purple for Halloween?

When did purple become a designated Halloween color? Suddenly, this year, it seems to be everywhere: in the halloween-themed dog toys we bought (yes, we celebrate any and all holidays by buying dog toys and having a little party out in the backyard), in the halloween lights (?!) and garlands (!?!) various neighbors have strung up, and in other decorations I've seen in stores and on houses. I guess the traditional orange-and -black combo was too garish, or orange lights look too much like construction trucks. (um, and when did we start stringing garlands for halloween, either?) Or it's just the wide spread prejudice against orange. People really don't appreciate the color. Purple, of course, has a long history of associations with royalty, with witches, and with gay folk. And I'm a big fan of purple, don't get me wrong. I just don't associate it with Halloween.


from my morning commute

I don't usually link to the little clips of media that are daily fads, since if you like that sort of thing you've undoubtedly already seen it. But this one, which I heard about on the radio and then looked up, is too good to miss.

Which is more disconcerting: to see the Lexus driver behind you reading the newspaper while driving (later on I was in the lane next to him and yes, he was actively reading it, spread all over his wheel and dash) -- or to notice that the guy in the Navigator next to you is text messaging with both thumbs on his Blackberry while driving. It's a pretty close call, any way you look at it.

Radio, people. So you can keep using your eyes to drive with.


The Prestige

GF and I went to see The Prestige today, which we'd been eagerly anticipating after seeing the preview. It was good, certainly watchable -- but not quite as good as we'd been hoping for. Conceptually it's smart -- the stages of an illusion, mapped onto the stages of the film -- with plenty of twists and turns along the way. But it's not getting a rave from me. The ending seemed kind of a cop-out (and I won't say more, since I loathe spoilers). The characters were stylishly portrayed, but not very deep -- certain phrases keep getting repeated throughout the film, in part to add to its "twisty" quality (this film is, after all, from the guys who did Memento) -- but "getting your hands dirty" or "secrets are my business" don't in themselves constitute psychology. An emotional loss is supposedly the trigger for an obsessive competition between two illusionists, which soon overshadows any possibility of the characters really showing emotion.

I am interested, however, in figuring out what cultural forces are at work to give us several films featuring magicians all within a few months -- I haven't yet seen The Illusionist, and I need to hurry up and do so before it disappears from our local theaters. In this film, illusion/magic are used as ways to demonstrate cultural anxieties about science -- about scientific ambition, about the costs of experimentation, about the boundaries of what seems possible, or allowable by common sense, the government, etc. It also reaches back to certain late-Gothic 19th-century tales (Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, for instance) which themselves were responding to cultural concerns about science. Even the choice of Jackman and Bale lends a postmodern gothicky comic-book feel to the film in its revisioning of late 1890s culture.

Much of the film depends on nested flashbacks and narrations, many of which are nestled within one or another character's diary -- each magician's journal gets read by his rival during the course of the movie -- which, because of the overt comparisons at the film's beginning to the stages of a magic trick, we are led to believe beforehand are nothing but distractions or tricks. So why care? The "puzzle" such as it is, can only be halfway figured out by the viewer who inhabits a rational-epistemology world (and it's not so difficult to do) -- the other half you couldn't guess, and in order to accept it, you must equally and simultaneously inhabit an irrational, fantastic universe. It is perhaps fitting for a film about doubles to require its viewer to take on a split mind -- but it isn't quite satisfying enough -- as an experience or as a narrative.


free in room wireless access

I'm at a conference this weekend, and so I've discovered that (yet again) in-room wireless access really means: if you perch on the edge of the armchair in the dark corner of the room, you might be able to get enough Low Signal to at least check email. Last night I could do that, but couldn't get enough signal to get into Blogger, though right now I can (maybe because it's dinner hour, rather than internet hour).

Though whatever i was going to write about last night has completely vanished from my over-caffeinated (and under-hydrated) conference brain. I'm just a spectator at this event, which is really more of a symposium (aka Gathering of Famous Names) and I'm feeling a little tired of sitting and listening and sponging up ideas. It's not my main field, though it's an area I'm interested in -- so this is adding to my feeling kind of marginal. It's been a strange, very long day.

One more session this evening, and then I can do some course prep. Or maybe I'll just come back and crash in front of the cable tv here in the hotel. It's hard for me to integrate conference mindset with the usual weekend work load, but somehow it all has to get done.


report from the couch

I know it's an egregious error of egoism to think that anything happens in the universe in order to benefit little ol' me (I've been teaching George Eliot lately so this error is at the front of my consciousness) -- but I have to say that I'm feeling very grateful to whatever forces were at work today to cancel the meeting that would have been the only reason I had to drive in to campus.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

So I've spent the last several hours working (or mostly working), butt firmly planted on the couch, coffee in front of me, sleeping dogs all around. Marking papers, reading for the week's courses, and writing up a grant proposal. A most excellent way to spend the day, and a much-needed corrective to the last three weeks which have entailed super-long days at the office.


limb, member, appendage, shank

About a week ago, I changed up my yoga practice considerably: I wore shorts. Now, obviously, this was a premeditated act, not something that just randomly occurred in the universe. And for many people, it probably wouldn't be that big a deal. But for me it was, and the effects are still being felt in my little tiny corner of said universe.

Relevant pieces of information:
  • Close-fitting shorts are actually recommended attire for hot, Bikram-style yoga. Bikram himself wears a speedo-style swimsuit, and most Bikram studios recommend that students wear as little clothing as possible to help acclimate to the heat. In addition, shorts help the teachers observe the student's knees, and make appropriate postural corrections.
  • Because correct yoga form is so important, students are at the very least urged to wear close-fitting clothing so as to be able to observe their posture in the mirror. (In Bikram class, unlike some other styles, the instructor does not model the poses, but gives verbal instructions which students try to follow by examining their reflection in the mirror.)
  • Before I took up yoga, I studied martial arts, for which we wore black baggy unisex cotton pants that were gathered with elastic at the ankles. During those years, I gradually forgot that I had ever revealed my legs (back in the days of step aerobics in the 80s I wore bike-style shorts and oversized t-shirts). I wasn't hiding my legs, per se, but it wasn't considered appropriate to reveal them in my martial arts school.
  • I don't really consider shorts as clothing to be worn outside of my house. Mostly because when I wear shorts, I look like a 12 year old. Or possibly a camp counselor. I'll wear long baggy cargo shorts to the grocery store or whatever, but they're not a fashion statement I'm interested in exploring. And besides, what shoes do you wear with shorts? Sneakers, or sandals, which take me right back to being 12.
So it was really a big deal for me to even consider wearing shorts to yoga class. When I first started doing yoga, I felt very self-conscious about the requirement of wearing close-fitting clothing on my top half (being someone who always worked out in extra-large baggy t-shirts to minimize interactions at the gym and to camoflauge my pudgy parts). I understood the need for it (you can't do downward dog in a loose t-shirt without revealing far more than I'd wish) but it was a big adjustment. So I wore flared yoga pants (not leggings) and tank tops. Eventually, when I started doing Bikram, I got sweat-wicking flared pants that I thought were close-fitting, but really weren't.

That was a couple of years ago. Over tbe past few months, I'd realized a couple of things -- first, that my yoga pants were now getting kind of baggy. And second, I cared a lot less about what anyone thought about my clothes or my shape, since I now knew what I was doing in the class. During the 60-day marathon I even stood in the front row pretty consistently. So being observed bothered me less.

I had half-heartedly tried on some workout shorts last spring, but didn't find any that were longer than 2 inches (which I'm way too old to wear) or not super loose. Then the itch kind of hit me again a few weeks ago when I noticed a kind of big woman in my class wearing the perfect shorts. (The teeny tiny 20 year olds are not exactly my fashion models.) So I went out and found my own perfect yoga shorts -- low rise, flattering seams, exactly mid-thigh in length. I got two pairs, even.

And then I wore them. Day 1 I was a little self-conscious. And the yoga really feels different in shorts -- it was weird in Eagle to feel skin against skin, for instance. But it definitely let my skin breathe differently, and was cooler than wearing long leggings (I wasn't sure in 105 degrees that I'd really notice a difference, but I did.) I wouldn't want to wear the shorts in winter time, when the studio never seems quite as warm as it's supposed to be. But it was fine right now. By Day 2 of shorts I wasn't really thinking about them so much. Until someone (this ultra-competitive annoying woman) commented on it to me in the locker room. Clearly my wearing shorts and standing in the front row really shook her up. (She didn't actually say anything negative, just "what were you doing in the front row? and wearing shorts? so un-Mel-like.")

So maybe this new revised Fall 2006 me does wear shorts in yoga. And maybe I'm enjoying rediscovering my legs again after many years of covering them up. But it's clearly a slippery slope, because I've even caught myself wondering if I might try on a skirt-plus-leggings ensemble (my favorite look back in 1985). I haven't worn a skirt or dress since 1992 -- due to living in a series of rough neighborhoods, the creation of my teaching persona, and the end of a
bad relationship. All of that is way, way, way in the past now, but I'm pretty comfortable with how I dress these days. I'd probably feel like I was in drag if I put on a skirt. And I'm not sure I'm interested in dealing with the comments that would surely arise if I showed up at the university with visible legs. But for 90 minutes in a heated sweaty room I can be that girl who does actually have legs worth showing off, if only to myself.


wired (various)

wired (me): I'm teaching one night class this semester -- something we all have to do in my department, and which I don't usually mind. But it isn't aligning so easily with my attempts to be on a regular early-morning schedule. If I could come home and just go to sleep right away, that'd be one thing. But instead I'm caught in that wired-up tiredness that requires me to putz around on the computer or watch TV for hours until I can finally go to bed. Too tired to do anything really productive, not tired enough to sleep.

wired (informant): We saw two excellent high-testosterone films in the past few days in honor of GF's birthday (which means she gets to pick the films) -- both of them things I would have seen anyway (I drew the line at Jackass and the Chain Saw Massacre prequel which she'll have to see with one of her guy buddies). The Departed is primo Scorcese, with fantastic performances from top-notch actors -- I haven't seen the Chinese original but GF said it was pretty close, even down to the eery resemblance between Leo Dicaprio and Matt Damon. It's ultra violent, smart, self-aware, even funny in places. I also really liked the character of the psychologist girlfriend caught between the two shifty protagonists. Operatic, almost impressionistic, rather than plot-driven, it's stylish without the improbable slickness both these actors have covered before (Mr Ripley and Catch Me if you Can).

One word of advice: it's well over 2 hours, so if your theatre shows a bezillion previews and ads first, you really ought to restrict your fluid intake for 90 minutes beforehand. I didn't , and so I spent 20 long minutes suffering before I finally gave in and left the theatre to visit the facilities. I hate to leave a film even for just a couple of minutes, but it was desperate. (In such situations, I always wind up thinking of Tycho Brahe's awful death as told to me by one of my philosophy professors years ago-- a quick web search suggests that there are new theories about mercury poisoning, which is equally gruesome but not so colorful.)

wired (up!): And then there was Crank. Not a film I'd recommend to everyone. But if you like your pop culture served up hot and buzzing, this is for you. Jason Stratham (who I last saw in the eyepopping Transporter 2) wakes up and has been poisoned with "the Chinese shit" which is fatally slowing down his metabolism. Only thing he can do to hang on long enough to wreak some revenge is to keep jacking up his system with adrenaline, by any means possible: driving through a shopping mall, public sex, cop chasing, etc. Witty tweaks to the sound and visuals let you feel his out-of-syncness with his friends and surroundings, and there are hilarious musical jokes, but this film makes no pretensions to be anything other than a joyride. You'll never look at a Red Bull the same way again.


I'm grading (like everyone else)

I made a vow at the beginning of the semester that I would not complain about grading. Ever. (at least during this term). Because, quite frankly, as miserable as I might make myself by procrastinating, or by mis-timing certain assignments -- my teaching load is lighter than some other people I know and I feel guilty about ever possibly complaining in a venue (like this) where they might hear.

And, of course, it's spiritually better for one not to be complaining, or focusing on the negative. So I've been practising saying more affirming things to myself like
"I am discovering what my students are learning"
"I am a responsible teacher who provides feedback"

And it is actually sort of working to improve my attitude.

(Or if it isn't -- you won't hear it from me here.)


bumper reading

A couple of days ago, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read "Vegans Just Don't Matter." Now, it's pretty rare that I feel directly targeted by bumper stickers -- especially since most of them tend to be for something rather than against. Or those that are hostile are so patently absurd (i.e., "No Fat Chicks" or the one that I see in the staff/faculty parking lot I use -- "Only Fools Believe the Biased Liberal Media" which always makes me shake my head trying to imagine what "liberal media" would actually look like).

So I tried to imagine what would motivate someone to put such a sticker on their car. Sure, I live in a big city -- there are a couple of vegetarian restaurants and several of the large-chain fresh/healthy/organic type stores. But it's not a particularly food-progressive city. There aren't Vegan Pride marches or regular PETA demonstrations. There are plenty of all-meat restaurants (and colon specialists) here as well. So what would make this person feel so threatened that he/she has to announce this opinion?

All I can come up with is that somehow, some way, we vegans matter enough to this individual that he/she has to deny that fact. If anything, this bumper sticker will mean that the word vegan will enter the consciousness of thousands of people on the freeway who might not otherwise hear or see the word. Every little bit of awareness contributes to the possibility of future dialogue or change. For every idiot who laughs at the "No Fat Chicks" sticker, there's someone else who thinks "my sister in law would feel hurt by that, and I feel irritated on her behalf." For every person who laughs and says "I'm going to McDonalds right now to prove vegans are stupid" there's someone else who thinks "I wonder what it means to be a vegan."

So, hey, vegan-dismisser. I'm actually glad you're out driving around.