Skip to content

Archive for


Orphan Black

The second season is on us, in fact has concluded, so:

Tatiana Maslany’s performance in playing multiple clones has to be seen to be believed.

Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany

She’s very much the show — which makes sense because she plays multiple parts and is the lead character in the first place..  (Actually, the supporting cast is also just fine, including Dylan Bruce and Jordan Gavaris.)

The first episode of the show is set in the Toronto airport.  Sarah (Maslany) walks down the stairs to the airport subway platform.  On the platform she nears a girl who throws herself in front of the train.  Out of curiosity Sarah walks down the platform to investigate and finds that the girls is her double.  Emptying the girl’s wallet, she feels puzzled comcompassion.   And then gets completely involved in the girls’s life  – her new friends, her new boyfriend, other intrigue such as any number of other doubles.

Why is it called “Orphan Black”? In the early episodes, Sarah has a conversation with a woman who says, “You’re one of those orphans, aren’t you?  The ones who come from the black?”

And the episodes have fascinating titles, for instance:

By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried 

   —Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things
   –Variable and Full of Perpurtabtion



Breakfast Politics

I had breakfast discussions about politics with two different groups on Friday and then Saturday of last week.  The Saturday breakfast was 4 other guys, 3 of whom were lawyers (I know, pray for death! What were you thinking?), one retired military officer, one other retired professor.

We were talking about liberal and conservative media, and the military officer asked, “Do liberal college professors persecute conservative students in their classes?”  Oddly, neither I nor the other professor were permitted to answer.

University of Florida Bookstore

University of Florida Bookstore

But here are my answers:

1. SARCASTIC: Of course we do.  Why, when I was teaching, I reviewed who my conservative students were each morning on the way to work and tried to think of ways to persecute them.

2. SARCASTIC AND CRUELLY DISRESPECTFUL: Do military officers persecute those soldiers in their command whom they dislike, such as women or gays?  And is the persecution often rape?

3. TRUTHFUL BUT DISINGENUOUS: Persecuting students for their politics would be unprofessional.

4. TRUTHFUL AND ACTUAL: I taught at a 2-year college, mostly service courses in writing skills.  The main goal was to make my students better writers, so I never really knew what their political views were. (If they had been better writers, I might have known.)

Some insight into this situation.  Students might complain to their parents, administration higher-ups, or even their professors that their low grades were retribution for their conservative (or whatever) views.  The real, buried issue was that their writing was incompetent, and they were just making excuses.

One more thing: I taught an Advanced Composition class once using a textbook called Current Issues and Enduring Problems.  It contained essays about various issues, usually point\counterpoint.  At the end of the course, two students came up after class to ask if I would be the Faculty Advisor for their new Young Republican club.  I pointed out that I was a fervent Democrat, which seemingly would pretty much dis-qualify me from being Faculty Advisor to the Young Republicans.   Guess I did too good a job that semester of discussing both sides to all the issues.


A Few Kind Words About Bill W.

Recently, I’ve been a bit critical of the A.A. “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous), published in 1938 and written primarily by Bill Wilson, A.A.’s co-founder.

However, there are times in the “Big Book” that Wilson catches a wave, much like the prophet Isaiah does around Chapter 43 of his book (“Those who wait on the Lord\Shall renew their strength”).  Wilson writes about the typical alcoholic’s reluctance to believe, at first, that he is mentally or physically different from others in regard to drinking, and his continual experiments with alcohol. These experiments never works, finally leading to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”    That couldn’t possibly be better expressed — the words “incomprehensible demoralization” heavy with sorrow, as is “pitiful.”  To anyone who has been there, the words (as I heard read tonight at the start of our meeting) are always moving.

One other felicitous Wilson phrase: “the burden of self.”  At times he suffers from metaphoresis (too much metaphor), but “the burden of self” works well.  It comes in what’s know as the Third Step Prayer: “Relieve me of the burden of self, that I may better do Thy will.”

I should also note that IMO Wilson’s writing gets better as he becomes more practiced — Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written in the early 1950’s, is in many respects better than his first book.  It’s taut and to the point, somewhat “nuts and boltsy”; he and his cohorts have been building the A.A. program for 15-20 years, and they have practical advice on what works and what doesn’t, and why.

As Bill Sees It, a collection of his writings from the two aforementioned books, from his Grapevine pieces, and especially from his letters, has many gems.  He was no saint, but he was a major figure in the 20th Century, we have much to thank him for, and it’s a fun thing to see him develop as a writer (at least to this former writing teacher).


What A Piece of Work!

In church today, our first reading was the whole day-by-day creation story from the Book of Genesis (read beautifully by Vaughn, with her Granada accent).  The creation of humans in God’s image made me think, as I often do, of famous literature I’ve read and taught.

In Act 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark gives a little speech that seems taken from Genesis — he makes the speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who’ve come to spy on him for the King and Queen.  He’s probably trying to communicate to the King and Queen that he’s depressed, but the first part of what Hamlet says is so very lovely:

            What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable!

             In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.

              And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Hair -- the Hamlet Song

Hair — the Hamlet Song

This famous quote from Shakespeare was incorporated, words unchanged, into the musical Hair, and you can hear it here:


More Profound, Drastic “Big Book” Criticism

Lately, I’ve been present when people in meetings roundly criticized the A.A. “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous, written mostly by A.A. co-found Bill Wilson and first published in 1938.  The wonderful Lorena, in fact, as part of a rant about how the book was shoved down her throat repeatedly when she first joined A.A., called it the “worst book ever.”  After the meeting, first congratulating her for an interesting, fun contribution to the meeting after, I had to tell Lorena that competition for worst book ever was pretty stiff, so Wilson’s book is probably out of the running.

Last couple of days, one friend has shared in a meeting that she was offended by not only the stilted language but also the sexism and (to her) overwhelming plethora of God references.  Another friend, in a meeting the next night, also objected to the ideas and wording.

Now, I’m always ready to jump aboard with profound and drastic criticisms of the “Big Book.”   For one, it’s just too big — so much better if it were about a third smaller, eliminating the all-too-frequent wordy elaborations that Wilson can’t seem to help even after his point is made. (In the first chapter of John M. Lannon’s Technical Communication, a book I taught from for 8-10 years when I was an English professor at Santa Fe College, he warns about burying the essential point under too many words — I try to always remember that in my writing.)

But, this time I raised my hand and said there’s a context we should consider: the book was largely written by a White, male, Protestant New Englander who was born in 1895.  Those circumstances explain a lot — and what’s left can be explained by noting that Bill Wilson, though an educated man, was not a professional writer but instead a businessman.


Chemotherapy, Tonia, Upcoming MRI

Twelve years ago (August 8, 2002), I had a brain tumor surgically removed.  It was an atypical meningioma near my Frontal & Temporal lobes, which control (among other things) judgment, emotions, and physical balance.  I’d been having trouble that summer with balance — slipped and fell coming down Blood Mountain in Georgia, just some abrasions and bruises; mostly surprised.  I made an appointment to see a neurologist, but on the morning of August 6, 2002, I fell while running with my dogs in the woods.  Tried to get up, crawled out of the woods on my face, by which time my dogs had run loose and got the attention of my neighbor, Glen, who called an ambulance.

Davis Cancer Center, Shands Hospital

Davis Cancer Center, Shands Hospital

Took a couple days in the hospital to get me stabilized after the seizure in the woods that caused the falling down, and then they did the surgery. Four or five days later, I was transported to Shands Rehab Hospital to be taught to walk again, to function again mentally, after the brain surgery.  One day my PT, Don, said I was going to learn to walk backward — I tried, had trouble, and said, “Don, this is crazy — no one can walk backward!”  He prevailed, I learned to walk backward, and soon came home to my own house with my mom and brother in attendance.  When they saw that I could check the mail and feed the dog, they returned to New Smyrna Beach.

Then 7 weeks of radiation treatment.  (I’ll write a whole post on this sometime soon.)

I’ve been reminiscing about the tumor, surgery, rehab, and radiation because my friend Tonia in Colorado is starting week 17 today out of 19 weeks of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.  She’s been blogging about it for months, continues to run, worries about her daughters, and generally is an inspiration.

I have an MRI coming up in August — it will be my lucky 13th head MRI after the brain surgery.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll have the MRI at Shands Medical Plaza in the morning, and then meet with my radiation oncologist, in the afternoon, by which time he’ll have seen the films of the MRI.  And I hope he’ll work into the room and say, “Your films are clear.”


Slips, Relapses, and Not Reading Carefully

We were talking about “slips” at yesterday’s meeting, and the prevailing sentiment, belabored a bit, a little repetitive, was that the word “slip” implies an accident, whereas relapses were generally planned carefully, or at least had a beginning, middle, and end.  They didn’t just happen, like “slipping” on a surprise icy patch of pavement.

2006 Olympian Matt Savoie Falls

2006 Olympian Matt Savoie Falls

We were supposedly reading from As Bill Sees It and using the readings as a springboard for comment.  As Bill Sees It is a collection of writings from A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson, taken from Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, The Grapevine, and previously-unpublished letters from Wilson.  The letters are especially interesting to me, as they’re short and to the point, usually in response to a problem a recovering alcoholic has posed to Bill.

Of the 11 entries indexed under “Slips” In As Bill Sees It, 8 of them are letters or contain parts of letters.  The word “slip” is how Bill Wilson refers in the letters to a relapse reported to him by the letter writer asking for advice.  We don’t get the original letter (as that might violate the letter writer’s privacy), but we can infer from Wilson’s response that the writer is shaken by the relapse, being hard on himself or herself, feeling like a failure, etc.   Wilson’s use of “slip” is his way of being gentle, supportive, compassionate, and it’s a lovely thing to see.

No one at the meeting seemed to notice that — perhaps because no one established the context of letters written by Wilson to recovering addicts who were in distress about relapsing.   And, to be sure, we didn’t read many of the entries because those at the meeting preferred talking to reading, as we usually do.  But context is important.  Wilson apparently didn’t think he needed to jump on the bandwagon and chastise the relapser, but instead chose to be gentle.  As I wrote above, it’s a lovely thing to see, and it’s too bad we missed it yesterday.

I’m happy to criticize\analyze the word “slip,” but context makes a difference.  Maybe the accidental implication of “slip” is a bit scary — it could happen any time and suddenly, and possibly there’s no way to prevent it.   Oh, watch where you’re going — look out for icy patches, roots, etc. on the path; that could prevent a “slip,” possibly.