Thursday, April 26, 2007

Music Meme

Okay, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I have horrid taste in music. However, I have gamely undergone this somewhat painful meme that the profoundly evil Judith developed. I have done so for one reason--so that I can now inflict it on three people who undoubtedly have better taste in music than I do.

So, drumroll please:

Misanthropster, Alex (of Holtetboards), and Matt (of Animal Mind), you three are on!

What’s a great late night song?
Close the Door, Lou Reed (okay, I'm a little bent)

Name 5 wistful/bittersweet songs:
"I Hold Your Hand In Mine" - Tom Lehrer (okay, I'm a lot bent),
"All I Wanna Do" - Heart
"Somebody's Crying" - Chris Isaac
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Judy Garland
"Christmastime Is Here Again" - Vince Guaraldi

The 4 Best Songs Ever Written:
Nope, I'm not touching that one with a vaccinated crowbar. I will, however, mention three songs that I think are really well done.
"Condition" Kenny Rodgers
"Sweet Home Alabama" Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Free Falling" Tom Petty
"People are Strange" The Doors

3 Current Favorite Songs:
Lately I find myself obsessively listening to Wildflowers by Tom Petty, Rockin' in the Weary Land by Donna the Buffalo, and "Too Long In the Wasteland" by James McMurtry

A Classic Drinking Music album:
Best of Jimmy Buffett

A Song You Want (or did) To Play At Your Wedding:
How about one I wish I played? The Way You Look Tonight

4 Good Angry Songs:
"Hello, Dad, I'm in Jail"
"Sink the Censorship" Disappear Fear
"Idiot Wind" Bob Dylan
"You Oughta Know" Alanis Morissette

One of Your Favorite Lyrics:
From "Angeline," by Larry McMurtry

Barefoot in the autumn weeds
Cotton dress hanging to your knees
to the eyes of a stranger
You offered a smile
I went to work in your daddy's fields
Didn't seem like such a bad deal
At least it would do for a while.

We were both young and unabashed
We took what life offered
When the folks were distracted
Or too tired to care
With a frost on the land
The fates forced our hand
Your dresses fit tighter
With the spring in the air.

3 Cover Songs Arguably Better Than the Original:
Danny's Song - Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Money - The Flying Lizards
With a Little Help - Joe Cocker

Ironic Song to Brutally Murder Someone to in a movie:
Fish Heads - Barnes and Barnes

Good Album to Clean The House To:
Best of the Temptations

Good Dining Music:
Anything by Mellow, Morphine, or Frank Sinatra

A Good Album To Put You In the Mood (that is NOT Sade, Marvin Gaye or Barry White):
Let's be honest--almost anything will work (I'm a guy)

Good Album To Sleep To:
Nomads, Indians, Saints - Indigo Girls

2 Songs That are Too Damn Sad:
"Hurt" - Nine Inch Nails

Great Love Song:
"They Can't Take That Away From Me" by George and Ira Gershwin. I like to imagine a guy in a mental institution or an Orwellian prison humming this to himself as they administer the Sodium Pentothal.

Song To An Ex That Isn’t Meanspirited:
"Whatever" - The Asylum Street Spankers

Song To An Ex That Is Kinda Meanspirited:
"Don't Fear the Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult

Song to lose your Mind to:
"When the Trixter Starts a-Pokin'" Gogol Bordello

4 Songs That Make You Feel Amped and Inspired:
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
"Rock Me Like a Hurricane" Scorpionz
"Eye of the Tiger" (also best workout song ever)
"When I Was Born" Barenaked Ladies (more inspired than amped)

3 songs that are guilty pleasures:
Most of my preferred music is a guilty pleasure. Okay, how about "Annie's Song" by John Denver, "I Could Be Your Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne, and "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. Embarrassingly enough, I also own a fair bit of Roger Whittaker.

Criminally Underrated Band That Didn’t Get Attention and Then Broke Up:
Strange Fruit

Best Screw You I Am a Teenager in Pain Song:
How about "Best I am a whiny pencil-neck living in the middle of the 1980's" song? The answer is, of course, "People Are People" by Depressed, excuse me, Depeche Mode.

Feel No Shame, Great Current Pop Songs:
I hate to say it, but I think "The Black Parade" might count as a great rock anthem.

Album No One Would Expect You To Love:
Latino Crooners

Hip-Hop Song You Know All the Lyrics Too:
Actually, there isn't one.

Random Album You Loved In High School But Are Afraid To Admit It:
Faith by George Michaels

Album You May Have Listened To More In High School than Any Other Album:
Basically, any comedy album by Monty Python, any musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a fair bit of Jethro Tull

Album To Clear A Room With:
Soft, Safe, and Sanitized

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The first day went really well. I chatted with my students before class began, and after everyone had filed in, I told them all to take out a sheet of paper, as we were going to have a quiz.

They looked at me with terror. They hadn't read the book in a week.

I smiled and said "joke." The students started laughing. I think they were happy to see that some things hadn't changed.

We talked about the remainder of the semester, how I was readjusting the class requirements to help them finish with high grades, and what they had done in their time off. Finally, I told them that they could leave if they wanted, but that some of them had expressed an interest in talking about the situation on campus. In most of my classes, about half of the students left.

My students are trying to figure out how to feel about this. So is the University. It was a day of memorials, of trying to decide how to commemorate the event. Early in the morning, the university assembled on the drill field while the bells in Burruss tolled 32 times. Every time they tolled, a white balloon floated up from the crowd. Across campus, everyone froze and watched the ceremony:

When the ceremony was finished, they released a bunch of orange and maroon balloons and everyone paused to watch them.

On the way to my first class, I noticed the Addison Caldwell statue. "Addy" was Virginia Tech's first student, and he supposedly walked 26 miles to come to the University. They installed the statue this year. I think he looks like a cross-dressing female character from Little House on the Prairie. At any rate, he was sporting a little orange and maroon today:

I also stopped by Norris Hall:

There is currently a little debate on what the University will do with Norris. Some people are arguing that it should be razed and replaced with a memorial, while others think that it should be remodeled. Given the history of the University, the crowded classroom conditions on campus, and Norris' ciderblock construction, my guess is that they will keep Norris around, and will probably do little to alter the building itself. I'm not sure that this is a bad idea. In some ways, I can't think of a better memorial to the rooms in Norris than their continued use for education.

The campus is blanketed in posters letters, sculptures, and other tributes from across the country. Squires student center is covered in wall-to-wall banners:

The students have produced a few tributes of their own. Outside Burruss, I saw the letters "VT" written in daisies:

And a paper chain:

There are three official memorials. The first consists of 33 "hokie stones" outside Burruss. Each one is surrounded with remembrances of individual victims:

These surround a huge cairn of flowers, gifts, and assorted remembrances:

Basically, the whole thing looks like a landfill the day after the Rose Bowl Parade.

The second official tribute is on the drill field, and consists of 32 sign boards:

People have used these boards to write messages to the victims and to Tech itself:

My favorite memorial was set up by the Campus ministries. It is a few yards of string with 33 pieces of white cloth. Surrounding the cloth are ribbons on which people write their messages to the school and the victims.

I like this memorial because it is so alive. At times, it's a little too alive, as the ribbons can do some serious damage when whipped around by the wind. However, it's the lightest of the memorials, and the most comforting. There's something powerful about seeing the memories and kind wishes dancing in the air.

Tech is still trying to figure out how it will embrace this tragedy, and how it will fashion its memorialization. It's pretty amazing to watch the school slowly decide how it will form its institutional memory. In the meantime, the students are getting commemorative tattoos:

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I drove back from New York today. It was wonderful spending a few days with the wife and George, not to mention seeing my sister Jen, her fiance, and my godmother. Misanthropster and I played tourist on the south end of Manhattan, and she helped iron out a few of my creases, putting up with my occasional bursts of crankiness. It was amazing reconnecting with my daughter, who has really grown up in the last month. She has a wonderful, wicked sense of humor, and got a real kick out of testing boundaries with daddy. I was too happy to get up in arms about her silliness.

On my first morning in New York, I went out to move the car, as the street sweeper was running through my godmother's neighborhood. After parking the car a few blocks away, I walked back to the apartment. Along the way, a dog almost tripped me with his leash. His owner looked at me with big eyes and apologized profusely. I wondered why she was so apologetic until I looked down and realized that I was wearing a Tech sweatshirt. This happened a few other times, but it always took me by surprise. I was amazed that, even in a city as big as New York, people were still so quick to console.

Of course, some people took this for granted. Misanthropster and I noticed a homeless man was wearing a Virginia Tech sweatshirt to elicit sympathy. To be honest, however, it is quite possible that he was an actual Tech graduate. My bet would be that he majored in Philosophy or English.

I drove back from New York in record time. When I stopped off for gas in southern Pennsylvania, a man at one of the other pumps nodded at the magnetic VT decals on the side of my car and said "Nice." I told him that I taught at Virginia Tech. He asked me if I knew the killer and I said him that I didn't. He shook his head.

Once I entered Virginia, I noticed things starting to change. The first thing was that the highway warning signs were all flashing the same message: "Welcome Virginia Tech. Drive Safely." Every thirty miles or so, I'd see another one of these signs and think about the fact that the cars around me were filled with Tech students who were traveling South, unsure about what the next few weeks are going to hold.

At Harrisonburg, where James Madison University is situated, the students decorated one of the highway overpasses with orange and maroon fabric, a la Christo's Central Park installation. It was a beautiful gesture from a rival school, and I found myself getting back into the pride tinged with melancholy that I felt before I left town. I had the same feeling when I passed the Days Inn located north of Staunton, whose sign flashed the following message:

Great Rooms
Great Rates
God Bless the Hokies

In the entire trip, I only saw one car pulled over. I wonder if the police were taking it easy on the Tech traffic. Regardless, the cars around me were showing the grim determination that characterizes the school. I don't know if everyone is eager to go back or is dreading it, but I do know that they were hell-bent for leather, driving at top speed to return to Blacksburg. As I passed cars, I noticed messages written on the windows in orange electrical tape: "Hokie Nation," "Hokies Forever," and "We Are Virginia Tech." Unlike the shallow rah-rah that usually characterizes Virginia Tech, this touched me, not least because it shows some of the determination and pride that, at its best, is one of Tech's greatest trademarks.

Driving down Route 460 into Christiansburg, I noticed a car pulled over to the side of the road. A young man was sitting on the ground, crying, while his friend hugged him. I'm proud of the students of Tech. They're dealing with some of the hardest emotions that they will ever have to digest, and they're helping each other deal with loss.

I'm worried about what I'm going to say when class starts tomorrow. I always have a friendly banter with my students, and I generally try to help them address the current problems in their world. Simply speaking, I don't know what I can say, what words I can use, to help them make sense of this tragedy. I don't know if even discussing it is presumptuous. I thought about this on the drive down, and I have a few ideas, but I'm still nervous.

Last night, I had a nightmare. I dreamed that it was tomorrow, and that I was trying to help my students finish out the semester. I was teaching in Whittemore, one of the big lecture halls that seats 300 people, and the room was dimly lit. As I tried to talk, the lights flickered and I saw my students faces covered in thick white pancake makeup, like Japanese Noh theater. Their hair was dark and oily. They began to squawk like crows, and the shadowy outlines of their bodies looked like slick black feathers. As I tried to calm them down, they got increasingly distressed and started squawking more and more loudly. I finally woke up. I looked up at the ceiling for a little while and finally snuggled into my wife's back. I fell asleep a few minutes later.

Of course, having listened to Dane Cook recently, I realize that the dream means that I'm a deeply closeted homosexual. Did I mention the crab?

The nightmare was actually somewhat reassuring. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I can guarantee that my students won't be turning into birds. I can deal with just about everything else.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Today at Tech

Today I tried to wrap my mind around yesterday.

I went to the Tech campus to meet with a few students. We talked a little, but nobody really had much to say.

On the way to school, I kept seeing signs about yesterday. Here's the off-campus bookstore:

Virginia Tech was a weird mix of bustle and silence. I had to park about a mile away from campus, as Blacksburg was overwhelmed with media, parents, and other assorted visitors. However, most of the school was empty.

Here's the entrance to Squires student center:

Inside the student center, there was a billboard where people wrote notes:

I pass Norris Hall, where the shootings occurred, on my way to class everyday. Yesterday, I stopped when I saw the building surrounded by police cars. Here's a few pictures of Norris:

On the way to the convocation, I passed the memorial, which was located on the drill field:

Cassell Colosseum was packed solid, and had incredibly heavy security out front:

So I went to Lane Stadium, where they set up a live feed on the gargantuan TV:

Here's Governor Tim Kaine on the big ol' TV:

And here's George the Second on the big ol' TV:

Outside the stadium, I saw a big tank:

So, anyway, that was pretty much my day. I was going to go the candlelight vigil tonight, but I just feel a little wrecked.

This afternoon, my last student checked in. He'd gone home, and hadn't checked his e-mail. Now that I know my kids are safe, I'm moving from anxiety to anger.

Most of my students have gone home, and I'm following suit. Tomorrow morning I'll be going to New York to see my wife and daughter. I might not be posting much, if at all, for the next few days. Right now, I'm just mad as hell at the University, and I need to work around that before I can be really productive again.

Thank you all for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. They mean more than I can express.

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