Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In search of...

Nothing compels me to write like the music of poetry. A good poem is a drug. Even as it echoes to silence in my ear and fades upon my tongue I must have more. One more verse.

I take up pen and cast my own lines, one after another, thinking ‘this one—this one.’ Yet my lines don’t give me that shivering buzz silver sliver quick rushing through veins making my heart pound filling my brain white light pupils blowing wide open hands shaking world accelerating in its orbit flash.

Another line. Another phrase. Another word. They drop onto the page ripping the paper with their dead weight until the page is useless, pieces tearing away to nothing. I don't stop. I am pursuing that mercury moment.

It’ll show. It has to.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A (Mostly) True Story

I hold up my laptop charger to the World’s Greatest Admin Assistant (hereafter to be referred to as WoGAA) in the Humanities department of the college where I teach.

“This charger is no good,” I tell her. She looks over the top of her glasses at me, fingers never ceasing their motion over her keyboard.

“Isn’t that the one I got you last month?”


Fingers are still flying even while she gives me a long look. “What’s it doing?”

“It won’t charge the battery. I can’t work at home without a charger.”

This is truthful—I teach two online classes, so it’s essential that I’m able to access the Internet. But it’s also essential that I relax with a few rounds of Bejewelled TwistTM , Facebook updates, and Twitter. The battery on my computer holds up maybe forty-five minutes; less if I play more than a couple of rounds.

Left hand continuing its feverish pace on the keyboard, WoGAA holds out her right hand.

“Give it to me. I’ll call IT.” With that, I hand off the defective charger and rush off to class.

It might be important to note that this is my third charger in two school years. The first met its demise in a terrible accident. I still can’t talk about it. The second suffered a broken wire, and this third one has been sporadic since I got it. Some evenings I almost go mad trying to --work-- while the screen pulsates between brightness and battery-save mode.

Two hours later I'm walking back to my office when WoGAA stops me. “Denise, Jodi from IT came by to look at your computer. You need to call her.”

“Do I want to call her?” 

“She said she needs to take your computer and give you a loaner.”

I feel a moment of terror—if IT takes my computer, I'll have no files to work with, because in addition to eating chargers for lunch I have a penchant for not backing up to the network. I dash to my office, wondering how much space is left on my jump drive, hoping I can at least download my pictures for my Digital Photography class.

But I’m too late. Jodi has come and gone. Setting on my desk is another laptop computer. It’s identical to mine, but I know it’s not mine because this one is clean. Very, very clean. No milk stains on the keyboard, no fingerprint smudges on the screen. No crumbs blocking the "M" key.

Before I can panic, Vannah, hanging out in my office waiting for her class to start, tells me that Jodi has taken the hard drive from my computer and nipped it into this shiny one.

“Why did she switch them out?” My fingers trace the lovely, clean keyboard face. I don't really care about the answer. “I just need a new charger.”

“She said it wasn’t the charger. The port is broken, and to fix it she has to replace the motherboard, so she just gave you another computer.”

I’m satisfied. My files are safe. For a moment I think about backing them up to the server right then and there; then I think about something else.

That evening I carry my shiny laptop home, pull it from its bag, and turn it on. Everything is fine for a short while—an exceptionally short while. And then it freezes. After unsuccessfully control-alt-deleting it for a few minutes I am forced to shut it down. I wait the requisite minute, and start it again. This time it freezes before it even finishes booting up. And for the next hour we go round and round. It’s Friday night and I have no computer.

Monday morning I stand before WoGAA again. “Now what?” she asks.

“It won’t work.”

“The charger?”

“No, now it’s the computer.”

And again, WoGAA promises to take care of it for me while I go to class. When I return, the computer is on, hooked to the network, the screen looking blue and promising. The anti-virus software is trying to update, so I leave it be. Later, when Jodi calls me to check on it, I tell her things seem to be fine except the update is taking a very long time.

“Hmm,” she says.

I’ve learned that when a doctor or a computer tech says “Hmm,” I’m not going to like what’s coming.

“Can I access it remotely and try to figure out what’s going on?”

“Certainly,” I tell her. I really do say "Certainly." I’ll just review papers—the printed-out kind. But then I find it's infinitely more interesting to watch the computer screen while Jodi manipulates it from another building, the cursor moving like the planchette of an Ouija Board as she opens, closes, moves, and does the voodoo she do so well. She works for at least an hour, then calls me again.

“I haven’t gotten the update to load right,” she tells me. “I’m working on it.”

“That’s fine. I’m going home. I can just leave it here for the evening if you want.”

I have now been without a computer for four days. I am having Bejewelled withdrawals, compounded by my growing frustration with typing on the little keys of my smartphone as well as trying to read posts on its diminutive screen. I go to bed early.

Tuesday morning as I am pulling into the parking lot, my cell phone rings.

“Hi Denise. It’s Jodi. Just wanted to let you know what’s going on with the computer. Apparently, it has a virus. So, I’m going to bring you a loaner computer and try to fix this one. Is there anything on the hard drive you absolutely need right now?”

I’m nowhere near Jodi, but I can feel my face burning. “Actually, everything.”



“You save to the network drive, right?”

“Well, about that—“

“When’s the last time you backed up to the network?”

“Um. Awhile.” The pause that follows is so long I check to see if the call has dropped. I can imagine Jodi in her office, miming strangling me with her bare hands and then air stabbing me for good measure.

“Hmm. I can try to save the files, but no promises.”

“Okay,” I answer meekly. Jodi says she'll call me when she has news.

After class I return to my office and another computer. It is again the same make and model as the last two, but this one sports a large sticker that proclaims it as the PROPERTY OF SAN JUAN COLLEGE. I’m afraid to touch it, so instead I sit quietly with my hands in my lap, waiting for Jodi's call.

“Hi Denise. Ok. Your computer can’t be fixed—“

“Which one?”

“Neither. So you have a loaner, but we’re going to just switch it over to you. I’ll be remotely accessing it to get everything set up for you. Oh, and I was able to save your files. I’ll download them to that computer.”

“Jodi, you are blessed among women.”

“I know.”

And for the first time in five days, I have a working computer to take home. And I do. It’s a glorious evening, except I’ve forgotten the charger in my office. I work the computer until it dies.

The next day I have a long break between classes, so I take the laptop and charger with me to work on essays. I find a large table, empty my computer bag and assemble everything I need—laptop, pen, glasses, smartphone. Ok, the smartphone isn't a necessity, but I've grown quite attached to it. I plug the charger into the floor, then into the computer. Press the power button.

Nothing happens.

I think it’s a good time to mention that over the course of a week, I have not yet met Jodi face-to-face. But I am about to. I march my quite-unhappy-self to the IT building, up two flights, wind through a computer graveyard, and find Jodi's cubicle.

I offer the black computer bag and announce, “Hi Jodi. I’m Denise. This computer won’t start.”

I used to think the phrase “Her face darkened” was a cliché, but that is exactly what Jodi’s face does. I step back a couple of feet.

“What’s it doing?”

“It worked fine last night, but the battery’s dead. When I plugged in the charger, it wouldn’t come on.”

Jodi removes the computer from the bag and sets it on her desk next to the other two. She pops the battery off one of the defunct computers and exchanges it. The computer starts.

“That’s a good sign,” she says. She pulls the charger from my bag, crawls under her desk to find the power strip, and plugs it in. When she plugs it into the computer, the screen begins pulsating—bright screen, battery-save.

“Well,” she says. “This charger is no good.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Put It on the Queue

It is time to join the human race: Glee is going on the Netflix queue. Mad Men is going on the Netflix queue. Shutter Island. I'm still not entirely sure what Glee is about (a glee club, apparently), but look forward to it. Onward.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lesson number two: It's all in how you look at it.

Crawl under your car

and marvel at the intricacies.

Climb the tree in the backyard.

Sit on the roof at sunset,

watch the evening news through the fishbowl,

and cut the grass with scissors.

Wear mismatched socks.

Tie a balloon around your wrist

and take pictures of your toes

in various poses.

Write a love letter to the man or woman in line

at the grocery store.

The one in front or behind.

Or both.

Eat dessert first

then dance through the house blind-folded

while singing (loudly) with Annie Lennox,

Louis Armstrong,

and/or Jonsi. Only then

will your heart be sufficiently open to hear

the preposterous, exquisite, luculent

stories waiting inside you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Short Observation Post

Every blog needs one.

Because I spend so much time in my neo-gothic, Tim Burtion-loving steampunk kingdom, I'm having quite a time embracing...the bright side of life. I don't know how else to begin. After listening to my new CD (the aforementioned La Roux), I've determined that happy, upbeat music is new to me, and La Roux, at least on this album, is electronica, and is somewhat aggressive at that thanks to Eleanor Jackson's voice, but is decidely spunky and made to dance to. I have never listened to dance pop. Never. I live on rock- what are you going to dance to in Guns N' Roses and AC/DC? Never mind. Don't answer that.

And now here I am- I have a yellow dress. It's the first color of its kind to ever sit in my closet. I also have a giant smiley face wooden necklace that I stole from around a vase full of flowers. It's yellow. And it's very, very happy. Granted: I don't usually wear these items or any of the other items in my closet like this. And I don't listen exclusively to wired music (except Jonsi, but our loveable Jonsi could melt the crustiest of serial killer hearts if he wanted to). In any case, I am more balanced because of it, and I think, in a subconscious way, that this is my way of trying to find balance in myself- yin and yang. We'll see where this goes. For now, I'm going to eat Chinese and listen to Aerosmith.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Music

The music list that I've been compiling all summer is not showing any signs of slowing down. I might delete artists from now on, but I currently have one hundred seventy-five "favorites." Sigur Ros remains my pride and the source of most of my musical affections, but some new groups and individuals have caught my eye. I'm hooked.

So I've finally given La Roux a go after only hearing about them for a year. La Roux is the toast of the electronica world, the darlings of the electroclash scene. I have now listened to several La Roux songs and am addicted- for those of you who grew up in the eighties (that would be all cherubs), La Roux will call to mind The Eurythmics with a lot more aggression. Eleanor Jackson is the new Annie Lennox- she's got the androgyny, the coolness, the spunk. And Ben Langmaid, the quieter half of the duo, is the perfect Dave Stewart to Jackson's Lennox. I might be going from Unaware to Huge Fan too quickly, but I hope for bright things for these two.

In finally crawling out from under the expanse of rocks that I call my palatial pad, I've discovered that, for once, the mainstream has kina-sorta made a breaththrough. With their new audience generally numbing their brains on Bieber and Perry, "Bulletproof," La Roux's biggest hit thus far, has amassed eleven million views on YouTube. It's impressive given the tough-to-swallow facade that the duo keep around them. Jackson isn't some petite blondie posing in bikinis. Their music is catchy but distinctive- it takes some chewing, at least in my opinion. I find their lyrics subversive, in the sense that they aren't obnoxious and predictable. Their videos are bizarre. Their image is not the pillar of plastic perfection. I worry that I'm jumping the gun, stretching my appreciation for them past what they might actually have earned, but "Quicksand" is just, plainly and simply, a good song. You might disagree- electronica is not everyone's favorite, particularly it's more in-your-face cousin electroclash. Or you might just not like them. Pfft.

But at least a few great acts have made an impact on the general public. Florence + The Machine hit the big time in 2008, thanks to, apparently, the BBC, which I assume is like British Oprah- there's a sort of BBC Effect and it's benefitting the music world. Janelle Monae, one of the great pleasures of modern music, is gaining speed. I walked past the magazine section of the library the other day and was overjoyed to find her on one of the covers. Adele, Amy Winehouse (say what you will- she's a talented musician and what I wouldn't give to have her voice...), Gnarls Barkley, MGMT, the list goes on. While these names aren't as known as "Britney" or "Christina," I will admit that, I find it so wonderful how more and more people are embracing the less-obvious side of art. I wish for a broader variety even in my own playlist. Quality music isn't limited to a genre- even pop can have artists like Prince or Michael Jackson. I want to see rock and roll, and not pop with nose piercings, but actual rock and roll. I want to see inventive genres from around the world and all of the subgenres that get into the folds and crevices leap out and onto the charts.


At my friend's house a few weeks ago, I became acquainted with First Aid Kit. I love their organic, folksy tunes. They truly make me feel like I have something quality, something like what music junkies had in the 1970s. Give this Swedish duo a go if you can. Then try Loess, Explosions in the Sky, Andrew Bird, and The Shins. Also, on a side not, Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse, a brilliant man if there ever was one, has done some work with Shins singer James Mercer- their outfit is called Broken Bells and it is a must-hear: it's dream-pop at its finest and, to me, really put this burgeoning subgenre on the course that it is destined to take.

My list also has some perennial musts- Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Goo Goo Dolls, Leonard Cohen, Fred Astaire, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House, and The Beatles. It also has some lesser-known, more "out there" material. If you haven't heard Erykah Badu, you're missing out; and if you haven't heard Deep Forest, well, you're missing out again. Deep Forest is unlike anything I have ever heard. Take some French disc jockeys, throw in a dash of international tribal music, and remix it to house, and you get Deep Forest. It's sublime and you don't know why. Admittedly, I had never heard of them until I found three of their albums at the library. With a name like Deep Forest, I actually thought that it was a New Age/"Waltz of the Spirit Butterfly Crystals" type of thing, but that type of thing can sometimes be relaxing. So I plucked it off of the shelf for future reference. That reference day has come. Check out some Deep Forest.