Tuesday, October 31, 2017

a ghost eats its lunch

At Halloween, you can never quite tell what you're going to run into on campus - some costumes are obviously for the season (blood trickling out of the mouth, or unicorn horns); others 
are less certain (all black; wild hair); others perhaps weirdly hybrid - a Hogwarts tie looks identical to USC colors, and so it's only the round glasses (and certainly not the skateboard) that gives away the Harry Potter wannabe.  I'm thinking that this is a ghost, eating its lunch, but I can't work out (I guess the same might be true of real ghosts) how that food is going to make it to a mouth.

Monday, October 30, 2017

cloud formations

Monday class time - and today we were talking about ecocriticism and the Anthropocene.  And weather, and atmosphere - and hence, clouds.  And so Sarah and Zach, introducing, made word clouds - so that we could visualize the word frequency and patterns in our readings from - in descending order - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Introduction” and “Geophilia: The Love of Stone” from Stone.  An Ecology of the Inhuman (ooooooh, look: that proves that he uses "stone" a lot ...);

Jesse Oak Taylor, “Introduction: A Novel Climate” and Chapter 8, “Climactic Modernism: Virginia Woolf and Anthropocene Literary History,” from The Sky of Our Manufacture.  The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf

and Stacy Alaimo, “Introduction: Dwelling in the Dissolve” and Chapter 1, “This is about Pleasure: An Ethics of Inhabiting,” from Exposed.  Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times.

We were also given stones to write about: I rather grumpily painted half of mine blue, because (a) I had some blue paint in my pencil case and (b) I thought that might make it interesting.  It didn't.  

I was deeply grateful to the students who presented today - they did a fabulous job, posing a huge number of big and detailed questions to think about - indeed, they saved my coughing and laryngitic self.  And if you think that we must have our own climate issues here in LA - yes, Sarah is wearing a large fur hat - not as a prop, but because the A/C is still cranked up very, very high.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


These are just outside my study door - about as far as I've managed to crawl today, since I'm suffering from some probably student-inflicted enervating (and, many will be glad to hear, I'm sure) laryngitis- inducing blight.  I so love fuschias - even though I know that they are ubiquitous (and probably the most amazing ones that I've ever seen have been hedge after hedge of them in rural Ireland), they always remind me of - I was going to write "home," but that word should be taken under advisement, and in the knowledge that, for whatever reason, I've been suffering a bone-aching kind of nostalgia for England for the past couple of weeks ... 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

rose. and (artificial) spider's web ...

One sees the strangest combinations at this time of the year: here, a white rose, a white wall, and some very artificial spider's web.  Ah, Hallowe'en ...

Friday, October 27, 2017

Go Dodgers! (?)

Ah well, there's always tomorrow ... The wall at the end of Lucile that just a few days ago was painted in a lively combination of short, patterned thick snakes of color (with a few chirpy mottoes) has, this week, turned a rich Dodgers blue.  Sometimes, one's car is stopped at the lights, on the way to work, at an absolutely fortuitous angle.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

no actual cats

... were used, amused or abused in the taking of this photograph.  It's a long time since I've been working so flat out (but I met my deadlines! I met my deadlines!) during a day that I haven't had a moment to lift my head or look around for Today's Pic - and have had to fall back on my desk, or at least make an assemblage of a wooden cat-doll staring at my computer top.  I separated the two parts of Wooden Cat carefully, expecting to find a nest of littler wooden cats inside, but no.  There was a chunk of ancient hair, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap, inside,  But it's a complete mystery.  It doesn't look like cat hair - too coarse.  Llama?  But when would I have gathered llama wool?  It's all very well Keeping Mementoes, but the point is rather lost if one can't remember their origins.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Two old friends of Alice's, Patt and Arvid, are staying with us - it's great to see them, and they're terrific company.  But ... here's the thing.  Sitting in a padded, DHL-express-mailed-from-England packet, upstairs, is the very first copy of Flash!  Of course I want to open it, and toast it, and celebrate it.  So far, all I've let myself do is feel its shape through the bag, and gently stroke its contours - it seems wrong to open it up and whooop and have it, and me, center-stage with (non-academic) people I barely know (though, indeed, feel I know better after an evening).  Is this normal behavior, or pathological weirdness?  Or just Englishness?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween assemblage

If the sun hadn't been shining directly onto the window as I walked down our street this morning, you could have made this out a little more clearly: two signs reading DEFEND OUR DEMOCRACY and IMPEACH TRUMP, with a skeleton - and small skull - rising out of a grave in front of them.  The message doesn't look good for the President (I'm glad to say), even if I find the narrative behind this installation a little hard to disinter.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Liberating our tender objects ...

I do so love my Monday theory ("theory") class - or maybe I just have a secret desire to be thrown into some kind of write-on-the-spot workshop.  Today was Thing Theory, Things, Materiality ... so Bill Brown, and Jane Bennett, and Woolf, and Fraiman's Extreme Domesticity, and Mark Goble on Obsolescence.  Two poets introducing ... so lots of writing ... First, after a number of descriptions from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons were shown us, we were invited to choose a small object from a box that they handed out - everything from a cork, to a charcoal stick, to a Jew's Harp, to - well, how could I resist a very small plastic pony?  - and to write about our object in a way - a Steinian way? - that would bring out its thinginess.  And liberate it - my title is their title ...

Solid flowing mane tail fetlock feathers.  trotting out, trotting back, trotting out, trotting back left right left right suspended in plastic motion.  proud bay wildness tamed to toy.  condensed energy pressed pressed pressed and shrunk. left right left right wild eyed neck curves turning, tilting left thin seams of plastic mold thin lines of horse hair left right plastic balance.

Sorry, Gertrude.  Maybe I shouldn't have taken a plastic pony to work with - too familiar?  I now want to delete that over-explanatory "condensed," for starters.  But of course I wanted to photograph it, on my desk, the class behind it.

I think I managed much better with Exercise 2 - take something that we see in that classroom each week and of which we're pretty much unconscious - and write about it and defamiliarize it.  Here's one of those chains that one uses to open and shut blinds.

I was awed by some of the things that the students wrote (and in so little time!), and by their associative imaginations.  Frankly, what I learned most was that I should try writing more in unfamiliar modes ... Or, rephrase: try writing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

turn your head right; turn your head left

Two views from our balcony in Estes Park this morning: to the right, the Rockies; to the left, a creek.  This by now seems like another world - back in LA with a crazy amount to do this week, which even working for much of the weekend has done alarmingly little to dent ...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

a tale of two (briefish) hikes

Mea culpa.  We hit one of the first really cold days in Estes Park this year - the wind was wild, and howling like several banshees around us all night (and when we came out this morning, there were bear scratches, and bear paw-marks, round our rental car door handles).  Guess who loves the cold, and being outside, and thinks that it's fun to go for a hike at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains National Park when it's lightly snowing?  Bear Lake was very pretty, really, and it was only a short way round it, I (thoughtfully and considerately) believed ... but nonetheless Alice came crashing down on some ice, and bruised her neck/top of her spine, and I feel very bad about that, indeed.

Nonetheless, we went for a calmer and milder walk part of the way around Estes Park lake, later ... not entirely war,. but not actually below zero ...

Friday, October 20, 2017

Colorado tourism, various

Three very different views: the extraordinary mosaic ceiling in the generally Florentine (apart from the Tiffany windows) atrium of the magnificent Equitable Building in downtown Denver;

the creek where we had a picnic lunch in Eldorado Springs State Park (and that Eldorado water that we buy in the supermarket in our own Eldorado?  We knew, obviously, that it didn't come from there ... but there were tankers in Eldorado Springs (a tiny hamlet southeast of Boulder, which has been a resort town from the early C20th, and which in 1910 had the biggest swimming pool in the US - still open today, it was then known as the Big Radium Springs, so who knows what a dip there might do to you?) taking water away from the artesian wells.

And this is the room from our room-with-a-big-balcony in Estes Park - trying to look like Switzerland, and doing a pretty reasonable facsimile in the dimming light.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

(short)fall in Colorado Springs

Back in Colorado Springs, the Ancestral Home - with Alice holding Shortfall outside 1628 N.Tejon.  It was so exciting to take the book back to the place - the house, indeed - where so much of the action in the book takes place, or rather, which was affected so much by the actions and events and decisions that the book's about.  And here she is, speaking in Pikes Peak Public Library - with her villainous grandfather, Walter Davis, peering over her shoulder ...

Financial scandal apart, I was very impressed by the standard of Westernalia Halloween on N. Tejon ...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

fall in Denver

It's a warm fall evening in Denver - a couple of nights here, celebrating Shortfall in, so to speak, its natal home - well, nearly.  Truly, Alice's new book belongs to Colorado Springs (tomorrow! tomorrow!) - but some parts of The Scandal took place here and, well, the food is much better than in the Springs.  If you're in striking distance of Denver, and can get to Fruition, go.  We just wish we could get amazing food - without any pretension - like this in LA.  But we needed to take a walk round the (hotel) block afterwards ... aspen trees, illuminated clock tower ... despite being work-hounded, it's great to be away for these few days of festivication.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

driving westward

I know it's a line of traffic - it's Los Angeles, after all.  But if you have to be in a line of traffic, it's a very pretty sky and sunset light surrounding one.  The strange quality of the light may owe something to the windshield, of course; probably not much to the smoke that's traveling east from the Mount Wilson fire (not something that I really wanted to see when I woke up this morning) - it's probably standard pollution.  But I still can never get used to the magic foreignness of light like this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

describing things

Today's Grad Methods class was enormous fun - thanks to Catherine and Katie who were introducing it.  Remember that the room is half full of creative writers, half of critical folk ... those two are poets.  We were talking about Description ... they led us in, via our reading from Mark Doty's The Art of Description, by asking us to write a description of a sound that they played us (for me, it was as if a woodpecker had been followed by a terrible snore, but it was actually an Elk Rage Grunt (just remind me never to go anywhere near a cross elk).  They had us looking at a Frieda Kahlo painting and went round the room with each of us finding a new detail; they gave us paint color cards, and made us text SF MOMA at 572-51 - ask them "send me ..." and fill in a noun that's close to the color we were each given - to be sent an image (try it!) and then to write a description of it (I was sent a Richard Misrach photo of a house evacuated for Katrina, that proved to be full of angles and triangles).  We talked about Perec and lists, and a chunk of James Wood about Serious Noticing, and Patrick Fessenbecker on paraphrase, and, yes, Sharon Marcus, Heather Love and Stephen Best on "Building a Better Description" - and they had us discuss the opening of Pound's ABC of Reading, and then discuss whatever we think the author(s) that each table was allocated would have to say about it.  And so we could get into the spirit of that, each table was given their speaking heads, their voices to ventriloquize, to hold up.  Or ... give some smart graduates a range of texts, and see where they take you ... it was a stellar exercise in bringing ideas home through practice.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

stretching out (and some thoughts on the "me too" posts. As in, me too).

LucyFur, slowly repossessing the house after Walter Gomez's departure for Minnesota (though with helicopters circling overhead right now, dropping water on what we hope is a little fire in Griffith Park, maybe we should all have moved to the land of 10,000 lakes.  She and Moth are currently in the bedroom, since we could pack them up in a hurry, should we have to, most easily from there).  I digress (and the helicopter activity seems to be quietening down) ... Lucy has always favored certain spots of morning sunshine, and even though there's a certain amount of shuffling and growling involved in asserting her rights to them, she's coming back into her tabby own.

Oh, and of course, "me too."  But this covers so many different things, from being whistled at by workmen to the cab driver who drove me off to a dark and scary destination in Greece; from a colleague in my first job who came round early on a Sunday morning to see if I "wanted any help in settling in" to those stray hands that came round from the seat behind on buses in Turkey and in Mexico; from an eight year old boy whom the 17-year old me was baby-sitting, to older and much more powerful academics in my field who Should Have Known Better.  What intrigues me much more is what we've all done in all of these circumstances; how we might have acted differently; how - in my case - my tendency to be a Nice Girl (and yes, my wanting to be liked) led me into positions of quasi-complicity that then became very hard to extricate myself from.  I could give my past self a lot of good advice about speaking up and Not Wanting to Offend.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ah, Silver Lake ...

Pi, and birds.  Why?  I don't care.  For me, this is old Silver Lake - the neighborhood that I first came to in 2004, full of funkiness and inexplicable bits of art, and some of it's still very much visible when - as we did this morning - we drive down the hill from Los Feliz and park about a mile away from the Farmers' Market (good walk, albeit more noticeable on the way back, with a backpack full of avocados and raspberries and guavas - guavas! - and dandelion leaves and green beans [ah, California]).   And this, below, is another form of old Silver Lake too - lanterns and parasols, and they stretch all the way up a shady path into this house's back yard.

But what of this Speedy Cylinder Exchange, though - and a strange set of red racks looking like coat hangers turned into a very boring art installation?  Think of this, however, not as a functional daytime operation, but as a place holder, a space holder for the carpark that this turns into at night -ready for hordes of bars and restaurants night-lifers, the influx of people who think that Silver Lake is the epitome of LA hipsterdom, the wannabe population who's causing the steady demise of mid C20th nondescript (but often still modestly lovable) housing, in favor of new blocks of apartments, condos, traffic producing residences, which will inevitably creep in and kill precisely the laid back ambience that we love(d) this neighborhood for in the first place.

Friday, October 13, 2017

another cushion

sometimes I joke that on a really busy week, on a really busy day, when most of what I've been doing is either stuff I can't really write about, or - in the case of the last few hours, would involve an account of an unimpressive volleyball game - all I'm left with is a picture of a cat or a flower.  The cats have either gone to bed or are roaming around wanting an extra late-night treat; the flowers are - well, time to go to the Farmers' Market tomorrow and buy some more.  So here's another cushion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

fall (rainbow) colors

USC does a very excellent job in putting up rainbow banners in October - quality banners.  There's such a mismatch between this celebration of LGBTQ life, though, and whatever culture of wilful ignorance and blind-eye turning led to the state of things in our medical school (just Google "Keck USC" if you don't know what I'm talking about ...).  At which point, I remember, once again, that I have to do my mandatory Sexual Harassment training - which one suppose all these offenders had to do, once, or forced or cajoled someone into taking for them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


On the one hand, two cushions in my office.  On the other, homage to Laura Kalba's new book, Color in the Age of Impressionism: Commerce, Technology, and Art (Refiguring Modernism),  which she was talking about at USC today.  It's a really terrific work of art history, visual history, cultural history - ranging from Impressionist paintings to flowerbeds, fireworks to autochromes - a tour de force of interweaving images and texts from many different contexts and in different registers - it's also extremely readable.  These bright colors, though - they're Indian in origin - at least, the cushions themselves are: dyed fragile silk, they're just starting to fray.  Some other, similar ones in New Mexico are already disintegrating into thin threads.  I'm so aware of the vivid colors in non-Western textiles, and the passage, in the C19th, of shifts in textile production, including the dye process: I wanted to hear more at Laura's talk about the international circulation of colors and fabrics in the C19th.  Not, of course, that this is exactly an unexplored area - and I was hooked by her comments about linguistic anthropology and color, and C19th fascination with what people actually saw, and how they did, or didn't, communicate this in language (color, I know, will be featuring prominently in the course I teach next semester ...).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Outside Taper Hall - home to my office - today.  Lest you think that USC exists in a state of continual festivity, this was - perhaps inevitably - in honor of some kind of job fair, which had many besuited students standing in long lines outside employers' booths - a kind of entrepreneurial version of a Michaelmas hiring fair.  It just needed them to be holding spades and mattocks and hammers and apple trees and butter paddles and crooks and mops and milking stools and pitchforks instead of anxiously clutched resumes printed on quality paper.

Monday, October 9, 2017

reflective reading

... on my way back to the car park, after class ... Actually, we were discussing affect, individuality/commonality, are corporations people, and the boundaries between individuals and the world (or the porosity between them), and not reflection at all - more reaction, response, feeling, and maybe thought ... it was a very lively class, and nothing like the image of tranquility here ...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

back in los angeles

Colors, rather than fall colors (although in the subtle way that seasons register here, I'm sure those tree blossoms signify early October loudly and clearly).  The facade is on Western - coming back home from LAX, resuscitated by a few days in New Mexico ...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

more leaves

As promised, or as forewarned, more aspen leaves.  They're both the same pictures as every year (and hence, a recurrent celebration), but at the same time, of course different.  Because of last week's rain and wind, the trees seem a little more bare than they were last year, a week later ... but they are still absolutely spectacular.

Friday, October 6, 2017

leaves, wall

It's the obligatory fall aspen leaves shot (there may be more, tomorrow ...) - I find yellow leaves against a deep red wall pretty irresistible.  It also strikes me, having put this up on the screen, that the image manages to be scarily close to USC's colors (Pantone 201C and Pantone 123C, since you were wondering).  I'm not re-coloring to make them exactly match, you'll be shocked to hear.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

full moon with radishes

Under tonight's full moon, with storm clouds racing over it - a long row of Japanese radishes - or Daikon, hanging out to - to dry?  Just because it's a convenient place to keep one's stock of radishes?  These are outside Santa Fe's Izanami restaurant, attached to Ten Thousand Waves (where we ate on their balcony whilst the rain hurled down, and the lightning flashed, after soaking off - or trying to soak off - half a semester in a hot tub).  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


I'm not sure whether this huge cactus - part of USC's new landscaping in front of the part of UPC that faces the new Village - was intended to be offset by this very domestic geranium, but it's very effective as a study in contrasts.

opening the University Village

There's not a great deal that one can do to disguise the very fake brick, and the mechanical, Ruskin-would-rotate-in-his-grave neo-Gothic nature of USC's new University Village - but this amazing light show did its very best to mask the reality.  Eric Garcetti - Mayor of LA - may have got it right, all the same, when he welcomed us to Harry Potter's World of Wizardry (something more comprehensible, than our University President comparing what we were witnessing to "The renaissance movement of the Middle Ages.")   Sometimes I just feel very, very nostalgic for Oxford (and not just for the architecture).  Quite how we ended up being invited as some of the very few faculty among the endless tables of donors is anyone's guess, but it was a hugely fun evening (dancers! music! yes, fireworks! - though just at the end and this out-of-this-world light show) - and edible food (at the bottom of the menu: "Chef: Wolfgang Puck").  Oh, and - when an invitation says "black tie and cocktail attire," that actually means - wear an incredibly expensive outfit of the kind that you always wonder who buys and who wears, when you see them in stores.  Ah well.  We scrubbed up just fine ... it was all super-surreal, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything ... that is, perhaps, the advantage of being A Foreigner, and giving myself the excuse of anthropological participant-observer status ...

and - yes! - a colleague - Jake Soll - following straight after Eric Garcetti, and doing The Faculty proud ...

and yes! thank goodness - one or two other people whom we actually knew ... here's Dorothy Braudy, as we were being played into dinner by the USC marching band.  All of them.