Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Not Soy Good

This October marks an anniversary, of sorts. At that point, I'll have been a vegetarian for five years. There's a few different reasons to be a vegetarian: dietary concerns, large-scale environmental worries, animal cruelty issues, and, less nobly, following a trend. (My brother still insists that I'm a vegetarian to attract attention. Clearly, I don't need to be a vegetarian to get attention. I have a blog.) My basic reasoning went something like the following: there aren't very many black and white issues in life, in terms of morality. Eating meat falls into the grey area. Not eating meat, to me, doesn't have any of that ambiguity, and if you've identified something you think is right, you've got to do it. (By you, I mean me; I'm having enough trouble cultivating an audience without telling you (by which I mean you, the reader) how to live your life.)

On that basis, I'm... not so good a vegetarian.

I decided early on that I didn't want to make a huge deal out of the vegetarian thing (so much for that.) And to that end, I deliberately avoided learning about things like the minuscule amounts of meat in jelly beans (Lecithin), and, well, this. (Warning: potentially disturbing animal images). The difference between a chicken and a block of wood in terms of IQ may depend only on the number of splinters in the wood, but still, the idea that mass production of egg-laying fowl have created a situation where the viable alternatives are either beak-cutting or chicken cannibalism is, to use an understatement, not cool.

So to that end, in light of the upcoming anniversary, I'm shifting my eating habits once again. We'll try some soy products, switch jelly bean brands, and maybe even* try some free-ranged eggs.
* Sorry chickens, but I'm a low-paid grad student who dearly needs his pancakes.
And today, (hence the post), I tried some soy products, specifically, a soy milk and a soy yogurt. Results: not great. In my mind, any soy product that leaves a grain aftertaste has missed a key element in the product it's mimicking. Maybe I'll get used to the taste. Or maybe animals will start liking it when we eat them.
More on the progress of both these initiatives as they develop.

Later Days.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

oh, so THAT'S what this is

While doing some readings for my blogging class, I stumbled on this:

In autobiography, [genres] provide more or less canonical ways of organizing the
account of a life. The conventional autobiographical genres, of course, reflect idealized
cultural patterns. Many are familiar: the selfless seeker after the public interest,
the sacrificing family man, the Bildungsroman with its assurance of learning
from experience, the ironic and detached observer of the absurdities of the contemporary
human condition (in any age), the guardian mother shielding the
young, the seeker after spontaneous self-expression, the forgiving victim of society’s
outrages, the apologia of the misunderstood public man, and so on.

-Sturrock, John. “Theory Versus Autobiography.” (40)
Thank you, Mr. Sturrock! Finally, I can identify the genre of my blog. Clearly, it's the guardian mother shielding the young. No? The forgiving victim of society's outrages? No again?
Fine, fine. Let's go with the other one: the ironic and detached observer of the absurdities of the contemporary human condition (in any age). And while we're at it, let's throw in a dash of "spontaneous self expression."
I guess my ironic and detached response to Sturrock's analysis sums up my feelings on genre. As a postmodern student of English, I think I'm obligated to sneer at any attempt towards strict defined boundaries, which is basically what genre boils down to. On the other hand, a part of me actually feels relieved that at least an attempt for definition exists, that I can point to some sort of guiding principle and structure. To wrap things up in an appropriately pithy manner, I guess any definition, genre included, should be adopted only as long as it provides meaningful lines of discourse without obstructing significant lines of discussion.
Now all we have to do is find definitions for "discourse", "obstruct", "discussion", and, probably, "meaningful."
Tune in next time, for
more observations of the absurdities of the contemporary human condition (in any age, but probably this one.)

Later Days.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coffee Cup, or, a Commentary on Student/Teacher relationships

As part of my TA-ship duties, I met with a student today to talk about her upcoming assignment. It was a "student is frazzled and unsure" type of meeting, which is honestly one of the best kinds, since that sort of student is at least eager to improve. Much better than the "I'm above this English stuff" type student. Last time I had one of those in the office, the conversation started with "How dare you?" and did not improve from there.
The origin of today's ruminating comes from what happened about five minutes after, which was when I found this on my desk:(Note: talk about the ubiquitousness of Tim Hortons on another occasion.)
Now, I knew that I didn't leave it there, on account of the fact that I'm too cheap to purchase a beverage on school grounds. Which meant that the student left it. (Or, as just occurs to me, my office mate left it on my desk. Unlikely, but possible.) It was unopened, and still warm. What to do with this drink filled my mind with moral intrigue and possible scenarios:
  • Too much time had passed for me to catch up with the student.
  • Similarly, too much time had passed to expect the student to return looking for it, since returning after this length of time would imply a disproportionate attachment to said coffee on the part of the student, and would thus be a bad impression to make with someone who marks her papers. And I couldn't wait around, since I had my own meeting with a professor ahead.
  • Taking the coffee myself is technically stealing.
  • Coffee should not be wasted, especially when free. (That's the rural Someplace Else influence coming out, BTW.)
  • I don't actually drink coffee.
  • Was the student attempting to bribe me?
  • How would drinking the coffee affect my relationship with the student? Was there now a sense of obligation on my part towards her, one that disrupted the authoritative basis for our future interactions?
  • Was it possible that the coffee was actually hot chocolate? (This is a crucial point; any action is morally defensible in the pursuit of chocolate; it's the Klondike principle.)
My first attempt to deal with the thorny issue was to "accidentally" leave the coffee with the professor I was meeting, even though that merely added new dimensions of interactional difficulties. Unfortunately, she saw through this plan entirely. As the beverage was rapidly cooling, I decided to be decisive (no, that's not redundant.) and drank it. Okay, guzzled it. Then, being a responsible person who is concerned and attentive to his potential carbon footprint, I threw the remains away.
Ok, this is a fairly trivial event in the larger scheme of things. But in a way, it's a microcosm of the awkward side of student/teacher interactions, and my own unease in being on the teacher side of that equation. If the student had been a friend, I wouldn't have hesitated in chugging the Tim Hortons cup, and just paid them back later. If she had been a stranger, I wouldn't have touched the cup with a ten-foot pole. (Although how a stranger got into my office raises a different set of hypothetical questions) But because the encounter happened in this quasi-undefined context, I went through an entire discourse of labrythian proportions in figuring out the "right" course of action. (And the assumption that there is a right course of action suggests an absolutist perspective of social engagements that bear investigating elsewhere.) So...
So buttons, I guess.
Additional question: I'm considering paying the student back next tutorial class. Is this the proper course of action? Discuss.

Later Days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Comic Book Wednesdays

I want to move towards at least one "themed day" per week, for a number of different reasons. I think it'll add some structure and direction to the blog thing, and allow a sense of progress beyond "here's some random stuff that popped into my head." And I'm going with comic books because there's already a *huge* comic book blog community, so maybe I'll be able to snipe a reader or two at the same time.
Wednesday is also a good day to pick for a comic book theme, because as the comic-prolific know, Wednesday is the day that the new comics ship to stores across North America. And the fact that I know this still gives only the slightest inkling of the depths of comicbookery.
I've been reading comic books (I'm defining "reading" here as actually going out of my way to get the latest issue in a series; "collecting" might have conveyed this better, but it has its own connotations that I'd rather avoid.) for... God, for fourteen years now, which represents more than half my life. And I think at this point, I'm pretty much stuck with them. The appeal of comics, to me, is that there is so much about them, in combination, that you just can't get in any form of story-telling. There's the ongoing nature, a unity across a series and sometimes across dozens of series, that makes it feel like you're reading something that's unfolding in front of you. There's the simple combination of static graphic and text. There's the trope of the superhero, and its evolution and permutations. Even the current debate questioning whether the monthly titles will be replaced by graphic novels that collect a half-dozen issues in one fell swoop focuses the attention on what makes both forms different from each other. I don't think you could name another form of narrative that allows so readily for comparison between different interpretations of a classic character. John Bryne's Superman is not Geoff Johns' Superman is not Jeph Loeb's Superman--and yet, they all are, because it's the same character who appears in the same comics. When the author changes on a regular basis, what allows us to say that it's still the same work?
Comic books aren't the only place where these aspects appear, but they do form a nexus where all these issues meet and remeet in endless permutation. And that's the thing about comics: you start buying them, and suddenly you have a front row seat to watch a universe change.
Plus, there's all those people hitting each other. 'S cool.

Later Days.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This is not about Socks.

We now have comments, and thus my sock-related ultimatums have been met. Although it's certainly gratifying to know that my blog has actually been viewed by real people, I have to admit some small regret that I no longer have license to release the socks of war. I suppose I could write about socks anyway, but it seems like I'd be violating a trust with my 'audience'.
So here's all the sock topics we're not going to talk about:
  • Battle of the Sockses. Ever notice how sock design is skewed towards the female foot? I'm talking design pattern here: if a sock has polka dots or stripes, it's invariably a sock designed for a woman. Does this reflect some sort of notion that aestheticly pleasing socks are somehow unmanly?
  • Faux Pieds. A long discussion on sock fashion. Sometimes, I wear black socks and shorts. And once, I wore socks and sandals. I know. Scandalous.
  • In Search of Lost Socks. An entry on sock encounters throughout my life, including the perils of getting one's sock caught on one's spitvalve in the middle of a trombone performance.
  • Sock Miscellany. Keeping socks with holes holy. Where the missing socks go in the washing machine. The appropriateness of Socks as a name for various household pets. The history of socks. Did you know that the sock started out as the soccus and was actually an inner shoe used by Romans? Isn't your entire life better for knowing that?
  • And finally, there would be a long discussion of this:
Goth sock puppets. Because life as a sock puppet would be very depressing.

But we're not going to do any of that, because we're not talking about socks. We're talking about something else. Something far more important and significant and nontrivial than some silly discussion on socks.
....so I got new shoes today....

Later Days.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Open For Business

Now that I've made some tentative first steps towards "cultivating an audience," I think we should take a moment to state the intentions behind this little project. As mentioned in the "about me" box, this blog is part of a class project, and as such needs to reflect issues that come up when one is publishing one's life story online. And now that I've been given this opportunity to share my innermost thoughts and ideas, I am left with one burning question: what the bejabbers am I going to talk about? I do believe it's time to do a little market research. So, underdeveloped audience, what would YOU like to see appear on this blog? Pictures of the new city? Detailed political commentary? Childhood anecdotes? It's wide open! Post any and all suggestions below.

If no suggestions are forthcoming, then I will grow very depressed and cynical and spend the next few days blogging about socks. Yes, that's a threat.

*Edit* Additionally, if anyone has preferences for setting or layout, feel free to comment on that too. */Edit*

Later Days.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Let's Get Things Started

I was going to get the ball rolling with something self-referential, some sort of long and winding narrative about how this is my first time doing a blog, how I'm not sure exactly what I want to do with it, etc. But there'll be plenty of time for that sort of thing. Instead, I want to talk about another sort of "first." In the process of continuing my education, I've moved to the fine University of __________ (I haven't decided yet whether I'll be including proper names or not. Stay tuned!). And in order to move to somewhere, that means I had to from Somewhere Else. I'd lived Somewhere Else for the past seven years, and it was a pretty good place. My rut was there, and it had been there for so long, it had married another rut and was starting a little rut family. But now I'm here instead.

Things I miss about Somewhere Else:
  • The river. Something about the constant presence of a moving body of water is very soothing to the mind. I tried leaving the taps on my sink running all day, but it wasn't the same.
  • The flatness. I don't quite know how to bring this news to the people of _________, but their city's absolutely riddled with hills. They're all over the place, and not doing a thing as far as I can tell. Frankly, I don't see the point.
  • My friends and family. I have always thought of myself as someone who was pretty self-sufficient (read: lonerish). So much for that idea. While I may not have left behind a vast social empire, there's been more than a few times in the past two or three weeks when something's made me think "Oh, I gotta tell *blank* that", only to realise that *blank* is now a few hundred klicks away. I guess I depended more on family and friends than I knew, and leaving them behind... it's hard. To any *blank*s out there that may be reading, stay in touch.
Now let's look at the "glass half full" aspect. Things I like about __________:
  • Meeting new people. Yeah, this one kind of surprised me. Apparently, I like being exposed to new viewpoints and telling my various stories to new audiences. Who'd've guessed it?
  • Squirrels. Somewhere Else had gophers. ________ has squirrels. Aesthetically speaking, I think I've traded up.
  • Living Alone. Finally, the freedom to do what I want. Right now, I've pushed my couch up to my computer desk! I'm typing on a computer! From my couch! And no one's going to stop me! ........ I'm going to move the couch back now.

I think that's enough for today, don't you?
Later Days.