15 October 2011

Chaucer Weighs in on the Netflix Debacle

Well, Netflix made a Stupid Decision, and then it took it back, so now those of us who use both the CD rental AND the streaming get to use them both and not have separate accounts (in what way was this not obviously stupid?), and now they've even apologized, and that's all well and good.

But even better is what Geoffrey Chaucer has to say about it.

12 October 2011

Farewell to Elsie Dinsmore (sorta)

A friend and colleague of mine was in grief and sorrow the other day, so I very helpfully recommended Books To Read in Times of Distress, the main one of which, as far as I'm concerned, is Elsie Dinsmore. That, and Elsie's Holidays at Roseland, Elsie's Girlhood, Elsie's Womanhood, and Elsie's Motherhood. After that the series loses its punch.

When I was a child, I liked to read Elsie books whenever I had a fever -- very comforting they were then, cause I never had times as hard as Elsie's, at least in the first two books, wherein she is persecuted for her goodness.

I'm still waiting for my colleague to report back on her reading of Elsie -- if indeed she's still speaking to me after she slogs through the book -- but handing it over reminded me that years ago I had a plan to write some scholarly article on Elsie, just to get her out of my system, so I collected other scholarly articles, so as to familiarize myself with the discourse, of which, really, there wasn't much, but it was going to require me to learn a whole nother field -- which would be American, you know, and 19th Century, rather than, like, British and medieval -- and I never got around to it and I can't find the articles either, and I think I threw them out.

So it turns out that the blog entry I wrote long ago on Elsie is probably the only thing I'm going to write about Elsie. That's it.

So here, from about 7 years ago in "Creating Text(iles)," is My Last Scholarly and/or Semi-Scholarly Word on Elsie Dinsmore:


Occasionally I get tired of all the excellent literature I read, and return to a project I've got going, which is that I'm in the middle of reading ALL the "Elsie Dinsmore" books.

The first Elsie book, Elsie Dinsmore, was written in 1860, by Martha Finley. In this book, little Elsie, who is, oh, I guess about 10 when the series starts, is living with her grandparents and a bunch of aunts and uncles and cousins, while her father, whom she has never met, is off in Europe. Elsie's VERY young mother died when Elsie was teeny tiny, but not before she imbued Little Elsie with a strong and abiding Christian faith, a faith which has been since nourished by Elsie's faithful mammy. Yes, our Little Elsie is rolling in the bucks, and owns slaves, being a very wealthy plantation heiress someplace in the ante-bellum South.

When I was small, my mom bought the second book, Elsie's Holidays at Roseland, for me, and I was immediately hooked. This is one hell of a series. Little Elsie is, hands down, THE most put-upon heroine of children's literature. Ever. In the first book, all her relatives hate her cause she's so committed to Being Good and saying her prayers, and they've got no patience with her, and when her dad comes home, he comes to like her cause she is so beautiful, but they all the time have little troubles, which eventually get Big when, one Sunday, he tells her to play the piano for the guests, and she won't, cause it's Sunday, and he makes her sit at the piano stool till she agrees, which she won't, cause though she's supposed to honor her father, she's also supposed to keep the Sabbath holy, so eventually she passes out and cracks her head open and has to be put to bed. The guests are pretty disturbed by this -- well, really, you can imagine -- and her dad is sorry.

But not so sorry that he doesn't get into almost exactly the same jam, only worse, in the next volume, when, during a lingering illness, he asks Little Elsie to read to him from a book of fairy tales, and she won't, cause, guess what, it's Sunday, so she's in dutch again, and he decides he can't treat her as a daughter if she won't act like one, so he won't kiss her or anything, and she goes into a decline, and then he leaves for Europe, so as to absent himself from her, and she just FADES away, very dramatically, and he manages to get back to her dying beside at just about the last minute. What the hell, I'll start a new sentence. In this dying illness, Elsie has become delirious, and is alternately haunted by visions of being handed over to The Nuns (the doctor has had her hair cut off on account of the fever, and her dad has threatened to hand her over to the Catholics), and visions of being Spurned By Her Father. "Oh, Daddy, Daddy, won't you kiss me now?" she's crying in her delirium.

Well, then she dies, and her dad is sorry and grieved, and becomes a Christian. And then she recovers. And all is well. I'm quite taken with the resurrection imagery here, myself. And it's SO subtle.

The rest of the series, which was enormously popular, went on for about 36 volumes. I forget the exact number. They go downhill after the first two, which are PACKED with interesting scenes, though throughout the series various interesting bits appear: Elsie marries her father's best friend, the nearest she can get, I guess, to her Dad himself; the family rides out the Civil War in Europe, sort of conveniently not taking sides (though their slaves all seem to be freed all of a sudden, one notices); later, on their return, the neighbors, who consider them to be Traitors to the Cause, attack the house, but the former slaves pour boiling oil on the Ku Klux Klan from an upstairs window; several many babies appear, all in the most mysteeeeerious fashion.

This is how it works, in the Elsie books: at breakfast, the family will be discussing the day's planned events, and making remarks about the excellence of the beaten biscuits. Then, one of the grown AND married women will disappear upstairs. End of chapter. Opening of next chapter: there's a baby! Yes, and Mama is doing well and is very pretty and fetching in her ruffled bed jacket. Also, baby is cute.


I'm on Book 13 -- Elsie's Friends at Woodburn -- and you'd think I'd be used to these things by now, and their singular narrative structures. But this one took me by surprise the other night -- I nearly fell out of bed laughing.Here's what happened.

In this book, Elsie's grown daughter, Violet, has married a much older sea-captain (yep, you see a pattern here), who has three children already. They have come to love their dear and beautiful new mama. She loves them. He loves her. Everybody loves everybody else. The children have retired to bed, and Violet and her husband are sitting looking meditatively at the fire. Violet remarks that she's been thinking about how two of the three inherited children look like their father, but the youngest, Grace, doesn't. "No," the father says, "she is just like her mother." Violet asks about the mother, mentioning that her husband's never mentioned her. The husband says that he didn't think Violet wanted to know about her. Oh, yes, Violet loves the children, and wants to keep their mother's memory green for them.The husband mentions that Grace was a lovely and kind Christian woman. "Oh," Violet says. "Grace!"

"Yes," the husband answers. "Our little Grace is named after her."

That's where I fell out of bed.

These people have known each other for at least two years now, and Violet's never learned the name of his first wife?

God, I love these books. They are deeply inspired.

But beware, folks -- if, hooked by my description of them, you want to go read them, do NOT get the new editions, which have been rewritten. You need to hit the used book sellers. Don't get anything published after 1990.

Since this writing, there has been an unexpurgated edition of a few of the Elsie books published -- just be careful. If you buy these books, you want the originals, in all their gawdawful horror.

27 July 2011

Help Create Movie! Exciting Opportunity!

So, my buddy Starhawk is all involved in making her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing into a movie, which is awesome and great -- it's a good story* -- and she's all meeting with important people and stuff,** and it's all exciting, and she's looking for a director and all, AND in order to make this project exciting for top directors, she needs to show that there's an audience out there saying where the hell is my movie, I want my movie dammit, get this movie out there so I can go see it in theaters and then buy the DVD with all the extras, like interviews with Star, and perhaps also the opportunity to watch the whole thing over with commentary by the actors. One of whom should probably be Angelina Jolie. Just sayin'.

And so now this whole show-your-interest-in Star's-book-becoming-a-movie project is like 85% done, BUT there is still the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Even just a little bit of money -- like a dollar, she says -- is useful; it's the numbers of interested people who matter. One of whom you may be, if you desire.

So consider this your artistic public service announcement -- still time to send in a tiny bit of money, and back Star's novel-into-movie project.

Star! Film it in Pittsburgh! We are awesome! Also, I will feed you lunch. Oh, and Angelina, too, no prob.

Does she like corgis?
*When I moved out here to Pittsburgh, Star sent along one of the proofs of the manuscript of the novel so I could read it, though I had moved so far from San Francisco alas, and I did read it, and I liked it, and then she asked for it back and I refused to give it back and pulled the I am so sad cause I had to leave you and San Francisco and my coven and go to PITTSBURGH fer the love of gawd can't I keep it card, and she let me, cause she's so nice. Book came out anyway, so I gather I did not cause Horrible Problems.

**My imaginary version of this looks a lot like Tina on The L-Word having meetings, but probably in Star's case they weren't quite like that.

09 March 2011

Best Tea Cups Evar

Here's a cupboard of sun. Want. Ren is really posting about the cups up at the top of the photo, which come in colors other than yellow. I'm posting about the yellow tea cup and the yellow jug and plate below.

My own tea cup is now on its second incarnation; also yellow and cheery, but enormous (it must hold four refined cups of tea). Alas, it is no longer available. My giant yellow teapot, also on its second incarnation, now requires a third, as once again its lid has broken. I'm hard on the teaware.

Got a minute here before lunch, to go find yellow teapots. Catch ya later.

03 March 2011

Writer's Site Coming!

Yesterday I drove up to Butler, to meet with my friend Cindy from Big Big Design; she helped me put together a web site (which I can update, but she'sll manage -- excellent plan!) to corral my writing, so that when editors ask for my website I'll have one.

Excellent pieces of the trip: 1) seeing Cindy, of course; 2) not getting VERY lost, only a LITTLE bit; 3) picking out the template.

Instead of having a site designed from the ground up -- which of course, Big Big Designs can do, cause they're, like, you know, Big -- I chose the fast template model. I saw several that were just lovely, but one that was not only quite striking, but made me laugh every time I saw it. I picked that one.

When it's up -- a few weeks, I think -- I'll post the update.

22 February 2011

NOW We Get Snow...

So the Snowcalypse hit the Midwest and the East Coast a couple of weeks ago, and we were supposed to get it too, and since we're in the middle of them it would Only Make Sense if we did, but no, not so much, actually no snow at all. Because it went north.

And yesterday we were supposed to get a couple of inches of snow in the evening. About 3:00 I looked out the window and saw that what we were having (after hours of rain) was thick snowfall, and I thought, well, maybe it'll all be over soon, but no, not so much, actually it went on for hours. Because this time, too, it went north. Only we were in the north part.

So, there was chaos, as usual, and all the schools shut down this morning, as usual, and the traffic was hell on wheels (literally), as usual, because it is Pittsburgh in Winter and we are ALWAYS surprised. Life is entertaining that way.

Laura dug my car out, but I got activity points, too, cause I chipped the ice off. And I'm at work. Where the department office is in chaos cause the roof leaked (again), this time onto the copy machine.

So. I am in my private office, and I've printed out all copies of the Midterm Review Handout on my own little printer here, and I'm staying away from that end of College Hall.

It's so pretty out there! Sunny and bright and crisp and just darling. But Pittsburgh's just not that great at dealing with snow.

17 February 2011

How The English Department did Deal With the Starbucks, Redux

No time for an actual blog post, too bad, so I give you yet another saved post from the now defunct and sorely missed Creating Text(iles) -- many of you, oh ancient and faithful readers, have seen this already. You may go about your business, see you later.

For the rest of you, Malory tells the story of the time the first Starbuck's got put into the campus:

It befell in the days of George W. Bush, when he was president of all America, and so reigned, that there did come unto the noble knights and ladies of the English Department in the land of Duquesne, which was a noble and fair university, wherein did reside the holy fathers of the Holy Ghost, who did keep that university which hight Duquesne in fair and noble condition, a messenger, who rode unto the faculty lounge on the 6th floor of College Hall, which was a fair and noble room, with some sofas and a little refrigerator, wherein the noble knights and ladies of the History Department did keep their lunchtime sandwiches, and the messenger was sore afflicted, having walked up the six flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, and the messenger did say, "Who here can help me? For I have heard that this is the place wherein I may find the English Department, which, like most other English departments in the great land of America, is known far and wide for that it does speak forth often of social justice, and even harbors Marxists and Feminists, and will do battle with those who oppress the weak."

And the noble knights and ladies of the English Department did rouse themselves from their lunchtime sandwiches, which they kept not in the little refrigerator in the faculty lounge, but did keep in the big refrigerator which was harbored in the mews wherein did reside the teaching assistants, who were the fair and noble squires unto the English Department, and did many noble deeds throughout the land of the university which hight Duquesne, which deeds shall be recounted elsewhere, and the noble knights and ladies did say unto the messenger, "Hey! what's going on?"

And the messenger did say, "You are not going to believe this, but there are wicked plans to dismantle the fair and noble deli next door in the Student Union, wherein you do buy your lunchtime sandwiches, and to put in its place the evil Starbucks, which has in its time vanquished many a fair and noble deli and/or small coffee shop, and eaten up its profits, in its evil quest to rule the world."

And the knights and ladies of the English Department did say, "Forsooth! and Damn! This is a pain in the butt! and also it is against the cause of social justice, to which, as denizens of the land of the university which hight Duquesne, we are sworn! and also, where the hell will we buy our lunchtime sandwiches, for the Subway is too far to walk in between classes?"

And they were wroth.

And they did wage battle with words, for which they were known far and wide as fearsome opponents, and undefeated in battle, at least most of the time, except when they went up against the theologians.

And they did remark at length amongst themselves on the evil nature of the Starbucks, calling it imperialist lackey of the capitalist running dogs and other such curses such as they remembered from their youth, when they did perform many works of social justice and political activism, being at that time stronger in body and also possessing no mortgages.

And this did continue for some time.And finally the Starbucks did open, and there came unto the noble knights and ladies of the English Department, where they did sit in the faculty lounge eating their lunchtime sandwiches, which they had brought from home, as the Subway was too far to walk to in between classes, a messenger, who did say, "Lo! I have seen the Holy Grail!"

And the noble knights and ladies of the English Department were quite interested, and did prick up their ears.

"No kidding!" the messenger did say. "The Starbucks kicks butt! Try the non-fat latte! I get the tall, cause it keeps me wired all through the Poetry Class, but they've got one even bigger!"

And the noble knights and ladies of the English Department did troop over to the Starbucks in a large group, and they saw that therein did reside the Holy Grail, ans it had been reported unto them, and that it was possible to buy a new one every day, though indeed, the cost did add up.

And they did cause their writers' group to meet there.

And they did hold their Poetry Readings there.

And the squires did meet with their apprentices there, for they saw that the Holy Grail did help them to stay on track through lengthy discussions with the apprentices wherein they did try to find the thesis statements that the apprentices had neglected to invent.

And there was much rejoicing.

And there was no more talk of social justice, as far as the Starbucks was concerned, though indeed the Faculty Senate did point out the need for a deli closer to College Hall than the Subway, wherein the knights and ladies of the university which hight Duquesne could puchase lunchtime sandwiches which were tastier than those they brought from home, and maybe could even be accompanied by those excellent potato chips which the knights and ladies of the university which hight Duquesne did sore miss.

And so the noble knights and ladies of the English Department did cease to speak evil against the Starbucks, for they had seen the Holy Grail, and they did turn their attention elsewhere, in search of their next evil and wicked opponent, who should be Sore Afraid.