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December 2007 Archives

It's 2008!

If someone wished you Happy Holidays sometime in the last month, odds are good that this was the one that made it plural.

Bat Country Cats.jpg


9:58 PM


That's the word of the day, not just because Kel and I went to Barnes & Noble last night and traded in some gift cards for books.  I spent my share on the newest Doonesbury collection, Welcome to the Nerd Farm! ; the new Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill League of Extraordinary Gentleman book ($30 in hardback), Black Dossier; Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, which I've been meaning to read for ages; and Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser's follow-up to Fast Food Nation.  (Surprisingly, we've even got some money left on one card.)

But I'm also spent in a more internal sense, because the fall and winter have been personally and professionally exhausting.  The usual requirements of teaching at Woodberry are demanding, but my ordinary teach-classes mornings and coach-kayaking-or-rock-climbing afternoons were supplemented by new demands this fall, namely the development of a new honors-level English course (designed along the lines of AP Language and Composition, but not duplicating it), the job of serving as public address announcer for home football games, and the role of co-advisor for our school newspaper.  The first is part and parcel of my duties as a teacher, and though it has taxed my creativity at times, the course has been a blast and the students are a wonderful group to work with.  The second wasn't really that rough a job in and of itself, but it did require a certain degree of commitment and care, though luckily only in short bursts.  I ended up announcing two JV games as well as the four varsity games I'd signed on for, and my partner Greg Jacobs and I ended up webcasting the final game of the season from Alexandria, so announcing did eat up seven weekend afternoons I could perhaps have used for resting from the other stuff I was doing, or perhaps for doing all that other stuff. 

Of that other stuff, the newspaper has probably been the most stressful addition to my plate, perhaps because I have no newspaper experience whatsoever--and yes, I explicitly informed the headmaster of this fact when he tapped me for the job.  It will go for weeks with little or nothing going on, and then will suddenly erupt into a weekend demanding hours upon hours of attention, which is not something that fits in well with my established schedule, particularly when those weekends are already compromised by, oh, say, announcing a football game or doing dorm duty.  And since even a "full" WFS weekend runs only from 11:00 a.m. Saturday (the end of classes) to 6:15 p.m. Sunday (the start of advisee dinner), every weekend hour is extraordinarily precious.  Let's just say I have my doubts about continuing in this role over the long haul...

But I got through the fall and started the winter, holding my auditions for this year's Black Box production of I Hate Hamlet and starting in on the challenges inherent in mounting any play, but adding to them the challenges of working around the schedules of three girls, two of whom attend school in Charlottesville and have a long commute back, and another whose mother was hospitalized with meningitis in December, which threw her schedule off just a wee bit.  There's also the three-week layoff we're currently experiencing, which necessitates getting a LOT done during the first three weeks of rehearsal, but at least gives the cast some time to memorize their lines.  When they return on Jan. 7th, they should be off book, but we'll then have less than three weeks until opening night--Jan. 24th.  So yes, there's a little stress there.

Anyway, all of this is why I didn't do any shopping until the 19th.

The good news is that I found just about everything I needed, which meant that when we took off for Fayetteville on the morning of the 21st, the car was loaded with everything we needed for the Dalton family celebration on the night of the 22nd and the Cashwell family celebration on the afternoon of the 23rd, plus a few items left at home for the nuclear family celebration on Christmas proper.  We drove to Fayetteville, helped Kelly's mom set up for the party on Friday, had a wonderful dinner and visit on Saturday night, drove to Raleigh, had another wonderful lunch and visit on Sunday afternoon, drove to my parents' place, spent Sunday night, got my broken glasses repaired, grabbed a big Chinese lunch, and headed home on US 15 on Monday afternoon.

I think it was somewhere around Clarksville that I began to feel the adrenaline wearing off.

Kelly took over the driving, allowing me to focus on the spectacular beauty of a huge orange moon wrapped in tinsel-strands of cloud, but by the time we hit the driveway, I was ready to fall into bed and stay there for a week, Santa be damned.  Luckily, I have that week.  I may not spend it all in bed, but I'm going to try--aggressively, even--not to commit to doing anything other than recovering some of my energy.  And maybe... just maybe... spending some of my Christmas money.

9:54 AM

A Long Winter's Nap

Not as long as I'd like, alas, but I'll be settling in for one at the earliest opportunity.  We're back from our whirlwind trip to our parents' Xmas celebrations, with brief stops in Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Pittsboro, and the kids are gamely killing duckies and bunnies.  (This is our euphemism for shooting/ lasering/ bombing/ breathing atomic fire on/ hosing down with chocolate/ disembowelling with rusty meathooks the various zombies/ enemy soldiers/ aliens/ monsters/ evil minions of the Big Boss/ rude drivers they encounter during their video-game playing.  It started from a primitive Atari game that my old housemate Mike Beard had, a game in which you fired a small black video pip at a polygonal object that approximated a duck and/or bunny and earned points for hitting it squarely.)

The tree is lit and we're full of spaghetti, having overdosed on Xmas food at Saturday night's Dalton gathering, Sunday afternoon's Cashwell gathering, and today's buffet Chinese lunch.  Okay, maybe the Chinese buffet isn't traditional Christmas fare for everyone, but when you've eaten as much cheese and chocolate as I have in the last three days, the prospect of orange chicken, garlic-sauteed green beans, and hot and sour soup sounds like the perfect antidote.  And when that's done, it's time for pasta with a vodka sauce.

But we're settled in, having driven home with a spectacular yellow moon in front of us for the last hour, a full circle shrouded in clouds like Salome in her seven veils.  Perhaps that's not the part of the Bible I'm intended to be thinking of on this night, but I'm not one to criticize God for his astronomical beauties or the associations they may call up in human minds.  And now I'm ready to stretch out with my Neal Stephenson book and a Terry's Chocolate Orange--thanks, Aunt Susan!--and await the arrival of Saint Nick and/or the Grinch.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

7:52 PM

Running Down That Hill

I haven't poked into politics here recently, but that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention.  The Democratic race is actually shaping up to be just that--a race--rather than the inevitable preliminary to the coronation of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention this summer.  Personally, I'm all for it.  The primaries should be all about the party working through what it stands for, and if there's only one candidate, there's little discussion of which policies to support.  That's one reason I'm happy to see Obama starting to catch a little attention--the cover of TIME, lots of online profiles, etc.  I'm not sure he's my guy, but that's how I'm leaning. 

Some may argue that Obama's underprepared, having served only one term in the Illinois Senate and part of another in Washington, but I see several arguments against that.  First, a famous President from Illinois--tall guy, beard, lots of split rails--had even less experience than Obama, having served exactly one term as a Congressman when he made his run, but he ended up as one of our more successful executives.  Second, if you look at the credentials of the guy we've had running the country for the last seven years--former governor, former CEO, former Texas Air National Guard officer--it becomes clear that experience is not the most important characteristic of a good President.  Also, considering HRC's own experience--one Senate term--it's arguable that she has less direct experience in governing than Obama does.  Mind you, she does have eight years of observing the workings of the presidency from up close, but I'm not sure that's necessarily better than doing the work of an actual legislator.

Either way, I'm happy that the Dems have several fiercely intelligent candidates who strike me as entirely capable of running the executive branch competently.  If Hill is the nominee, I'll pull the lever for her, but I can't say she excites me much.  Part of my lack of enthusiasm is her calculated attempt to stave off criticism from the right; I do not believe she has any real interest in banning flag-burning, but she co-sponsored a bill to outlaw it; I don't believe she really thinks the war in Iraq is a good idea, but she has supported it since the original vote to authorize force.  I don't see these votes as anything but an attempt to defuse criticism that she's a commie pinko who's soft on national defense.  The main thing they've done, however, is demonstrate to her theoretical supporters on the left and in the middle that she doesn't actually support their principles when they come up for a vote.  Moreover, they're not doing a thing to calm down the right-wing nutjobs, whose criticism of Hillary is starting to make their criticism of Bill look like the gentle chastisement Ward used to give to the Beaver.

There are also a number of petty things her campaign has been doing--planting questions in the audience at campaign events, criticizing Obama for wanting to be president back in elementary school, etc.--that make me shake my head and feel as though she's learned nothing from the past fifteen years of scorched-earth politics.  It makes her look less like a leader and more like a hyper-ambitious Tracy Flick making Machiavellian moves to win the student council presidency in Election.  (A terrific movie for you Reese Witherspoon/Matthew Broderick fans, by the way.)  The very way in which she pursues the office makes her look unfit for it.

I do not believe what P.J. O'Rourke said during his visit to Woodberry a few months back--that there's not a man in America who will vote for Hillary because she reminds them all of their first wife.  For one thing, unlike many successful GOP columnists (and candidates, for that matter), many of us like our first wives just fine, and not a few are still married to them.  Unfortunately, Hillary doesn't remind me of mine that much.  (The brains, sure, the occasional glimpse of steely cruel streak, fine, but HRC just isn't cute.)

My main objection to Hillary, though, is that I'm really, really tired of divisiveness in American politics, and I don't see her election leading to anything but more of the same.  The partisan sniping that I grew up with was so mild compared with today's rabid attacks that it was often hard to tell which party was doing what.  Moreover, things actually got done.  After I started paying attention in the late 60s, I saw our nation do such things as go to the moon, end the Vietnam War, create the Endangered Species Act, and help eliminate smallpox.  Nowadays everything the government does seems to be a triumphant prevention of something else: "Ha! We kept the opposition from defunding school lunches/spending tax dollars on pork/educating children about sex!"  The only actual accomplishments I can recall in the last few decades are tax cuts for people with money and wars against militaries without power.

Forgive me if I don't see the election of yet another divisive figure from a family that's already held the White House as a good break with this trend.  If Hillary wins, it will mean a Bush or a Clinton has occupied the Oval Office since 1988.  The voters who go the polls for the first time in 2008 will not be able to recall a day when one of those two houses wasn't in charge.  Many of them will not have been alive at such a time.

Frankly, I think it's time they had a chance to live in a different America. Lord knows I'd like that chance myself.

9:25 AM

Kel reports a new meme going around:  go to and hit the "random article" button.

The first result is the name of your band.  Hit the "random article" button again.

The second result is the name of your band's first album.  Hit the button again, fifteen more times.

The next fifteen results are the name of your first album's fifteen songs.

(I also did a Google search for "random image" to produce some album cover art, seen below.)

So, without further ado:

drunkards walk.png


BAND: Mackenzie River

ALBUM: Haplochromis Perrieri

1. JC Chasez

2. Old 8 X 10

3. Thawi Watthana

4. 56th Street

5. Alabama State Route 27

6. Kate Hooper

7. The Crown

8. Monroe County Sheriff's Department

9. Sense Strand

10. Amaravathi

11. Tournament of Hearts

12. Bobby Bare

13. Cubic Honeycomb

14. Iranian Qiran

15. Mint Blancmange


It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

8:34 PM

Grafting a Tree

Wednesday I put aside the computer to accomplish something offline: to recopy the family tree I made as a class project in Mrs. Raskis's ninth grade English class. The posterboard on which I'd originally drawn it is so old that it was starting to dry up--it wasn't just tearing, pieces were actually breaking off.  I'd planned to put a new copy on some fresh posterboard, despite knowing that there's software out there that will work better, but I felt this needed the same hands-on treatment that the original had gotten.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize the boys had used up all our posterboard for school assignments. This required a venture out into the year's first snowy evening, but at least the majority of Virginia's drivers, being terrified of the white stuff even in daylight, were off the roads, and I made it to CVS with a minimum of trouble.

Returning home with posterboard, pencils, Scotch tape and a Cadbury bar, I gingerly placed the original tree on the dining room table and looked it over.  I had of course realized that the tree's 1978 vintage meant that it lacked my children's generation, but I had somehow forgotten that it lacked the last three members of my own generation--Larry and Patty's kids, all born in the 80s after I left junior high. These factors necessitated a slight adjustment to the whole diagram, which I moved about four inches higher on the new posterboard, and they also meant that dad's side of the family was crammed into an even smaller area of the display. Nonetheless, I got all three of the "new" cousins in, then added spouses for myself, my brother, and cousins Joshua, Indira, and Michael, the only ones who've married so far. Then I got to put in our kids, my nephews, and my cousins' three younguns (so far), with room to work in a few more if the occasion should demand.

Then came the melancholy task of adding second dates to the members of the earlier generations.  Three of my grandparents are gone now, and it saddened me to record that fact, even as doing so made me realize how strange my perceptions of them had been.  Mama Lou died in 1983, age 70, but for some reason I'd always felt as though she died much younger. Daddy Joe died in 1990, surviving his wife by only seven years, but somehow it had seemed like such a long time without her.  Papa and all his siblings are gone now, but Mama Lea is still dominating the family in Scrabble despite the (1916-    ) below her name.

And then it was back into the names I know mainly by reputation, or because I copied them onto the tree back in 9th grade. My great-grandfather Wolf Sutker and his father Klonimus, my great-grandmother Belle Whitney, a great-great-great grandmother with the unlikely monicker of Bernhardine Trepper, two separate Rebeccas whose maiden names are unknown, a surprising number of Franks and Franklins, the unfortunate names (lots of Berthas, a pair of Augusts, and my poor Uncle Hyman), a Westphalian cluster of Schoenhaars and Eckhardts, and the long mysterious trails back to origins we're often only guessing at... Bladen County, NC... Mathews County, VA... Wales... Lithuania... Ipswich... Somerset... and dozens of Polish villages that may not have existed for generations.

(One of my Sutker cousins has made an extensive study of our mutual ancestors, and he has actually tracked the family back to a particular village in Poland, but I don't have a copy of his findings.  Besides, my tree isn't meant to be comprehensive--it's really just a chance to reconnect to my own work and make it more up to date.)

Finally, back aching and hands covered with pencil residue, I picked up the copy and showed it to Dixon, who is rarely at a loss for words. He looked at his own position down toward the right corner, then let his eyes trail left and right and up, over the aunts of uncles and the uncles of aunts, all the way back through the Rubinsteins and the Rayments and the Ruttkamps, back through the strands of his own DNA.

"Wow," was all he said.

And that's about all I can say at this point. I have a big ol' pile of relatives, and chances are, if you go back enough, they're your relatives too.

Happy Hanukkah to the the whole family--even the goyim.

9:10 AM

The Moving Finger Writes

...and having writ, moves on to another key, unless of course the other key is supposed to be struck by a different finger.  Omar Khayyam was not, I can only assume, a touch-typist.

This week, following the rush of grading and commenting and planning for the winter trimester, I was actually able to do a little work in the realm of writing: I put together a query letter, wrote a synopsis for the new manuscript (Student Exchange, if you're trying to keep track at home), attached the first three chapters, and sent it off to an agent.  Whether this will produce publication I have no idea, but it's a new thing for me: I've never worked with an agent before, and I've really only had serious discussions with one, but I figure there has to be some advantage in having someone with a vested interest in getting you published working to get you published. 

I have neither the time nor the mindset necessary to seek out the dozens of publishers who might find my work suitable, and because of those other time pressures and my own discomfort selling myself, finding a publisher for my work has always been an extremely slow process.  This, for example, is why it took me nearly seven years to write and find a publisher for The Verb 'To Bird', and it may explain the backlog of manuscripts I'm currently sitting on.

  • Student Exchange is complete, and if I get the go-ahead, I'm ready to jump on the next book in the series (tentatively titled Bizarre Love Triangle.)
  • The Amazing Q is complete, and after nearly fifteen years of work, it's sitting on an editor's desk.
  • A Raven for Doves (O/T Moving Day) is in need of another draft, but it is complete.  An agent might well help find a publisher and/or editor willing to help me put it into publishable form.

And the above doesn't include the partially completed works.  I've got significant pieces of a nonfiction book (Birdlands, a/k/a Fifty-Fifty), another novel (Mother Wit, the one Kelly and I are collaborating on), a comic-book series, a play, a musical, and a screenplay lying around.

Basically, I seem to be doing pretty well as far as the generation of content goes; it's the whole marketing and sales thing where I seem to be falling down on the job.  Time to outsource!

8:42 AM


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