Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer 2013

No big trips, but lots of day trips and a couple overnight ones to places that I found exciting and interesting!

Not in chronological or any other order, but here are some highlights!

I stood in the spot where Moby-Dick was written. I haven't taught the book in years, but it still occupies my imagination, and many of my favorite memories of teaching are of this work. So it was for me an important pilgrimage. 

Stopped in small towns I'd never been to before, and drank coffee and looked at various objets d'art - Brattleboro, VT; Greater Barrington, MA; Northampton, MA. 

Stepped in the Atlantic twice - once near Newport, RI, and then at Atlantic City, NJ. 

I stood before Bam-Bam Bigelow's ring outfit, and many other pieces of priceless ephemera at the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. There's something valuable and humane, about how people get devoted to these things, to such an extent that they'll preserve the history of their particular obsession, when it would otherwise vanish. 

Also did my part to keep Santa's Land open another season

I saw King Lear twice at Boscobel. (A place so lovely one would do well to pay to watch the grass grow there.) And here we have a piece of my teaching that goes all the way back to the beginning, to struggling with young people with such a difficult play, and learning along with them. I have never seen it before and this was something I really longed to do. 

Saw Motley Crue at the beginning of the summer, and Night Ranger at the end. 

So, some good memories!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Liberal and Conservative

I have eschewed any political posts on my blog for years, but this needs more than a Facebook post to explain. And it's not polemical anyway, so here goes. 

As a native English speaker who's bombarded with coded political language every day, I know which constellation of words will inevitably appear on the website of a conservative group in the contemporary US context, and I know which ones will appear on the website of a liberal group in the same context. (Or in their written statements, or in posts by people from either of those two stripes.) "Tradition, values, freedom, personal responsibility" = terms used exclusively by the Right. "Diversity, tolerance, equality" = only on the Left. "Respect, individual, dignity" = used promiscuously by both, either because that's what we all *really* believe in, or to obfuscate differences. (And funny that the French motto includes one from the Left and one from the Right, plus the ambiguous "brotherhood"; but I think this will prove significant later on.) 

But what always strikes Lefty me, is how the right wing catch phrases or pet words aren't ones I dislike or disagree with. Perhaps those on the Right could even grant that they have nothing intrinsically against "my" words. And let's try to step past the accusation of insincerity, as in, "Sure, they say they believe in freedom but they don't really!" or "They only believe in freedom for themselves!" I think that's too cynical. I really don't believe all conservatives (in either a political or intellectual sense) are intolerant or believe people should be treated w/o equality (though of course there are demagogues who do use rhetoric to mask what they really believe). Again, I'd hope for enough tolerance from my friends on the Right that they do not think I favor enslavement and I take no responsibility for my actions. Again, these would all be caricatures and we'd never have dialogue if we believed in them. 

What I really believe happens (demagogues excepted) is a conflict in the ordering or prioritizing of goods, as well as disagreement over the public and private elements w/in those goods. In other words, to me, "personal responsibility" is crucially important in my life, but was taught to me a very long time ago and mostly in the private setting of me being raised by my parents; so I don't see that as a point of my identity I'd need to advertise or use to define myself, as it's nearly instinctual to me (though there is also a temptation to violate it, it would still be done w/ full knowledge one had violated something one holds dear), and requires neither education nor debate nor public funding; I take it as nearly axiomatic that all people were taught that at a similarly early stage. I really don't see it under attack, the way so many people on the Right do. Of course, they don't see "tolerance and equality," as threatened, whereas I do, because I was only taught to value those much later in life and they relate to a much more extended society than my friends and family, people to whom I feel less natural affinity. 

Or really, to put it another way, I think it does come back to the two terms we've taken from the French motto and throw around so much in our current rhetoric. I think everyone on Right and Left could agree with this: Humans naturally desire freedom (though I'm using the term uncritically, let's just go with it), but they don't really desire equality all. (Everyone I know wants to have MORE than other people, not an equal amount.) Lefty me believes in greater protections for equality, because it is the less likely for people to pursue on their own (and at the extremes of inequality would threaten freedom). People on the Right see that as limiting freedom, which they think, since it's the more natural and universal of the two Goods, should not be impinged on at all. For them, protecting freedom is all you need, and whatever level of (in)equality you ended up with among free agents would be fine (or, at the least, necessary and unavoidable and not worth threatening freedom over). To me, they have reified the value of Freedom over everything else; to them, I'm naively and misguidedly pursuing a "good" that is not natural (equality) and must be forced on people.  

Unfortunately, although that may clarify some things, I don't think it makes dialogue any easier (since it boils it down to a more fundamental disagreement over values).  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Interview over at Joe McKinney's Blog!

One of my first "horror friends" was Joe McKinney, police officer and author of the zombie classic Dead City. This month he's featuring interviews on his blog and I made this week's! Check it out! 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

America Magazine

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Took a short one by myself, just because. And Saturday's horoscope (which I was reading Saturday night while on the trip) certainly confirmed the choice! - "Take a break. A short trip or social outing will lead to creative ideas." I swear horoscopes and fortune cookies just get enough uncannily correct ones to keep me interested!

So, this trip was about me and things I hadn't done ever (or not in a while). So first I went to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. That was old school, and exactly the kind of thing that makes subcultures - be they cosplay, or zombies, or model rocketeers - fun to participate in. It's the level of devotion and dedication and care that is so fascinating - care to keep something alive that would otherwise be ephemeral. This was two floors of a dusty store front in the mostly abandoned downtown of Amsterdam, NY. Clearly a bunch of fans had been comparing memorabilia, when it hit them, "If we put all our stuff together, we'd have enough for a museum!" And once they did, and people started coming, the visitors started donating and it grew. (The first thing it made me think to do was put together a donation of what I have and send it to them.) This was one of the funnest things I've seen in a long time. 

Started driving east and a little north from there, heading into Vermont. Stopped in Bennington just to check out the stores and galleries, and totally spaced on the fact that John Goodrich, author and blogger extraordinaire, would be working in the game store there. But there he was, even bigger and redder than I remembered, so I got an unexpected visit out of the trip as well! 

Continued on to Brattleboro where I checked in to the overgrown and musty Dalem's Chalet. Perhaps not as colorful as the Cassandra Overlook Motel from my trip in March, but verging on that level of dilapidation. I quickly drove out of town to see if Santa's Land was still in business as I had been promised. It was, though I was the only person on the property besides Santa and the elves, so we chatted some (they being friendly by nature). They've obviously spent some money on the place - everything has a fresh coat of paint, and the petting zoo animals look healthy, clean, and fed. The next hurdle will be some advertising, and I'm thinking some paving, as all the paths had been pretty much reduced to grass interrupted with some macadam chunks, and somebody's gonna trip on that and sue them and that'll be the end of Santa. But, anyway, why do I go to these places? Well, I'd go to the one I went to as a child (The Gingerbread Castle of Hamburg, NJ) but there's nothing but ruins left; same if I made the jaunt down to the equivalent place my wife went to as a child (The Enchanted Forest of Ellicott City, MD), except that's been paved over to make room for another Home Depot or something equally indispensable for our modern way of life to survive; definitely still existing but only as fenced off ruins, is the one nearby that did survive until 2003 so I took my children there twice, The Fairy Tale Forest of Oak Ridge, NJ. To me, like wrestling, these represent a connection to a simpler past. Though yes, I understand wrestling is thriving a good deal better than storybook lands, but really as I thought about it, the two concepts are both ludicrously simple by modern entertainment standards: the one relies on children being enthralled by statues and a couple real life people dressed up as the characters of the stories read to them each night; the other relies on men, young and old, suspending disbelief so thoroughly they will not only accept, but will be gripped by a raging fervor unknown outside of demonic possession, for the idea that two large men who are obviously pretending to beat each other senseless, really are doing so, and doing so in front of a backdrop of melodrama populated almost entirely by Jungian archetypes (evil twins, cackling villains, men [and now more women] possessed by envy or revenge, etc.). Again - simpler past. I will step back to it every chance I get. 

Back from my idyll with the elves, I went to Brattleboro's downtown, which is a slightly different obsession of mine. I love when decaying rust belt downtowns remake themselves with a shot of art and immigrants. To me it is the other side of the kind of nostalgia my first two stops indulge in. It's more forward looking and dynamic. So a stop at the craftsy Beadniks and dinner at Shin La made me happy as well. Ended the evening with maple flavored soft serve from The Chelsea Royal Diner, which I ate while standing on the iconic Creamery Covered Bridge. 

Up early the next morning, driving south to meet a friend from our days at Harvard Divinity School. (She doesn't have a website or blog that I know of, sorry.) She showed me around Northampton, MA, which I had never visited. More artsy-fartsy stuff, including Faces, a sort of Urban Outfitters meets Spencer Gifts, which I thought was a hoot,  and the FOE Gallery, which was populated mostly with Kaiju and UltraMan inspired stuff (again making me giggle). Then I continued on to Newport, RI, a favorite destination since we first visited with friends from Villanova way back in 1999. The Dartmouth Motor Inn I can more heartily recommend than other non-chain motels I've stayed at recently: This is clearly an older property but they've refurbished all the rooms; $60 for a room in high season, this close to Newport - I don't think you can complain that it's not the Hampton Inn. I got there fairly late, which meant it was free to go to Horseneck Beach (I think one of the best beaches in the NE), and then dinner at The Bayside. (Only inferior meal I've had there, unfortunately, and not entirely explainable just by it being busy, as it's always busy in the summer.) 

Monday was a morning of shopping in downtown Newport and I finally splurged on chowda at the Clarke Cooke House, and that was the best chowda I've had in a while. I got in a drive around Ocean Drive, a tour of the Breakers, and a walk along the Cliff Walk and down the 40 Steps in the late afternoon. Since I've always been impressed with The Bayside on every other visit, I gave them a chance to redeem themselves, which they did - dinner last night was way more up to my standards. 

I broke up the drive home today with a stop at Old Sturbridge Village. That's one of the more thorough historical recreations I've seen since Sherbrooke Village of Nova Scotia. Not as flashy as Williamsburg, of course, but every house was doing something. And I'd never seen a sawmill in operation. So that was another good stop. 

And now I'm home!


Triumph of The Walking Dead