Gone to Portland Thursday, Mar 27 2008 

Today I’m flying to Portland, Oregon for the meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I’m chairing a session I put together on Jews in the Eighteenth Century. It’s going to be a great panel, even though we’re literally the last session of the conference — on Saturday evening no less. But the papers are going to be interesting, so I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve been to his conference every year for the past 9 years. I guess I’m at a point where I want to figure out my relationship to this conference. Am I trying to be a networker and connect with people to further my career? Am I just interested in carving our more space for eighteenth-century Jewish Studies and networking with people in this field? Or am I moving into a different kind of career and therefore not really interested in ASECS? Maybe this year’s conference will help me to start figuring this out.

I’ve never been to Portland before, so I’m also looking forward to seeing it for the first time. I’ve heard from friends that it’s a great place for vegetarian cuisine. I plan on going to the Portland Art Museum and Powell’s Books. I’m taking my camera, so maybe I’ll get some good pics for the blog too.

Unfortunately, PJ’s not coming with me this year. Maybe I’m getting too reliant on him to be with me all the time, but I decreasingly like to go anywhere without him. He’ll be gone for the month of April doing research in Massachusetts, so maybe it’s good that I’ll be away for a few days and then we’ll be together for a week before he leaves for his trip.

Regardless, I intend to have a great time in Portland and will write all about it when I get back.

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Looking Back at the Quarter Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

Now that grades are in and my syllabus for next quarter is done, I thought I’d write a little about how I thought this past quarter went.

I taught two classes this term — a graduate class on Restoration literature and an undergraduate course on Lesbian & Gay Literature. Overall, I thought they both went well. My undergraduates were certainly among my best group of students I’ve had in that class. My graduate students were also great, so I feel like I was especially fortunate this term.

I thought the readings in my undergraduate class were especially well chosen (if I do say so myself). We read three gay-male authored texts and three lesbian-authored texts. We read Larry Duplechan’s Blackbird, Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Felicia Luna Lemus’s Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, and Chrystos’s In Her I Am.

I didn’t do a very good job with Borrowed Time. It’s just too emotional a book for me to think rationally about. As much as I love Monette’s work, I don’t think I’ll teach this one again.

I really liked Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties. A student in my class last year recommended it, so I read it. I thought that it raised some interesting issues, so I decided to teach it. Reading it again with my students, I really loved it. I would definitely teach this one again.

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The Orphanage: A Review Monday, Mar 24 2008 

On Friday, PJ and I went out with friends to see The Orphanage, a Spanish film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sánchez. Here’s the trailer:

The film stars Belén Rueda as Laura, a woman who buys her childhood home, an orphanage, and brings her husband and son to live there. She begins the process of restoring the old house with the hopes of taking in a small number of special needs children. We soon learn that her adopted son, who is HIV positive, plays with imaginary friends, but these fantasy games quickly become disturbing as unexplainable events begin to happen. A terrifying threat to her family leads Laura on a quest to understand the home’s mysteries, which involve a past of horrifying secrets that erupt into the present. (I’m trying not to give anything away while still indicating how scary the movie is!)

Let me start off by saying that I HATE scary movies. I don’t like to be terrorized, which is how suspenseful films affect me. Since The Orphanage is obviously a suspenseful thriller, I went into it ready to dislike it. That impulse was totally wrong — I loved this movie!

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Darcy’s Story: A Review Thursday, Mar 20 2008 

Darcy's StoryThis week I read Janet Aylmer’s Darcy’s Story, which was first published in 2006. Like Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, which I reviewed here, this book recounts the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, though at much shorter length.

Darcy’s Story begins during the summer prior to Darcy’s fateful introduction to Hertfordshire and Miss Elizabeth Bennett. While on a trip to Ramsgate, Miss Georgiana Darcy is wooed by the rakish George Wickham, and Darcy must save her from his duplicity. A few weeks later, his friend Mr. Bingley invites him to see the estate he has just leased, and during this visit Darcy accompanies his friend and Bingley’s sisters to a local ball. His lack of grace and good humor during this country entertainment puts him at odds with the local beauty, Elizabeth, and leads to the twists and turns of their tumultuous relationship over the following year.

“Janet Aylmer” is a pen name for an “English Jane Austen enthusiast” who lives in Bath. This is her first foray into the burgeoning field of Austen rewrites and sequels. On the whole, I thought this book was entertaining enough. Aylmer definitely remains faithful to Austen’s original, which for me is always crucial to any book’s success in this genre. Her Darcy is consistent with Austen’s hero, and Aylmer handles her task with love and care.

But these qualities also work against Darcy’s Story. One can’t help but feel that s/he has read this all before. Aylmer brings little that’s new to this story, and I felt that she was perhaps too slavish in her devotion to Austen’s original. Large portions of the novel seem lifted from Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t help but want a little more creativity and exploration of Darcy as a character.

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Now I’m George H. W. Bush! Wednesday, Mar 12 2008 

I recently read an article on slate.com entitled “What Psychological Personality Tests Reveal about Clinton, Obama, and McCain.” According to this writer’s speculations, Clinton is an ESTJ, or a “Guardian,” someone who is “steadfast, cautious, methodical.” Obama is an ENFP, or a “Champion,” someone who can easily motivate people around them through their enthusiasm and idealism. McCain is an ESTP, or an “Artisan,” someone who needs to have a piece of the action. (Coincidentally, the current president is also an ESTP.)

This reminded me of taking the Myers-Briggs personality test while I was in graduate school. It became a way to link composition students personalities to their learning styles, of helping them identify their own strengths and weaknesses as students. We instructors also took the test to try out the linkage for ourselves.

With this in mind, I took an online version of a similar test. According to this test, I am an ISTJ. Here’s how one website describes ISTJs:

ISTJs are often called inspectors. They have a keen sense of right and wrong, especially in their area of interest and/or responsibility. They are noted for devotion to duty. Punctuality is a watchword of the ISTJ. The secretary, clerk, or business(wo)man by whom others set their clocks is likely to be an ISTJ.

As do other Introverted Thinkers, ISTJs often give the initial impression of being aloof and perhaps somewhat cold. Effusive expression of emotional warmth is not something that ISTJs do without considerable energy loss.

ISTJs are most at home with “just the facts, Ma’am.” They seem to perform at highest efficiency when employing a step-by-step approach. Once a new procedure has proven itself (i.e., has been shown “to work,”) the ISTJ can be depended upon to carry it through, even at the expense of their own health.

ISTJs are easily frustrated by the inconsistencies of others, especially when the second parties don’t keep their commitments. But they usually keep their feelings to themselves unless they are asked. And when asked, they don’t mince words. Truth wins out over tact. The grim determination of the ISTJ vindicates itself in officiation of sports events, judiciary functions, or an other situation which requires making tough calls and sticking to them.

His SJ orientation draws the ISTJ into the service of established institutions. Home, social clubs, government, schools, the military, churches — these are the bastions of the SJ. “We’ve always done it this way” is often reason enough for many ISTJs. Threats to time-honored traditions or established organizations (e.g., a “run” on the bank) are the undoing of SJs, and are to be fought at all costs.

This seems to describe me fairly well. I can certainly seem aloof at first, and I definitely have a sense of right and wrong, especially when it comes to following prescribed rules and procedures. I also have an “institutional” way of thinking.

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Where’s the Beef? Tuesday, Mar 4 2008 

A week ago today I officially became a vegetarian (of sorts). I’ve been thinking about becoming one off and on for a couple of years; I finally decided to start living up to my convictions.

A couple of weeks ago, a video clip of abuses at an auction circulated around the net. It depicted a “downer cow” that was unable to walk being hoisted with a forklift and repeatedly electrocuted with a prod. I read some complaints about the abuse of the cow; other people pointed out the problem with processing meat from an animal that was clearly ill. Here’s a longer version of the original video that I saw:

This video crystallized some of the things that I had already been thinking. I’m sure this will make me sound ridiculous, but it made me think about my cats. I’m sure cats are much smarter than cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, etc., but seeing Marlowe’s and Paisley’s very different personalities and intelligences has made me wonder if other “stupid” animals deserve a little better from us humans. To see that cow’s shaking throughout much of that ordeal and imagining just how freaked out and in pain she must have been, made me ask the question that had been in my head for a while: do I really want to be a part of this system?

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Good Intentions Monday, Mar 3 2008 

A couple of weeks ago we had a really strange department meeting. We were ostensibly meeting to discuss a job hire, but after only about 10 minutes or so about the potential hire’s qualifications, the conversation turned to discussion of other issues. In answer to a colleague’s question, I said something that I will admit was poorly worded. Another colleague objected to my statement, even going so far as to imply that I was being racist, which I think was a rather perverse twisting of what I had said (but of course I would say that if I were a racist!).

Anyway, ever since that meeting this song has been on constant play in my head:

I thought this clip’s setting of Nina Simone to images of racism and the equal rights struggle was ironically appropriate given the context!

I think “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is my new theme song when it comes to department meetings. Maybe I should bring it with me next time and play it throughout the meeting!