Sunday, October 3, 2010

Better Neighborhoods and MuuMuus, Part Two

So, after last week's bra-and-panty outburst, I got a little payback for being an immodest (but haaaaawwwwt) sinner.

Last Tuesday night, as I was working on a committee project, I heard a scratching noise that sounded like my cat sharpening her claws on one of the logs we've provided her with. I looked behind me to find that she was in the middle of the living room about to bolt in terror. And then I saw the knob of the front door wiggling. Alley hid; I went to tell The Hubs, newly returned from visiting his family in Denmark (the country, y'all), that someone was trying to get into the house.

He went to the door to answer. I went to the bedroom to be on standby with the *cough* "cell phone."

I listened as two men I had yet to see explained that they were our neighbors (living in the house from which the car stereo was blaring while I was trying to take a nap last week during my illness and, therefore, probably exposed to my mostly-naked body when I yelled at them through the wide-open window to "shut the eff up"). They then questioned my husband on when and where he worked, whether he was married, did his wife work, and did he have children. The Hubs can be a word ninja most of the time, but his evasion tactics weren't working too well with these two fellas, probably because he was still jet-lagged and exhausted from his second day back to work.

I smelled a rat, so my hackles were already raised. When the young "proselytizers" insisted that they needed to come into our house sometime to "visit" with us to help us understand why our atheism was a straight ticket to Hell (or more likely, as far as I was concerned, to find out if we had anything worth taking when the two of us were at work), my hackles transformed me into a giant sack of Cerberus. Me, my tail, four legs and three heads went to the door, and flung it open to see two very large and burly rednecks standing in our driveway. But I had transformed into Cerberus (even at 110 lbs. and 5 feet, 3.5 inches, way scarier than a giant redneck). So in a demonic, multi-chordal bass, I snarled, "Can we have your business card, please?" (The royal "we," of course). I looked down to see The Hubs had it in his hand, so I snatched it, said thank you, and slammed the door shut. The Hubs tells me that I had obviously confused and unnerved our fledgling ministers because they took off pretty quick. I didn't wait around to find out because I went to the phone and called the police. The dispatcher, Athena (and just what kind of awesome coincidence is that, Athena the Greek goddess of war and strategy talking to Cerberus, the guard dog who keeps the minions from escaping Hades), agreed with me that the questions were not the usual ones missionaries ask and sent an officer to the house. She asked me to call if they came back before the officer arrived.

I went back inside with the Hubs to take a closer look at the business card. Two corners of it had been whited out, so, we scratched the White-Out off. I couldn't make out the symbol, but the Hubs identified it as the Cadillac insignia, which is trademark (so they're in violation of copyright laws, among other crimes and misdemeanors) and their chosen but covered symbol doesn't exactly speak to the meek inheriting the Earth (but what I do I know; I've read the book, but I'm an atheist and, therefore, couldn't possibly understand it, right?). Then I e-mailed their landlord (didn't think I knew who your landlord was, did you, boys?).

Okay, so no more than three minutes later, these two show back up at their rent house (Did they actually knock on anyone else's door? Maybe they thought I was the only one in the neighborhood in desperate need of bra and panty salvation?). One of them started taking a video of the other talking as he stood in front of the the garage. So I called Athena back to tell her they had returned. She said the officer was en route and should be there any second. He got to our home quickly, but not quick enough for these guys. They had already taken off in the only car parked in their driveway.

So we explained the "sitch" to the officer, and he felt patrols were in order for at least a week. He asked if we wanted him to call or come by if he made contact with the individuals, and I responded that I wanted to know if they were legit and just idiotic or if they had a criminal record (though I really wanted to say, "Hell, yeah, are you kidding?").

I have since found them on Facebook (XII Ministries), and identified the two individuals whose names are given on the card as being those who knocked on our door. Their video hasn't shown up on YouTube yet, but I'll root it out if they ever post it. From the information I've gleaned, they're pretty enthusiastic about preaching "The Word," but not about living by it. I know from watching them a little more closely this past week that they speed, litter, and like to break noise ordinances. I also know that a minister is a teacher. And one of the first things you learn as a teacher is that you have to be a role model. They want to change the world but don't, for a second, see that they need to change, too. They're not even trying; they don't have to because they "know" they're right. I am remiss, sometimes, in my actions as a role model, but at least I try, and, at least, I recognize when I've failed and need to do better, especially when it means I can laugh at myself and my transgressions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Move to a Better Neighborhood, and Then I'll Buy a MuuMuu

Modesty is a quality one begins to lose steadily from middle age on; I learned this from my grandmothers.

Case in point. I've got the sick: coughing, runny nose, sneezing, laryngitis, and malaise. The malaise took over this afternoon, so I lay down for a nap (yes, that's the past tense of "to lie down," Google it, and stop arguing). Two hours later, I could have slept for another two hours more except that the new neighbors who, heretofore, have been quiet (but very well lit ALL night long with every bleeding outdoor light shining like 10 suns through my bedroom window), decided to test out their car stereo. I croaked out (I have definitely not reached the sexy phase of laryngitis yet) a few poorly chosen profanities (I'm sick, I don't have much to work with in the brain department). It stopped. I knew this was coincidence because not even my husband one room over could hear me. But I fell back asleep somehow comforted that my bad vibes had drifted off in the direction of my tormentor and had alleviated some of my misery.

About 15 minutes later, it started again. On commercials. This person wasn't even listening to music. They were listening to radio commercials. Or maybe they were waiting for what shall remain on my blog as the unnamed but craze-inducing football game that has had the entire state in a zombie-like mania for "Hawgs" the entire week.

I'm not one to take things lying down, especially when I'm lying down. So, in bra and panties, I Frankensteined my way to the wide open window, not really knowing if the stereo aficionado (and let's face it, in English "aficionado" is really the Italian word for "ass who really annoys other people with her/his obsession") could see me. This time I quacked, "Shut the f*** up!" And, with a flourish, slammed the window down as hard as I could, pull the shade down, drew the curtain, and turned on the fan. I'm middle-aged, I'm sick, and I just don't care anymore. And I figured anyone who saw me couldn't be seeing anything much different than me in my bikini, anyway (again, I'm sick, logic may not be in command here).

At any rate, my point was taken. I'd like to think the stereo has remained silent these two hours because the boys in the neighborhood are eager to show respect to the sexy cougar in 428 (because snot, a four-pack-a-day voice, and bags under a woman's eyes that make her look like Droopy are haaaawwwwt). But I have a feeling the prevailing opinion is "that old lady in 428 is from crazy town! Maybe we need to look for a better neighborhood." 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lack of Inspiration Equals Story and Recipe

Sans's Rules of Inspiration:
  • When you can write, eat out. 
  • When you can't write, cook. 
  • When you really can't write, write about cooking. 
So for the first time in a very long time, I give you a recipe (which is a roundabout way of saying I find myself completely unable to write).

A few weeks ago, I decided to invite my entire Hoosier family over to my mom's house for a cookout. My dad came from a family of 13 children. Ten of his siblings are still alive; ten have or had spouses who still live in central Indiana (which ends up adding 9 more people to the possible guest list). I have 31 first cousins, a half-brother, and a niece. And my mom has a sister and brother-in-law, who also live close to her. I didn't do the math of an open invitation until the morning of said event...and then, typical of my characteristic procrastination, it hit me like a ton of frozen hamburger patties: "Oh, my God, I'm supposed to feed these people!"

To top off the situation, I was feeling incredibly lazy, which is, apparently, a normal part of grieving. When you're in mourning, the smallest effort takes incredible physical and mental energy, yet you're still operating as if you're living under normal circumstances.  There's no fever or muscle aches or sneezing or coughing to remind you that things AREN'T normal, so you keep on until you get sucker punched by reality, which happens at extremely inopportune moments.

Like this one.

I'd been craving a pulled pork sandwich from Fat Daddy's of London, Arkansas (actually  housed in a gas station on Highway 64 smack dab between the towns of London and Russellville over 600 miles away, thus making takeaway out of the question). I had seen plenty of recipes for the sandwiches and figured nothing could really be easier to make even though I had never attempted making the sandwiches myself. So I jaunted off to the store to buy a pork butt and nearly consigned myself to Kitchen Hell for committing the first cardinal sin of entertaining: Never serve your guests a dish you've never made before.

Ah, well. One should live dangerously every once in a while (especially since, in the Big City, one can always have Chinese delivered).

So I bought a 12-pound pork butt roast (which is actually the shoulder and is also called a "blade roast" in case you find yourself cooking in a part of the country where they call it by a different name as I, myself, did) for $7.00 (yes, seven bucks for 12 pounds o' meat).

I brought the thing home, sat it on the counter, and stared at it, then at the slow cooker.

Then at the roast.

Then at the slow cooker.

Then at the roast.

Then at the slow cooker.

Then the roast.

No feat of human engineering was going to shrink a 12-pound pork butt to fit into a 4-quart pot.

After considering Plans B, C, D, E, and F, I settled on Plan G: cut the roast off the bone into several large pieces, rub them down with spices, sear them on high heat, shuffle them off in a shallow turkey roaster, and set them out (in the roaster) on the grill to cook slowly at 250 degrees for a period of 10 hours...or until the propane ran out, whichever disaster occurred first.

Plan H was Moo Goo Gai Pan, in case you were wondering at what point I intended to abandon all hope.

ASPHYXIATION WARNING: Searing a piece of meat that's been rubbed down with spices can lead to death due to smoke inhalation. Open the windows before attempting the aforementioned technique. (BONUS: if you're trying to get 11 cats out of the house, this is your weapon of choice.)

Before I continue, let's talk barbecue. I could lose a lot of valuable writing time researching the various types. I've decided not to because there are no real facts regarding the issue, only opinion. What I've gleaned about the varieties is this: the Memphis kind is dry. Ribs are rubbed with spices and then slow-cooked in a smoker. The resulting dish is served with your choice of several mostly-tomato-based sauces ranging from sweet and mild to terrifically hot—so hot in some instances that servers are required to prove you can handle the sauce by having you taste it on a French fry before they can legally bring it to your table (and I'm NOT kidding).

Kansas City style is wet. My dad was a connoisseur of this method and generally roasted pork ribs (although in KC, there is a wide range of meats considered appropriate for barbecuing, including something called "burnt ends") in an oven on low heat for a very long time to seal in the juices. He, then, grilled them over high heat on a charcoal grill (frequently done in a pit in KC, as I understand) while he basted them continually in a tomato-and-molasses-based sauce until they were done.  It was labor intensive, and since I eschew anything sweet tasting, not exactly to my liking.

The Carolinas have their own style of barbecue. A cut of meat typically labeled as a roast is slow-cooked in its own juices for a long time to break down its toughness (technically, this is braising). It is then "pulled." That is, the cook uses two forks to tear the resulting meat up into a big pile which is then served on buns and topped with a vinegar-and-tomato-based sauce—very heavy on the vinegar.

As the Three Men will tell you, "In Arkansas [where I'm from], the sauces vary. Because the state borders Tennessee, Texas, and several other states, one can find a wide variety of barbecue styles and sauces in Arkansas. Side dishes can include baked beans, coleslaw, and potato chips."

So if you want to sample all the styles, visit me. I can take you to Sim's, where you'll be treated to Kansas City style, Whole Hog Cafe, where you'll enjoy Memphis style, and Fat Daddy's, where the barbecue is strictly Carolina.

Back to the recipe. After looking at the ingredients of several different vinegar-and-tomato-based sauces, I decided to wing it (heck, I'd pretty much been winging it since 7:00 a.m., why change course mid-stream?). I started with 2 cups of cider vinegar (16 ozs. / 1 pint) and 2 cups (16 ozs. / 1 pint) of ketchup, heated over a low burner to thicken.

ASPHYXIATION WARNING: Simmering vinegar and ketchup releases all the acids in both ingredients into the surrounding air, which could easily overwhelm an elephant. Open the windows before attempting this technique or, preferably, wear a gas mask. (BONUS: This will run nearly every living thing out of the house, including cats, humans, earwigs, army ants, and several species of moths. Its effect on chipmunks and raccoons has yet to be established, but I'm working on it.)

As with the spices I mixed for the rub, I just started tasting until I had something akin to Fat Daddy's yet uniquely my own. To make the meal, I put out Kaiser rolls, the sandwich meat, the sauce, and coleslaw in that order, so people could make their own sandwiches. Unfortunately, my Hoosier family had never heard of putting coleslaw on their barbecue. None of my prodding convinced them of the benefits, so it ended up being a side dish. Nevertheless, my uncle proclaimed his as "the best sandwich I ever had!" and added, "You should open a restaurant."

That might require a little more planning than I'm obviously used to as well as a health department inspection I could never pass. 

If you try this, just remember to taste, taste, taste, and adjust to your palate.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

1 12-pound pork butt roast (a.k.a. Boston butt, pork shoulder roast, pork blade roast)
Spice rub, to taste
A small amount of oil with a high smoke point (soy, sunflower, or peanut)
1 large onion, chopped 
6 cloves garlic, minced


Good quality hamburger or sandwich buns

The best coleslaw you can find or make—just ensure it's not the "runny" kind (more on that another day if my inspiration continues to elude me)

Spice Rub
This is my best guess from memory:

1/4 c Hungarian paprika
2 T chili powder
1 T kosher salt (because pork ain't kosher without it)
1 t cumin
1 t garlic powder
1 t freshly cracked black pepper
1 t powdered cayenne
1/2 t cayenne flakes

I'm only sure about the first two ingredients. Otherwise, this is also my best guess from memory.

2 c cider vinegar
2 c ketchup
2 T Grey PouponTM mustard
2 T tomato paste
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T powdered cayenne
1 t Tobasco TM
salt as needed

Pre-heat grill to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop onions; mince garlic. Cut the roast off the bone into pieces that will fit into a shallow roaster when placed on the grill. Pat dry. Rub pieces with spice rub. Sear in skillet on high until browned on all sides. Place pork, onions, and garlic in roaster and slow cook on the grill for 10 hours.

Nine hours in, make your sauce. Mix vinegar and ketchup and bring to a boil, then lower temp to simmer.  Add spices to taste. Simmer, uncovered, to the consistency of your choice.

After taking the pork off the grill, remove the mixture and pull apart with two forks. Transfer to a bowl.

Allow guests to assemble sandwiches: top buns with pork, sauce, and coleslaw.

Serving Suggestion: Pinto beans, potato salad, and Diamond Bear Pale Ale.

Photo credit goes to jk5854 via Flickr.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


If you want to make me squeal...

First, get your mind out of the gutter.

Second, buy me a Pulse Pen!

"What is a Pulse Pen?" you ask.  Well, let me tell you.  It's a pen that actually writes, while taking a picture of the writing so you can upload it to your computer. Once uploaded, you can "translate" it to text, use a keyword search to find a place in your notes or journal—or whatever you decide to use the pen to write.  You can even share pencasts. Here's my first one:

First Pencast
brought to you by Livescribe

But wait, there's more! While you're writing, you can use the pen to record a lecture you may be taking notes on. The pen then links the notes to the audio so you can go back to parts of the lecture you didn't quite understand. Or, if you wish, you can just use the pen as a voice recorder.

And there's no catch. The handwriting to text software does cost $30 extra. The ink cartridges are a little more than what you'd pay for fountain ink. The special paper can be printed for free (Note to self: Possum tooth broke printer, put new printer on shopping list.). It charges through a USB port. And the interface is as intuitive as a smart phone.

So I think I made a pretty good investment.  And I'm still ooohing and ahhing over it. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Public Service Announcement

  1. Orange juice looks a lot like blood in the darkness of 3:00 a.m.
  2. Orange juice poured into a dark the hard to see and, out of obligation to your rotten luck, will overflow.
  3. Orange juice is sticky when it dries, no matter how hard you try to mop it the dark.
  4. Orange juice is not much of a thirst quencher, especially in the dark, when it looks like blood.
  5. You definitely need glasses if the first bleary-eyed sweep of the neighbor's back porch in the full 'sun' of his flood lights does not reveal him sitting there, having a smoke, in a green t-shirt and grey 3:00 a.m.
  6. With all that light streaming into the window the neighbor can see you at the sink as you wait for your glass of water to fill, having determined that orange juice, which looks like blood in the dark, doesn't hit the spot.
  7. Your neighbor may be looking directly at you, but he's not looking at your marvelous brain as you stand there in your bra and panties.
  8. There are a multitude of reasons to wear night garments, rather than underwear, to bed: if a fire breaks out, you don't have to dress to get out of the house; if there's a tornado, you don't have to dress to get out of the house; if a train derails and fills the neighborhood with poison gas, you don't have to dress to get out of the house. Last, but not least, if you need a glass of water, you don't have to worry about your neighbor getting his kicks at your expense.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Father's Day

There we all were: nearly everyone in my dad's entire family (he was the 7th of 13 children) sitting in a room that was overflowing with people.  One of my "Aunts of the Apocalypse" (referred to from here on out as the "A of the A") asked a family friend, who happens to be a Quaker minister, to officiate.

I gotta say, I love the Quakers. This group of "Friends" gets together to galvanize a movement to oppose every war this country has ever been in with such aplomb they're never accused of being unpatriotic. I've known a lot of them in my life (my mom, most notably), and every one I've met has been kind, unassuming, and truly thoughtful. And this reverend gentleman was no different.  He came early, I'm sure, to minister to us; some of my family sorely needed it and spent a lot of time with him.  He asked specifically to see me, so I went in all free-thinker, business-like armed with a prayer my dad, class chaplain, had written to give for Thanksgiving , which he and his classmates spent on a bus to Philadelphia on their senior trip, a week to the day of JFK's assassination and my mom's birthday, which has put a major damper on that celebration ever since. My mom, both my dad's classmate and his girlfriend, was nervous for him, a fact she carefully documented on a Post-It note affixed to the copy she sent me. I brought the prayer because I thought the minister could use some of it in his service.  He looked at me, smiled, and said, "Would you read it for me? My eye sight is very bad." That was the extent of our conversation, and when it was over, I realized something very important: he knew exactly what I needed.  I got ministered to, even though I was attempting to avoid it, with a very gracious and graceful twist.

So, I said my piece (and made my peace) and then the minister did his part. It was so different from the last funeral I attended. No hellfire. No brimstone. Just love.

The poor guy only made one mistake.

In typical Quaker participatory fashion, he asked us if anyone would like to share a memory of my dad.

You could have heard a toothpick drop on the carpet.

Dead silence.

And I knew, just as well as everyone else, why no one was saying anything. Here's a Quaker minister asking us to share memories of Dad, who most certainly was NOT a Quaker. I can't remember exactly the list of things Quakers don't do, but I'm pretty sure it includes (besides fighting) drinking, gambling, smoking, dancing, and cursing.  All things my dad LOVED (except for fighting—he definitely didn't like fighting or seeing people in fights).

The first remembrance that popped into my little head was an evening we spent at a restaurant in the town where I was born. We had arranged to have dinner with one of my dad's brothers and his wife and a sister and her husband. I ordered us a bottle of wine, which might have turned into two, and before I could realize it, Dad was three sheets to the wind.

It was time to get him home.

He happily turned over the keys to my mom, and like a little kid returning home from a day at the state fair, crawled into the back seat and half laid down.

But there's some back story you need to know before I get to the punchline.

I had successfully secured my cousin Wanda Lee's (and you know she's on my mom's side of the family because she's got that Southern two-name thing going on) recipe for chicken and dumplings and had brought it with me so my mom and I could work through it and figure out all its deep, delicious secrets.  Mom showed me some things the recipe didn't reveal (DON'T, whatever you do, overwork the dough—you'll get tough dumplings). And then we argued over something else that wasn't in the instructions but that Wanda Lee had been very adamant about when explaining the procedure to me: roll the dough as thin as you can get it. I reasoned that Wanda Lee's measurements were different from the ones Mom had used, so I won and we rolled the dough thin. Well, when we dropped the dumplings into the stock we had made they turned into these marvelous little pockets of air, flour, and water. I swear you could have lain your head down on them and taken a nap, they were that pillowy.

Dad had already eaten the night we made them, so we warmed enough to feed the three of us the next night, leaving the cold dumplings on the back burner.  We served ourselves and sat down at the table to eat. Dad took one bite, and I looked over at him to see how marvelous he thought our creation was only to find that he had the strangest expression I'd ever seen—like all of his teeth were about to fall out of his mouth. I was a little bit nonplussed, to say the least. Mom and I slaved and argued over the stupid dish for hours, and I thought it turned out pretty darned good. But here's my dad looking like he's about to spew.  So I asked him, "What's wrong?" I can't remember his response. I know he tried being polite...something along the lines of "I don't know...maybe I'm just not hungry." As he was explaining, I looked over at the stove and saw that the lid to the cold dumplings was off, sitting to the side. I exclaimed, "Dad, you're eating the cold ones. The hot ones are on the front burner." So crisis averted. He ate the hot dumplings, had seconds, and agreed we'd done a good job.

Flash forward to our drive home from the restaurant. Dad was about as happy as I've ever seen anyone in my life. So happy, he started singing: Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin.

And then he segued into a blues song written by a fellow named Clarence Williams that's been covered by a lot of famous musicians: Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., Ricky Nelson, Van Morrison, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and Dwight Yoakam, to name a few. The refrain goes like this:

My bucket's got a hole in it.
My bucket's got a hole in it.
My bucket's got a hole in it.
Can't buy no beer.

Except this was the only part of the song my inebriated dad could remember, so he kept singing it over and over.

I guess, for variety's sake, he decided to throw in an improvisation:

My bucket's got a hole in it.
My bucket's got a hole in it.
Cold dumplings put a hole in it.
Can't buy no beer.

Now, you have to understand there's a little known fact about my mom that makes this story precious. She has the most infectious laugh I've ever encountered, and if I could achieve that effect on other people, I'd consider it a greater achievement than earning a Ph.D. Being privy, I looked at her sideways to see if the improvised line had actually registered in her brain. She was grinning, so it obviously had. And then we both looked at each other full on and busted up laughing to the point of tears. I kept thinking, "Gosh, maybe we should pull over," but there was no traffic on the road to home, so we just kept laughing and Dad just kept singing. 

That was one of the best nights I've ever spent with my parents. And I remember it fondly.

I'll also remember chatting with my dad online every Saturday night; sending him pictures of the places my husband and I visited by canoe or by foot; sitting outside my childhood home by the fire pit I bought because I just wanted to get away from all the cigarette smoke in the house, counting satellites and shooting stars; trying to learn to play euchre; Dad playing his banjo; all the silly nicknames he had for me (Juniper, Jennipoo, Buddy, and, on a few occasions, Asshole), and a million other things.

I left him with a star map, some pictures of all of us, a desert rose from Arizona, a "love rock" from the Buffalo River in Arkansas, and his last pack of cigarettes.  I hope that's enough to get him where he's going. And I'm so sorry, Reverend, that we saved our stories until you were gone because there were some awfully good ones, and there's no doubt in my mind you wouldn't have judged my dad's life any differently had you heard them. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

And thank you, Dad, for being you.  So many people miss you, I can't begin to enumerate.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rant: Wherin I Link the Rubik's Cube, Deconstruction, the Palm Prē, and Word 2007

F-Bomb AlertTM: This post contains foul language.
This-Goes-Long AlertTM: This post goes on forever.

I have a student this semester who has what I consider to be a rather exotic and unusual hobby: he's solving the Rubik's Cube. If this were the early 80's, when everyone had a Cube—whether it was a miniature on a key chain or some variant in another three-dimensional shape—this wouldn't be so out of the ordinary. And I can tell this is not some kind of resurgent fad because it's obvious, from the wear and tear, that he got his puzzle second hand. I want to ask him all kinds of questions about it: "What possessed you to take over this object? Did you know it was a puzzle when you saw it?  How long did it take you to solve it? Why is it so important to remember the solution and repeat it ad infinitum? Did you pay for the Cube or inherit it?"

At any rate, this got me to thinking about deconstruction, which in turn got me to thinking about all that is so wrong with Word 2007.

I know, I know: "Sans, that's quite a leap." Not exactly. I'm reading Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology at the same time I'm struggling to design my university's strategic planning document as part of the writing team that tries to craft it so it represents all our ideas—students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community—which is no short order. This morning I was about to fling my laptop across the room as I lost the changes I had made to the current version three times.  THREE.  At that point, there's nothing else one can do but turn to deconstruction for some kind of solace. It's like the Bible for the intellectual BDSM crowd (flagrant attempt to garner random search hits—you don't have to be here, you know).

When I taught for the Honors College, my courses asked students to don a rhetorical robe. Deconstruction happens to be an important movement within modern rhetoric. In fact, I consider it to be the reinvention of ancient Greek Sophistic rhetoric, which, in my mind, makes it extremely important, even if most others have abandoned it. On the first day that I went over deconstruction with my Honors students, I demonstrated it, simply, by taking apart and then solving a Japanese puzzle box. The thing about a puzzle box that fascinates me, and that I think perfectly (though perhaps a little facilely—good luck pronouncing that word) demonstrates deconstruction is that, unlike other types of puzzles (jigsaws, for example), the Japanese puzzle box always comes as a whole, never in pieces. With deconstruction, one takes something that is constructed, breaks it down, and then reconstructs it in a different way of seeing the thing as the thing itself (I can't believe I just said "the thing itself," but that's what the end of the semester does to a person). If it were in pieces to begin with (or, as in a jigsaw, without a picture to work from), putting it back together would be one hell of an enterprise. You might as well hire a million monkeys. It would, also, not be quite as useful because you would have never seen the thing prior to its destruction-before-reconstruction in the process. 

Of course, if it were as simple as taking something apart and putting it back together, everyone would still be doing The Deconstruction Hustle. So after performing my trick on the puzzle box, I added an extra layer to my demonstration by then working on a Japanese take-apart puzzle crafted in the shape of a ship (I guess you could say it's "shipshape"). And this is where the metaphor comes in. Varied metaphors are at the heart of deconstruction. The metaphor (anything from "He's an ass" to "That dog don't hunt") is a way of complementing understanding by comparing two "similar" things.  But it's also a way of saying that something is what it isn't and is not what it is, which has, not exactly the opposite effect, because nothing in deconstruction is black and white, but rather a kind of  palliative effect: it helps us forget what we don't want to remember: (yeah, I know another big leap, Sans) DEATH.

In the case of the take-apart puzzle, the shape represents something that the thing (in itself) actually isn't.  It's a puzzle. Not a ship. But it looks like a ship, somehow, even though it isn't made of the same materials and is quite small in comparison. Language, writing in particular, gives us the capacity to recognize the signifier (the puzzle in the shape of a ship) for the signified (the ship). At any rate, Derrida, like many before him, believed that the gift of language made metaphorical thinking possible. But he took the idea two steps further: 1) he said that writing was the mother of all metaphorical thought, and 2) he didn't just write about what he thought—he thought it as he thought, and, in that way, he gave us something to think about. Which is just another way of saying that deconstruction is like the Bible for the intellectual BDSM crowd (remember, you don't have to be here) and sounds like a really lame joke, but it's not a joke, so I'll translate and explain that huge leap:
  • writing is thought and thought is "represented" (is drafted repeatedly) over a period of time,
  • our ability to write puts everything we experience into the past tense immediately,
  • writing both represents and is reality,
  • writing pays homage to the distance between us of both time and space and is, therefore, a way to acknowledge our death at the same time that it denies it (I will write these words so that when I'm no longer around I can still be here).
As complex as that statement is it's still too simple because Derrida was a master of choosing metaphors that will make your brain hurt. 

In Of Grammatology, the pain is caused by the metaphor of the "exergue" (Windows doesn't even recognize this as a word—that's just how obscure it is). In order to wrap my head around this metaphor, I have to keep a penny taped inside the front cover of the book. An exergue is the space around the pictures and designs of a coin—often where the mint, date, etc., are stamped (I know because I looked it up). It sounds simple, but take a look at any coin, and it starts to get a lot more complicated, real quick.  The pictures and designs have all kinds of nooks and crannies.  So the question is when are the nooks and crannies part of the design? And when are they part of the exergue? And, boom, there's you're complicated, don't-you-dare-take-this-for-granted metaphor.

When my headache becomes migrainous (geez, another "word Word don't know"), I put the book down and palm my Palm Prē. Now here's a company that understands the power of a very simple metaphor. This device fits in my palm. It has this interesting technology that allows me to pull out several applications at once so I can flip through them at will. Each application I pull out becomes what the company refers to as a "card," which I can hold in my hand as if I were playing poker. As a matter of fact, the Prē has an automatic "five-card draw" known as the "quick launch." Every time I open my Prē, five cards are immediately available to me: my phone, my contacts, my calendar, my e-mail, and the launcher where I can access all my other applications. To learn to use it, seriously, all I needed was a small pamphlet. No 800+-page DOS manual.

That's what I call a royal flush. 



Microsoft, on the other hand, is not that kind of company. They are a bunch of Svejks. I can't decide if they're patent idiots who mess things up because they don't know any better or demonic geniuses who work 24/7 to figure out ways to make us pay more, more, more for products that do less, less, less.

At any rate, they decided to change the damn metaphor of only one, ONE, of their suite of Office programs, thereby making life harder for the other 6 billion inhabitants of Earth, minus the few Svejks who work for them. And for this reason, I think there should be a "stupid tax," a tax which would pay for everyone's health care forever, no need for debate, because it would be mostly at Microsoft's expense since they are way ahead of the stupid curve.

I refer if you weren't expecting it...Word 2007.  Prior to its advent we had toolbars and toolboxes.  I liked that. It made me feel like I was grabbing my hammer and chisel to carve out some wicked-ass prose. But now we have "The Ribbon."

The "Ribbon."

What. the. ffffuuuck?

You tie a damn ribbon.  At most you type on a damn ribbon. There isn't much else you can do with a stupid strip of fabric.

Are you kidding me?

Try finding the functions you're familiar with.  Like "Find and Replace" which used to be under "Edit" (gone, vanished, kaput, and not mostly dead but positively dead), and which is now under the Home "tab." I get ribbons and tabs—we're talking cute little accouterments added to clothing here. Okay, fine. But how does "Find and Replace" fit with bold and italics? Am I searching around for my lost needle (if so, it's in a haystack) while I try to bejewel my latest corset? And, while we're on the subject of corsets, who sews these days and, thus, will get the metaphor, anyhow? Also, I still haven't figured out how one is supposed to configure bullets and numbering manually. When one right-clicks on a bullet list, one gets to choose...a bullet shape.  In the old days, one was given the opportunity to determine bullet shape, tab spacing, type of list, etc. upon right-clicking. Um, could I be respected enough to have some control over my document? Don't even get me started on what tracking changes and comments will do to the poor processor or the fact that the "Ribbon" is not customizable.

A beautiful metaphor, whether complex or simple, fits. In rhetoric and ancient Greek, that's known as kairos. Derrida purposely complicates metaphors; they're still fitting. Palm purposely simplifies metaphors; they're still fitting.

The ribbon metaphor is like the prom dress I wore in high school: I may be able to zip it up, but it's going to look really wrong in all the really right places (and women, you know what I'm talkin' about) as well as making me a really uncomfortable person to hang out with. And Microsoft really ought to be feeling like an 80's prom queen at her 25th reunion wearing her old prom dress.  Really.

Because the dress don't fit. And I shouldn't need a 1200-page online to make it so.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


It's official. I have an obsession with social media. 

I know what you're thinking: "You? No. Really? You micro-blogged all the way from Little Rock to Lake Charles and back, and you think you might be obsessed with social media?  You solipsistic little moron." And you would not be remiss in calling me a moron. Or solipsistic, for that matter.

The fact is I don't really know how I got sucked into the vortex that is social networking.  I started blogging back in 2004—about two months before Meriam-Webster declared "blog" The Word of the Year. I had read an article about the phenomenon in The New York Times, liked the idea, and decided to give it the old college try.  Since my defunct Web site was sitting over at Tripod doing nothing (I had used it to post my course materials back in 2001—before my university gave us WebCT), I dusted it off, converted it, and Viola, I've been keeping up with it, off and on, ever since.  In fact, you can still view the old one at

A few years later, my students talked me into registering with Facebook back in the days when you had to have a university e-mail address to use it. I really didn't "get" it and rarely logged in. Then, my colleagues started friending me, the status updates got more mature (or immature, depending on how dim your view of our silly puns, double entendres, purposeful malapropisms) therefore, more interesting, and I was hooked. And I know what you're thinking: "Is it time to call an intervention?" 

Things might have been just fine had they stopped there. But, oh, no, Twitter just had to come along.  Again, I was an early adopter who mostly just logged in, stared at the screen, wondered how in the heck this thing worked, hit the side of my monitor a couple times to see if that would do anything, and then logged back out.  It wasn't until I understood that Twitter was a combination of Facebook status updates and blogging (in 140 characters or less) but with total strangers and that I had to start collecting total strangers to follow me in order to maximize my potential that I "got" it.  And, now, you can't shut me up.  To make matters worse, I figured out how to connect Twitter to Facebook, bought a smart phone, and have started tweeting from everywhere.

-->Begin slight digression: You know how far things have come when Windows no longer underscores "tweeting" with a red squiggly line.<--End slight digression.

My heart skips a beat every time the phone tells me something has come through e-mail or these other two social media. And maybe that's the source of my obsession. I just know that the more I post, the more other people comment, write on my wall, retweet, or reply.  It's a lot like the pen pals I had when I was growing up—if I wanted a letter, I had to send one—and how dearly I wanted to get letters. There was something so much more powerful about the written word over the spoken one.  And I got really good at keeping lists of things I could write about in my next letter.  I was probably just as exhausting a pen pal as I am a Facebook Friend or Twitter Follow.  

However, everyone has a limit. I just read an article about Foursquare posted by one of my tweeple, jeanlucr (yes, I'm now so obsessed that I read about my obsession and use lame words like "tweeple"). And I realized that this is the "game" another one of my tweeple is "playing" when he says, "I just became the mayor of Palm Beach!" Well, I couldn't pass up this opportunity, right? No way! So I went over to and got an account, mainly to see if any of my Facebook friends or tweeple from Conwag are on it (uh, that would be no), poked at it a little to see if it would move, and thought about the implications: "Wow, this social network uses the location services of my smart phone to tell people where I am so we can arrange chance meetings! The more I post about where I am in Conwag, the more points I could get! Even possibly becoming honorary mayor!"  I, then, remembered squealing out loud as I was speeding down a rather busy freeway when my Palm Prē notified me I had just crossed state and time lines and that it had adjusted itself accordingly. I'll admit I was Gollum with My Precious (hmmm, maybe that's where they picked up the name?) when I first got the thing.

And don't get me wrong. I still loves it.

But the idea of me metaphorically stalking myself all around Conwag and proclaiming myself its mayor plunges from mere solipsism to downright perversity, possibly even psychosis, but maybe I'm being paranoid...or grandiose?

At any rate, the bigger problem is that it does, in fact, give someone, not that anyone would want to, ample opportunity to literally stalk me—albeit, they would be stalkers of my own choosing and whom I've carefully instructed on how to find my exact location from My Prec...the phone that is constantly tracking me.

Still, I can see this quickly going awry: "Hey, I'm out on the walking trail at Bell Slough all by myself—all 103 pounds of me. Meet me at the photo blind! And while we're at it, here is my latitude and longitude, within 25 feet. Really enjoying the sunshine, solitude, and beautiful scenery, which, by the way, is also a great place to dump a body."  

No, this is too much information. Information I obviously can't be trusted with (note to self: don't mention current location in blog). So I think I'll stay off the Foursquare bandwagon.

Well, you know, until all this social networking makes me even more moronic than I already am.