Archive for November, 2007

So, yeah, I’m probably really late on the bandwagon here, but I just discovered another really great time sucker online and I thought it was pretty cool.  There is a site called Free Rice where you can take a vocabulary quiz.  For every word that you get right, the organization donates 10 grains of rice to the UN to fight worldwide hunger.  At the bottom of the screen, ads flash that apparently pay for the rice.  While ten grains may not seem like very much, enough people are wasting their time doing this that, as I write this, over 1.3 billion grains of rice have been donated.  I’m not sure exactly how much that is, but it sure sounds like a lot.

The vocabulary questions start out easy but get harder as you get more right.  There are 50 levels, and I am a bit annoyed that I have not yet been able to get all the way up to level 50.  My highest so far is level 48, and some of the words are really obscure.  I have guessed at some–but always educated guesses, of course!–and have been able to figure out others, but some have left me stumped.  So far, I have personally donated over 2,000 grains of rice.

See?  A Ph.D. in English is good for something.


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Walking with a Ghost

Every morning Muttboy and I take a walk in a big park about ten minutes away from our house.  There is one spot near the end of our walk where the trail turns to the right and drops down a little hill before running into the boat launching area.  Every day after I make the turn and start down the little hill, Muttboy stops behind me and waits for me to stop and look back at him.  When I do, his eyes light up and he howls at me.  I call him a silly dog and we continue on the walk.  I do not know what this wild howl means, but it must mean something since he does it every day at the same spot.  Maybe he realizes that it is the last turn before we head back to the car, and he wants to walk longer.  Maybe he thinks that is a good spot to play some sort of dog chase game (sometimes I do chase him here).  Maybe he just likes to express his joy at being in the woods.

Right after my dad got sick, I started making plans for what we would do when he recovered.  Since he had never been to New England, of course he would come up and spend some time in Connecticut.  As I walked through the woods last winter I thought about what we would do when he visited.  I knew that he would want to tromp through the fallen yellow leaves with me and Muttboy.

My dad loved dogs.  He claimed to understand them.  In his infrequent phone calls, he would spend many of his precious cell phone minutes telling me about the latest goofy exploits of his dog–how he chased a stick on the beach or took over the bed in the morning.  Walking with my dog today, I can almost see and hear my dad walking along with us.  When Muttboy grabs a huge fallen branch from the forest floor and tears around with it hanging out of his mouth, I can hear my dad laughing.  When he shakes the stick back and forth, I can hear my dad shout along with me, “Kill that stick, you vicious killer dog!”

And then that weird howl.  I have never known a dog to talk as much as Muttboy, and I know that my dad would have been completely taken by his vociferous nature.  After we hit that turn today and Muttboy howled his big, hearty, happy “Arrroooo!” I heard Dad right there laughing, the lines crinkling around his eyes and his head thrown back.  He was wearing his old red wool hunting jacket, his hands thrust into the pockets.  I saw him shake his head as he said, “What a goofy dog!  What a goofy dog!”

He’s been gone seven months.  He never did make it to New England, but now I walk with him almost every day.  It’s my voice that sounds so much like his and my laughter that echoes him.  Sometimes I wonder if I am the ghost.

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More Whining

My writing is gasping.  My teaching is imploding.  My cycling is flatting.  My reading is lacking in adventure.  Essentially, nothing has gone at all well for the last three months.

Deep breath.  I took everyone’s advice and did what I knew needed to be done.  I gave up, perhaps temporarily, on book #2 and started book #3, which I guess means that book #2 is no longer book #2 because book #3 is book #2.  I hate this, but it is probably the right thing to do.  Book #3/2 terrifies me.  I know that I will either finish it or it will kill me in the process.  Never before, not even writing my dissertation, did I ever feel so much anxiety about writing something while simultaneously feeling such a compulsion to write.  So I started the next book today, and I don’t know if it will work, since it is such a deep, close subject and the thought of messing it up nearly paralyzes me.

Teaching.  One student has boundary issues.  Needs a filter.  Tonight she shouted, “No, you’re wrong!” when I was trying to explain a point about how Poe creates his characters’ psychological states.  When I try to stop her long look-at-me answers to my questions, she ignores me and keeps talking, even if I have gone on to the next point.  Talking to her after class has not helped, so thank you anyway for the suggestion.

Cycling.  One ride in two weeks.  Legs:  flat.  Lungs:  not interested.  Heart: not in it.  Bike: noisy.  Roads: squirrel-infested.  I nearly crashed twice because of suicidal rodents darting in front of my bike.

Reading.  BO-ring.  I can’t get into anything new, so I’m back to re-reading old King novels that I have already read ten or more times.  The thought of going to a bookstore makes me cringe.

What happened to me?  I don’t recognize this person writing right now, and I can’t find the real me anywhere.

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My writing is dead. I’m hoping this is a temporary condition, as I have to write as part of my profession, but for the moment, my writing is just lying there in a corner, not moving, and I see some big old vultures circling overhead. I haven’t touched this blog in over a week. Why? I have a lot to say, I think, but just can’t make myself write.

My attempts to get my second novel going are meeting with intense resistance. The first thousand words took well over a week to write, and if you remember my progress last year (nearly two thousand words every day), you know just how bad it is. Right now, it’s on life support, sucking oxygen through a tube, and just sucking in general.

I think at least part of the overall suckage of the second novel is that the third novel is getting impatient. As I was finishing up the first, I figured out what the second and third would be about. Book #2 appeared in my head more or less complete, and I knew where it would go and how it would get there. But book #3 is troublesome. It has been rumbling in some darkened nook in my mind for more than twenty years, and I think it’s threatening to explode. But I don’t want to write it now. It scares me. It worries me. I don’t think I’m big enough to do it. But in the meantime, book #2 has become so terrified by the noises book #3 has been making that it trembled and collapsed into catatonia.

At the same time, I have gone back to my dissertation and figured out a way to take it in a new direction and write something based on those ideas but bringing modern popular culture into the mix.  This project could have both popular and academic appeal, and I like the idea of writing for a general audience as well as my specialized academic audience.  I’m not all that worried about this book, though, since almost half of it is already drafted in one form or another and the other half would be both fun and easy to write.  For this book, though, I would need to find a publisher first and then write it, and the thought of sending out more queries right now make me queasy.

All of this has worn out my writing muscle. I need a good muse massage.

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