As of today, Kelly has been working in Richmond for three months. I got
to see her on Thursday night, when I drove down to see Dixon's final
performance at VCU: "Uncommonwealth," a sprawling and hilarious revue
featuring fifteen senior theater majors showing off their talents for
prospective agents and employers. After I returned on Friday morning, I
felt a little lull in my mood, but I drove it out with a hike and a
little birding (FOY American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, and Blue-gray
Gnatcatcher, as well as only my second viewing of a Worm-eating
Warbler.) And this morning, while looking back over past journal
entries, I came across this:
Whenever Kelly's out of town, as she was from Friday until
last night, I get rather listless. Instead of writing, or going to the
gym, or even getting up and going birding, I sit around reading (often
something I've read before), or if I'm feeling especially productive I
might grade some papers. I never reach the end of our time apart
feeling as though I've gotten much done.
I suppose part of that
feeling is that her absence means I have to put aside larger concerns
and take care of some chores that often fall to her--dishes, dog,
laundry, etc.--but a lot of it, I'm quite sure, is simply being thrown
off balance by her absence. Even if we're not doing anything together, I
rely on the unconscious knowledge that she's at home, or at work, or
maybe downstairs, and she come do something with me if I needed her to.
She's not really ; she's just out of sight for the moment.
she's out of town, though, I am constantly reminded of her absence;
it's as though I can't see out of one eye, or have one ear blocked up.
There may be nothing there for me to see or hear, but my inability to
detect that nothing is in itself a huge distraction. I can't
concentrate on what's there because of what isn't.
now been married a little over 20 years, I probably shouldn't be
surprised at my reaction, but it's worth some thought.
Love, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
If I have learned nothing else over these last three months, I have learned how right I was in 2007.
Miss you, hon.
Back in 2005, I took The Geek Test
. I scored 44.97041%, making me technically a Major Geek, but well within the range of statistical error for being a Super Geek.
Incensed by the test's over-emphasis on computer-based geekery and failure to appreciate other geekish pursuits in sufficient depth, I immediately wrote a list of things with which I could prove my geekiness, but which weren't on the test. As you can imagine, my geekiness HAS ONLY INCREASED in the last decade--and the test has been updated, at least as of 2010--but here's what I came up with in 2005:
*all 13 dwarves who go with Bilbo in The Hobbit
*who the Big Three of science fiction are
*the names of the books on which Blade Runner
and Total Recall
*both the order in which the Chronicles of Narnia were published and the order in which the stories occur
*the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything
*what "galad" means in both Sindarin and Quenya
*what Sindarin and Quenya are
*the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow
*what is best in life (according to Conan the Barbarian)
*the entire membership of the Legion of Super-Heroes
*which writer/artist created each of the X-MenI have:
*worked tech on over a dozen theatrical productions
*designed a set
*designed a light plot
*hung a lightshow
*appeared onstage in over a dozen theatrical productions
*appeared onstage in a singing role
*appeared onstage in a devil costume
*appeared onstage with a bullwhip
*appeared onstage in my underwear
*played the guitar in front of a paying audience
*played the piano in front of a paying audience
*sung in front of a paying audience
*spent time birdwatching
*spent money to go birdwatching
*persuaded other people to go birdwatching
*adjusted travel plans in order to go birdwatching
*> 10 Terry Pratchett books
*> 20 Terry Pratchett books
*a Terry Pratchett map
*written a critique of a comic book
*been paid for critiquing a comic book
*had a comic-book critique published
*more than once
*a wife who has
*an English degree
*a job in a library
*an obsessive knowledge of Joss Whedon TV shows
*Buffy the Vampire Slayer paraphernalia
*yes, even the little Lego-style ones
*scored over 40% on this test
*two children who have
*the ability to quote at length from geek movies/shows
*more than one videogaming system
*on more than one videogaming platform
*played D&D, Warhammer, Civilization, and fantasy football
*more than one fantasy football team
*kept vinyl albums that I also own on CD because I like the cover art
*more than one album by Yes
*more than one album by Barenaked Ladies
*more than one album by XTC
*no albums at all by Britney Spears, the Grateful Dead, Bryan Adams, or 50 Cent
*all three Wallace & Gromit shorts
*the extended ubergeek editions of all three Lord of the Rings moviesI can:
*say "I don't speak Welsh" in Welsh
*say "I don't speak French" in French
*rebut the major anti-Stratfordian arguments
*recite from memory:
*lines from Shakespeare
*an entire Robert Frost poem
*the list of U.S. Presidents in order
*Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" sketch
*how to draw Trogdor the Burninator
*sing all the words to:
*Monty Python's "Philosopher's Song"
*The Ballad of Sir Robin
*the Stonecutters' Song from The Simpsons
*the CGNU Fight Song
*every song from the "Once More with Feeling" musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
*"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha"
*move Monopoly pieces directly to the proper square without counting each space
*probably find something better to do with my time than this 8:58 PM
Some years ago, according to one of my colleagues, the then-headmaster of Woodberry Forest School leaned back in his chair at a faculty meeting and said, "We're pregnant. Twenty-four hours a day... for nine months."
That was his metaphor for the role of a WFS faculty member, and I don't think it's a bad one. Certainly by the end of May, the typical teacher is feeling bloated, exhausted, and ready to drop his class load no matter much discomfort may be involved. The problem is this: does it adequately describe a life when you've been pregnant twenty times?
That Duggar-like situation is the one in which I find myself now, entering the last month of my last year at Woodberry. I arrived in August of 1995 and promptly killed the rabbit. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, plus or minus a few days, I was in effect on call for something. Classes at WFS begin at 8:00 every morning but Sunday, when your first required appearance is at advisee dinner at 6:15 p.m. Classes end at 3:15 on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, at 12:30 on Tuesday and Friday, and at 11:00 on Saturday, but if you're coaching or directing, you'll be working after school as well. You have to supervise a dinner table every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evening, and once every eight days (or less, in some administrations) you're on dorm duty, which requires you to spend your evening supervising a dorm until 11:30 p.m. In effect, if you don't have a Saturday or Sunday duty, you may--MAY--have a weekly break from 11:00 Saturday morning until 6:00 Sunday evening. But that 31 hours doesn't leave you a lot of freedom, and you're always aware that you have to get back to work before the shadows get too long on Sunday.
And that's been my school-year schedule for the last two decades. The summers were often glorious, and I was sometimes able to get in a vacation during spring break as well, but the working week was relentless, and as I near the end of Year 20, I can't help trying to explain what it feels like to someone who hasn't done it.
Pregnancy may be a good metaphor, but I myself see a different metaphor at work. WFS is a small community of several hundred souls, one that is largely self-contained, having relatively little contact with the world at large, though we do have limited interactions with other such communities. We operate by strict rules that do not always apply outside its confines, and we have a clearly defined hierarchy of command. Each college-educated faculty member serves under higher-ranking (and typically more experienced) members and has the task of supervising newly-recruited young men without that education. Those young men sometimes resent our authority, as well as the strict discipline which we demand, but over time, we're usually able to show them how our system benefits them and the rest of the community. And eventually, after a tenure of several years, those young men embark for new horizons.
Basically, I'm in the navy.
The deck of the SS Woodberry is a mighty large one--1200 acres--but its officers are for the most part required to stay on it, except for occasional visits to port, where the ship's company is free to take shore leave. After a brief respite, however, we climb back up the gangplank and set sail once more. An awful lot of the life involves tying complicated knots, fretting about navigation, and barking orders at uncooperative young sailors, or even getting out the lash from time to time. You're provided with a berth and a trunk of your own, and the mess makes sure you won't go hungry, but you have to eat what the cook has prepared, and privacy is damn near impossible to come by, For every rich port you visit, there's a squall to get through, and occasionally you lose a man overboard. You have good shipmates who will look after you, but you leave behind all the friends you've known, and there's precious little time to visit them before you have to weigh anchor again.
It's been a good voyage, for the most part. I've seen whales spouting and heard the accents of many a foreign port since I signed on. But now I'd have to say it's time to disembark. I've spent too many years sleeping in this hammock, and I'm sick of hardtack and rum. After a twenty-year hitch, I need to be on dry land once more, to live
among people who aren't in uniform, and to eat the fruits of my own
I've still got a few days of sailing ahead, but I can already see hills rising ahead, and I look forward eagerly to walking them. And when I disembark for the last time, I'm going to listen to the humming of the bees, dig my hands down in the dirt beneath the grass, and feel the earth turning steadily beneath me.12:20 PM
I have never taken this long a break from this journal. I have also never had a month like this past March. I've tried writing about it several times, and every attempt has seemed hollow and incomplete. Instead of writing, then, I'm just going to list. Here's where I've been.
Our car died in the last week of February.
We bought a used Subaru Forester.
I gave my exams.
I graded my exams.
I wrote my students' comments.
I drove to Richmond.
Kelly and I drove the Forester from Richmond to Fayetteville after she got off work.
We got up and took her mother Ruth to the hospital for a scheduled heart test.
The tests showed significant obstruction in Ruth's cardiac vessels.
The cardiologist scheduled bypass surgery--perhaps a double bypass, he said.
Ruth had an allergic reaction to the adhesive used to connect the EKG leads during the test.
We took Ruth to the clinic three times in four days to try and control the reaction.
On day three, I drove to Lillington for a morning of birding with my friend Mary. Then I drove back to Fayetteville.
Ruth finally got a steroid shot on day four and her reaction died down.
On day five, we took Ruth to surgery.
The surgeon realized Ruth had FOUR blockages; he completed a quadruple bypass.
We stayed with Ruth until she came out of the anesthesia.
We came to see her after they took her breathing tube out.
We drove to Richmond. I dropped off Kelly and drove home.
I got up and got a call from my mother: my 99-year-old grandmother had died early that morning.
I put on my interview outfit, drove back to Richmond, and had a job interview.
I spent the night with Kelly, then drove back home.
I packed my bags, spent the night at home, and drove back to Richmond.
Aunt Linda, Uncle John, and my cousin Joshua picked me up and drove me to Savannah.
My parents met us in Savannah and drove me to our hotel..
I got up the next morning and went to my grandmother's funeral.
My cousins and I served as pallbearers.
My brother gave a speech about Mama Lea and burst into tears.
I gave a speech about Mama Lea and burst into tears.
Joshua gave a speech about Mama Lea and somehow kept his composure.
We returned to the hotel and at a lunch provided by the ladies of the synogogue.
I collapsed for a short nap.
The entire family went to Mama Lea's favorite restaurant, Johnny Harris's, and dined in her honor.
I fell asleep at the hotel.
I got up and drove home with my cousin Indira.
The next morning classes began.
Basically, on every single day of March, I was either working, taking someone to a medical appointment, driving to another town, or attending a funeral. The ragged edge of exhaustion was my new home. And when there finally came an April day when I didn't have to do anything... I just didn't have the strength to write about it.
It was not a good time. There were good moments, absolutely. Here's a picture of the Cape Fear River that I took during my morning with Mary at Raven Rock State Park:
But as a whole, March 2015 is not a month I ever want to duplicate.
And now that I've said my goodbyes, and caught my breath, and opened this journal again, it's time to march on.
I have a big development to announce, here in a year of numerous other big developments. Among the latter:
1) Kelly has taken on a new (full-time!) librarian position in Chesterfield County, VA, just south of Richmond. She's staying with a friend for the time being, commuting back here on weekends.
2) Ian has quit his job at Chili's, which he'd held for over two years, and going in search of something where his B.A. may be of more use.
3) Ian's girlfriend, Adriana, is finishing up her Associate's Degree and preparing to go after her own B.A., though she's not yet 100% sure where. She's hoping to stay in Richmond, but that's not a guarantee, and Ian seems fairly likely to follow her wherever she goes.
4) Dixon graduates in May--yes, we're finding it a little hard to believe as well--and is giving serious consideration to moving to Chicago, whose theater/comedy scene offers opportunities that suit him better than those in NYC or L.A. (Also, he doesn't like to drive and is staggered by the cost of living in New York.)
And that brings me to my news: this will be my last year at Woodberry Forest School. I've been on the faculty since 1995, and a twenty-year hitch sounds about right to me. I'm still looking at opportunities elsewhere, but if none of them come to fruition--or if Kelly decides that she really likes her job in Chesterfield and wants to stay there--then I'll most likely be heading down to the RVA area this summer.
In other words, by Christmas, every single member of the immediate family may well be in a different job AND a different town than the one he/she was in at the start of 2015.
I've still got a whole spring and a smidgen of winter to deal with before I depart the Forest for good, but it's both nerve-wracking and exhilarating to be able to see the edge of the trees. I'm looking forward to seeing the sun. 10:53 AM
Before the day finally came, most of us had told ourselves we were ready for it. I know I had. But sadly, we don't always listen closely to the things we tell ourselves, and all too often we find ourselves unprepared for even the most inevitable day. That was how I and many others felt this morning when we learned that Dean Smith had died.
You've probably seen the testimonials from former players, from colleagues, from sportswriters, and even from the White House. In that company, there's certainly nothing I can contribute by raising my own poor voice to praise him. Even before his legendary memory for names and faces began to fail him in the last few years of his life, Coach Smith would have had no reason to recall a kid who attended his basketball camp a couple of times and sat in the corner of Carmichael Auditorium for home games. And though I may wish otherwise, I have no reason to believe that he ever read my essay about him, "Seventeen Things I Learned from Dean Smith," published in Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond
. No, I'm not naive enough to believe that I can contribute anything to the choir currently singing.
But if there's one lesson Coach Smith taught, it was a lesson he himself learned from his father, and it's that lesson that I take to heart now. I wish to celebrate the life of Dean Smith not because he needs me to do it or because I will do it particularly well, but because it is the right thing to do. When a man you admire passes on, you take the time to acknowledge him, and your admiration for him. In doing so, you call attention to the importance of others in your life, and to the beauty of the living music into which all our voices are woven. You point to the passer.
"You should never be proud of doing what's right," Coach Smith once said. "You should just do what's right."
I'll keep trying, Coach. But I hope you'll forgive me if I'm still proud of you for doing it. 9:27 PM
Today is different. Today is not the same.
Aside from being a line from Peter Gabriel's "Family Snapshot," the above indicates that things are changing chez Cashwell/Dalton, and I figure you nice people might be interested in the nature of those changes. Especially since there are, I feel fairly sure, people out there in a quiet panic about them. That said, I suppose the first thing I should tell everyone was said best by Douglas Adams:
Really, even mild anxiety is out of order, because Kelly and I are fine. She's fine, I'm fine, and the third entity that is Our Marriage is fine. Better than fine. We're at 28.5 years of wedded bliss and counting. Honest.
But for the next few months, we're not going to be spending as much time together as we'd like. After finishing her Master's in Library and Information Science in December of 2012, she began searching for a full-time librarian position. And kept searching. She kept her part-time job cataloguing at the public library in Orange, and even acquired additional part-time jobs in Culpeper County and at WFS, but it soon became clear that every full-time library position in this vicinity was already filled by a librarian who was clinging to it like a barnacle to a hull. After months of searching, she started looking further afield, hoping to scare up something within reasonable commuting distance, which for her was under an hour. And the months continued to go by. Eventually she decided it was time to spread her search area even wider, and finally, in early 2015, she got an offer: a full-time professional librarian position, with all the rights, benefits, and privileges thereto.
But it's in Chesterfield County.
Therein lies the reason for the abovementioned change. The library where she'll be working is south of Richmond, over 90 miles from Woodberry's campus, and the shortest route Googlemaps lists is nearly a two-hour trip. Basically, to live here and work there would involve spending three and a half hours in the car every day, not to mention putting almost 200 miles a day on a car that's closing in on 200,000 miles already. Kirby, the aforementioned car, is a total stud, and if any of y'all are considering the purchase of a Subaru Forester, you may accept our enthusiastic recommendation, but no sane car owner wants to put a ten-year-old vehicle through that kind of wear and tear.
The alternative would be for me to move, but oh yeah I teach in a boarding school where I'm on call every day and do a weekly dorm duty from dawn to midnight so no. The school requires me to live on campus anyway, so I'm committed to being here at least until our year-end faculty meeting in June. After that, we'll look at our options and see what we can do that will allow us to live in the same place. What will that be? I'll let you know.
But in the meantime, Kelly's staying with a friend in Henrico and driving Kirby a much more reasonable 20-odd miles to her library. She'll be back here on Friday and will spend the weekend with me, and then on Sunday it's back to the RVA. It's different. It's not the same. Yes, she will get to see a lot of our friends there, not to mention the boys, and their girlfriends, and an advisee who's attending VCU now, and she does get to hang out at Richmond's fantastic restaurants and clubs and theaters and shop for groceries someplace other than the Orange Food Lion, but it's not ideal. Mostly it's not ideal for me. At least I can take some solace in the fact that I'm about to enter a two-weeks-with-no-breaks period of preparation for our production of Don't Drink the Water
, which goes up on February 12th, but by the time Kelly gets here for Valentine's Day, I suspect I'll be more than ready for a few hours off.
But that's how it's going to be for a month or three. I'm hoping to get to Richmond a few times myself once the play closes, but it's mostly going to be me hunkering down in the trenches here while Kelly makes conjugal visits on the weekends. And yes, I'm hoping that my use of the term "conjugal visits" doesn't mean I'm already viewing this as a prison sentence.
And that's the new normal. For a given definition of normal, anyway. 2:11 PM
*I haven't posted one of these in a while--heck, I haven't posted one of anything in a while--so if you don't already know, it stands for "Little Brown Jobs," a/k/a the small unidentifiable songbirds that are encountered on any birding outing. Here it stands for thoughts that somehow didn't lead to anything of any greater length or significance, but which somehow had to be recorded.
*I've been on a social media sabbatical. During the month of January (or at least since about the 5th) I've been refraining from hanging out on Facebook, Twitter, or any of my various other online hangouts. It's been helpful, in that I haven't been distracted from real life by any of the various Tweetstorms that inevitably arise when I'm twittering, but while it has probably helped me get ahead (or at least keep up) on things like grading and writing comments, it hasn't freed me up to get anything written, which was kind of my hope. On the plus side, I've gotten a bunch of stuff read.
*The reading has consisted of several novels, plus a quickie nonfiction book by a favorite author: Neal Stephenson's Anathem
, a massive SF tome that came to me for Christmas; Ebola
, an updated and expanded chunk of David Quammen's longer work Spillover
focusing specifically on the disease that most recently made headlines across the USA; and The Magician's Land
, the third volume in Lev Grossman's terrific Magicians trilogy. Okay, I also read the fourth collection of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga
comic, and even re-read Dan Jenkins' seminal (in more ways than one) book of seventies football and porn, Semi-Tough
. Let's just say that the former remains a terrific series, while the latter has a few elements that haven't held up well since Playboy
published the book forty years ago.
*The month's birding has been relatively subdued. Right now I'm standing at 35 species for the year, most of them observed on my feeder or elsewhere in the yard. I did have the chance to spend an afternoon at Robertson Lake on campus, and there I found my most noteworthy birds so far this year: a pair of Bald Eagles and a trio of migrating Common Goldeneyes. The latter is a species I'd never before logged in Virginia, let alone on campus; I'd seen them only in Ohio, Utah, Maryland, and Vermont. I'm still holding out hope that the Purple Finches will return to my feeder, but I haven't seen them since early December.
*And finally, the big news: Kelly has a new job. After years of unsuccessful searching for a full-time librarian position in the vicinity of Woodberry, she finally obtained one in Chesterfield County, which is just south of Richmond--in other words, about 90 minutes away from here. We were thus faced with a choice: have her spend three hours a day in the car (not to mention putting 750 miles on the car every work week) or find someplace for her to crash during the week. We opted for the latter, so she'll be spending the first week staying at a friend's place while she tries to decide whether she'll stay or try to find a place of her own for a bit. At the end of the school year, we'll try to decide what our best option might be.
*And yes, that may include my looking for a new job.
*And by coincidence, Ian recently found a new job, so he'll be leaving his longtime position at Chili's at the end of this month.
*And of course Dixon graduates in May.
*In short, within the next six months, every member of our family may end up working in a new job. It's a time of flux in the Cashwell/Dalton household, let's just say. Maybe I should post a picture of something to take my mind off it. Hey, here's a pic of Kel and me with our former advisee, the spectacularly talented Anna Grey Hogan, following her triumphant performance as Liza That Was in the Richmond Triangle Players' production of We Three Lizas
! Take a bow, Anna Grey! 7:54 PM
Before I say anything else, I want to be clear: I'm a fan. I bought the first album. I loved the first album. I sweated out the long months before the second album, and when it came out I played it almost as often as the first album. But in the end, it's the first album that stays with me. I have enormously fond memories of every song on it, and some of them remain evocative enough to put me in a particular time and place. Yes, I close my eyes and I slip away.
But by all that is holy, radio programmers, I say unto you QUIT PLAYING ALL THAT GODDAM BOSTON.
Yesterday morning, I slid into the driver's seat and turned on the car radio, which was tuned to Charlottesville's album rock station, WWWV, better known as "3WV." A song from Boston's self-titled debut album was playing.
This isn't shocking, as AOR stations in general and 3WV in particular have been stuck to Boston
like barnacles to a supertanker since it came out in 1976. It is the best-selling debut album by any American artist ever, and by any measure it is one of the most successful rock records of all time, having sold in excess of 17 million copies in the US alone (thank you, Wikipedia.) The albums that have outsold it are generally the ones where I don't need to mention the artists' names to let you know what we're talking about: Thriller. Dark Side of the Moon. IV. Rumours
. And its cover, with a fleet of guitar-shaped spaceships evacuating entire cities from a doomed Earth, has become downright iconic:
This particular song from Boston
, "Rock and Roll Band," is a passable piece of anthemic rock mythology, though it is woefully inaccurate with regards to Boston's own success story. They were the brainchild of guitarist/songwriter Tom Scholz, a gifted musician and engineer whose homemade demo tapes were good enough to earn a recording contract with Epic Records. There were no years of travel from gig to gig, no nights spent in the van, no overdoses on road food. Scholz had to put the band together in order to have someone to play the songs live after the record was released. The song is somewhat interesting in that it was never released as a single, but it's considered "classic" enough to enjoy regular airplay, arguably almost as much as the three songs from the debut album that WERE released as singles: "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind" and "Foreplay/Long Time."
Having heard it more than often enough, however, I switched stations. Turning to Kelly, I announced, "You know, I think it's finally happened: I'm tired of Boston's first album."
I don't know why I was surprised. We're talking about a record released nearly 40 years ago, and one that is played incessantly. But it's one that I've long considered the perfect blend of hard rock and melody, a beautifully crafted piece of popular entertainment. "More Than a Feeling" was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, and only my recognition that Brad Delp's voice cannot be duplicated by ordinary human beings has prevented me from trying to play it live. It's an album I could easily play in my head from start to finish without missing a lyric or a drum fill, and one I cannot ever condemn.
But come on, radio people. THERE ARE OTHER RECORDS WORTH PLAYING.
Boston's debut album has only eight songs on it, and six of them (excepting only "Something About You" and "Let Me Take You Home Tonight") get regular airplay, despite the fact that this is an album that most of the audience already owns. And there are only three or four songs from their other albums that you'll ever hear on the radio: "Feeling Satisfied" and the title track from Don't Look Back
, plus occasionally "Amanda" and "We're Ready" from Third Stage
. I don't think I've ever heard anything from their three other studio albums.) Basically, then, there are between eight and ten Boston songs that might be heard on the radio. And at least a couple of them can be heard Every. Single. Day.
Don't believe me? Yesterday evening, on the way home from the same trip that began with "Rock and Roll Band," I turned on 3WV again and laughed aloud. "Don't Look Back" was playing.
"Well, at least it's not the first album," I said to Kelly, and switched off the radio.
And tonight, when I got in the car to come home from work? On went 3WV, and on came "Foreplay/Long Time." And off went 3WV.
Radio folks, this isn't hard. There are dozens--scores--HUNDREDS of great songs by legitimate classic rock artists that you can put on the air. You want some suggestions? The Rolling Stones alone have released over twenty studio albums; try a deeper track like "Monkey Man" or "Dead Flowers" or even a recent tune like "Rain Fall Down" off 2005's A Bigger Bang
. Jethro Tull doesn't get nearly enough radio play, and they've topped twenty albums as well; give a spin to "Look Into the Sun" off Stand Up
, or something off Songs from the Wood
. You want to play American tunes? Fine! How about some Allman Brothers? No, not just "Rambling Man" and "Midnight Rider." Spin "Trouble No More" or "One Way Out" for a change. What about Steely Dan? Only nine albums total, but there's plenty of stuff that hasn't been played to death. "Barrytown" from Pretzel Logic
is an underappreciated gem, and you won't find a nastier guitar than Larry Carlton's work on "Don't Take Me Alive" and "Kid Charlemagne."
In short, radio people, it's time to broaden your horizons. If you want to stay in the classic rock ghetto, be my guest. It's sad that you won't be digging into the rich musical offerings of Janelle Monae or the Magnetic Fields or the Carolina Chocolate Drops or American Aquarium, or even the great underappreciated music of the same era as classic rock: Brian Eno's breathtaking Before and After Science
, XTC's amazing Black Sea
, Television's Marquee Moon, the Isley Brothers' Go For Your Guns
, and so on. But for crying out loud, an allegiance to classic rock doesn't mean you have to spend your lives spinning the same handful of songs off the same record. No matter how good it is.
Please. Come away from Boston. For our sanity. I'm listening to some friends, and they've got lots of tunes.
I've been keeping track of the books I read since 1996, and looking back at the end of the year is always an instructive experience. The annual list includes every book I read, in any category--fiction, nonfiction, drama, comics, poetry, whatever. The only exceptions: picture books or collections of newspaper comic strips (except archival tomes such as Fantagraphics' collected Peanuts
multi-year volumes). And I don't count comics collections when I re-read them (which I will often do as bedtime reading). When I re-read anything else, however, it appears on the list, albeit with an asterisk; I've found that this signifier gives me a bit more impetus to read new material.
As reading years go, I'd have to say that 2014 was a bit of an odd one, but it wasn't entirely out of line with my past experiences. I didn't finish as many titles as I have in years past, but that's a trend I've noticed recently. From 2004 through 2007, I read furiously, finishing over 100 books per year, but in 2008 through 2011, I slipped down into the nineties. Since 2012, however, I've been steadily finishing only seventy-odd books per year. I'm not sure what's driving the shift, but if I had to guess, I'd estimate that I've been spending more time on the internet than in the past. (I joined Facebook in 2009, for what that's worth...) Alternatively, the change might be work-related: In the fall of 2011, I stopped teaching speech and went to full-time English teaching; has the increased number of papers kept me from reading as many books?
The weirdest thing, however, has nothing to do with the total and everything to do with the subject matter. In this year when I published my second nonfiction book, I read only five nonfiction books (two of which were re-reads) That is decidedly odd for me. Then again, maybe I had spent so much time in the nonfiction realm because of my own writing that I felt it necessary to wander around in the fiction section for a change.
That fiction section contained a fair number of re-reads, too. For some reason, over the summer I decided to revisit Larry Niven's Known Space
short stories, along with three novels (World of Ptavvs, Protector,
and A Gift from Earth
). They were among the first hard SF stories to grab me, but I'll confess that the mind-grabbing elements of Protector
didn't make up for the lengthy discourse on spacecraft trajectories in the second half of the book. I also spent a little time looking at old favorites by Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, as well as perhaps the favorite SF novel of my adolescence, Jack L. Chalker's Midnight at the Well of Souls
. Time has not been kind to Chalker's writing, alas, and I can now see much clunkiness where once I saw smooth and satisfying prose; the ideas, however, remain as potent as they ever did, and the Well World remains one of my favorite mental playgrounds.
When I wasn't re-reading fiction, however, four of the novels I selected were among the best I've come across in recent memory. The first book I finished in 2014 was G.B. Edwards' remarkable 1981 tale of the isle of Guernsey, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page
. How I missed this book when it came out I don't know--oh, wait, yes I do: I was finishing high school and paying little attention to contemporary fiction. But thanks to my old Readerville chum D.G. Strong, whose praise for Edwards' work has been vocal and uninterrupted for some years now, I finally picked it up and can attest to its merits: it somehow manages to be simultaneously fresh and old-fashioned, an engaging novel that reveals its secrets in a way that is both fair and satisfying to the reader. It is a wonderful, wonderful book.
From there I fell into a work whose prose was just flabbergasting. I cannot recall the last time I stopped and read aloud passages to my wife so often as I did while reading Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale
. (I suspect it was probably while reading John Crowley's Little, Big
, but don't quote me.) I'm not 100% sure I like the ending, and I certainly don't have great things to say about Mr. Helprin's work in the political realm, and you couldn't pay me enough to watch the movie they recently made from this book, but oh my god is this a breathtaking piece of writing: rich, descriptive, fiercely imagined, and never, ever dull.
Dan Simmons, whose work often delights me, hit my sweet spot once again with The Abominable
, which treads the same borderlands he explored with The Terror
, namely those between history, adventure, and horror. With this book, he stays more within the boundaries of the first two (as opposed to his repeated visits to the latter territory in The Terror
), creating a yarn filled of mountaineering excitement, historical mystery, and edge-of-your-seat set pieces. (I mean, it's about climbing Mount Everest. Of COURSE there are cliffhangers. Some literal.) A guy who can write an exciting rock-climbing sequence can handle my mountaineering fiction any day.
Finally, I at long last cracked open a second book by James Hynes. Back in Readerville.com's heyday, I led a discussion on Hynes' audacious and hilarious satire of university English departments, The Lecturer's Tale
, which was both scathing and illuminating. (Probably the first book I ever encountered that attempted to address the concept of privilege, it was also noteworthy for including the only fight scene I know that continues into the footnotes.) It wasn't until I found a copy of Kings of Infinite Space
in Richmond that I dove into his work for a second time, and I was not one bit disappointed. Here Hynes takes on the world outside the ivory tower, the kingdom of cubicles and underemployment, and he's just as fearless as ever when it comes to following up on his wildest ideas. Bold, hilarious, and thoughtful, it's a book I recommend without hesitation; hell, Hynes even manages to end it with a punchline.
Add to that the start of several promising series by Lev Grossman, Ann Leckie, and Mira Grant, plus a trip back through an old favorite (Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
), and I'd have to say it was a dandy year for fiction.
And comics? Oh, hell yeah. Several favorite tales from long ago were finally collected and reprinted, including Miracleman
(by Alan Moore, Garry Leach, and Alan Davis), Flex Mentallo
(by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely) and the indescribable Bojeffries Saga
(by Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse). I finally obtained my own copy of Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's terrific Secret Identity
, and I continued to enjoy a variety of continuing (or recently-completed) series:
Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Misfile by Chris Hazelton
I also discovered several enjoyable titles that are still being published... at least for the moment:
Ms. Marvel by G. WIllow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip
And last but not least, I discovered a frank, hilarious, and utterly delightful autobiographical comic by Erika Moen: DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary
. It's collected in two volumes, and if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend you do so.
On to 2015!