Saturday, June 23, 2007

Review: Wicked

So, there we were. Ellie wanted to go see the Broadway sensation Wicked for her Mother's Day present. We are not usually Broadway types (unless it is something by Stephen Sondheim), but we were very excited to go. Although I tend to prefer off-broadway type of plays, I guess we like theatre in all its forms. Broadway shows are usually outside of our price range, so this was a special treat.

I didn't know anything about the show before I went. I knew that many other people liked it. In the end, I think Ellie and I both had a wonderful time, but I thought the show was only modestly successful. The music isn't as good as other broadway plays I like, but in some ways it was richer and darker. The "happy ending" at the end seemed forced, as if the normal theatre goer is unable to deal with anything remotely tragic.

However, the play does have something of an edge to it. It basically has a "the masses are asses" type of attitude, showing how average people think and feel what they are told to think and feel. The play, for all its popularity, is really making fun of we who are sitting there watching it. That is to say, the play is mocking you as you watch it. For example, we, the audience, had believed what we were told about the "real story" of the Wizard of Oz. This play seems to suggest that we were fools for thinking so: Understanding does not come so cheaply. There is no one narrative, it says, which so easily reduces to good versus evil, and yet we always like to think in those terms. This play, as in real life, shows that our perceptions of who is good and who is evil is often an illusion that has been consructed for us by others, and we go along happily believing what we are told. The play is in a long line of plays, my favorite of which is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which delight in counter narratives and show us how familiar tales can look very different from another perspective. I really like this genre.


Some recent photographs

Our blog usually isn't visual, except in rare bursts. Here is another burst.

Here is a picture from Nora's birthday way back in March. She got a cute little cowgirl outfit.

In April, we had our annual Easter Egg hunt. It's fame is growing.

Some good looking fellow in a bowtie.

Another good looking fellow.

In May, we took a trip back to Champaign. We were able to spend some time with our friends, the Cassavaughs, the Ackroyds, the Webbers, and others. It was great to see everybody again.

We've done a lot of hiking lately. First, in Darby Creek Park, not far from our house.

Last week, we had two baby bunnies to come to visit. It was a lot of fun, but they sure pooped a lot!

More hiking. This time, at Ash Cave, about an hour south of us in the beautiful Hocking Hills region of the state.

Ash Cave has a pretty little waterfall that makes a little pool. Here, the family jumps in. Alas, we didn't see the "No Wading" signs until our way out!

Here is a recent picture of Ellie.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

At the grocery store

At the grocery store this evening, there were too many customers and too few cashiers. As I stood in a long line at a self-serve check-out, I casually watched the young Latino family in front of me. The husband and wife were stylishly, though inexpensively, dressed, and had two wide-eyed, well-groomed children. As I waited for them to finish checking out, I heard the following muttered, angrily and plenty audibly, behind me.

"Yeah, look at them. Goin' slow like they got all the time in the world. Pretty easy for them, move to this country, livin' the good life. They just get everything given to them; they don't have to work for it or nuthin'. They got more than somebody who lived here all their life. Got all the time in the world."

These remarks, coming from a black man behind me to his wife, struck me as incredibly ignorant and hostile. Expecting to be likewise lambasted if I took too long to check out when it was my turn, I rushed through my purchases, scanning and bagging haphazardly. I happened to scan my cream cheese twice, but looking at the long line behind me and recognizing my mistake as fairly insignificant, I just kept on going. Behind me, the man's voice spoke again: "Honey, I think you scanned that one too many times, didn't ya?"

Yes, I did, I responded, surprised. But it's a long line. It's ok.

"Come on, honey, tell 'em. They can come and take it off. Do you want me to get someone to come do it for ya?"

No, no. It's ok.

Then he called to a store worker in the next aisle over. "This girl here scanned somethin' one too many times. Can ya come take it off for her?" To me: "Honey, this store got more money than you do. They don't give you nuthin' for free."

True. But, no, no, I said again. Really, it's all right.

As I left, I looked the man in the eyes, smiled, and thanked him for looking out for me. He responded kindly, and I headed home with my twice-paid-for cream cheese.

I'm not sure what struck me so much about this encounter. Was it the jarring experience of hearing one member of a minority group being racist towards another? Was it having my assumptions about someone quickly overturned? Was it seeing someone change from nasty to nice in less than a minute? Anyway, all I can really take away is a naive puzzlement that a person can be almost simultaneously bad and good. I don't know why that seems so strange to me. Aren't I? Aren't we all?


Nora and Andrew

Why do we rarely talk about our children on this blog? Isn't that all anybody (by this I mean family) wants to know about?

To remedy our grave errors of the past, here is some current kiddie news.

Nora: Nora is 4 years old. She is still very into princesses, although this obsession has branched out a bit and now includes Polly Pockets and Violet Incredible. Over the past few months her future career choices have been: a science teacher that teaches about whales, an artist, a doctor who doesn't give shots, and the wife of a superhero. (Why not a superhero herself, cum Violet?) She loves to draw, especially castles, caves, ocean creatures, princesses, and roller coasters. If she had her way, we would swim or run through the sprinklers every day. Nora also speaks and sings in fluent "Spanish." (Her version.)

Andrew: Andrew is almost 18 months. He loves anything with wheels or wings. As I have heard described by other moms of sons, he came with built-in sound effects. He doesn't use many words, but he has quite a repertoire of sounds he makes for objects--most notably, VROOM, for any of the above-mentioned beloved moving objects. Andrew also has a penchant for throwing things. He can pitch his sippy cup full of red juice overhand all the way across the kitchen. We are so proud. Andrew makes us laugh (or yell) every day.

What a pleasure it is to have two children. I bask in the joy of it when they play some silly game together and dissolve into helpless giggles. I chant it to myself when just as I step into the shower Andrew pulls Nora's hair and they both scream through the rest of my shower. No doubts here that parenthood is like one of Nora's roller coasters.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Professors as Heroes?

Generally speaking, people are uneasy with us college professors. Most people who have been to college often look back fondly at least some of their teachers, who may have taught them something important or helped them gain a new perspective on things. At the same time, there is wide spread suspicion that professors aren't really earning the tax-payer money they get. They only have to show up to class a couple times a week, after all, and write a paper now and then on some trivial and useless topic. As Charles Sykes wrote, professors are generally "overpaid" and "grotesquely underworked" who neglect their teaching duties while writing "masses of unread, unreadable and worthless pablaum." Perhaps more importantly, there is this sense that professors don't really share regular human values -- that they as a group hate things like families, religion, and morality. They live as eternal children in a never-never land, not wanting (and, indeed, unable) to take on real responsibilities and solve real problems. Their only desire is to indoctrinate unsuspecting students into moral relativism, leftist politics, and hatred of America.

There are many problems with this image of course. In all my years in the university, for example, I have never met one "moral relativist" in the sense that people worry about. Although there are, of course, lazy profs who don't care about teaching, most that I know take their classroom responsibilities seriously and work far beyond what is expected for their relatively meager salaries. Of course, when professors do in fact buck this stereotype, no one seems to notice. The idea of professors actually doing important things in the world never gets voiced beyond university brochures. I think we have this standard idea of who is hero. A hero is a tough guy with big muscles who fights fires and kills terrorists. A hero isn't somebody who likes to think about atoms, Greek papyri, poetry, or anything French.

Consider how little you might have heard about the VTU massacure for example. Most people heard about Prof. Librescu, but not the others. From Wikipedia:
Professor Liviu Librescu held the door of his classroom, Room 204, shut while Cho attempted to enter it. Librescu was able to prevent the shooter from entering the classroom until most of his students escaped through the windows, but he died after being shot multiple times through the door. Only one student in his classroom died.[35][36] Subsequently, a petition was started to rename Norris Hall to Librescu Hall to honor this professor.

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak tried to save the students in her French classroom, Room 211, after looking Cho in the eye in the hallway. Colin Goddard, one of seven survivors in the French class, told his family that Couture-Nowak ordered her students to the back of the class for their safety and made a fatal attempt to barricade the door.

Hearing the commotion on the floor below, Professor Kevin Granata brought 20 students from a nearby classroom into an office, where the door could be locked, on the third floor of Norris Hall. He then went downstairs to investigate and was shot by Cho. Granata died from his injuries. None of the students locked in Granata's office were injured.

I'm not saying professors are better than other people -- far from it. I know the vices of professors as well as anyone -- and I know a few who are really idiots. But may I at least suggest that we are not the subhuman leeches that many people think we are?