! Aren't they beautiful?" [Snap pictures and message them to D. Text this commentary: "My new friends!" Then: "Why is this deer looking at me like he is about to make everyone I've ever loved disappear?.... Seriously, I just looked up after spending several minutes painstakingly typing that, and he was still staring. Hadn't moved a muscle."] "Wait, are they eating my lilies?" [Open window.] "Hey! You! Don't eat those." THE DEER: [Look up suddenly, like they are all three thinking about making everyone I've ever loved disappear.] SYC. PINE: "That's right. Step away from the lilies. It's the better part of valor." DEER: [STARE.] SYC. PINE: "OK, think it over. You'll come to the right decision in the end." DEER, in an obviously scathing commentary on our hierarchy of power: [Duck heads and begin to eat again.] SYC. PINE: "Don't make me come out there." DEER: [Unconcerned.] SYC. PINE: "I'm coming out there. You're gonna wish I hadn't." [Storm out the door. Pull up short when I see...] Deer: [Stare at me even more intensely. Stomp in a show of territorial assertion.] SYC. PINE: [Stomp in a manner that should have been highly deer-eloquent, but in a human just seems petulant.] Deer: [Stare at me in perplexity. Look at each other like a couple at a dinner party seeing their friends begin to have an embarrassingly public fight.] SYC. PINE: "Don't you give each other that look. I'm not crazy. (I do wish I were filming this, though. I think these deer are condescending to me.)" [Point off into forest.] "It's been nice, but I think you'd better be on your way." DEER, after a pregnant moment: [Disdainfully turn and make their way into the woods in a leisurely single file that says nothing so much as "I'm not leaving because you've won this argument, I'm leaving because I'm bored."]I'm just sayin': if Calico-Colored Guinea Pig shows up, I'm staying inside the house: allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/MLnF5neM4fk" width="420">  Tuesday, September 4, 2012Farfara [...]



Taking the bit between the teeth

Tue, 04 Sep 2012 04:11:00 +0000

Well, that was a false start.  But I remain undeterred. There's so much to blog about - our trip to the former leper (Hansen's disease) colony on Moloka'i and the heart-grinding reading I did while there;  Satyajit Ray's Chekhovian Music Room and the Fellini-tinged, pharaonic wonder of Cairo Station, the weeklong visit from my Dorothy Parker-esque grandmother, my wrangle with Spinoza - and the term's just beginning this week.  So... what better time to blog up a storm?

Happy Labor Day, all.  May your labors be fruitful and fair, and your three-day weekends be giddy and hedonistic.

Monday, September 4, 2012
Farfara(image)



The Return (of the Repressed)

Thu, 09 Aug 2012 07:37:00 +0000

Oh, my fine friends, I have the same sad story to tell that rings like a bell-tower carillon on too-long-dormant blogs all over the nation. It’s been some time since last you heard from Sycorax Pine.  Much has happened this summer: I’ve been to London, Washington, and now am happily ensconced in Honolulu, where D’s been posted for work.  But since being here, I’ve been sunk in the most pernicious slough of writer’s block that has hit me in some time.  Work writing, pleasure writing, and increasingly even reading of all but the most escapist sort, has filled me with a paralyzing anxiety that bodes no good for the looming tenure process. I have a clutch of projects on the go, and clutch them I have, fretfully and fruitlessly, to my erratically-pulsing heart. 

(image)
Sadly, a rockin' new haircut and Carolina blue espadrilles didn’t help me kick anxiety’s ass.

So I have to break the stalemate, and I hope to do it with more regular blogging (and apparently with some exuberant mixing of metaphors, if this post is to set the trend).  My hope is that by putting aside a daily time and space for writing here, I’ll prime the pump for all my other projects.  We’ll see how it goes. 

And, in the meantime, how I’ve missed you! And oh the many things I wanted to blog about that have faded into the mists of time!  Cursed mists. They cling and expand, and if I don’t record a film, a book, a play in writing, swallow the experience whole.  Here’s to a little sunshine amidst the humid anxiety.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Waikiki, Hawai'i
(image)



Cell Phone Solipsism: On Selfishness and Spectatorship

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 17:43:00 +0000

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/SBLuYV4Ewyc" width="420"> Last night the woman sitting next to me at Pina Bausch's completely sold-out "The Window Washer" spent the first half hour of the show deleting old emails on her smart-phone before (blessedly, although only after several loud yawns and a number of quite stony stares from me) falling fast asleep for the remainder of the half. I was at first relieved to find that she had disappeared after the interval, but unfortunately her friend one seat over (who kept calling her a "clever girl" and stroking her in a possessive manner before the show started) stayed. Before the second half had really gotten under way, he began checking his phone every five minutes, in apparent agony over the time the show was taking out of his life. Finally the man on his other side whispered harshly, "That's incredibly rude. Either turn it off or take it outside." Ten minutes later, exactly in the middle of one of the night's most solemn and tragic dances, I had to get out of my seat to make way for his early departure. I've spent much of the last fifteen hours imagining what the level of the Inferno devoted to Cell Phone Solipsists must look like.I'm thinking a Clockwork Orangesque hyperexposure to blaring/glaring non-stop technological spectacle, precluding sleep or any other sort of rest or solace, for the rest of time. Of course there are theatrical contexts in which dividing your attention between the performer and other objects is appropriate. I myself always take notes in a small journal at the theatre: I find that what I lose in emotional absorption I more than make up for in retention and critical openness.  The distinction here is between distraction that changes your own experience of the work of art and that which actively changes everyone else's experience of the work.  Seriously, if you are blithely lighting up or leaving on your phone in any place defined by its communal darkness and quiet, or by the absorption of a group of people in attention to a single, easily disrupted task, then know that you are being a giant jackass. If you intentionally do this (as in the case of last night) after an explicit announcement telling everyone to turn their phones all the way off because the light disturbs neighboring spectators, I think you should be banned from experiencing artistic pleasure for the rest of your life. Apparently I'm not much of a Futurist. Tant pis. I am, however, making great progress on being a desiccated curmudgeon.  And I look forward to the day when some other desiccated curmudgeon (following me and Rousseau) derides a newer technology for disrupting our absorption in tweeting and texting. Tuesday, June 19, 2012London, UK   [...]



The Uneasy Eye

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 13:55:00 +0000

We're in London, after a brief stop in Boston for D's monthly needle-in-the-eye.  Did I ever tell you why he's being subjected to this slowest of all medieval tortures?  A few months ago, when he was flying back to work in Hawai'i from a brief sojourn home to Nova Scotia, he called me from an airport in the midst of the seventeen-hour journey and said, "The vision is funny in my right eye." "That doesn't sound good," I replied, "I think you should see a doctor as soon as you get to Honolulu."Thirty-six hours later he was completely blind in that eye.Lucy, Patron Saint of the Eye-Afflicted, painted by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi (1484–1551)* The ophthalmologist could see immediately that there was some sort of a rupture or blockage near his optic nerve; this sort of condition often spontaneously improves on its own, so she told him he should go away and come back in a week.  In the intervening days, his vision didn't improve, and he thought that he could feel a distinct pressure behind that eye. Of course, he's highly suggestible, so we didn't know what to make of this particular symptom. When he came back a week later, the doctor was openly alarmed.  The pooling of blood behind his eye was dramatically worse; it threatened now to detach his retina.So he's been having monthly shots, direct to his eyeball (eurgghh), of medicine that will reduce the inflammation of these blood vessels, restore normal circulation, and prevent new vessels from being formed that would obscure or bypass his optic nerve (thereby causing permanent damage to his sight).  These are shots that are much more readily available in the States than in Canada or Britain, so he's made a sort of pilgrimage to the closest eye clinics from sea to shining sea, as we strove to preserve the shape of our summer as best we could.All in all, he's been a stoic about it; untroubled by the Bunuelian prospect of sharp objects entering his eye. (Several of our friends, experienced medical professionals all, winced to hear about this treatment, telling us that the eye was the last part of the body that still evoked squeamishness in them.  "Is it because it's a delicate sac of goo?" I asked.  "Yes," they replied.)  It's our hope that he's come to the end of this particular brand of torment, although the original optic nerve troubles still plague his sight in that eye, because the secondary problem of swelling has been largely taken care of by his needle-courage, which was worthy of a bit of medieval hagiography.* Is anyone else unnerved by the way in which St. Lucy's breasts seem to mirror her four hostile, wary eyes in this painting?  I'm reminded of the famous round of ghost stories between Lord Byron, the Shelleys, and others that ultimately inspired Frankenstein.  Here's how a doctor who was a fellow guest describes that fateful day: Began my ghost story after tea. Twelve o'clock, really began to talk ghostly. L.B. repeated some verses of Coleridge's Christabel, of the witch's breast; when silence ensued, and Shelley, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle. Threw water in his face, and after gave him ether. He was looking at Mrs S., and suddenly thought of a women he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples, which, taking hold of his mind, horrified him.Tuesday, June 19, 2012London, UK [...]



And Circuses

Sun, 06 May 2012 15:00:00 +0000

In honor of D's arrival, I give you here (reported verbatim) a conversation I had with him a week or two ago:


Sycorax: "I've been thinking a lot about you lately."

D: "I've been working a lot lately."

Sycorax: "I see how it is: you've been spending all your time thinking about your true love, Poor Man's Process."

D: "Yeah.  I have to say, in the scheme of things I love, there's you at the top, slightly under bread, then all the way down to Poor Man's Process at the bottom, just under having a needle stuck in my eyeball."

[Pause, while I contemplate that he encounters all of those things with fair frequency, except, well, me.  Lucky man, to get to be with the things he loves.]

D: "You would have ranked higher, but I mean, seriously: it's bread."(image)



The Ambush of Absence (and its Comforts)

Sun, 06 May 2012 03:03:00 +0000

I.One of the delightful things about Kristin Cashore's devastating new book, Bitterblue, is the opportunity to see what has become of the hero and heroine of her previous novel, Graceling.  It's not much of a spoiler, I think, to say that they have succeeded in battling out exactly the relationship they wanted - a relationship that strikes a teetering, struggling balance between a fierce need for freedom (and privacy) and their passionate desire to lose themselves in their love.  It's a relationship founded on frequent and lengthy absences - not just lengthy but longing absences - and sometimes on desperate needs to leave. And they've succeeded in the face of sustained bafflement from many of their family and friends, who cannot conceive of a happy ending that doesn't entail a marriage, children, and above all, sustained togetherness.  Katsa, the ferociously self-sufficient warrior, and her sensitive beloved, Po, call into question the perniciously entrenched idea that love is constant co-presence.  These two can only breathe because of the space that absence allows them.  Love - indeed, self-respect - would be impossible if they were, as historical fiction likes to put it, living in each others' pockets.It's typical of Cashore's subtle exploration of our social conventions of love that she managed to convince me wholeheartedly of the health of Katsa and Po's relationship, while at the same time showing the sad exclusion that those who love them sometimes feel in the face of their passion.  They are so self-sufficient, independently and as a dyad, that the other members of their close-knit adoptive family - the young queen Bitterblue, Katsa's childhood friends, the man who once wanted to marry her - feel excessive and excluded.  I longed for Katsa and Po's reunions in Bitterblue, but with their companions I rolled my eyes in affectionate exasperation at the playful exuberance of their passion and winced at the searing tumult of their disagreements.  There are times when they desperately need to get a room, and yet if they were more private and self-contained then Bitterblue (whose point of view we follow) would lose the pleasure of witnessing their joy, and so would we.  And yet, for all their amorous absorption, they are not bad friends: they are instinctively loyal, and vast in their love for their small circle.  When push comes to shove, as we saw even in Graceling, they will each place the best interest of a friend above that of their beloved. Each feels confident that the other can handle adversity independently; it's a love founded on respect and confidence, rather than a desire to protect.  Or, rather, it's a love that struggles to put aside the desire to protect as a sign of that more vital element of their relationship: respect.Bitterblue takes her exasperation with Katsa and Po's tumultuous suffering - suffering she has no small part in creating, since it is often her need for help that sends them apart - to their friends Giddon and Bann.  Giddon - whom I think of as the stealth hero of this novel, or perhaps a hero-in-waiting - was once in love with Katsa himself, but is now much closer to Po.  Bann... has an altogether subtler relationship to the public and private faces of love.  Suffice it to say that I hope to get a much closer look at Bann and his romance in future books."Is it always like that? [...] I mean," said Bitterblue, "is it possible to have a -" She wasn't sure what to call it. "Is it possible to share someone's bed without tears, battles, and constant crises?" "Yes," [...]



Sprung from the Loins of Byronic Heroes

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 12:36:00 +0000

Today I wend my way back from Washington to Halifax. So we moved off, as Homer said, sad in the vast offing, having our precious lives, but not our friends.

Before I leave, I've tried to do as much scanning of old photographs as I could, and I put this to you: some of my ancestors could be dashing heroes of historical romance.

Take my great-great-great-uncle Francis, for instance, a veteran of the Civil War:

(image)
I'm mean seriously: Byronic, right?  Those cheekbones....
Or there's my great-great-grandfather, Francis's older brother by three years (they were the babies and pranksters of the family - thirteenth and fifteenth of seventeen siblings). He may have had really alarming facial hair, but he's got the same stern, ferocious good looks as Francis, and I'm sure he looked just as swashbuckling in his Illinois Regulars uniform.  Also, check out his name, which I would have derided as improbably contrived in a spy thriller or romance novel, but which (it turns out) is a traditional family moniker.

(image)
I think he may be using some hair pins to fasten back those luxuriant locks.

Good looking boys they were in that family, and between them they had an unsurprising 17 children with names like Fern, Effa Eutoka, Zenas, and Enoch.  Actually, that's relatively restrained, given the determined fecundity of their own parents....


Monday, April 23, 2012
Washington, DC


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A Condensation of Microreviews, or What I've Been Reading

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 03:59:00 +0000

(Yes, that's what I've decided the collective noun should be.)When the semester gets frantic, my reading not only runs to escapism and engrossment, but the pace also accelerates, as I whip through swathes of books (using them as incentives to finish unpleasant or taxing work) at a rate that makes them almost impossible to recall.  I always mean to slow down and account for these books more fully here, but the very scheduling pressures that make me turn to this voracious style of reading also guarantees that I won't have time for leisurely blog reflection. For a number of the books I read over the last few months, I did formulate microreviews, however.  I think I had the intention of expanding on them later, but now so much time has passed that I don't know if I could do so with any hope of accuracy, or without a total reread.  So microreviews they shall remain, forever and anon.A Most Lamentable Comedy Janet Mullany (2009) Feb 29, 2012, 5.5/10As usual with Mullany, I warmed to the writing early, but wanted something a little less … ludicrous from the plot and characterization.  This was an oddly elliptical book as well, always cutting away at the key moment (not just THOSE moments, but yes, those moments too) and moving in anxious leaps of plot.More than One Night Sarah Mayberry (2012) Mar 1, 2012. 5.5/10Charlie’s just been discharged from the military, and feels a bit at sea.  She and Rhys fall into a celebratory one-night stand, and despite/thanks to everyone’s best efforts, conceive.   This pregnancy narrative is sort of the modern marriage-of-necessity story, but there’s not quite enough going on here (despite Mayberry’s dependably full characterization).  The conflict is too insecurity-driven, when he is clearly enraptured by her.  I would have like to get more of a sense of her as someone shaped (not just abandoned) by her life in the military.  As often with Mayberry’s work, I wish there had been a hundred more pages.  That’s both a complaint and a compliment.  A complaintment.In for a Penny Rose Lerner (2010) March 4, 2012. 6.5/10. A marriage of convenience novel (a trope I love), but I wished for a heroine who was just a hair less bland than the smart but self-effacing Penelope. In other words, I think I might have preferred to read the story of Nev’s spitfire, piratical sister and her love affair with childhood friend (and steward) Percy.  After all, I love (and long for) a good friends-to-lovers romance.  I appreciated both the prose and the pervasive realism of this novel of class conflicts, but there were both odd narrative leaps and outbreaks of conventional romancey sultriness and handsiness that seemed implausible to me. I’d definitely be up for another Lerner.Secrets of a Summer Night Lisa Kleypas (2004)March 8, 2012. 6/10. First in the Wallflowers quartet, but I don’t anticipate that it will be the most satisfying.  Smart but somehow bland Annabelle Peyton resists butcher’s-son-turned-industrialist Simon Hunt, for reasons even they don’t find very compelling. Also: what was up with Simon insulting her reading habits on the honeymoon?  Crazy for You Jennifer Crusie (1999) March 15, 2012 6/10 Intriguing but ultimately troubling commonalities between the obsessive, controlling, abusive ex and the protective, dominating hero.  I liked the possibility raised that not every happy couple needs to be married or live together, but this u[...]



The Throaty Growl and the Trace of Yearning: On Glamor, Responsibility, and Teddy Bears

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 20:00:00 +0000

My grandfather and his bear: a parable of friendship and temptation, in his own words.Early one evening shortly before Christmas Day [1925] Helen took him to a toy store in the area of shops up the street from the hospital. It was dark night in the street, but the shop was brilliantly lighted by many exposed filament light bulbs.  There was a low counter and shelves above it displaying dolls, Teddy bears, felt monkeys, and other toys.  Helen must have made a previous survey and wanted Grant to have a chance to approve his main gift.  Grant sensed that she was pushing him tactfully to select a particular Teddy bear, but at least initially his eye was taken by a felt monkey in a red jacket with bright brass buttons and a "bell-boy" cap.  Helen clearly didn't like the monkey, the bear did have a quiet, kindly charm, and the bear gave a throaty growl when you tipped him forward.  Grant saw he ought to vote for the bear, and so he did. Perhaps Helen believed it was a choice between a solid friend and a flashy acquaintance.  Probably she was right, but more than 50 years later Grant still had a trace of yearning for that red-jacketed monkey.  The toy is a symbol to him of all those touches of glamor which you give up a when you set your course for a steady, responsible life, as McC-----s in his time generally did.More than fifty years later... (More than eighty years, in fact, when this picture was taken.)The Teddy bear was a faithful companion of Grant's Assiut years.  His growl mechanism failed after a few years so that he only rattled inside when moved.  His feet and paws had to be patched with light khaki when the original cloth covering wore out.  Helen made him a suit of blue-gray material with a pocket in front and several red buttons below the neck.  After a year or two Grant once tried to shave Teddy with his father's straight-edge razor.  The cut was stitched together by Helen, and Grant was made to repent for his thoughtlessness by having Teddy put away in a drawer for many days.So many things.  First, note that Grant wasn't reprimanded for playing with a straight razor at the age of five, but rather for thoughtlessness to Teddy, whose integrity as a faithful friend he had failed to honor. Secondly, and on a related note, I want to declare here and now that I am vindicated of personal responsibility for the oddity of my adult belief that stuffed animals have feelings, a belief that has, on occasion, led me to try to enlist D in massive stuffed-animal-liberation maneuvers in the gulags of FAO Schwartz.  Clearly, both the excess of anthropomorphizing empathy and the tendency towards allegorical melodrama are delightfully but inalterably genetic.Thursday, 19 April 2012Washington, DC [...]



The Hollow Heroine and Epistolary Delights: Ranney's Till Next We Meet

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 02:47:00 +0000

Colonel Montcrief isn’t too clear about how he began writing to Catherine Dunnan from the Quebec front.  It probably was because her feckless husband was too busy whoring, beating his horses, and reveling in the French slaughter even to read Catherine’s letters, much less to reply to them. So write Montcrief did, in the other man’s name, and before he knows it, he’s been drawn deep into an epistolary love affair, the letters growing less dutiful and more intimate with every passing week.I do love an epistolary novel, because it allows an opportunity for love to develop separately from physical desire, and with a gratifying incremental quality that is the opposite of the fated love, coup de foudre model I’m so tired of. (Laura Kinsale’s My Sweetest Folly has a brilliant beginning in this vein, even if I didn’t love the book that followed.) In Till Next We Meet, Karen Ranney combines this with the Cyrano trope (a man woos a woman behind the screen of another’s identity) to create some fascinating scenarios of dramatic irony.  The unsympathetic husband Dunnan passes out of the picture almost immediately (shot in a lover’s bed), and Montcrief also learns that his own elder brother has died, making him the Duke of Lymond.  He resigns his commission, and makes his way back to Scotland, where it seems like the most natural thing in the world to seek out the young widow whose letters so fascinated him, and offer his condolences.  He has worried (or wondered, to be fair) whether this spectral figure he’s fallen in love with is remotedly attractive, but he never dared ask her husband for fear of drawing attention to his fascination.  Now when he meets her, she is a wraith, starved and battered by grief.  The predominant emotion she arouses is not longing but pity.  He can’t wait to be away from her.  But when he comes to take his leave of her, she has taken (wittingly? He doesn’t know.) an overdose of drugs, and the only feasible way (!!) to protect her from herself and the world is to marry her.  What follows is a struggle of self-control: for him, they are already in a position of tremendous intimacy, and he has to restrain himself from acting on that familiarity and affection, because for her is an utter stranger, and an incomprehensible one.  She mourns a man who hasn’t died - the man who wrote the letters, but he can’t reveal that without tilting her already precarious mental state. Moncrief is fairly nuanced, compellingly ambivalent, and fully wrought. Catherine, on the other hand, feels like an Empty Romance Heroine Signifier. She is a shell of a human being for much of the novel, hollowed out by a grief we know is unwarranted.  Moncrief wishes that she would show the character he knew from the letters, and I couldn’t help but sympathize.   Even after she recovers, and is much more active, there was nothing about her to justify his fascination, apart from a cheery willingness to hike up her skirts against various pieces of furniture.  Some romances hollow out their heroines as a mechanism of identification* (just as Scott McCloud speaks of visual abstraction as a trigger for identification in Understanding Comics, or Laura Mulvey speaks of the workings of identification, objectification, and scopophilia in film): the hero is fully wrought because he is the object of readerly desire, but the heroine is a blank so a diverse array of readerly experiences and pe[...]



Venomous Creatures and the Face that Launched a Single Ship

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 23:09:00 +0000

A Prelude to Chapter 1My great-grandmother, the face that launched the CanopicI've just come upon an account my grandfather, Grant, wrote in 1973 of the love story of his parents - the jovial Frank (a doctor) and gentle Helen (a schoolteacher).  I'm only part of the way through it right now, but already it's a tale filled with influenza epidemics, travel across war-torn oceans filled with torpedo boats, riotous Egyptian nationalism, and tremendous tenderness.  Every so often, Grant has left an open space in the typescript (no doubt prepared by my industrious, sometimes Bracknellian grandmother), which he has filled with hieroglyphs, phrases in Arabic, and tiny sketches of the difference between an Egyptian carriage and an American one.  It's enthralling.Frank and Helen first came together because their siblings - his brother Paul and her sister Grace (who would herself become a great historian of the family) - were married, and Helen later describes him as "the same sweet, unselfish, gentle Frank that we all loved so well in those days when we learned to know him after Paul's death." Nonetheless, Frank's interest seems to have come as something of a shock to Helen and her family. I'll let Grant tell it:Shortly before Christmas Frank wrote from Harvard to Helen at her home in Waverly, Ohio, proposing marriage. [...] Frank's message was a surprise, and when Helen told the household, her mother, Cora Barch Smith, in agitation threw the envelope into the flames of the living room fireplace. [...] Helen cherished this letter and once showed it to Grant in Assiut when he was about 12 years old.  He remembers being told then the explanation for its lack of an envelope.  She destroyed the letter with many other papers in 1951 in Egypt.Helen and her childhood friends, in the same fit of riotous hilarity that virtually any afternoon with my high school friends dissolved into...Frank remained in Cambridge during the Christmas holidays.  To make good use of this period without classes and to keep himself from brooding too much about what Helen's response might be he asked Dr. Strong to suggest a line of study.Strong recommended that he read works on tropical poisonous reptiles.  Frank took his advice and became intensely interested in cobras, vipers, scorpions and other venomous creatures.  This knowledge proved to be of direct use to him later in Egypt, particularly in Luxor.Helen's reply to Frank's letter was that he should come to Waverly for a talk.  He did so, and they became engaged.  Helen's engagement ring was of a simple design, and the diamond, though modest in size, was of the finest purity with a pale blue fire.The cherished letter, only destroyed when they finally left Egypt! The supplicant lover so much on tenterhooks about the response to his proposal that he can only soothe himself with the study of vipers and scorpions! (Family lesson: sometimes the venomous can be the best source of solace.)  This is gothic stuff, and I adore it.But Grant has (oddly enough) left out the best part.After a Christmas spent in the anxious study of poisonous creatures, Frank received a letter from Helen in the new year saying that he should come to Waverly to discuss the matter further with her.  When he arrived at her parents' house, she suggested a walk, and as they wandered amidst bleak wintry gardens, she accepted his proposal.  As she did so, she reached out and plucked a thorn [...]



Fear no more the heat of the sun

Sun, 15 Apr 2012 14:56:00 +0000

Grant (October 22, 1919- April 14, 2012)Here's what I need you to know about my grandfather. Pay close attention: it's a romantic story. Chapter 1Potent playgroundsHe was, to the great consternation of ninety years of passport control officials and dermatologists, an American born in Egypt, towheaded and blue-eyed and casually fluent in Arabic.  His father, Frank, was a part of the Presbyterian mission in Egypt (unsurprising given our Scottish family - one of the earliest pictures of my grandfather shows him being dandled, newborn, by a uniformed Scottish soldier who has crowned the baby with his tartan cap).  Frank, a former college track star, was a doctor at the mission hospital, and a man famous for his gregariousness and kindness.  You can see his warmth emanating from the photographs, in which he seriously examines patients, performs complex surgery in his early twentieth-century facilities in Assiut, or stands proudly next to a Hadja (a woman who has undertaken the Hadj) and her luxuriant sheep.Grant's was a childhood of sun and sand and books.  It was an era in which children could clamor over ancient statuary like it was some patient, long-suffering family pet - a Great Dane with cosmic concerns and small, rambunctious friends. Helen, sowing the seeds of bibliophilia (or possibly bibliomania)Grant's mother, Helen, had trained to be a teacher, and she was a voracious reader, one who carried a Bible and a volume of Shakespeare's Complete Works with her wherever she traveled and read devotionally from each every day.   You can see that I come by my bibliomania honestly.  There's a clear genealogy from this picture of Helen reading to her sons in Assiut to my library in Nova Scotia. At Farfara I have a tiny table and an Egyptian rug of undyed wools that Frank and Helen packed in the single steamer trunk they brought back from a lifetime of service in Assiut.  God, how I wish I had that gorgeous bookcase.  Years later, after Grant had had his own children, he was posted to the NATO Defense College, and had to leave my adolescent mother with friends in London to finish out the school year while the rest of the family moved to a luxurious apartment in Paris.  When he dropped her off, and before he said his goodbyes, Grant handed my mother a two-foot-tall stack of new Penguin paperbacks, in their distinctive orange covers, a bibliophile solace for the absence of family.  In this stack was I, Claudius, which was, he told her, one of his mother's favorite books.  It wasn't until I read it for the first time, opening that same orange-covered copy as a teenager, that I realized how bold a choice - filled with sex and murder and intrigue - it was for a missionary doctor's wife in the 30s.  I came to know my great-grandmother in all her complexity through the books she loved. Scowling against the sunSo, childhood was a bit of an idyll, despite the loss of a younger sister named Jennie when she was very young.  Grant's family rarely made it back to the States, but on vacations they sought out contrasts, making their way to chalets in snowy Switzerland.  Outside the clinic in AssiutOne day in Egypt, a traveling peddler came by Helen and Frank's house.  He offered, among other things, a small satchel of ancient bronze coins.  Fascinated, Grant bought them with his pocket money.  It was the birth of a numismatist. (Ther[...]



Clarity or Fat Caliper?: A Battle of Wills

Sun, 08 Apr 2012 18:40:00 +0000

Sunday, April 8, 2012Farfara"I have another name I'd like to put to you for our future, as-of-yet-utterly-hypothetical children," I said to D one day by the fire, when he was still in town. Name-speculating is one of my favorite pastimes, but D normally greets my proposals with ill-concealed (well, unconcealed) scorn. I mean, what's wrong with "Clarity"? Or "Meta"?  Perfectly legitimate names.I paused for drama, but D's way ahead of me this time. His own proposal tripped off his tongue: "Fat Caliper.""What?" I did a double-take. "Are you proposing that we name our child 'Fat Caliper'?""Yes.""Well," I said thoughtfully, after a long moment, "I was going to suggest 'Griffin,' but 'Fat Caliper' would pretty much destine him for a fruitfully painful career as a bluesman. And we could call him 'Cal.'"Two can play at this game of chicken, D.* Satirize me at your own peril.*In fact, it's not much of a game of chicken unless two are playing at it. [...]