Thursday, September 23, 2010


Fall is my favorite season -- without reservation or qualification.

Fall is awesome. Cool, brisk mornings. Afternoons just warm enough to remain comfortable in your favorite sweater. Leaves crunching. Hot cider and chai tea. The smell of wood-burning fireplaces wafting through the air.

Alas, I'm beginning to doubt that it will ever truly be "fall" here in Tempe, and that, more than anything else right now, is making me miss southeastern Idaho.

Even as I sit here now, not even 10 AM, the mercury is steadily rising toward an anticipated high of 95 degrees. The depressing thing about this, however, is that 95 degrees feels delightfully comfortable to me now. But 95 degrees is hardly "fall" weather. The leaves here don't appear to be changing, but then again, I'm fairly certain that palm trees aren't deciduous. The stores are filling up with all the usual autumn trappings -- Halloween decor and costumes, pumpkins, squash, cider, etc. Yet somehow instead of filling me with delight (as per usual), it feels hollow -- like some sort of sham verison of fall I'm expected to buy.

Fall is my favorite "fellowship" season, too. Being new to Tempe, I'm making some friends, but the process is slow and deliberate. The Pocatello Smiths hosted the annual Hobbit Day last weekend, to great success, and while Joe and I were able to partake via webcam, the feeling of being in the same room with all the friends that we miss so much was palpably lacking. My ennui was heightened by the fact that I was, on that same Saturday, missing my first Spud Day in a very long time. Tempe doesn't celebrate potatoes. I haven't yet figured out what root vegetable Tempe holds in such high esteem, but rest assured, once I hear of it, I will be at that root vegetable's eponymous festival with bells on.

I'm currently looking forward to Thanksgiving more than I have in quite some time. While Joe's work schedule precludes us from traveling this year, my sister-cousin Ani-Banana will be flying to Tempe for some long-overdue family holiday fun. (We spent many Thanksgivings together as children, but recently discovered (to our horror) that we hadn't seen each other on Turkey Day in about thirteen years!) I'm looking forward to assuaging homesickness with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Oh, the things we have planned! We're going to dig deep into our combined memories and resurrect all those long-forgotten Nelson/Henrikson-girl traditions that we faithfully carried out for so many years. We will watch Gone with the Wind and The Muppet Christmas Carol. We'll drink cider, eat turkey, and twirl to the sounds of The Nutcracker until we're too dizzy to stand. We'll decorate a Christmas tree, turn off all the lights, and "oooh" and "aaah" to our hearts' content. Perhaps we'll even construct a lopsided, but still somehow breathtakingly beautiful star of faux-pine garland and twinkle lights for the wall. (It's marvelous to watch a lopsided star whiz through your field of vision as you twirl and twirl to a little Tchaikovsky.) Most importantly, though, we'll both reconnect with an "Idaho" we lost long ago, when Grandma died and our family scattered -- something for which we've both been homesick.

And don't forget the cordial cherries.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Livin' the Life -- Renaissance Nerd-Style

I tried on ASU -- and it fits me like a frickin' glove.

Hot, hot heat aside (we're currently looking forward to temps around 100 during the day and lows in the mid- to high- 70s at night), this school agrees with me. Tempe agrees with me. Who could ask for anything more?

My program is tailor-made for an ambitious Renaissance student ready to professionalize and get out of school already. (Shocked, aren't you?) PhD students, while set up with high expectations, are given lots of breathing room and leeway to meet those expectations. My coursework will be done in two years, not three, due to some, er..., creative categorization suggested and encouraged by my current adviser, Dr. Ayanna Thompson. "How will you do this, Devori?" you ask. "Easy," I reply. My Shakespearean Fetishes class (which is proving a good way...and very interesting) will count not only as a literature pre-1660 requirement, but also a genre studies (Shakespeare wrote plays -- duh), and fills in as a critical theory requirement (Freud, Derrida, and Marx -- oh, my!) Dr. Thompson has teased me with with the potential sighting of Harry Lennix -- a favorite actor of mine, and a frequent visitor to the ASU campus who wants to someday *gasp* study Renaissance literature at ASU. Renaissance nerds will know him as Aaron in Julie Taymor's brilliant adaptation of Titus Andronicus, other nerds will know him as Captain Lock (Morpheus' romantic rival) in the last two Matrix films. (The mind boggles with the possibility of sweaty-handed meetings and photo ops.)

I'm making friends, slowly but surely. Not surprising to those who knew me back in Idaho. When confronted with change, I tend to become a homebody. I realized that my situation was rapidly becoming terminal when I became genuinely excited to find an episode of Maury on one afternoon. An intervention was required. Luckily, my first meeting with many of my new colleagues was congenial and booze-laden. We made jokes about the emblems of George Wither and Stephen Greenblatt (insert tweedy, pretentious chuckle here), and discussed in depth just which books of The Fairie Queen we were going to be reading this semester. (No one could remember which book number corresponded with which characters -- it was intense.) I share an office, not to mention a significant course load, with many of the other Renaissance scholars, and they are making sure that I am indoctrinated (no pun intended) the right way.

Teaching at 7:30 AM is a chore -- not only for me, but for the students. For approximately 95% of my students, my class was their first college experience. (It is voraciously encouraged that students take comp. in their first semester here.) They're used to being talked at from high school, and this factor, combined with the course's early time, make for a quiet, quiet room some days. My class is capped at twenty (ISU comp. teachers will weep at this number, imagining the possibilities), and I consistently have 16-19 students show up each day. They're just so damn quiet! I was overjoyed today to hear them laugh at a Rifftrax short I brought in, "Building Better Paragraphs." Perhaps I should enlist Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy to teach the class every few weeks. I broke the "teaching wall" as it were today, and encouraged them to speak. After all, students who converse freely during class discussion don't have to write for the entirety of the hour so that Ms. Mean Teacher can make sure everyone participates, right? The ensuing discussion of Kathy Maio's evisceration of depictions of females in Disney was much more lively. Whew.

Even though my class occasionally feigns muteness, I was extremely impressed with the first drafts of their first papers, with which I spent several hours this weekend. My students were asked to write about a pop culture text that they feel connected to, and describe either how they feel the text informs their identity, or how they feel that they are reflected in that particular pop culture text. In brainstorming ways to approach this assignment, we've read wonderful articles from, honestly, the finest composition reader/rhetoric I've used so far. We discussed how the character of Cameron adds unexpected, but very real drama to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. We talked about how programs like The Jersey Shore, The Hills, and Laguna Beach offer views of young people that we know are wildly exaggerated, but we want to watch them anyway. The drafts I saw were surprisingly sophisticated and well-phrased, but each had the student's unique spin. Having left a culturally stifled area for one as culturally diverse as Phoenix/Tempe, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my students connected with texts like Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona, the work of Sufjan Stevens, and novels like The Road. (You can imagine my joy when not a one of them said that they related with Twilight's Bella -- and this was even before I made my disdain evident!) I can't wait to watch them all develop as writers in the coming weeks.

Now -- to the dishes! (Anything to keep from having to read more Freud right now. Yeesh.)