MOCHA ME AND CONFERENCES

I’m totally jonesing for a soy mocha. I’m going to try to keep myself from getting one tonight, though, or else I might have trouble getting to sleep. Plus, those things are expensive at a little over $3 each. Oh, what to drink or eat to take my mind off the mocha? I have some cheapo hot chocolate at home… or maybe some chai… or oolong tea… or cranberry soda….

I’m also pulling together a couple of quick conference paper abstracts. One is for the ALA conference in Boston in May 2007 and the other for the SHARP conference in Minneapolis in July 2007. For the first, I am responding to a call for papers through the Circle for Asian American Literary Studies about Asian subjects in science fiction. I’d like to do a reading of Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl, one of my favorite books, in terms of how she blends mythology/origin narratives with futuristic science fiction narratives. For the second, I want to do a brief overview of small presses that have been important in publishing recent Asian American literary texts (Coffee House Press, Kaya Press, and Kitchen Table Press are some examples). Neither of these topics has much to do with my dissertation or other works-in-progress, though.

VIENNA TENG’S “CITY HALL”

I’m starting off my dissertation chapter on Vienna Teng and A-Mei, two pop musicians, with a discussion of Teng’s performance of her song “City Hall.” Two musicians in her band pantomime some of the actions in the song. You can see a clip of one performance on YouTube (where else?). One of the arguments I make in this chapter is that in listening to Asian American songwriters, critics and audiences must do a lot of work to create their own understandings of what makes the music “Asian American” or not, and that part of this slipperiness of Asian American popular music is rooted in the ambivalence of racial belonging that has ungrounded Asian Americans historically. It’s pretty much the stupidest argument ever. But the best dissertation is a done dissertation, right?

On an unrelated note, I am eating these Jones Soda Co. carbonated candies, the Berry Lemonade flavor. They taste like vitamins. If only they had the nutritional value of vitamins. Heh.

DINNER AND YOUTUBE SLEUTHING

I’m having yummy lentils and rice for dinner. I like making this dish — lentils cooked in vegetable bouillon with coarsely chopped onion, smashed cloves of garlic, and meatless kielbasa. Tasty and easy to prepare. I’m also having some cranberry soda. I love cranberry soda and wish it weren’t considered a seasonal drink by most manufacturers.

I’ve also been doing some YouTube sleuthing for songs I heard James Blunt cover at his concert a few weeks back. I didn’t know the names or artists of either song, but through a search of live James Blunt videos, I was able to find his covers of “Where Is My Mind” and “Breakfast in America” (I love how he bounces his leg while he sings and plays the piano!). And once I located those, I was able to find the original versions by Pixies and Supertramp, respectively. I had heard Supertramp’s song on the radio sometime this week and recognized it from James Blunt’s concert but still didn’t catch a song title or artist name. Mr. Frog had recognized the song during the concert but couldn’t remember the title or band name. Just now, as I was looking for the song, I asked him again if he had remembered the “la la la la song” name. He thought a bit and said to look for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Coming to America.” He was this close. I wish I weren’t so culturally illiterate regarding music from the 1970s and 1980s. Mr. Frog always recognizes things that I’ve never heard before.

UNDERWORLD’S BLOOD, STORIES, COFFEE

Before dinner last night we watched Underworld: Evolution. It was a fun watch. I totally think there’s a third installment coming out though Mr. Frog is less convinced. There are enough loose ends about the origins of the “immortals” that there could be another story to tie them up. I had forgotten the way the movie world uses “blood memories.” (Mr. Frog insists this plot point was in the first movie.) In essence, vampires, when they take another person/creature’s blood, can also absorb her memories (and later on, it appears they can also absorb her special powers or “hybrid” qualities). It’s not necessarily a unique telling of vampirism but one that is telling in its understanding of social/psychological reproduction. It’s a version of vampirism that is less about the undead qualities of such creatures and more about how we pass along individual, social, cultural, and “human” memories.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of stories that I want to write. I think I might try to compile a collection of short stories written in different pulp genres. My mystery story will be about a criminal who walks his dog around a neighborhood. At a party last week, I was talking to someone about how people perceive the human being walked by a dog as harmless or nice. What if a dog walker were instead a ruthless killer or a wily robber? My horror story will be about a group of college professors who realize a few weeks into the semester that their students are all zombies back from the dead. Obviously this is because I think my students are all mindless zombies. And, because the movie I watched recently, They Came Back, raised some cool questions about what it would be like to have non-brain-eating zombies suddenly appear. How would we deal with them? How would we reincorporate them into our lives? What qualities differentiate them from living people? What is their motivation in returning? Another horror story would probably be about vampires just because they are so interesting to consider. And I’d have to have a science fiction story and a fantasy story and a harlequin romance story.

This morning I tried Dunn Brothers Coffee’s soy mocha. It was delicious. Their milk-based drinks all have a strange taste to me — like the milk is slightly off or something. I think from now on I will stick with their soy mocha when I’m in the mood for an espresso drink rather than just brewed coffee. Giles was not too happy with hanging out at the coffee shop yet again. It’s warm enough to sit out back; I subjected the poor puppy to a half hour of not-moving as I had my mocha and read some community newspapers. One article I read was about the difference between the Christian right and left. The author said that the Christian right is more faithful to God because it believes that salvation and charity lie in the realm of individual faith and action. The Christian left, in contrast, relies too much on government to make the world a more just place and therefore relies on the imperfect justice of man (rather than the perfect justice of God). This argument is really troubling but also seems to be exactly the kind of understanding some Christians have that drives them to decry corruption in government as a reflection of innate failings in humans that can only be rectified by praying and being a good Christian.

(TO BE) VIEWED MOVIES

Earlier this week we watched Eating Out on DVD. I had been hesitant to watch it because it is a story of a straight guy playing gay to get a girl and the ensuing comedy of errors. The movie was mildly enjoyable to watch, mostly just because of the shirtless guys. But I also found the straight guy character to be very adorable because he wasn’t all macho and callous and stupid. Instead, he was kind and thoughtful (except for the pretending to be gay part) and seemed like a genuinely nice character someone would want to befriend. What ended up being more troubling than the premise that straight guys are more attractive to gay men and gay men are more attractive to straight women was the fag hag character who was utterably unlikable in every way. Seriously, I couldn’t understand how anyone could stand her as a friend or girlfriend. She was like all the worst aspects of the Grace character on Will and Grace but worse. Manipulative, neurotic, angry, self-serving, self-centered…. (One review for the sequel Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, now in theaters, describes the movie as the soft-core gay porn version of Will and Grace.)

Then last night we watched Accepted, a comedy in the college/party genre. What I found most fascinating about this story of high school graduates who create their own college after being rejected from all the schools to which they applied is the possibility for critiquing the system of higher education in the US as well as the more pervasive, difficult to define cultural understanding of the value of a college education. In the movie, what these misfits realize is that they must be the masters of their own learning and that the staid, boring stuff of accredited college institutions does not suit them. I agree that most people should not go to college (shoot me).

This is my cynical side, and I already ranted to a couple people today about why I think most college students would be better off doing something different. The more productive aspect of this analysis is that I really think the problem lies elsewhere (rather than in “unmotivated students,” per se). What we lack are diverse sites for learning at the adult level. In part, this is also because people understand education or learning as something that you do only in schools rather than something that should be weaved throughout every aspect of our lives. And as an extension of that model of institutionalized education is a lack of public spaces where people produce critical knowledge. I don’t know how we might even begin to change some of these things, but I hope something happens. I see a slow demise for institutions of higher education that are increasingly being seen in instrumental terms, either as places solely of technical training or as places that merely give you a degree that is a basic requirement for many professional careers today. (Part of the problem, too, is the devaluing of tech schools that can train people for many careers they want to pursue better than a liberal arts college major can.)

To be clear, I love what college educations can provide people. And I would love for colleges to thrive well into the distant future. But I think the idea that everyone (in the middle classes) needs a bachelor’s degree to even start off in life has horribly corrupted what we do. (As a side note, I think in contrast to counseling middle-class students to avoid college, people coming from families with little background in higher education should be encouraged and given resources to go to college. And I say this even as there are possibly disturbing echoes of the DuBois-Washington debate over the kind of education people need.)

Anyways, to get back to the point of this post, which is just to list the movies I’ve watched recently, we also caught most of Babe, the movie about the pig on a farm, on tv this afternoon. I love the part where the sheepdogs and the sheep have such an antagonistic relationship, and then it becomes clear that such a relationship developed through an inability to communicate across species, layered with treating each other as simpletons. (I’m not saying I believe this is “really” the truth about sheep-dog relations but that the idea is thoughtful as an explanation for other cross-group antagonisms.) And there was a trailer for the forthcoming live-action movie Charlotte’s Web. Whee!

Before Babe, we caught some of the National Dog Show (I forget the official name) taped in Philadelphia. Dogs! And the sponsor kept showing commercials for petcentric.com. We’re going to enter Giles in the competition for cutest dog.

We’ve also got rented Underworld: Evolution, which promises to be the craptastic sequel to a so-so movie about warring clans of werewolves and vampires. And I also picked up Ducastel-Martineau’s Cote d’Azur. (Ducastel and Martineau are the directors of The Adventures of Felix, one of my favorite movies that tracks a character’s interactions with strangers as models of worldmaking behavior rather than destructive mistrust.)

Oh yes, and happy turkeys to all yous out there. We’re spending the day vegging out on the couch and in front of our computers. We also made chili for dinner (still cooking away in the crock pot). I was Mr. Frog’s sous chef as he orchestrated the meal preparation. I’m definitely glad there is no travel involved in our holidays this year, especially air travel. (Well, there is travel involved in December — my brother is coming to visit for Christmas! And after Christmas I have to go to the MLA conference in Philadelphia. But that’s not really vacation anyways.)

REBOOT

Blogger was getting on my nerves. I don’t know why it intermittently (but often — usually at some point every day) would refuse to publish posts to my web site. Here’s hoping that WordPress is more stable and consistent. I think since I’m operating software through my server, I won’t have to deal with an outside server’s issues. (Just my own — and I have a pretty stable hosting service.)

It’s a bit sad for me to be leaving Blogger. I’ve been blogging through that web program for the last six years. It was the program that really got me into the groove of things. I had tried a number of other on-line journalling sites before finding one that really stuck. I might return to it at some point in the future if the issues resolve themselves. Who knows. I still need to figure out how to customize WordPress more. I like the more direct use of databases in constructing the blog though I have absolutely no idea how it all works.

Just finished teaching last class for the week since I am flying out this weekend to Chicago for a Midwest Faculty Seminar on Hurricane Katrina and Contemporary America. In the next two hours, I must:

  • Send off a conference paper proposal for “Diasporic Counterpoint: Africans, Asians, and the Americas.”
  • Post midterm grades for two classes.
  • Pick up cash from the bank.
  • Pack for the trip.
  • Hang out with frog and dog.

I don’t think I’m bringing my laptop and might be Internet-less (gasp!) until Saturday night.