Tuesday, January 31, 2006

you don't exactly need a life coach to tell you

that things on which you make steady progress get done, and things you do not, do not.

Monday, January 30, 2006

(ssf) they met at the library

As I said in my last post, the assignment was to write a 26-sentence story where each sentence starts with a successive letter of the alphabet. In addition, A Certain Kathryn has repeatedly asked me to write a short short story for her for her now long long past birthday. None of my previous efforts really suited that purpose. So I decided to start with the working title "Kathryn," and this story is what happened. I've since changed the title to "They Met At the Library." It's 354 words and available here. Although it's not exactly erotic, I suppose if you are either (a) particularly prudish or (b) my mother, I'd rather you not read it. (Sorry, Mom.) There's also a bonus reference to an earlier SSF post just for JFW readers. Class is Tuesday at 8pm EST, so let me know if you have any non-spirit-desiccating comments or suggestions.

Update, 2/1: Revised to fix an egregious spelling error with X word. Also pleased to see that Kathryn herself has offered her appraisal in the comments.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

(ssf) zuzanna tries a life coach

(Yes, I recognize that Short Short Fiction seems to have taken over this weblog.) The assignment this week is to write a story that was 26 sentences long with each beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet. So sentence #1 is supposed to start with some word beginning with "A" and sentence #26 with "Z." I think the idea is that we are supposd to write a story in which it's incidental that the sentences are in alphabetical order, but no way I'm writing a story in which the sentences were in alphabetical order without that fact being part of the story somehow.

Anyway, after struggling awhile, I wrote a story. Then I realized the instructor would almost certainly begin the class by having everyone go around and say what their X word was, and I didn't want to explain. So I wrote another story with a more straightforward X. I think the second story is probably more appealing anyway. Which won't stop me from inflicting the first story on Those Who Dare To Click Here (a JFW exclusive!). The story's called "Zuzanna Tries a Life Coach" and currently clocks in at 429 words, 3 of which I hope to God mean what I think they do in Japanese. Non-self-esteem-immolating comments and suggestions welcome.

I'll post the other story either tomorrow or Tuesday.

Also: I dithered between Zuzanna and Zoey before choosing the former, so let me know if you have a preference.

Update, 9pm: Revised slightly to unsubtlefy something.

Friday, January 27, 2006

not the reason I usually wear button-down shirts to work, but a reason why it is a good idea

I had two meetings earlier today, one with a professor here at Harvard. Later when I was in the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and thought my shirt looked like it was on backwards. I checked, and it was. As I took it off to put it on the right way, I looked at myself in my T-shirt in the mirror and thought it looked like it was on backwards, too. It was.

(Too bad, of course, that I hadn't been teaching in the morning so a student could have set me right.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

(ssf) process of elimination

So, the reason we had to write two stories this week for short short fiction was so we could read one in class and workshop it this week and distribute the other to be workshopped next week. "Shortbread" is up for next week. The story we did this week was from an assignment where we were supposed to write a story that had at least 5 named characters and was no more than 500 words.

I wasn't going to post the story I wrote for this because, even though in principle I wrote it to stand alone, it makes way more sense with four facts as background:
1. I wrote it immediately after the first meeting of the short short fiction class.

2. In that first meeting, we did the whole "she was the kind of person who..." writing-class exercise (recounted here).

3. In that first meeting, we also read this one-page story "The Colonel," which the instructor said was arguably the most famous short short story and arguably responsible for the whole recent renascence of short short fiction writing.

4. My own reaction to "The Colonel" was that, while I thought it was a good story, it was also exactly the type of story I really don't have any interest in ever writing myself.
Anyway, my story is called "Process of Elimination" and is available with "The Colonel" pre-pended to it here. Going both above and below the parameters of the assignment, it has 6 named characters and comes in under 375 words. Yet still includes profanity, innuendo, and death. Non-cruel comments and suggestions welcome.

The class, incidentally, so far seems like its going to way more fun than whatever else I would otherwise be doing with my Tuesday nights the next two months. I was worried that the class wouldn't get my story, but they did, and they laughed at all the right places when I read it out loud, and so now I'm feeling that same rush I feel when I'm teaching and a lecture goes over really well.

The instructor also gets a big thumbs-up, as she turns out to have a gift for making everyone feel enthusiastic about everyone else's story, such that I think other people left feeling the same kind of glee and comraderie I did.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

(ssf) shortbread

I was just talking to someone who asked if I was going to post my short short fiction class offerings on my blog. At first my impulse was no, with the rationale of it not being something I want to inflict on the public, but then I realized that it really can't be much different from already inflicting this blog on the public. But then I decided I would only post them as PDFs, so that the casual or inadvertent observer of JFW wouldn't just have it thrust upon them unawares. Showing someone your short short fiction is not quite so intimate as showing them your etchings, but still.

We were supposed to write two stories for this week. One is called "Shortbread" and currently weighs in at a portly 415 words. Whatever longtime readers of this blog still exist may recognize that parts are based on an old post. If you want to read it, you can click here. If not, fine. Better, even, maybe. If you have any constructive suggestions between now and 8 EST, let me know. Please note: "You suck and your stories suck even more" is not a constructive suggestion.

Update, 5pm: Slightly revised in response to comments.

Update, 7pm: Penultimate line revised. I'm beginning to worry that short short fiction might not be very compatible with certain obsessive tendencies of mine. The brevity allows one to fuss over every word.

Update, next day: Okay, so I revised it again. It's down to only 406 words now, though.

Monday, January 23, 2006

crimes of contiguity

Sometimes one of the women who live next door to me will cough or something, and I'll be reminded of how thin the walls between our two apartments are. Such reminders are especially disconcerting when I have been singing "David Duchovny, why won't you love me? David Duchovny! WHY WON'T YOU LOVE ME!" (here) in my maximum-decibel falsetto less than a half hour before.

Of course, before I realized how thin the walls were, I tested the echo acoustic of the empty apartment prior to my furniture being moved in by using this same falsetto to sing the "You might just make it after all" line from the Mary Tyler Moore theme over and over again.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

emily's reasons why not

(photo from olden days of karaoke: two faculty members torment an unknown bystander with their bitter rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun")

A few weeks ago, I was at a T stop whose advertising space was completely overtaken by ads for the TV show "Emily's Reasons Why Not." The signs alternate between posters featuring a photo of the show's star and posters giving something to be read as a Reason Why Not. One was: "Because No One Forgets Bad Karaoke." Which is yet another example of a totally incorrect karaoke stereotype.

The truth: People readily forget bad karaoke. It's creepy karaoke that permanently scalds onto others' minds.

I was at the same T stop last night and saw all the posters were gone, replaced by a campaign promoting some nonpulpy orange juice. So then I googled "Emily's Reasons Why Not" and learned that it had been cancelled after just one episode. Apparently the show did not add to the list of All I'm Missing By Not Having Television.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

when short short is not short enough

These were my answers for the short short fiction exercise I posted about a couple days ago:

1. She was the kind of person who was always telling me about her dreams, as if I cared, and she would always end by asking me what I thought the dream "meant," as if I would tell her anyway.

2. He always said he was going to open a restaurant someday. He never said anything about it being that kind of restaurant, or about her being involved.

3. You could spot Francine from a mile away because that was back when we were living in that godforsaken town in Texas and who the hell else would be riding a unicycle?

4. Someday he would be able to purge his iPod of all those 911 calls he had downloaded off the Internet. But he still had ten more pounds to lose, and nothing else did the trick of keeping him going on the treadmill.

5. She always said the spicier the better. I cannot be blamed.

This week's assignment is to write a short short fiction story about an object. The instructor defines short short fiction as no more than 5 double-spaced pages, which in my world is ~1500 words, which in my world is not "short short" at all. So anything I do for this class, presuming I keep with it, is going to be "short short short fiction," or perhaps even less prolix than that.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Several days after a deadline listed in a reminder marked URGENT, I finally filled out the form selecting my book for the Honoring the Faculty program at Madison. The program allows a recently promoted faculty member to select a book that will be shelved in the library with a nameplate commemorating the faculty member's promotion. My choice: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon (see posts here and here and here). The brief explanation submitted along with it: "While I am not sure it is best for a faculty member currently on leave to select a book whose principal theme is 'escape,' Chabon's novel is the most beautiful thing I read during my time as an assistant professor at Wisconsin. My reason for choosing a novel is that I am very happy that, when an assistant professor, I did not let all the reading required for my research and teaching stop me from continuing to indulge in the pleasures of fiction."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

adventures in short short fiction, episode one

Tuesday was the first short short fiction class. As it was the first day, and none of the seven brave enrollees had brought any ssf of their own to workshop then and there, we got out early. We did do this exercise where the instructor--a twentysomething woman about whom the jeremy-jury is still out--wrote five sentences on the board and gave us like 10 or so minutes to fill in the blanks. They were:

1. She was the kind of person who ______

2. He always said ______

3. You could spot ______ from a mile away because ______

4. Someday he would ______

5. She always said ______

Try it if you think it is so easy. Don't worry, I'll wait. Come on, no pressure. Tap, tap, tap.

sometimes i suspect cnn.com's "watch:" features are not intended to appeal to the best instincts of humanity

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

tickens come home to roost

Some commenters to the weblog have expressed dismay that its proprietor will sometimes change the timestamps of posts, often to 12:01am of the day following whenever it was posted. Awhile back I added a disclaimer about this to my sidebar.

Anyway, accuracy-in-timestamps agitators might be interested in the following comeuppance: Submissions for the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association were due today. Normally, the deadline has been midnight, or even "midnight somewhere." This year, the website provided a 3:00pm EST deadline accompanied by stern verbiage about no exceptions et cetera. Despite being someone who likes to work right up against a deadline--my profession is not one that regularly offers opportunities for the thrill of disaster narrowly averted, and I refuse to take up bungee jumping--I still wish I had discovered this change sometime before yesterday afternoon. In any case, I was part of two different submissions that went in after 2:30pm. For the paper I submitted myself, at 2:48pm, I received immediately a confirmation e-mail from ASA. Its timestamp was inexplicably 3:10pm.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

generation gap

Here are the numbers of the census I took of the photographs on display in the two most prominent display locations at Freese Family Farm [counter, refrigerator]:

Mother and/or father: 0
Child #1 [son]: 0
Child #2 [daughter]: 0
Child #3 [daughter]: 0
Child #4 [daughter]: 0
Child #5 [daughter, deceased]: 2
Child #6 [son, weblog author]: 1 (post-Ph.D., but pre-Lasix)
All children together: 1
Grandchildren [7 total]: 0
Great-granddaughter: 13

Granted, she is very cute.

Monday, January 16, 2006

freese family farm, iowa: where the wild things purportedly are

go cougars!
(Coincidentally, 'Cougars' is the nickname of the consolidated high school in my hometown)

Rumor has it that there's a cougar on the loose around these parts. My mom was telling me how a neighboring farmer used to have twenty-some feral cats that lurked around his machinery shed. Now there are only three, and some of the dead cats "heads was crushed where he [the alleged coyote] killed them, the fur was still there, but he'd eaten the insides out, and [the farm owner] looked on the Internet and that's the way cougars do." Somebody else even says they had a photo of it. A cousin of mine, however, says "I ain't believing there's a cougar until I see it with my own eyes."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

freese family farm, iowa: from the annals of voluntary regressive taxation

touch play

The convenience store in my hometown doesn't have Coke Zero. It does, however, have a slot machine, which I thought was surprising since, you know, you can't legally just put up a slot machine anywhere you want. Turns out, the machines are sponsored by the Iowa Lottery, and there's been some controversy over whether they should be banned. Anyway, what I thought was intriguing was the way the machines are being defended as not slot machines despite, from all appearances, being slot machines. As it said in an AP story in a local paper:
The TouchPlay machines look like slot machines, but lottery officials say their machines differ from slot machines in that they award prizes to predetermined winners. Slot machines pay out to randomly determined winners. Critics say players can't tell the difference.
The story also went on to quote someone defending the machines on the grounds that people from small towns had the "right" to "the same kinds of legal entertainment" available in cities (with casinos). Even if the presence of "slot machines" would seem to only close a very small portion of the legal entertainment gap between small towns and cities, compared to, e.g., the absence of ethnic restaurants and playmobil-goth poetry slams. Also, the Touch Play machines are pretty lame compared to a real contemporary slot machine, and, if my information is correct, they also payout at a rate that would be totally unacceptable for a Vegas casino. So, yes, I guess, the right to the same kind of entertainment, except in a less enjoyable and more predatory form. And yet still, apparently, addictive enough that my sister told me that a store in a neighboring town has a stool in front of their machine so people can play for longer stretches of time.

Friday, January 13, 2006

madison: gazed and confused

I went to a mini-conference this morning. Of course, common advice about public speaking is to make eye contact with members of your audience. However, it's a little unsettling when a speaker hasn't made especial eye contact with you during a talk, but then suddenly looks directly at you and says, "Do they even make pornography with actors and actresses who are in their seventies and eighties?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

the dream of jeremy-freese-with-nothing-in-between

So, you know sometimes people get together and carry forth some idea like all dying their hair or getting tattoos. Tomorrow, by coincident circumstances, I might be present as the forms are filled out so that someone else can change their name. As some JFW readers know, I have long voiced a hankering to legally change my name. While this desire has sometimes led to more grandiose claims about what I might perpetrate on myself if armed with a change-of-name form, the abiding desire has been just to drop my middle name, which would stop that mayhem that has ensued every since I took a blood oath of vengence against anyone who ever dared say it aloud.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

once clicken, twice shy

When I first set up a computer for my parents, about 5 years ago, I remember all the trouble I had teaching my father how to double-click. "You have to press twice," I told him, "quickly." When this didn't work, I didn't know what to do other than repeat the instruction. I think I eventually also found some setting to twiddle with in Windows that helped with the matter, but he still struggles with it sometimes. I mean, he's got that first click down pat, but something about the second click he just can't fully cotton onto.

I got my Tablet PC today. I haven't had much time to play with it. But, the big problem so far: I can't quite seem to get the hang of how you double-click.

Monday, January 09, 2006

blogback mountain

I saw Brokeback Mountain last night. I thought the first hour or so was remarkably boring for a film so widely praised, but then was much more compelling after that. I was even a little teary-eyed a couple of times toward the end, although less so than for The Notebook. And, of course, having been raised on a farm with sheep, I have a soft spot for any film featuring them so prominently.

I see on the web that there is a webpage for memorable Brokeback Mountain quotes. I was surprised by this, because it seemed to me like there was only one memorable quote in the entire film. Which is, in fact, the first one listed on the webpage: "I wish I knew how to quit you."

As I thought about that line later, I decided that the most plausible context of my saying these same words would not be to any human being--male or female, cowpersonly-employed or otherwise--but rather I could envision myself saying them out loud to my monitor, especially if it was as I had a web browser open to this blog.

Update: I haven't engaged in any activity on the Tradesports futures-market site lately, but I just saw the story on CNN.com that a theater in Utah has reneged on its plan to show Brokeback Mountain, and decided that the current odds giving it only a 53% of taking home the Best Picture Oscar were still too low.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

csi: cambridge

There's this poster in various stores that sell alcohol around Cambridge warning that "Police Officers May Be Posing As Store Employees." The poster contains a close-up of this especially intimidating looking gentleman who looks like he'd enjoy nothing more than hauling some underage Harvard kid off to jail and is wearing a police uniform. Granted, I'm no expert on methods of undercover law enforcement, and it could also be that the many of the students here at Harvard are so absorbed-in-their-own-stupendous-privilege that they don't notice what the guy ringing them up at the cash register is wearing, but it still seems like if I was a police officer assigned to pose as a convenience store employee I would leave my uniform at home.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

a somewhat-lapsed sociologist doing an unlicensed anthropology of economics

I heard the American Economic Association meetings were in Boston this weekend, so I decided to go. Turns out, it's actually called the Allied Social Science Association meetings, which is basically the American Economic Association and these other associations that represent different subareas of economics or constituencies of economists (more or less). In all, there are 53 different associations listed in the program, with the longest acronym going to the American Real Estate & Urban Economic Association (AREUEA).

You might expect that the economics meetings would be overwhelmingly male. And, lo, you'd be right, especially once you start looking at the affiliations on the nametags and eliminating exhibitors from one's mental tally. The listing of associations in the program also listed their Executive Officers/Presidents. Being the continual monitor of the gender distribution of the democratic leadership of different disciplines (see here), I counted the number of female executive officers: 4 out of 53, representing the "Economists for Peace & Security (EPS)," the "International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE)," "National Association of Economic Educators (NAEE)," and the "National Association for Business Economists (NABE)."

You might also expect that the economics meetings would be more efficiently and better organized than, say, the sociology meetings, and you'd also be right about that. The typical format for paper sessions here is to have a paper for 20 minutes, immediately followed by a discussant who comments on just that paper for 10 minutes. This is way better than the way sociology does it, where you have 4-5 speakers go for 15 minutes and then a single discussant commenting on all papers for 5-10 minutes at the end. Indeed, for the sessions I've seen so far, the discussant comments have overall been at least as interesting as the papers themselves.

That said, I don't know why they have such lame nametags. Back at Wisconsin Sociology, we'll have way more professional nametags than this for the prospective student Visit Day. Indeed, for nostalgia's sake, here's the tags one subarea made in 2003:

Friday, January 06, 2006

yeah, so what if i bought the notebook on dvd?

Do you wanna fight about it? Don't think that after I'm done with Wacquant, I won't still have enough left over for you.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

derridee, derridum

I'm working on a draft of a paper, and particularly on that crucial sentence up front that announces exactly what the paper is intended to do. In this sentence I used a couple of verbs, one of which was "reconstruct." But then I thought that "reconstruct" wasn't quite right, and I started cognitively casting about for alternatives. The word "deconstruct" came to mind. And then I thought, "Wow, 'deconstruct', you know, there's a word I haven't heard in awhile." Followed by: "And, you know, I think I'm better off for it."

I know someone who told me about a student who was writing a paper on "Postmodernism and Blogs." To which my first reaction was: "I thought blogs were what came after postmodernism." (By which I think I meant that many of the things that were 'good' about 'postmodernism' are so thoroughly exemplified by blogs and various Internet-based cousins that they seem nearly self-evident, whereas various things that were 'bad' are now widely understood as a part-pathos-of-a-particular-age and part-now-kitschy-retro-fun.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

no questions asked

A friend of mine, whom we'll call "J.", is looking for an mp3 of the song "Good Morning, Captain" by Slint. It's not available on iTunes, or he'd buy it gladly. If you have any information that can lead to one's procuring this song, please e-mail me. Slint is sufficiently obscure that I'm both pessimistic and intrigued as to whether anything about its availability can be obtained via blogshout. Web, don't fail me now!

(No, this is not connected to my friend who uses obscure songs as centerpieces for performance art, although by coincidence she's actually a former-quasi-Slint-groupie and so would probably like the idea.)

Update: Mission accomplished, and in under two hours. Slinterrific!

every therm is sacred

My gas bill this month was almost $300. I'm one person, with three rooms (plus kitchen and bath). And in one of them--the bedroom--the radiator doesn't actually work. And I like it relatively cold.

Serves me right, you might say, for selecting an apartment that was at the very top-end of my rent budget and was sufficiently old that it doesn't seem to have any of that newfangled stuff they call "insulation."

Suffice it to say, the divinity school students living in the dorm across the street will have even fewer opportunities to look over and see me working at my computer in only my shorts. I'm sure it was fun for them while it lasted.

To be honest, I don't even know what a "therm" is. Wikipedia says its 105 million joules. Which doesn't clear up very much. I mean, I know that a joule is the amount of energy required to lift a kilogram 100 millimeters. I weigh about 75 kilograms. So a joule would move me 1.33 millimeters. 158 therms = 16.59 billion joules = 22.12 billion millimeters of Jeremy-lift = 22.12 thousand kilometers of Jeremy-lift = enough to hoist me into the lowest reaches of space seven times a day for a month. Instead, I used this energy to keep my apartment passably warm.

But, still: is this a lot of therms to be using, comparatively speaking? And/or is the price-per-therm unusually high?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

nina turns two!

(Nina and Jeremy in NYC, photo credit to Tonya)

(See post here.) And, unlike me, she's blogged every day, through thick and thin--and even through the thick-headedness and thinning-hairedness of certain Cantabrigian friends. And, also unlike me, she doesn't fiddle with the timestamps of her posts either.

a collaborator of mine makes the new york times

Here she is, in the NYT:
"Stuart and Sheri Meland, both 28, put their graduate studies on hold in 2002 and started a business that offers sellers a spot on the traditional multiple listing service, plus a yard sign, for a flat fee of $399. Most sellers agree to pay a buyer's agent a 3 percent commission, show the home themselves and either negotiate on their own or hire a lawyer."
I will leave it for readers to judge whether a life in real estate is more exciting than collaborating with me on a paper about the measurements of centerfold models and beauty pagaent winners (or a second paper we have, presently under review, on the long-term life correlates of the way people smile in their high-school yearbook photographs).

Here's a link to their business, btw.

Monday, January 02, 2006

call me a fair-weather fan if you must, but i'm not going wandering out in the cold if it is just going to be a rout. besides, i've got work to do.

Running a little behind schedule today, I had just put on my Iowa sweatshirt and was rushing out the door to a local place to watch my beloved Hawkeyes play the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl. I could see from the Auto-Refresh update on my monitor, though, that even though there was still 13 minutes left in the first quarter, Florida has just blocked an Iowa punt for a touchdown to go up 7-0. Now I think I might wait a few more minutes before deciding whether to go.

because you've just been dying to know

Jeremy's Three Favorite Names of Stops on the Boston T (colors indicate lines):
1. Wonderland
2. Back of the Hill
3. Maverick
Runner up: Milton

I've thought about taking the train to the Wonderland stop (it's the end of the line) just to see what it's about and get a picture of/on the bench.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

but, but, i was going to have all this resolve. i was sure of it.

Today was way more lethargic and unfocused to be the first day of a brand new year. I want a mulligan. Can I even say that? Or is that now regarded as a slur against the Irish or something? Great, so now I've not only started the new year out by being ridiculously listless and unproductive, but a potentially a purveyor of politically questionable language here on my blog. Of the many optimistic visions I had for the New Year, none had me starting off all hapless and borderline-hate-speechy. I just want a do-over, okay? A do-over. I want to be able to click "Undo" on today and start again.

Why did Groundhog Day take place on Groundhog Day rather than New Years' Day? If there was going to be one day in the year that a person was going to live over and over until they got it exactly right, Day 1 would seem like an ideal choice, rather than Day 33.