Thursday, December 30, 2004

Miscellanous Thursday 

Been pocketblogging all day on walletscraps, mostly old ATM receipts. Here's the good stuff.

Ultrasound again today -- no concerns, just another look at doctor's request. Now we know, and we're not telling. 13 weeks to go as of tomorrow; if the baby's continued pelvis-kicking under the ultrasound is any indication, it can't wait to join the family.

Spent an hour before supper with big-sis-to-be Willow teaching stuffed bear Wose to play a toy piano, another quietly frustrating hour afterwards stomping on bubble wrap. How wonderfully the ravages of ADD hyperfocus match the fickle hours of toddler-task dedication.

In more bloggish news, the blog redesign continues. Most notably, in the next few days the now barely-beta about boyhowdy section is destined to become a major work, almost a companion reference to the blog itself. Main page may include paragraphs on schooling, vocation, work, personal philosophies and beliefs, a personal chronology a la kottke, and a cast of characters cheatsheet; sidebar will likely include currently reading/watching/listening to, links to past blogentries which explore selfhood, and a clean way back to the blog. Pix may be included where relevant. Come see about me!

Other blogtweaks include plans ahead for some regular features.
  • As a payback for the gifts and gab of the growing universe of Mp3blogs, have tentatively decided to begin posting an otherwise unavailable mp3 each week as part of the Monday night Tributary radio show post. Tune in Monday at midnight for the first of these. Requests gladly considered from past playlists.

  • Also considering a separate Monday Mosh blog -- seems a shame to waste the jammin' Willow masthead.

Still on holiday 'till Tuesday. Expect blogging to continue in the parenting-and-blogdesign vein until the boarding students return on Monday night, just in time for the all-new, partially downloadable Tributary.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:33 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Little Wanderer 

The kid likes to wander, too. With impunity, with purpose, so far mostly by our sides. She's been chased bareassed into stagefront crowds, lost boots in snowbanks. Sometimes, she's hard to catch, slippery, like any toddler. Makes me proud.

She walks plenty, of course. But her little girl legs are short and tire easily; she still accepts the indignity of the walkabout stroller for mallwalks and sidewalk window-wanders. In warmer, longer days my mother comes on Tuesdays to push Willow past the Easter Egg tree to the little beachfront along the pond. Frogs serenade her there. Tiny fish nibble her toes.

The stroller was no match for our yearly round of folk festivals; camped in pathless fields all summer, the wagon was our saving grace. But not just any wagon -- a hayride for one and a friend, fat tires beneath, red wooden slats three high all around. On Halloween we stuffed it full of hay and pumpkins, dog and orange-suited child, made the rounds as a pumpkin patch.

Now, winter brings in the old fashioned sled bought secondhand, wood runners on thin rusty trailing rods. Last year it was the only way to Christmas Vespers in the snowstorm; this year the snow has been light, burns off in after-midnight fog. But there was enough left in the meadow today for a pull and slide, the dog dashing alongside, all of us, laughing all the way.

Too soon, I know, everything will change: new job, new community, new home. In days, the outplacement workshops begin, a new lame-duck worklife punctuated by resumes and hail mary curricular handoffs. For now, as the year turns around again, I am blessed by the present, our long holiday together unbroken by commitments outside the home. And in the long run, it's good to know she'll be there, a happy wanderer, by my side.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Beta Testing 

Yep. Seems okay.

Welcome to the newly redesigned Not All Who Wander Are Lost. What do you think?

Late lunch down at semi-fancy Chandlers this afternoon, since Mom was buying -- she's usually up Tuesday afternoons for toddlercare, and we figured it would be nice to have a few hours to ourselves after a full week solo-kidding it in Florida and, subsequently, through the holidays themselves.

Mom even brought sister Sarah, on the eve of her return to dog dissection -- she's a Vet student; next term they get to dissect a horse. The two of us wandered the Yankee Candle flaship store together, marveling at kitsch and on-sale Christmas while the others waited for the table.

Back home postprandial, Mom and Sarah watched the cutiepie while the wife and I went off to our respective offices. Reportedly, Darcie got caught up with email.

And I published this, the beta version of the redesign. And, since then, I've republished it at least a dozen times more. Damn fidgety ADD.

I'd write more, but my brain hurts from two straight days of blog overhaul, and the wine at lunch didn't help. Back to my usual scintillating self soon, surely. Until then, enjoy critiquing the eye-candy. There's better stuff below, I promise.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:59 PM | 4 comments

Blogging Service 

Yet another nifty idea out of BloggerCon3, this one a clear demonstration of how blogging has taken in the cyberthink potlatch mentality originally attributed to the communards of the WELL way back when the web was new. And so simple, it speaks for itself:
Bloggercorps is a blog. No office. No admin. No fund-raising. No funds. No staff. No meetings. It will evolve organically based on the needs of the people who wind up using it:

- The authors (a wide-ranging group comprised mainly of bloggers, activists, and tech organizations who work with non-profits) will post announcements on behalf of organizations who need help starting blogs or building blogging communities.

- The posts will be categorized according to the organization's geographical location, and in some cases its main focus issue.

- Bloggers interested in helping that particular organization can express their interest in the comments section attached to that post.

- The organization will then decide which of the volunteers it wants to follow up with.

- All arrangements will be made directly between organizations and bloggers. Bloggercorps will not mediate.

Back in 1993, I was saved from being just another college dropout sullenly inhabiting my parents' basement by City Year, the pre-Americorps "Urban Peace Corps" out of Boston. Since then, I've taught, tutored, and invested in community service -- first via local elementary schools, later through my advisees, dorm, and assigned house here at the prep school.

For me, the comradeship and peer learning of these situations has always been an essential aspect of their success -- and, more, of my ability as service-giver to commit to their success. Yeah, I know it's not all about me; what I mean is, I'm a people person. My talent is in teaching. My own recent two day hairtearing redesign session tells me I'm not the best person to make blogs for other people.

On the plus side, I love the idea. I love, especially, that Bloggercorps is nonpartisan -- which provides the opportunity for people to commit to service for their own resons, and to look for a good match of ideals between volunteer and org-in-need.

And maybe it's time I started volunteering again.

So I'm bookmarking Bloggercorps. I may not the best or brightest, but I'm willing to look regularly, keep an eye out for someone I can really help. Why not join me? I mean, heck: it's the blogger way.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:09 PM | 0 comments

Monday, December 27, 2004


Spent the day OCD-ing in Photoshop. Result: new blogdesign. Comments welcome.

To be fair, the navigation bar featuring a jamming Willow was much cooler, albeit not as thematic. Pity.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:49 PM | 5 comments

Sunday, December 26, 2004

No "L" 

Remember how at the end of A Christmas Story, the family has to go out for Chinese -- because the neighbor's dogs stole the turkey, a hilarious slapstick montage -- and the waiters all sing around the table: fa wa wra wra wra, wra wra wra wra?

My daughter sounds like that at Christmas. She's so merry and bright, it's hard not to giggle everytime she opened a present and cried "WOOK, daddy!"

She got some neat and WOOKworthy stuff, to be sure. As the sole member of her generation, Willow was pampered in style for (knock wood) her final Christmas: dolls with full wardrobes and a trunk to keep 'em in; books galore; a fluffy flamingo marionette which, once used, becomes impossible to untangle; the dolly crib Papa Neil gave Aunt Ginny when she was little.

Also cool, right off my own wishlist, Songs From The Street, a 3-disk set of great musical moments throughout Sesame Street History which really is "the ultimate Sesame Street music collection" -- one surely appearing on an iPod near me sometime soon.

Other good gots this year:
Matt (the wife's sister's husband, for those keeping track) got an mp3 player from Patty and Neil (wife's parents) -- nominally for law school lecture-taping, but the prevalence of iPods was too tempting, so we ended up in a mad music-pirating three-way with Darcie's brother, Josh for most of the afternoon.

Except I'm an idiot and forgot to bump the 2 gigs of stored data from iPod to home hard drive before adding them to the library and updating the iPod, so I just spent the last hour deleting, adding, retagging, and updating to avoid having 2 gigs worth of redundancy on this just-half-full audiopill.

I was going to write more -- breakfast this morning with Alicia, Matt, in-laws and co. at the good diner in Brattleboro, backblogs (and photos!) from Florida, progress on the impending Not All Who Wander Are Lost design overhaul coming this New Years to a blog near you. But it's snowing perfect packed powder out there, and I want to be able to get the car through it; better to leave the warm deserted library lab now, and avoid having to crash in the stacks for the night.

In honor of the snow, here's a link to Womenfolk, where today you can download a free mp3 of Fiona Apple singing Frosty the Snowman. Really. Enjoy, folks. Happy Howidays.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:37 PM | 1 comments

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas, Bloggiverse! 

Not All Who Wander Are Lost is closed for Christmas with the family-in-law. Hope your holiday weekend is equally merry. Tune in tomorrow for this year's giftlist-slash-report.

Drive safe if you're driving, party hard if you're not, but above all, bundle up -- it's a cold one this year!

Comprehensive blog redesign ETA: 6 days and counting...

posted by boyhowdy | 11:21 PM | 23 comments

Friday, December 24, 2004

The iPod Meme 

I've put the last of the CDs on, added those digital files I've been dragging around on various network harddrives, hit the best of the mp3blogs. (Also bought one song off the iTunes online Music Store 'cause it was stuck in my head -- damn you, John Mayer!) Total storage is up to 8.99 gigs, which works out to around 2389 songs, give or take a few long-play readalouds and a couple of hour long episodes of etown.

So I guess we're ready to meme.

The challenge: hit shuffle, and report the first ten songs that pop up. No cheating, by which I assume we mean hiding songs that mark you as audiolame. Here's the results:
  1. Theme from the Black Hole -- George Clinton (funk)

  2. Sweetest Song -- Salamander Crossing (bluegrass)

  3. River Road -- Mark Erelli (folk)

  4. Mother Nature's Son -- Jason Falkner (children's music / alternative)

  5. One Little Song -- Gillian Welch (neo-americana)

  6. Cassidy -- Grateful Dead (jam)

  7. More Love -- Dixie Chicks (country)

  8. Sally Ann -- Natalie Merchant (neo-americana)

  9. Horses -- The Be Good Tanyas (canadian folk)

  10. Last Fair Deal Gone Down -- Crooked Still (bluegrass / neo-americana)

  11. Hey Rose -- Girlyman (queerfolk)
Immediately followed by Dave Carter, Barenaked Ladies, Phish, Chris Smither, Sarah Harmer, Guster, and Los Lobos, in that order.

Not bad, if I do say so myself, though I guess I expected more alternapop in the mix -- maybe a little less bluegrass, more De La Soul, TMBG, Ani Difranco, that kind of stuff. And it's just dumb luck that Willow's car-ride kiddie albums didn't crop up.

And speaking of the not-for-shuffle genres: does the holiday playlist stay or go post-Christmas?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:46 PM | 3 comments

Happy Happy, Joy Joy 

A long day of present-wrapping in anticipation of tomorrow's umpteenth annual tree-side congegation at the in-laws. Though the population in attendance has grown over the years, the occasion will likely remain the same. Expect reports of a silly present-passing game, two hours of ceremonious presentation and all-eyes-upon-me gift-opening, copious brown supermarket bags of folded wrapping paper, some sort of ham, waffles.

Tonight, though, a nice supper: candles, wine glasses, red tablecloth and all. Christmas carols played softly, from iPod to radio, as we said the shabbat blessings; the wine was really grape juice, more palatable for the pregnant and the toddler both.

But the true meaning of Christmas Eve, for us, is personal, not religious.

Nine years ago tonight, sans reservation, I went out with this girl I'd been living with since long before we dropped out of college together. After a cold half hour in a half-broken car we stumbled into Keene, and a now-defunct dark-lit fancy restaurant. It was the only place we could find on Christmas Eve.

We shared a plate of warm gingerbread and a glass of red wine; I asked for her hand in marriage.

She said yes.

Back home, her parents reception was lukewarm, obligatory, tired, intent as they were on finishing their present-wrapping and getting the heck to bed. We kissed goodnight, snuggled for a while by the soapstone stove, eventually

Eventually, she went up to her bedroom, where I wasn't allowed. As I had in the past, I played solitaire 'til two and crashed in the sewing room on the pull-out bed.

Next morning, while pancakes burned and Darcie's siblings waited under the tree, I soiled the sheets, sick from the gingerbread. My first Christmas, and hardly an auspicious beginning.

Since then, a whirlwind of years have passed. I've gone from being the newbie to the old pro, as we welcomed first Josh's partner Clay, oft joined at table and hearth by Father Fred and Brother Justin, and then Matt, now in his first year as Husband to ex-Winter Carnival Queen Alicia. In the past two years we've taken on new roles, moving from daughter to Mommy, from Patty to Grandma, as Willow stretches the comfort zone, making tighter relations of us all.

As the family grows, we grow together. The tree still towers over the widening girth of the family giving circle, but the ornaments have grown familiar, the faces comfortable. I'm a Jew at his family Christmas, and I love it.

But no gingerbread for me, thanks.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:45 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Poor Sick Baby 

She's been a healthy kid, almost superhumanly so; when the doctor asks if she's been sick much, we laugh heartily, though it makes us feel guilty somehow -- how did we get so lucky? More, she recovers quickly from trauma, proudly showing off her catscratches to supermarket strangers, admiring her bruises under the bathbubbles.

So I'm unprepared to come home from the LAN to find her happily ogling a slightly over-religious holiday concert special -- the type they'd only show at 2 a.m., but then again, it is 2 a.m. She's thrown up several times, each slightly more expected than the last. She seems otherwise her usual, robust highness, but lies awake waiting to be sick again

It's tempting to find cause in the taxation of a perfectly gleeful evening. Pickles and chocolate-covered pretzels and a man she made out of cheese for supper; a long bath in a cold bathroom that smells strongly of catbox; snow angels in the dry, frigid moonlight wearing nothing but footed pajamas under snowsuit and linerless boots.

Her mother lies by her side, exhausted as only the pregnant can be. The room smells like vomit. Their sleep schedules will be off for days.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

She'll toughen. You can never have enough glee.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:33 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


We're back...

Florida was cold and mostly rainy. The remnants of four hurricanes have left the place a blue tarp covered shambles; busted signage made visual ghettos of even the most tony neighborhoods. A commuter train seems to have moved into what, last year, was a quietly reconstructed 1920s cubanesque suburban neighborhood.

But we're not beach people (though we did go -- once just me and the kid, laughing into the waves as they lapped up our knees, and then all three of us the following morning). We're used to sleeping through coyote howls, mournful in the moonlight. We go to Florida for the attractions and the family, both of which were still standing -- happily, they seem to have rounded up the escaped zoo animals, or at least gotten replacements.

We did manage to make it in short sleeves most days. But, really, it could have snowed there and I'd still have been blessed. A movie in an actual theater? Five days without thinking about the impending job search? Heaven, worth even a day's indirect flight with a toddler.

Plenty of photos and scrawls await transcription for future viewing pleasure. For now, it's enough to have been there.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:24 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Let's Get Out Of Here 

A day of furtive looks and a surprisingly large number of caring encounters made for a pretty weary day at work, a penultimate pre-holiday break here at the ol' prep school. Numerous heartfelt expressions of sympathy from those who themselves avaoided the cuts for yet another year were greatly appreciated, but there comes a point when you just want to get back to work and forget it all. Mid-April paternity leave notwithstanding, I do have to keep plugging away until the kids graduate in June.

But not for the next few, anyway. We're off early tomorrow for Palm Beach sand and surf. Back before Christmas, of course, but expect blogsilence until Tuesday at the earliest.

Brought chocolate-dipped strawberries and clementine wedges in small baskets to the coworkers today, plus a large tub o' also-rans for tomorrow's department meeting. I won't be there, of course -- we'll be on the flight to Florida by midafternoon -- but it felt right to be doing something normal in the midst of the surreal aftershock of position loss.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:01 AM | 10 comments

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

iPod, iSurfed, iLeft 

I washed the dishes tonight to a dozen Jeffrey Foucault outtakes, volume adjustment accomplished through the apron with a mere turn of the finger. It took me less than three minutes to explain all the controls to Darcie, who then spent the next half hour with the earbuds at her belly, playing bootlegged Bela Fleck for the fetus. "My students refuse to leave their iPods home when they go on their language exchange program" said a frustrated teaching peer at supper the other night.

I may be late to the table, but hot damn, this iPod thing is just what the noetic theorists promised us. Compact enough for pockets, vast enough to legitimately contain an aurophile's entire collection, the minimalist, intuitive interface: all underscore the proliferation, the cultural potency of this new little beast...but nothing prepared me for true love.

Coupled with the iTrip, it's a portable device that blurs the line between media, allowing content to transcend the limitations of individual technologies. I can listen through the car radio on the way to work, hit pause upon arriving, and, if I get the timing right, pick up the same song exactly where I left it the moment I walk into the office. I left the home radio on this morning, and Darcie said she knew I was pulling into the driveway because she heard my music.

Been importing tunes all day and yesterday (what are they going to do, fire me?), mostly from artist web sites. I've got a thing for covers, remixes, live tracks and unreleased rarities, so the legal side of the mp3web and I seem made for each other.

Along the way, I've discovered cheat sites full of pests and mp3 blogs fat with rescued obscurity -- a whole new world of digital audio. Even had a few happy accidents, most notably when a search for Barenaked Ladies bootlegs led me to the Banjo Newsletter, a vast repository of sparse banjo solos like this christmas classic. And how could you not love the Nintendo-esque, Mario Bros. charm of this 8-bit carol? Heck, at this rate, I'll be ready to take on the "first ten songs that come up on your iPod" meme by Christmas.

As I write this, I'm importing CDs like a madman, songs for five days in Florida plus the to-and-fro of air travel with a two-year-old. We'll be able to play tunes on the rental car radio, and I'll be able to space out to my favorite folk artists with a book on the porch each night after the girls go to bed, reading new books in the warm night air, far away from the perils of work, and the coming storms of a New England winter. And when I return, it'll be nice to try running to the weekly radio show without 80 pounds of CDs on my herniated back. Ain't technology grand?

posted by boyhowdy | 10:19 PM | 1 comments

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Email To My Brother 

Because I just didn't have the heart to write this out twice today.

Dear Jesse:

Thanks for the concern.

My entire department was cut today. Not surprising, I guess -- we're the only ones who have been trained to see our own delivery model as the best way to do something vital. Sucks for the school, but, as the head of school said in our one-on-one notification meeting today, "we'll bump along for a while."

I think you should put objects in the button-maker: matches, paper clips, etc. Also cut-outs of odd anachronistic images, like on those xeroxes you used to make and plaster all over your wall. Also single words which seem to have no context on a button: fish, startle, beep, the, button. Minimalism is best (but you knew that).

The iPod rocks. In 48 hours I've moved 149 songs onto it -- only 3 CDs, but lots of live jamband and folk stuff on artist websites on the web. Great to be able to play it in the car, and then continue the same song when I get into the office.

Wait, I am at the office. Am I supposed to be working?

Well, hell. What are they going to do -- fire me?

We're off to Florida midmorning Thursday, so I probably won't be writing much until Christmas. Need some time to clear my head, y'know? We'll say hi to Hy for you.


posted by boyhowdy | 1:49 PM | 5 comments

Monday, December 13, 2004

Red Herrings On Aisle 5 

Is internal, institutional-scale consistency of knowledge a reasonable expectation in the modern over-departmentalized megacorporate model? A suit against Wal-Mart says yes:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which promotes itself as a seller of clean music, deceived customers by stocking compact discs by the rock group Evanescence that contain the f-word, a lawsuit claims. The hit group's latest CD and DVD, "Anywhere But Home," don't carry parental advisory labels alerting potential buyers to the obscenity. If they did, Wal-Mart wouldn't carry them, according to the retailer's policy.

But the lawsuit claims Wal-Mart knew about the explicit lyrics in the song, "Thoughtless," because it censored the word in a free sample available on its Web site and in its stores. The complaint, filed Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court, seeks an order requiring Wal-Mart to either censor or remove the music from its Maryland stores. It also seeks damages of up to $74,500 for each of the thousands of people who bought the music at Wal-Marts in Maryland.
It seems reasonable to assume that all departments of any corporation should be aware of, and adhere to, corporate policy. But companies like Wal-Mart are huge and fragmented. Without a warning label, I can't imagine it realistic to expect the sales-floor arm to be aware of how the promotional arm of a large corporation made a call on the relative appropriateness of one individual product among millions.

The law, of course, doesn't need to worry about realism in the face of a status quo. If Wal-Mart insists on making content-level promises its corporate mechanism cannot ensure, a judge could, theoretically, choose instead to mandate change in the corporate infrastructure. This should be an interesting one to follow for those of us interested in the study of sociology.

Easier to dismiss: In pointing readers to the story, BoingBoing pal John Parres swears this is a free speech issue. But even if this suit were about free speech (it isn't), the left-handed expectation for corporate "freedoms" is hardly a war cry. As long as there are copious places to access non-censored versions of this or any media, and as long as Wal-Mart policy is clear for consumers, it is enough to note that the suit in question doesn't address the speech issue, and assume from there.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:45 AM | 2 comments

Friday, December 10, 2004

RIF: The End Is Near 

We've been told that teachers whose positions will not be continuing will be meeting with the Head of School on Tuesday. Also that folks who get asked to stay may discover themselves doing more than they used to.

Not clear which is better. We've been complaining about a gradual creep in expectations for years; by now, many keep a 60 hour workweek. The fear of even more, coupled with administrative promise of a "very nice" severance package, seems to be keeping the scales pretty balanced, pro and con.

They're "only" cutting 25 positions out of 100. Everyone I talk to seems sure they'll be the first to go. I'd feel more confident if someone -- anyone -- had asked me what I actually do around here, but c'est la vie, eh?

Either way, I'm keeping the resume up to date. Couldn't hurt to practice those interviewing skills, either. More Tuesday.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:38 PM | 19 comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Dubious Honor 

After a casual mention of this googleprompted poem in the reinvigorate chatbox, the kind folks at Asinine Poetry have pursued and, subsequently, republished my Bologna Sonnet on their own site.

I'm especially proud of my overly-caffeinated bio. It's all true, I swear.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:08 PM | 2 comments

No Peeking! 

Took a long overdue morning off and went holiday shopping in Brattleboro (VT) with the wife and wee one. Nice to be downtown without half the place blocked off by smoke and ladder trucks. Can't say much more about it, though, as some recipients-to-be, including Dad and Brother Jesse, are regular readers.

We'll be gone from tomorrow noon Saturday 'til Sunday, at my parents house for the annual family Hannukah get-together. While we're gone, feel free to peruse the "best of" archives over there to the right...or perhaps jump right to this week's rant, a plum addressing the use of the word fuck in the virtual faculty lounge -- cause everybody likes obscenity, right? Alternately, newcomers and/or those looking for some 'about me" type stuff would be well-served by starting with 30 things, 100 demons, or If I Had $10,000,000). Don't forget to leave comments!

Speaking of that old home religion -- Seth Mnookin, an old holier-than-thou enemy from Sunday School and author of a new look on just how that guy (you remember, that guy) managed to last so long at the New York Times despite such clear and present screwups (for those that don't want to read the book: it was the editor, stupid), was last night's guest on the Daily Show. Hard to know if it's just me, residual post-pubescent bias and all, but I wasn't impressed with the tired and shallow sound-bytes Mnookin managed to sneak by an otherwise bored Jon Stewart.

To be fair, though, Mnookin's a writer, not a public speaker, and some seriously impressive folks seem to like the book; I'm looking forward to reading what Stewart described as a strong analysis and an engrossing narrative. And even I gotta admit ol' Seth looks much better without the bleached tips he used to sport, back when he was 16 and sniffing glue.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:39 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Lost Writings In Old Wallets 

Cleaned out my wallet last week. In among the business cards, faded cookie fortunes and ATM reciepts a pair of paper scraps, covered in tiny blue-pen writing, stood out. Turned out to be blogfodder, written almost exactly a year ago, on holiday break in Florida.

A year ago.

My mother's father Jerry and my father's mother Florence were still alive, though both sick in their own ways. Willow could barely string two words together. My back wasn't herniated. My hair was three feet long. My job seemed safe; I was still teaching morning classes, and excited about them.

It was our second visit to Florida since Martha, the first of my grandparents, had passed; the first since I'd been to her gravesite.

And one warm night on the wicker and iron porch of our rented spanish villa, deep in the heart of the authentic 1920 neighborhood of Flamingo Park, I wrote this:
There are moments, here in Florida, when I miss her terribly -- both of them, really, but mostly her. Technically, of course, he isn't gone -- the body remains, and maybe the mind (i hope, and then sometimes, for his sake, hope to God it's not). But he's so far gone from the laughing bristle-cheeked pancakemaker he was when we were small, "he" is gone, after all.

But oh, Martha. Whose funeral we missed, in fear of having the baby that far from home.

Tonight at dinner, looking down at her great granddaughter, surely thinking of her own long-lost daughter Marion, my father's sister who passed away before his own birth, as in all such families the unattainable perfect sibling whose ghost looked and lurked over everything after her -- tonight Florence looked down at my babbling daughter, my precious Willow Myla-for-Martha, fidling with her great grandfather's shoes, and said "Have you taken her to see Martha?"

It was okay, after that tiny stoptime moment -- okay, and I said so, despite Florence's apology. We moved on quickly, and it was okay.

But it isn't, always.

Let's be tough but fair: Martha, of all my parent's parents, was the one who would have most loved, and been most loved, as she was for us. Would have been -- but she missed it, technically by two days, though if you count the time in the coma, by a month or more. For lying still and skin-stretched in that hospice bed she could not have been, would not have been to Willow the woman I loved, admired, feared.

Tomorrow, maybe, I'll leave Willow and Darcie home, and drive to Delray, and sit in the car outside someone else's home, and cry a little. God, I miss her, and the idea of having Willow see her -- presenting Willow to her, and her to Willow -- connecting the generations, proving us all through proving myself.

As I never knew I needed to do.

Until now.
What a difference a year makes.

We're off again for Florida -- same house; a different, smaller family to visit -- next Friday, bright and early. We'll stop in on my father's father, now the last of his generation; visit, too, Martha's sister Lil, still young at heart, still working at the local community college. We'll play on the beach, weather willing, and swim in the surf, and chase seagulls. I'll read on the porch again, a book a night, and breath the humid air, and try not to think too hard.

And maybe, this time, I really will drive by old houses in the night, and cry. For my own lost youth. For the three of them -- Martha, Jerry, Florence. For the surety that, as I know my own great-grands through pictures only -- Willow will be the first of a world who will not remember them, though she benefits from their love, a trickle-down theory.

We used to go for long days on grandparent porches. It's a funny mix of relaxation and reclamation that drives us to Florida now. But regeneration never comes without the bittersweet, I guess. So here's hoping this year's as sweet and summery, as cathartic and calm as the last.

'Cause this time, I really need it.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:57 PM | 1 comments

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

How To Be Depressed 

  • Ask daughter for kiss. Ask again. Say "I really have to go now, Willow." Say "I wish I had a kiss right now." Say "Please, just one little kiss?" Leave without kiss.

  • Drive 5 miles in dangerously icy conditions to sit in a library information commons to which no one comes.

  • Get coffee. Log into school network. Stare into space.

  • Stare at coffee cup -- the third cup of the day, at a buck fifty per. Try to figure out how much you spend on coffee per year. Now try to figure out how many iPods that is.

  • Realize that you spend twice that much on cigarettes. Multiply number of imaginary iPods by three.

  • Wish you had the money for just one iPod. Wish you had the money for a decent Christmas present for your wife. Wish addiction didn't cost so much. Wish you didn't have such an addictive personality. Wish wishes were horses, or, better, cash. Wish you didn't want another cup of coffee right now.

  • Leave "Be Right Back!" sign on service desk. Go to snack bar. Buy another cup of coffee. Return to deserted information commons.

  • Wonder why the library seems so quiet. Realize that the reason your typing isn't making that funny clicking noise today is that you left the pipe-cleaner-and-bead bracelet your daughter made you on the bathroom counter. Miss daughter.

  • Blog about it.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:30 PM | 4 comments

On The Use Of F*** In The Faculty Lounge 

...and other issues of appropriate speech in institutional virtual settings.

The piece appeared in our community via the Humor folder, a faculty-only space much like a virtual teacher's lounge.
Dear Faculty and Students;

God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at your recent senior citizens luncheon. I am 84 years old and live at an Assisted Home for the Aged. All of my family has passed away. I am all alone now and it's nice to know someone is thinking of me. God bless you for your kindness to an old forgotten lady. My roommate is 95 and always had her own radio. Before I received this one, she would never let me listen to hers,even when she was napping. The other day, her radio fell off the night stand and broke into a lot of little pieces. It was awful and she was in tears. She asked if she could listen to mine, and I said fuck you. Thank you for that opportunity.

Almost three weeks later I recieved this query from another teacher:
Do you think it is okay to see this kind of language on swis, in the faculty and staff humor folder?

Perhaps you can tell from my question that I find it inappropriate. F*** would have been less offensive in my mind.

With her permission, I'm cross-posting my response here.

The F Word: On Semi-Public Community Language As Media

Interestingly, I read a version of this short piece when it was first published over 10 years ago in The Quarterly, a now-defunct literary magazine of some repute. As fictional literature, the language seemed fine (and funny), because it gave a very specific voice to the older woman narrator. Worth noting, here -- some of the literature read by our students in the classroom has similar language, for similar reasons, and is similarly acceptable.

Professionally speaking, though, the field of media (which, here, would include culture studies, semiotics, etc.) is primarily interested in symbols and their arrangement in order to discuss how meaning happens, and what function it serves in the community.

Context DOES matter -- if the person who sent this joke in had given credit to the original author, that would have made a tiny bit of difference in how it might have been recieved. But, more directly, media tells us:
  • The asterix solution suggested is semiotically indistinguishable from the original. One hears the same word in one's head, and knows what it says, either way. I continue to be frustrated by the school's willingness to treat students who use this "work-around" less severely than students who might go ahead and use the actual word. The symbol is NOT the thing, nor does mere linguistic substitute of one symbol (with asterix) for another (without asterix) make a real difference in how the word is heard and experienced.

  • There is a big difference between explicit language and explicit images called up BY language. The MPAA ratings board, for better or worse, is a vehicle of this school of thought -- you'll note, for example, that graphic scenes cause R ratings, while use of this particular word does not. I have seen many "jokes" in our on-line faculty-only humor folder which bother me MUCH more than this, and many of those use perfectly legitimate WORDS to describe explicit scenes, sex, etc. In the case cited here, the word is used only to break through our stereotype of older people, and provide a broader sense of "real persona" by coupling that with the otherwise polite language of the author to the imagined correspondent -- which is where the joke gets its humor.

  • "Voice," though often misread in virtual spaces, is nonetheless key in media and meaning issues. If a teacher used this word in their OWN voice in a discussion folder or personal email, I'd be horrified. But this example is clearly not written by the person who passed it along, and it is, further, the convention of the humor folder to assume that folks who post are not doing so in their own voice. This "twice-removed" lessens my concern for this language even further.

  • The existence of a humor folder, nestled inside another faculty-only folder called "Community Circle," begs the inclusion in that folder of otherwise-inappropriate ideas, language, posts, etc. As a medium, humor is by defintion risky -- it must run counter to societal norms, or it just ain't funny. Examining the humor folder, I find potentially offensive sexism and gender-ism, subtle classism, age-ism, regional-ism, and other "ain't they funnier than us" as the norm in the folder, not the exception. And, as I suggest above, such ISMS are, by any modern social science perspective, more detrimental to the kinds of things that our school holds sacred -- celebration of difference, diversity, mediation, kindness -- than any single word could be (EXCEPT in the case of words which are by definition anti-group and thus exclusive to the point of comunity offense...which this word is not).

  • It is also true in the study of cultures and communication that every culture in the world has, and NEEDS, some outlet to "play" with their own societal taboos -- some safe place or places to explore these taboos by walking up to the line and testing the limits of aceptability. Societies which do NOT allow this are grey (think soviet communism) and die out quickly.

So. On both professional and personal levels, then, I am more bothered by explicit content than language -- as imagery has been proven, over and over, to be a greater breach of taboo, and thus a greater threat to societal norms. This example brought up here has no explicit content, merely symbols which in OTHER contexts are merely more likely than other symbols to have offensive meaning. This is, in other words, a tame example by virtual faculty lounge humor folder standards.

More, because of how humor is defined in culture, either there is no place on such virtual lounges for the underculture or we must allow that by definition anything that goes in the humor folder will be offensive to somebody, even if that somebody is not a member of our particular group. The former is certainly a possible conclusion, but to choose it seems to me a crying shame -- because it would only cause more demand for such an outlet away from each other, which creates tension in the community itself by driving us away from each other.

If we think the folder itself has value -- if we wish it to continue to exist at all -- it might be necessary to accept that this value is slightly different for everyone. I don't think we can have it both ways.

Some posts do cross lines. But, as there seems to be a real, determinant societal need -- in any society -- for exactly this release valve, I would humbly suggest that, while it would be surely appropriate for someone who felt that a given post had "crossed the line" to write, privately, to the original poster of that message and suggest that they, personally, were uncomfortable, no one offended individual should be able to determine taboo lines in a given culture or institution. It would still be important for that person to both a) be willing to accept disagreement from that poster, and live with it, and b) choose, as I know others have, to discontinue reading the folder if the trend continues, and continues to bothers them.

If it helps, in my own case, I have stopped reading several folders -- most recently, I stopped reading the faculty & staff conference folder right before the election, as things were getting politically insensitive and viewpoint-ist in there for a while -- when it became necessary.

Because if there's anything I've learned in my study of institutional communication, especially in educational institutions it is this: Ultimately, the only speech which will offend NO one is no speech at all.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:31 AM | 27 comments

Monday, December 06, 2004

Static On The Radio 

1. Used to generate truly random numbers, as reported in this week's Science News.

2. What the snow outside looked like in my headlights as I drove in to the radio station this evening. (Yes, I know you can't see radio. But if static looked like anything...)

3. A Jim White / Aimee Mann song often played on Tributary, your favorite local 10 to midnight Monday night show on WNMH 91.5.

4. An indicator that you should retune your radio to WNMH 91.5, and move to Brattleboro (VT), Keene (NH), or Greenfield (MA).

As always, here's this week's playlist, in half-hour increments -- no motifs or clusters tonight, just some plumb fine music (with a bit of pre-Christmas cheer mixed in to celebrate the first snowfall of the season).

Tributary 12/6/04

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
They Might Be Giants -- Birdhouse In Your Soul
Oysterhead -- Oz Is Ever Floating
Sarah Harmer -- Almost
Manu Chao -- Me Gustas Tu
Biscuit Boys -- Me And My Uncle
Spin Doctors -- Jimmy Olsen's Blues

Jim White w/ Aimee Mann -- Static On The Radio
Pete Nelson -- You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Lisa Loeb -- I Do
Ware River Club -- I Love Her, She Loves Me
Erin McKeown -- Born To Hum
Mark Erelli -- This Ain't No Time Of Year To Be Alone
Great Big Sea -- Ordinary Day

Erica Wheeler -- Song For A Winter Night
Acoustic Syndicate -- Pumpkin And Daisy
Los Lobos -- That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore
Peter Case -- Let Me Fall
Barenaked Ladies w/ Sarah McLachlan -- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Crooked Still -- Orphan Girl
Peter Gabriel -- Love To Be Loved

Shawn Colvin -- Say A Little Prayer
Brooks Williams -- She Loves Me (When I Try)
Louise Taylor -- Let's Make A Baby King
David Wilcox -- It's The Same Old Song
Patty Griffin -- Mary
Nick Drake -- One Of These Things First

Tributary: It'll make you glad your radio works. If you lived here, you'd be hip by now.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:59 PM | 1 comments

Posts Pending 

Two entirely different posts coming through later today* tomorrow:

1. A response to a peer query about the appropriate use, if any, of the word "fuck" in the virtual faculty lounge. Originally written as a person-to-person email; just needs to be cleaned up a bit for the blog.

2. A short "lost" piece, nominally about my recently-deceaced paternal grandmother, written in Florida almost exactly a year ago and discovered in my wallet this morning.

Stay tuned...

*sorry, folks -- it's been a long one. I will have some time tomorrow to polish-and-post.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:58 AM | 1 comments

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Teens Less Likely To Think First 

Not really news: Scientists discover that "teenagers fail to see the consequences" of their actions. "Teenagers take more risks, because they do not foresee the consequences as adults do," says cognitive scientist Abigail Baird.

Not at all news: Not everyone is an educator. On the whole, society tends to forget that teen brains are just as gawky as their bodies.

Much more interesting: Using this info, reports this week's New Scientist, "several bodies, including the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, have submitted evidence in a test case before the US Supreme Court arguing against the death penalty for juveniles."

Totally unsurprising: Mention of this article in fark ignores the test case, instead focuses on ridiculing New Scientist for "reporting" the adolescent development no-brainer...which, in turn, only confirms the mental age of fark community members (self included) as totally adolescent.

Serendipitous coincidence: Minutes after starting this post, blogexplosion brought me Flaming Teenaged, which brings us "the red hottest news on rampaging teens."

Internal query of the day: "Red hottest" couldn't possibly be grammatically correct, could it?

posted by boyhowdy | 6:15 PM | 2 comments

Christmas Bizarre  

Eight years ago we danced the hora in this very courtyard...
House of multifaith worship (on alternate days)

Up early on Saturday for a day of rural authenticity in Brattleboro, VT, nominally prompted by this year's one-room Christmas Bazaar at old haunt West Village Meeting House.

Nice to be back in the interfaith rural post-and-beam in which -- because it houses both bazaar-hosts All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and local Jewish congregation Shir He-harim -- we got married.

And today, as always, it was fully comfortable to be a Jew among the U. Met up with Darcie's parents (also UU congregation members), took turns helping two-year-old Willow make bead ornaments in the otherwise-empty kids craft area, bought some small raw-wood-and-lichen mantelpiece ornaments despite the lack of a mantel to put them on.

Afterwards , the five of us -- in three generations and two cars -- had plans to head over the river and through the woods* to the high-commercial end of the rural shopping spectrum. But to no avail: we were stymied in our Wal-mart attempt by a thick plume of smoke coming from downtown Brattleboro, where -- it later turned out -- four townships worth of ladder trucks were dealing with a major block fire. Bridge unavailable, we headed to the local backwoods diner instead for homestyle steak and eggs.

Later, Darcie and I left Willow with the 'Grands for a trip up to the Basketville outlet -- wicker, wicker everywhere, and the smell of woodshavings. Spent almost an hour digging wooden eggs and candlesticks out of the rejects bin; at 5 cents apiece, we managed to gather in quite a collection (136 pieces!), and hope to get both present-fodder and creative play opportunities out of the lot.

Back home the roads through town were still closed, but we managed to pack in the downtown lot and walk in to see a gutted brick and a still-blocked bridge heading home, a sleepy Willow singing carols in the backseat.

Guess someone's God wanted us to stick with the authentic for the day. I missed the kitsch of the cart-and-greeter, but we'll surely make it to the mall sometime this week.

*Yes, it really is over the river and through the woods to get to Grandmother's house. It's a bit much, but what can you do?

posted by boyhowdy | 1:03 AM | 2 comments

Top 5 Christmas Carols For The Psychiatrically Challenged 

Schizophrenia: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Multiple Personality Disorder: We Three Kings Disoriented Are

Manic: Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Busses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and...

Paranoid: Santa Claus Is Coming To Get Me

Personality Disorder: You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

A little holiday cheer blatantly stolen from Michael the Archangel's even longer original list. Funniest thing I've read in ages.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:02 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Ironic Metablog, After The Fact: Blogging About Not Blogging
(or, What Is The Sound Of One Blog Clapping?) 

Sorry I didn't have time to write anything today.

Oh, wait. Does this count?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:39 PM | 45 comments

Friday, December 03, 2004

Am I Not Geeky Enough 

Wired's yearly compendium of cool tools includes a list of 30 toys under $30 bucks, and I don't want any of them. Except maybe the genetically-modified glowing fish. But personal ear-mounted turn signals? Ew.

Proud to be a pop culture, media, academia, and otherwise social science geek, though. Kitsch rocks my world. So if you want to get something for me this year, see Unemployed Philosopher's Guild and Archie McPhee for a much better "30 under 30" wishlist. Anything -- from either catalog -- will do.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:10 PM | 3 comments

You Put The Lime In The Cigarette And Smoke It All Up 

New fruity-flavored cigarettes from Camel. In lime, berry, pineapple and coconut.

Ew. Ew. Ew.

RJ Reynolds sez they made 'em because "Our adult consumers asked us and told us they like differentiated products," but I don't think this is what established smokers had in mind. And you gotta wonder where RJR got their info: anyone who smokes (or sells smokes) knows that brand-and-taste loyalty is stronger for smokers than almost anywhere else.

Yet the new cigs are selling out everywhere. The vast majority of new smokers start before the age of 18. Is candy flavoring a surefire way to attract young smokers? Sure -- just ask Snapple the various producers of Strawberry Bidis, which we used to smoke in high school.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:13 PM | 2 comments

If You Can't Blog Freely, What's The Point? 

Boingboing investigates the fact that MSN Spaces, Microsoft's new blogging tool, censors certain words you might try to include in a blog title or url by testing several obscene blog titles, often with hilarious results. "Lolita" is censored, but "butt" is not; "pornography" is censored, but "sex" seems perfectly allowable; "corporate whore" doesn't work, but "corporate prostitute" seems acceptable. Full post includes screenshots of some rather amusing blogs made as part of the experiment.

In the end, as author Xeni notes, the result is not atypical: A mixed bag of results that manages to do what most attempts to automate censorship do -- make fools of the censors. C.f. everything from school internet filters to, more recently, blogexplosion's shoutbox, which *bleeps* out words from damn to worse but can be sworn at using the creative workaround of compound words.

The real news here, of course, is the "too little, too late" dismissal. Why the heck anyone would bother using a Microsoft blogging tool? More consideration from all angles, collected by boingboing -- ain't metablogs great?

posted by boyhowdy | 1:21 PM | 1 comments

I Absolutely Need... 

Shower Shock Caffeinated Soap from ThinkGeek.

No, we're not kidding and no you don't eat it. The caffeine is absorbed through the skin... Yes, in the shower.

In other news, at B.'s otherwise-anonymous suggestion, I am now taking requests for blogentries. What do you want me to write about? See previous entry or leave a comment -- all requests considered!

posted by boyhowdy | 11:00 AM | 1 comments

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hypothetical Blog Entries I Wish I Had Time For 

1. Too Many Mommyblogs, Not Enough Daddyblogs: Is Feminism Dead?

2. The UCC Advertisement Is Too Controversial For Network Advertising: Why CBS Made The Right Decision For The Wrong Reasons, And Why NBC Is Being Unfairly Attacked Despite Not Making The Same Dumb Mistake CBS Made

3. Where The Hell Is All The Damn Snow?

4. Weeding Books: How Your Local Library Uses Lessons Learned From Selling Ketchup To Determine Which Books Go And Which Stay, Especially When Moving The Whole Collection From Two Campuses To One

5. Why I Like Capital Letters

6. Why I Like Lists

7. "Why" And Other Questions: How To Handle A Precocious Two Year Old

8. Things I Want For Christmas and Hanukkah Which, For One Reason Or Another, Can't Or Won't Be On My Amazon Wishlist

9. Where Are All The Screwdrivers When You Need Them?

10. Same Old Corduroy Coat

11. This Blogentry Goes To Eleven: Top Movie Phrases I Use Regularly

posted by boyhowdy | 11:00 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Today's Best 

Randomalia from a short post-nap surf, couched in the language of awards. Yes, when I nap (which isn't often), I nap from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m. Doesn't everybody?

The award for Best Name Under Which To File Blogger Posts goes to StuckHereWithNoTV, for the tag line Typed, and then deleted, and then typed again, and then stared at for five minutes by StuckHereWithNoTV.

The award for Dumbest Matricidal Blogger goes to Rachel Waterman, age 16, for convincing two 24-year-old ex-boyfriends to kill her mother and then blogging about it.

The award for Best New Premise For A Blog goes to brand new metablog Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, which analyses blogger types from a psychotherapist's chair.

The award for Best Reason Why College Students Should Embrace On-Line Porn goes to UPenn Junior Melody Joy Kramer for her article comparing porn to Cocoa Puffs.

The award for Most Potentially Dangerous Subject For Distance Learning is shared by the great state of Virginia, which offer online Drivers Ed.

The award for Most Subjectively Surprising New Blogmark goes to Kevin, M.D., a medical weblog which mixes real case-studies and popmed analysis with literate compassion.

In a related note, the award for Most Interesting Concept In Modern Medical Practice, at least from the layperson's perspective, goes to the new global-scale Grand Rounds, a weekly top-ten cases linklist which is hosted by a different medblog each week. Bonus tie-in to Bloggercon here.

The award for Most Personally Relevant Laugh of the Day goes to the Onion for their Fighting Insomnia tipslist, which reminds us that although it's tempting to use liquor as a cure for chronic sleeplessness, be warned: Liquor is quite expensive.

Finally, the award for Best Replacement For Tom Brokaw, whose last broadcast occurred while I was sleeping, goes to Brian Williams, who was hilarious and wry on the Daily Show last night. (Yes, I know this has nothing to do with blogsurfing, but I was reminded about it by this Fark discussion.)

posted by boyhowdy | 10:38 PM | 1 comments

Words, Words, Words 

CNN notes Merriam-Webster's list of the top ten words looked-up on the Internet this year.

No surprise to find blog at the top of the list, followed immediately by several politico-electoral words. Less easy to understand why defenestration made the list at all. Neat to learn what peloton means.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:46 PM | 0 comments
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