Sunday, February 27, 2005
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Haley Karnia 1990-2005
We put Haley to sleep today. A very sad day for the family. We adopted her in 1990, Judy's first year in vet school. Walking through the shelter, we saw her hanging by all fours from the front of her cage, meowing loudly. She had attitude. We took her home that day. Those of you that met her know that she never lost that attitude. Haley challenged nearly everyone she met. Most people probably met her for the first time at one of our Christmas parties. She guarded the coats on the bed with a fierceness that suggested her larger, wilder relations. She also prevented anyone from sneaking out of a party without saying goodbye. People needed permission to get a coat.
We trained her on a leash in Champaign-Urbana. That is, we put her on a leash and followed her wherever she went. I remember walking her around Crystal Lake park while listening to an outdoor concert. In her middle years, I never would have done such a thing, but as a young kitten, she still could be trusted to behave.
In Cincinnati, she liked roaming the back yard on her lead. She'd sleep in the ivy or stretched out on the deck. In the house on Glengyle, she bit me twice. Once when she confronted a stray cat at the back, screen door. I was in the front room, reading, when I heard my first (and only, so far) blood-curdling scream. I bolted to the kitchen and Haley, at a frenzied peak, bounced off of two walls and sunk her teeth into my calf. She seemed apologetic later, but it hurt like hell. A year or two later, trying to untangle her leash from around the pole, I let her off her harness. I hadn't seen the neighbor's new kitten lounging in the yard a few feet away. Haley shot off for blood. I ran after her, but before I could scruff her neck, she had two lightning quick strikes on the back of my hand. Those eventually put me in the hospital for a night to recover from the infection.
In Oak Park, she was mostly an indoor kitty. She liked running the long hallway and sitting in the front window watching the passing traffic on Humphrey. She still guarded coats at Christmas. In Omaha, she started to slow down, but was still pretty misanthropic and mis-felinethropic. She liked hanging out on the front porch and sneaking down the steps to eat the tender grass by the spirea bushes. One day she spotted a stray across the street. Like always, she assumed the stalking position and quickly, quietly--quite cat-like, actually, in her movements-- she headed across the lawn. I grabbed her in plenty of time, but before I could get her back in the house, she wriggled free and bit me for a third time. Always, at her heart, she was a warrior. Interfere and you paid the price.
She faded fast after Christmas. She had been on some medication, but she quickly showed signs of a system-wide collapse. She hobbled noticeably. Her abdomen swelled. She stopped eating. The choice to send her on her way was not easy, but was clear.
For as cranky as she could be, Haley was never really anti-social. When guests arrived, Haley, rather than dart under a bed, brazenly strolled out to confront them for invading her home. She was a master at mind games. Rubbing up against a leg, purring, and then hissing the moment the hand reached down to pet her. No question, she was a diva. Cool, unapproachable, but always aware of her desirability. She was the first to transform us from a couple to a family, and when Ciela was born, Haley played mama-cat for her. She would meow and rub against our legs whenever Ciela was crying. She would roll over on her side, offering her milk to the new kitten in the house.
I'm sure she thanks all those who helped take care of her when we went out of town. Those who want to honor her should remember your local shelter. There's nothing better than a pound cat.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Hunter S. Thompson shot himself this past weekend. One of the truly original American writers--and a Louisville native. Here is The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Top Ten Books
When I was in Cincinnati, we were discussing teaching our favorite books. Among the eight of us at the table, there was a sizeable fraction (at least more than one, I remember) who refuse to teach our favorite works to undergraduates. Some of us don’t have the option of teaching to graduates. We can’t stomach the heartache of having our favorite books dismissed as bad, boring or irrelevant.
I was reminded of the conversation because today we began discussing Fast Food Nation in our campus wide reading group. I certainly wouldn’t call the book one of my favorites, but its very well written, a muckraking of the contemporary culture of quick, cheap and eminently deplorable. And it bothered me—more than it should, I imagine—that so many people found it “boring,” “stupid” and “a waste of time.” There are times when I definitely lose perspective as a teacher, and today was one of them. But each criticism of the book felt like I was coming face to face with the abyss. I had to refrain from lashing out wildly at these undergraduates. The U.S. culture has a long history of being hostile to intellectuals, education and people who value ideas and theory as much as experience. And one would think that I would be used to it by now. For the most part, I am. Yet the issues at stake in Schlosser’s book are very dear to me: the homogenization of experience, the exploitation of the powerless, the raping of natural resources. To hear people time and again turn their back on insight because they “aren’t interested in that stuff” drags me down from whatever noble ideas I have about the prospects of higher education.
I can’t say for certain if the particular faction of anti-intellectualism practiced in Nebraska is any different from that in Illinois or Ohio, but I am definitely more attuned to it here. The best lack conviction, the worst gain more influence each passing year. Is it any wonder that Omaha struggles to keep their young, creative, entrepreneurial people from bolting? Of course, rarely does the anti-intellectual climate of the state rank as one of the reasons why people leave.
So as therapy, I decided to list my top ten books (another topic of discussion in Cinti, one obviously fraught with flaws, but irresistible nonetheless).
In no particular order (and asterisks by the ones I’ve taught):
The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers
*Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
*Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
*Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler
Straight Man by Richard Russo
City of Quartz by Mike Davis
Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
The top five are probably pretty consistent. The second five could likely change on the time of day, season, amount of illicit substance coursing through the system.
And now, your turn. Top Ten and any you've taught (if you teach).
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Valentine's from my cousins
Ciela thanks all of her cousins for sending her Valentines. Her reaction: "Good God! How many of them are there? I remember a lot of people, but seriously...have you people heard of birth control. Let me guess. We're a Catholic family, right? The postage alone! And I'm supposed to write them back? Two words--form letter."
So she was a bit overwhelmed, but she did find the cards to be very tasty.
Monday, February 14, 2005
I suppose at some point it was an eventful holiday, but Judy and I did our best to celebrate the day of romance after a long day of work for me, illness for her, and Ciela being her usual stumbling block to romance. We each gave flowers--gerber daisies and alstroemeria for me, origami 20# paper for her. I got chocolates. Judy got soap and Kingsolver's High Tide in Tuscon. More of an inside joke, that last one.
After Ciela went to sleep, we pulled out the champagne flutes from deep in the recesses of the kitchen cabinet, dished out raspberry sorbet and covered them in cheap champagne. Low grade champagne isn't so bad when suffused in melting sorbet. One just has to remember not to pour a second glass after the sorbet is gone.
Sign of the times, we poured 17/20ths of the bottle down the drain and went to sleep early.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Judy, Ciela and I spent the weekend here, planning out the next stage of our lives. We hiked a little, swam a little, and ate a lot. The lodge is about an hour south of Omaha. Its on the Morton estate where Arbor Day was created. They grow lots of trees. The whole lodge is heated by a woodburning furnace. They recycle. They have good food. There's a piano player on saturday night and a jazz trio on sunday morning. We sat out at the fireplace, dead center of this picture.
Place your bets
Now that the Super Bowl is over, here's something else you can bet on. The Morning News' First Annual TMN Tournament of Books.
I myself have Cloud Atlas reaching the top.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
It’s 5:30pm at the Greater Cincinnati Airport—”greater” in this case meaning Kentucky. Another red state checked off. I’ve been in Cincinnati for the last 27 hours, reliving the glory years when I was a graduate student at a research university where big ideas are discussed.
Beyond the incredible architectural change on UC’s campus, this attention to ideas and thinking struck me most in contrast to my job at Dana. For nearly the whole time I was here (two days which included very little sleeping, a fair amount of beer and wine, and lots of lots of talking), the subject of conversation was about scholarship. If it veered away, it was to talk about me and my current job.
But we always came back to the books. The ideas.
Hard not to with Richard Powers at the table, a man who would be a contender in any smartest guy in the room contest. The man himself was gracious, thanking me and complementing me on my review of The Time of Our Singing, genuinely interested in how I was doing as a professor, and always a perpetual idea man. His Tuesday night lecture may be out in Granta soon, so it’s worth looking for. He was brilliant and ingenious.
So I got to have dinner with one of my heroes and then introduce him and publicly ask questions of him earlier today. I asked mediocre questions, and his and Tom’s answers made them sound penetrating and insightful.
After the lecture, I had my little homecoming. The successful (reasonably) hometown boy comes back to some acclaim. Professors asked all about me, they cooed over pictures of Ciela, they told me they were very proud of my achievements. And they gave me free beer, wine and food.
Karl and I were finally kicked out of Tom’s house after midnight. We went to his house and drank tea until 2:00am. All very cozy.
I wandered all around UC’s campus. The place is unbelievably altered. New buildings so altered the terrain that often could not place my memories into any context. The setting had been completely erased. TUC, the student center, had its nametag placed on an entirely different person. The cupola was still there. The colonial style windows were still there. The columns still framed the doors. But a polished steel and glass crystal had exploded from within. The building had the disconcerting effect of a Rolex on the wrist of Michelangelo’s David. It’s nice, but a bit ostentatious and not really in the spirit.
And all over campus, the same effect played out. Straight through the heart of campus-Main Street, they call it now—buildings seem to tumble down the hill from McMicken to the far parking lot. The structures are like three dimensional doodles that obey no pattern or form but to fill in the spot allotted them. Buildings snake along the far curve of the stadium. Brushed steel, aluminum and graphite creep around and over the existing normalcy of brick. The back of Swift hall has grown slick tentacles that lance out to connect with the grey block glass of the new student offices. The old quad maintained little dignity as the flashy buildings south overshadowed the traditional style.
But the whole thing seems to work. Students flooded the student center, sprawled over tables and couches flooded with light even on this cloudy day. Its not inspiring in any classical sense of the word, but its gleeming, bright and new...holding the promise of a bright shiney penny of progress. Its a bit cloy, but there are worse things to instill in the students that come here.