Thursday, October 31, 2013

a quiet halloween

I do enjoy dressing up the house for Halloween ... this year there are lanterns in the trees, a ragged grey spider's web hanging from the front railings, a werewolf (complete with flashing eyes and a howl, if you press his little battery-powered button) suspended from the front gate; two skeletal flamingoes (I'm rather proud of them) in a flowerbed by the railings, and three small crows perched around the door knocker.  This is all, of course, entirely self-indulgent.  We had precisely two groups of two small dressed up people come and take away very small pieces of candy ... there are, it should be said, very few children round about, and no one with children knows us, so we may register - if we register on anyone's radar at all - as a pair of very suspicious witches.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

walking in circles

We have a large and comfortable guest room bed, made up and waiting for - well, guests.  But clearly someone has got here first.  Why do I have the impression that a cat has been walking round and round, prior to settling down for a snooze?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

shocking pink

This really is a very bright wall of pink that greets me on the house opposite when I get in my car to drive to school in the mornings ... quite extraordinary to think that it's late October.  We're getting to that time of the year when Southern California starts to exist in climatic isolation from the rest of the country ...

Monday, October 28, 2013

portrait day!

I always love the class in which we talk about portrait photography and its history, and about how one might take a self-portrait or pose for an effective portrait - and then I send the students off to put this into practice.  Thank goodness today no one took off their clothes to go for a swim in the fountain ... instead of which (it was chilly, even rainy) clothes today became props ... here's Hannah, a pre-med from NJ, who's in the Viterbi School of Engineering.  And she was talking about how some student in the Viterbi has put up representative undergraduate profiles - she's one of them - and how the photos illustrating these profiles have been photoshopped out of all recognition, to make them look super-glamorous.  And on clicking on her profile, I found her own blog about being a student at USC, complete with a trip to LACMA this last weekend to look at photography with two of the other members in the class, and another piece about how the Writing and Photography class is her favorite ... mind you, that was written a whole month ago ... :-) ... but that was a surprise that made me very happy ...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the sound track of undergraduate life (in memoriam Lou Reed)

I listened to a very great deal of Lou Reed when I was an undergraduate - whether in his Velvet Underground days, or, perhaps even more, the early solo albums.  Transformer (1972) was always the album that I put on before going out to a party - nothing like blasting out 'Walk on the Wild Side' to get one in the mood.  I can remember going to a party in Norham Road during perhaps my second week in Oxford where it was playing at top volume, and being so, so relieved that at last here were some people who had the same musical taste that I was used to from London (you wouldn't think that 65 miles would make a difference, but it did.  I'd been invited to a party a day or so earlier by another girl in my English set, and it turned out to be mugs of hot Ribena (that's a  very non-alcoholic very sweet blackcurrant drink that was touted as being full of Vitamin C) and a sing-along to the Messiah).  And Transformer remains my favorite Lou Reed album.

But I couldn't find it in the garage - not during my first, hasty look, anyway.  It was Berlin (1973) that rose to the surface, also, I guess, a party record, since it says "Kate" in the corner in, I think, my friend Robert Collingwood's writing; and it smells of stale beer overlain with English student housing damp.  But I don't associate it with parties so much as late night essay writing and, above all, revising for Finals.  This was one of a handful of records that I played incessantly during the summer of '76, together with Emmylou Harris's Pieces of the Sky, Ry Cooder's Into the Purple Valley, and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, with occasional variations of Dory Previn and the discovery of that year, Bruce Springsteen.  But Bruce was a bit upbeat for revision.  So to this day the sound of those dreadful, heart wrenching, maddening wailing children on 'The Kids' makes me think of trying to cram quotations from Malory and the Faerie Queene and Machiavelli and Castliglione and Byron and Defoe and Wordsworth and Coleridge into my head.  John Clare - I was particularly strong on John Clare - I subjected to the particular torture of setting to the guitar and my own singing - I can only think that Lou Reed's example made me feel that it was ok to strum along and sing in a low growl.

RIP Lou Reed, and thank you.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NAVSA day 3

One last, behind the scenes shot from our office, where we did all kinds of unseen stuff, and printed out various people's papers, and generally made sure that things were running as smoothly as possible ...

... So that's it?  It's over?  Seemingly.  I feel bereft - NAVSA 2013 has been so much part of my life - pretty much my daily life - since I arrived in LA, and I've been working with the greatest group of friends (based in four separate institutions, it became a running semi-joke that if only we were all in the same place, it'd be the very best of departments).  It all seemed to rush up on us very suddenly, and then there were three and a half days of action, and now - I guess a few more bills to pay, and stuff to throw in the car in the morning (like my last minute panicked Staples purchase of a crazy amount of plain paper), and then time to get on with everything else.

Thank you, everyone who came to Pasadena - it was a blast, and I just wish that I'd had more time to talk to each and every one of you ...


Some red lanyards and name badges are still there - but not very many.  The strain of being at the registration desk - aka the where-is-the-Madera-room/where-is-the-Plaza-room desk, the where-are-there-more-chairs-for-our-room desk, the how-do-I-get-the-computer-to display-my-power-point desk can be seen in that sad remains of a muffin, that empty cardboard container of coffee ... But that is the end of my churlish venting!  It's great to see people having fun here, and I've heard some great papers when I could sneak off to academic life from the equivalent of being behind an information desk in an airport, and John Plotz's plenary was - as I knew it would be - an absolute blast, and had be thinking about what community in Victorian fiction means - what being human means - in a whole new way.  In a way, indeed, that doesn't have any space for the grumpy misanthropy of my opening comments - unless, of course, one recognizes (and quite rightly so) the rhetoric of grumpiness offering, in a space such as this, a particular, specialized form of rhetorical connection-making ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Day 1 is done!  And I hope that none of the behind the scenes angst ridden moments (and there were a number of these, let me tell you ...) found their way into public display.  And the sun even broke through the clouds by the afternoon (no, dear Inquirer: that is not Los Angeles smog - that's June Gloom, in late October.  Too bad).  The best bit of running a conference is, it turns out, seeing all one's friends - like having a big big party.  And all the red lanyards look very cool, as does the program cover (if I take credit for nothing else, and honestly I feel that everyone else on the team has done it all - I whimper and scamper for cover at the thought of dealing with Hotel Management - it's for Design).  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


How could this black cat be anything but auspicious?  Glimpsed from the car half way up Broadway in downtown LA, on the way to Pasadena, on the way to NAVSA ... it is very strange to be at a conference more or less in one's home town, with all one's friends from all over - and yet not exactly close enough to throw a big party and expect that everyone could find there way back and that I, indeed, would be at the reception table bright and early - that is, around 7.15 - have I really promised that?? - tomorrow.  Anyway ... we're under way!  And I'm sure that if and when there are problems people will hunt as down, but so far, that black cat is doing its job, and even if the evening is chilly, the clouds have lifted ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

drive home

Sometimes, even when one's stuck in traffic, even the drive home can be very pretty ... Safe travels, all you NAVSA bound people ... looking forward to seeing you!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

seasonal silhouette

I'm sorry - no bobcat today.  I did go out looking for tracks, and found maybe a couple of pawmarks, and a definite lump of bobcat shit (of uncertain age), but no sign of B.  We call him B, since all the Griffith Park bobcats who have ever been trapped and tagged - and he certainly has - carry a number - his front leg markings look a little like B253's, but B253 seems usually to live way over the other side, by Zoo Drive.  So he - if he's a he - is B.  But the annual appearance of trumpet tree flowers always seem like a kind of magic, too - apricot yellow, and smelling wonderful in the evening sky (here, obviously, with some spooky magic done to bring out the color and contours, because it was pretty dark by the time that I was outside ...).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

our new neighbor

Alice saw him first - a very handsome, fit, sleek larger than domestic cat walking through our backyard around 10.50 this morning.  I've been aware for a week or so that Something was out back - some strange scratching marks in the ground, a little dump of what looked like Large Kitty Shit, and then yesterday, a complete zoo of big paw marks, cloven hoof marks (a young deer?), rabbit tracks, and so on.  I presume that at least one of the latter two is no more.

This B cat walked right into the paved bit of our back yard - at which point, he saw us watching him, and turned round and jumped up into the shrubs on the hill to our left.  He had two yellow ear tags, which means that he should be identifiable to the people who study B cats - and indeed the mountain lion, P22 - in Griffith Park (I sent off a copy of the picture to them).  I'm so excited, and privileged, to have see a B cat this close (and yes, a house sitter in Santa Fe around eighteen months ago saw one in our back yard there, so we do, indeed, live in B cat land in both places ...).  I just wish that I'd held the camera a bit more steady in my excitement ...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

the tranquility of the front yard

Some days, I'm just very grateful to be able to go out and be calmed down by our front yard ...   I thought that every letter of recommendation was due by October 1st - at least, it felt like that at the end of September.  Turns out I was wrong - they all seem - at least, all the rest of them - to be due on October 23rd.  Memo to everyone out there - don't assume that your letter writers are cheerful and happy at writing letters at - oh, let's say a week's notice.  That especially applies to people who have to ask their department chair for letters.  You know - we don't just, automatically, write "x is a wonderful person - please give him/her lots of money - they have a fully worthwhile project and we all love them to bits in the department and they totally deserve it."  We - er - write letters that suggest that we have met you, and talked with you, and read some of your work, and and and ...  And yes, if I sound churlish on a moonlit Saturday night in LA, so be it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

the beauties of the Huntington Gardens

Fear not, NAVSA visitors, the Huntington Gardens are indeed still there, and waiting for you ... but there are some very big holes directly in front of the library, where there's going to be a whole new educational complex (and, I hope, some quiet places in which to eat one's picnic, on those days in which one's working in the library).  Today I even managed to go there for an hour - and realised that things have reached a shocking pass when I respond to the interior of a library with an emotion that can only be called intense nostalgia.  It's amazing how one can find useful material in just a small space of time, and this made me so horribly hungry to have longer to be there ...

... we did manage, however, to find time to drop into the orchid show and sale, which was quite spectacular ...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

the tranquillity of parking structure X

Normally I park in a tall garage, Parking Structure D, because I like to see the mountains in the morning (well, ok, I can see mountains from our house, these days ... but old habits die hard, and if I park on the roof, at least I know where to find the car ...).  But Alice usually parks in X, and going in with her today, I realize that I'm missing out on a sense of the rustic and bucolic ...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Dark, murky - I thought that this photo of the bottom of a flower vase would be all shimmering and revelatory of the Mexican tile that it's standing on - instead of which, it looks decidedly sultry.  I'd been heading for the tranquil as a counterblast to today's Writing and Photography class on photography and trauma and atrocity.  It wasn't the first time that I've taught this topic, of course, nor the first time that I'd shown some of the most harrowing photos, but it certainly was the first time I'd had such extreme reactions (one student left, at least one other was in tears - and yes, I did warn students before we started that the subject matter might be tough going, and I'd understand if they shut their eyes or, indeed, left ...).  But in the - oh, I guess it's eight years - that I've been teaching one variant or another of this course, students' familiarity with photo technology has shifted so much: they all expect to find on line instant images of what's happening in Syria, say, taken by individuals who happen to be on the streets, happen to have a camera phone to hand, which creates a completely different reaction, on their part, to the idea of the iconic news photo - that's now something for them, it would seem, that's consigned to deep history.  I asked them to imagine what our knowledge/image repertoire of 9/11 would have been like if there had been cell phones then, which certainly stretched them into some dark places.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

waiting on a corner

There was so much traffic today (this morning, inexplicably so; this evening, Dodgers game) that I did a great deal of waiting at corners in my car, watching other people wait at corners.  But unless something completely catastrophic occurs to swallow my day, I'm very grateful for the hour plus that I spend listening to NPR every day.  When I first moved to the US NPR seemed oddly formal after the BBC's combination of cut and thrust - the Today show - and user-friendly camaraderie (the rest), but now I've very much got used to its rhythms and conventions - although I can't work out why it doesn't sound more incredulous at the lunacy of the Republicans.

Monday, October 14, 2013

fall light, as NAVSA approaches ...

For all of you who think that there aren't really seasons in California, here's some fall light, seen from our living room balcony.  One of our living room balconies.  So, all you NAVSA peeps - get ready to enjoy, in ten days time.  The program proofs arrived today!  We kept calm today through what looked to be a mega crisis - how could we suddenly be 6K over budget?  (a moment of hysteria followed by bafflement that the hotel were suddenly charging us 6K for fruit.  That's a lot of expensive apples.  Item removed - it should never have been there.  Hmmmm).  We may be able to pay our bills!  Memo to all friends: never, ever run a conference in a hotel, if you can help it.  We knew that they would be scalping us down to every last plastic water bottle, but it's kind of hard hosting 500 people in mid semester unless there's a convention centre to hand, and the Los Angeles one of those is rather too large.  We'll get there.  Meantime, we'll calm ourselves by staring at the view ...

Sunday, October 13, 2013


This is an unremarkable enough view of a corner of our front yard - that's not to say that it isn't a very pretty front yard - until one notices the waterfall.  Even then, the most remarkable thing about the waterfall is that it's running.  Today I cleaned out its three algae filled basins, and refilled it with clean fresh water, and sluiced the pump and got it all splashing again.  This was stunningly arduous, since there's no plug system, and no conduit (other than the waterfall itself) between all three levels.  There's a flight of steps to one side, but if I fill up the shop vac - or even fill it up until it's about 1/4 full - it's too heavy for me to manoeuver it safely down the steps.  And then lugging the big base even a few yards to the drain is heavy enough (yes, I know it needs a hose.  I couldn't find a nozzle-less hose).  After yesterday's home assembly fire guard (doubtless the antithesis of something watery), I claimsome kind of home maintenance award.  And of course, having a waterfall to complain about is hardly a hardship.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

skytyping and pumpkins

I'd never have noticed the skytyping if a little girl at the Autry Farmers' Market hadn't been looking up with huge excitement - but there were six planes traveling in close formation across the sky, phutting out the letters that formed, I think, their own self advertisement.   It's kind of crazy to write across the sun - no way can one look up at this (I pointed the camera, and hoped).  This particular team of Skytypers have been in action since 1932 (as a concept, one presumes, rather than as increasingly aged aviators), when they first advertised Pepsi Cola. 

The pumpkins were fine, too, and did very well without any advertisement.

Friday, October 11, 2013

and now, the Rainbow Tree

And now, after the rainbow banners on the lampposts, today on campus, in honor of National Coming Out Day, we have rainbow flags hanging from the trees.  In an idly procrastinating moment, I looked at the Trevor Project's very user friendly pamphlet Coming Out as You - which on the one hand was very practical and straightforward and I would imagine useful to a Young Person - but on the other, it offered a bewildering menu.  Back when the Little Red Schoolbook explained cheerfully enough what being gay was, and what being a lesbian was - and that was, at the time (by which I mean around 1970 - I see that a copy is going on eBay for $45 ...), a sensible enough grounding, the choices appeared to be relatively clear cut.  But now, we're told "Just like some people come out as lesbian, gay or bi, you might come out as transgender, genderqueer, bi-gender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, MTF (male to female), FTM (female to male), two-spirit, boi, grrl, or another gender."  All of which is true, but if one's 16 and confused in the first place, isn't this more confusing?  Or, forty plus years on, are people just differently confused?  Gosh - I never thought I'd see the day when I sounded unmistakably like an old fart (to use, I think, a rather British expression, suitably enough).

fantasy skyline

sometimes, one sees a skyline view here that's just completely improbable ... this was today's view driving down (ok, Alice was driving - this was not one of my crazed grabbing of a camera whilst stopped at lights shots) Western, and this is a Russian Orthodox church that just happens to be popping up among the palm trees there ...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

more seasonal decoration

I'm very happy to see our campus lampposts sprouting rainbow banners (a set of complementary verticals, here).  It would have been an even better image if there'd been a real rainbow in the sky - not an impossibility, since we had the first rains of the season today (not another drop in the forecast after tonight, I notice - but still, this counts as The Weather Changing).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Our new(ish) neighborhood seems to take Hallowe'en very, very seriously.  October isn't yet into double digits, and already we have skeletons hanging from trees, tombstones popping up in front gardens, and today, as I walked down the road to pick up my car (we''ve had Red Flag Days, so no parking on our street itself until the Santa Ana winds died down), I passed a whole hedge crawling with synthetic webs and spiders.  I guess I'd better go and lay in a stock of candy ...

Monday, October 7, 2013

a giraffe in class

I seemed to have plunged into a parallel universe in class today: at one minute I was setting up my computer, and at the next, I found that I had a student sitting there wearing a one-piece giraffe suit.  Faith told me that (a) her sister always gives her a new suit every time she takes final course examinations (a lovely gesture, but 'tis the season for mid-terms - I guess that she just has a supply, ready), and (b) that it's national onesies day.  In Scotland, she added.  Why that should apply to LA wasn't clear, especially when I checked on line, and Scottish onesies day seems to be on Friday.  There was a gay onesies day in Manchester last January 26th, which might have proved an unusual occasion.  But - is this some new British charity-funds raising custom, like Red Nose Day, that I've somehow missed out on?  It's actually quite easy to forget one's got a student dressed as a giraffe, after a while, it turns out - though I did warn them all that so far as taking photos goes, I regard anyone wearing outstandingly unusual clothes to have done the equivalent to signing a consent form.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

iPhones and cameras

So here's my question: for anyone who's already bought a new iPhone 5S, have you found that the camera quality is as good as everyone says that it is?  My old-ish iPhone 4 works reasonably well for most things - I don't need it to make cappuccino for me (though it would be nice if it did) - but the camera specs, and various other bells and whistles not available for old technology (aka a combination of built in obsolescence and a reliance on techno-lust) make me wonder.  This, I should say, was taken on my current less-than-state-of-the art device: I couldn't resist, once again, the painted images on the side of these office blocks ...

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Walter Gomez does, truly, fit onto the cushions on the window seat in my study - it's just that there's quite a lot of grey cat involved here, and perhaps it's just more comfortable to dangle over the edge.

rushing home

... and the minute our MLA meeting was over, it was straight into a waiting car, over Brooklyn Bridge (at speed, evidently), onto a plane, and back to the Galen Center to see the women's volleyball team beat Stanford in straight sets.  That's what I call a well spent day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

spot of red

... which, just in case you can't find it, is the tiny, tiny worker's cradle on the right hand side of the right-hand, under-construction new World Trade tower ... This is the view from my hotel window (thank you, MLA) - an extra bonus alongside being in a room with a team of smart women all day, plotting an MLA session for 2015 (Vancouver!) on Women and the Gendering of the Public Intellectual.  And, of course, swapping institutional stories of various forms of The War on the Humanities - or at least the undervaluing of the same, or the inability to convince students - let alone parents, etc etc - of their value.  So we may be concocting a workshop on getting out our message(s) to our various publics, too ...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

somewhere down there

... is not, any longer, Los Angeles: at least, not directly below me.  Goodness knows where this plane might be over - maybe Wisconsin, by now?  Somewhere stormy, judging by the turbulence that's causing us to lurch from side to side some 39,000 feet up here.  En route to NYC to an MLA committee meeting - something that would normally be a great treat, but I'll only be there 36 hours or so, which is barely enough to breathe the air inside a meeting room.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

building work

USC must keep a lot of builders in business - there are large edifices going up all over campus.  Alas, none of them ever seem to be about to hold Humanities faculty or classrooms.  This particular one is for the social sciences, I think - or, more specifically, for various new Social Science institutes and initiatives and and and.  If this were a late C19th transparent paper multi-layered rendition of much built-over archaeological sites, you'd see the old University Club underneath this (and underneath that, probably the stumps of long, long ago orange groves ...)

orchid - or, a four-minute prompt

Alice and I have a new regime this semester, borrowed wholesale from Dr Phil's column in O magazine (a confession of spare-time reading habits, that one ...) - which is to only say upbeat, cheerful things during the first four minutes that we see each other when we get back in the evening.  Admittedly, this makes for some very bland conversation on days like today - "what a great evening" - "ooooh, look, one can see the far mountains today" - "there's a blue jay" - and so on.  But it's a good grounding device.  And having prompts around, like a speckled orchid (admittedly, this is in breakfast-time light) is a considerable help, too.