Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Keri's studying high school blogging for her dissertation, and the class got some press.

One student says,

"It's a hard book. I've got 10 times a greater understanding with this blog."

That's one of the things I noticed this past summer with the blog in my women's literature class: students realized they could learn from each other on the blog. You would think students would learn from each other during class discussion just as well, but it seems as though blogging frees people up--it doesn't seem like the same competitive space that a classroom can sometimes seem (or that even listservs can sometimes seem).

Anyway, way to go, Keri!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cat treeing

We have a few cats. Adding vertical space is good when you have a few cats. Still, we put off the purchase of a tree. We wanted to get a good solid tree, one that wouldn't fall over or apart. But the better the tree, the more money to shell out, so we kept not buying.

Finally, we bought. It isn't a super-tall tree, which would be fun to have, but it has three levels and a little tunnel with a hole in the side on top.

It's a great success for rest and play. Just take a look.

Simon, Gabe, the tree Oct 06

Simon's head through the tree hole

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some science

I always look forward to Tuesday so that I can read the science section of the NY Times. It's the geek in me.

In today's news, a photo of the (drumroll please) RESEARCH REACTOR here at my institution. It's a lovely shade of blue. Apparently, museums and archaeologists are using it to study sculpture and other artifacts at the atomic level.

And, what I really wanted to tell you but thought I should put it below the fold since it's on the same topic as my last entry, is this:

Meditating is just as good as coffee!
(If the goal is to be alert.)

Feeling tired but have work to do? Think you should take a nap? Forget about it! Sit yourself down and follow your breath for 40 minutes. Napping just makes you fuzzy. Meditation focuses the attention.

But I love this last sentence from the little news item in the Times:

They said they did not know if caffeine and meditation combined would be even better.

What wonders of alertness await us! Drink coffee! Follow your breath! Get things done!

Because, you know, I'm not planning to give up coffee. Not anytime soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Change your brain

Yesterday I attended a lecture on "Zen and the Brain." It was geared toward psychiatry residents, so it was at once familiar (giving an overview of what meditation is) and difficult (using clinical terms to talk about the brain).

But basically, there's this: meditation changes your brain. Literally.

There's been a good bit of research on this lately, headed up by a professor at UW-Madison.

I'm really taken with this idea that the brain can change, but maybe not everyone is. Last semester in my blogging class, for instance, a student brought up an article about the possibility of emplanting chips in the brain as a treatment for neurological disorders. Some heated discussion followed: folks weren't too keen on the idea of altering the brain, which, to most of them, seemed to be the most basic unit of the thing called self. (Of course, meditation is all about getting rid of that notion.)

In any case, the idea of altering the brain, for them, was tantamount to fundamentally altering who you are. And that seemed wrong.

(But then KR assured us these chips weren't likely to be available any time soon, so no worries.)

Me, though, I'm quite happy to change my brain. I find it really freeing to know my brain isn't set for the rest of my life.

It's the old plasticity thing that I've blogged about before. I even like that word. Plasticity. Because, you know, they talk about the plastic arts.

So meditation is a plastic art. With the brain as medium.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Missing people

Back when I was still in graduate school, I had a somewhat subdued sense of missing folks who left the program, got a job, or otherwise went away. And when I left one graduate program and took up with another one, it was the same. As it was when I left graduate school for my first job. Everyone leaves graduate school at some point, so you can't really feel too sad about not being around the same people all the time. Sure, you miss people, but you know that forever just isn't going to happen.

So why is it so sad to leave colleagues when you move from one job to the next? Of course, it isn't sad to leave some colleagues. It's good riddance to some. But the ones you like, the ones who made the job bearable--those ones are hard to leave.

And so I just had lunch with two of the folks from Carbondale who helped enriched my life there. They were in Columbia for a few hours, dropping off one of their progeny, who attends MU. And now they're gone, and I feel sad.

Which isn't to say I don't have folks here who I would no doubt miss equally if I or they were to leave. It's just to say, it was so good to see them, so good to talk, and, right now, I'm feeling their absence pretty keenly.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Systems systems systems

Getting away from my superstition from last time, let me add now that my breakthrough was finally seeing the really big picture. Because my book isn't just about management qua management, because management isn't just management (as it's been represented in rhet/comp, whether it's certain kinds of leftists who says it's bad because it's capitalist or the other people who say WPAs aren't managers, dammit). Management is a function that, as James Beniger says, became important because of a "crisis of control," a crisis that emerged with the information economy.

That's still not saying much, is it? And then there's this: when am I going to get around to reading Latour?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I shouldn't be so superstitious. But the truth is that I worry that when I write about some "breakthrough" I've had in working on my book, that I basically jinx everything and end up five steps or so behind.

Like last time, when I wrote about the great first line I came up with. Yeah, I wrote it down and all, but I don't believe it's going to be the first line, after all. And I'm still not telling what it is/was.

So I'm hesitant to talk about the little a-ha moment I just had, a little moment that finally allowed me to see a way of bringing together the old stuff with some new stuff.

And so that's really all I'm saying.

And this: even though the great first line got abandoned, it did get me going. So it's not like it was a waste.

Good to remember these things.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Historic cats (and dogs, and other companions)

Via metafilter, a wonderful website: Pets in America.

I've just begun to browse, but so far my favorite item is the photo album of cats, with images dating back to the late nineteenth century. I just love the idea that, even when the technology was new, people were using it to create keepsakes of their companion animals. In some cases, the images record cats with a particular claim to fame, like extra toes. Or, in this case, extra weight:

The handwriting along the bottom reads:
"Tiger Summers, Weighs 18 pounds 3 oz."

From W.A. Judson, photographer - New Britain, Connecticut
Carte-de-visite, 1865-1870

I love the way the cat is posed in a chair, apparently to provide the sense of heft (look how he fills out that chair!). But must be a child's chair.

More delights await you. Check it out.

Learning to love Google book

When Google book was first launching, I did a little search for something or other, didn't find it, and decided that it was a limited tool that didn't much interest me.

Somehow, I hadn't thought about old books. I hadn't thought about all those books I have to request from storage, renew at the desk rather than online, etc. It just hadn't occurred to me to check to see if they might be there, until, out of pure laziness, I looked. I just didn't want to have to bother to go to the circulation desk to recheck some texts. So I did a search, and found a goldmine.

Among the texts I found: Herbert Spencer's "Philosophy of Style," edited, with an introduction, by composition's own Fred Newton Scott. (The "Philosophy of Style" was a very popular text in required composition classes in the nineteenth century. Somehow, few people have noted this. Seems significant to me.)

And all I have to do is download the file, and then I can cut and paste from the pdf right into my notes. Pretty cool, huh?

Of course, at some point I'll have to actually key in some selections from the longer extracts. But that's ok. Right now, I'm just in love with these lovely little text images. Here's one from ol' Fred's introduction. In it, he argues that everyone who interprets Spencer to emphasize the importance of economizing words for the sake of individual economy has it wrong. What Spencer is really saying, says Fred, is that we have to take the corporate body into account:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Grocery shopping paranoia

In this installment of the Paranoid Shopper, our reluctant yet intrepid anti-heroine finds herself in one of her favorite places, spending loads of money, hauling off bags of goods.

And, as she loads the sturdy paper bags into her trunk, marveling at the sunny yet cool Missouri afternoon, she is transfixed by one question:

How does Trader Joe's manage to do what it does? Surely some unfair labor practices must be involved?

Not that she's ever heard anyone make this accusation of good ol' Joe. No. It's just the hermeneutics of suspicion that she can't seem to shake. Something this good must come with some substantial suffering.

Because, as we know, Walmart sells cheap because it pays cheap. So how can Trader Joe's, with its lovely loaves of challah, its nicely priced French Roast coffee--how can Trader Joe's, even as it trades on class distinction, be different?

And so she wonders, and so she worries.

The challah, all the same, fried up into some might fine French toast for her breakfast this morning. She's happy that Trader Joe's exists, and only a 90-minute drive from her home. She wonders what to do with her residual paranoia. And so she writes.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wait for the DVD?

Tonight at about 6:45 central time, I realized that if I changed my plans, didn't go where I planned to go at 7:00, but instead stayed home and finished Season 2, Disc 6, we could in fact tune in for the season premiere, all caught up.

And so I stayed home. What can I say? I had to keep up with my fellow bloggers, didn't I? And C, who has never felt the same about TV since the X-Files ended, was happy to come along for the ride. After the first episode, back in August sometime, he was hooked.

But, goodness. Do you know what it is to binge for weeks, episode after episode, commercial-free? And then to be dropped into prime-time, with the narrative all broken up? And nothing more to see until next week, when you're used to being able to move right away to the next episode?

Said C: Let's just wait for the DVD. I can't take it.

Don't worry, gentle reader. I think we can cope.

So the Others live in some sort of alternative-dimension planned community? Hmmm.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


After reading this NY Times article about a ful stand in Cairo (only $.20/bowl!), I asked C., wanna go to Egypt? (He's ambivalent.)

I'm not sure that I've even ever had ful. Kinda seems like the Sufi-run middle-eastern restaurant in Carbondale might have called their lentil soup "ful." But did it really have fava beans in it? Have I ever even had fava beans?

It just sounds so tasty. Creamy, long cooked beans. Spices. A little hot pepper.

I even think I could eat it for breakfast, like they do (apparently) in Cairo. But dinner would also be good.

Must be the fall that's getting to me. Beans. Stews. Hearty foods. They're sounding good.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A week (or more) of sneezes

This past week, I was consumed with sneezing.

I woke up sneezing most days last week. It's the fall, leaves are molding and ragweed is dispersing. Although I don't remember seasonal allergies when I lived in Texas, they've come on a bit over the years that I've lived in the midwest.

But, really, it isn't my sneezing that consumed me. The cats. The cats. They've been sneezing.

First, it was Simon. (It's his one-year anniversary with us today! Happy anniversary, Simon!) He took a trip to the vet for the yearly check-up and vaccinations. Couple of days later, he was sneezing.

I suspect it was the vaccinations that lowered his immune system and allowed a dormant virus to "shed." But Simon is young and hardy, so it was no big deal. A couple of days of sneezing, a little extra sleep, and he was back to his old self.

In the meantime, though, Gabe got a little frustrated. He likes to get into a good tussle with Simon at least a couple of times a day, if not more, and one day Simon just wasn't in the fighting mood. So Gabe tried to start something with Clyde. Yes, Clyde. The elder member of our household (he's 20--that's 96 or so in human years).

Of course, Clyde has no interest in fighting this little upstart. So when trying to avoid him while going down the stairs one evening, he fell. That was no small upset. Elder beings should not fall. He began limping, so we took him to the vet, who diagnosed some inflammation to an already inflamed joint (Clyde has pretty bad arthritis). A few days later, he was limping less, walking more like his usual self.

But the sneezing hadn't wreaked all its havok yet. Casey started sneezing. Hacking, really. It sounded pretty awful. At 7 or so, Casey is a middle-aged fellow, but he's got immunity issues. So after a couple of days of pretty severe congestion, he got a trip to the vet, too. (Casey is not a fan of the vet. Or the car trip. Or the carrying case. He is not a scratcher or a biter, but he fought pretty hard on the way into the carrier. Legs splayed out, claws curling around the doorway. It was a sad sight to see. Pure panic.)

The day after Casey went to the vet, Clyde started the hacking. Now they're both still sniffling and sneezing, and it's been almost a week.

So send some good thoughts to the cat gods, would you? Clyde especially has had a hard week, a double dose of misery. He needs a clear nose so he can resume the blissful sniffing of catnip.