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Paunchy Day [Feb. 9., 2016|08:28 pm]
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Today's excursion with itchwoot moves one more person from the column of "LJ Friends I've Never Met" to "LJ Friends Known IRL". At this rate it will take only, what, 600 more years to meet you all?

He got in town last Saturday, but I was tied up with opera and gaming and such so it was Sunday evening before I was able to touch base with him. Fortunately I'd already asked for Fat Tuesday off since I'd been invited to a New Year's banquet the evening before and didn't know how late that would go. (Until near 11 p.m., as it turns out, so that was a good call.) He's got over a dozen people to see on his visit to Chicago and it seems almost none of them are free on weekdays before dinnertime.

Which is how I got him all to myself after I sleepily texted him around midmorning and invited him over for pancakes. Pączki were all over our flist, however, and he asked if we could score some of those instead. I was primed for that suggestion by the sad realisation I was missing Pączki Day at work, so I gave him directions to Swedish Bakery and told him I'd meet up with him on the bus. But he'd only ridden the El before, so I killed time chatting with my neighbours while waiting for him to hike the kilometre from the Berwyn station. (One even offered me an earlier number gifted her by one of the several people who lost hope at the size of the line, but I turned it down lest I get called before he arrived.)

The whole concept of taking a number at a bakery turned out to be novel to him, and he was amused at the prospect of buying Polish treats at a Swedish bakery without even realising that the staff serving us were Mexican. He bought three and I got two, thinking I'd give two to monshu. Then it occurred to me he might find even the fruit ones too sugary so I bought two hot cross buns as well. There's no place to nosh at Swedish Bakery (there's barely room to stand most days) and he needed coffee, so we hiked down to La Colombe and hid in the corner so we could secretly pig out. He observed that his pączek had a lot more filling than Berliner Pfannkuchen and it was true that I felt so full from my "cherry cheese fudge" selection that I didn't feel I needed anything else for a while.

He'd bought a book of coupons for Chicago attractions, but a couple were redeemable for only one of two alternatives, so he'd burned his Art Institute ticket on the Planetarium. "I'm a member," I said, "I can get you in for free." So that became the plan. I insisted we check out the Stieglitz exhibit in the basement, but after that we spent the rest of our time in the modern wing. They'd gotten a sizable gift since my previous visit, so there was plenty of new stuff to see alongside my old faves.

(As an aside, it was interesting to realise how little my taste has changed over the course of my life. When I toured Europe at age 20, I was drawn to the Dadaïsts, Surrealists, and Expressionists. Not only do I get as much pleasure out of them as I ever have, but my roster of favourite artists still hasn't changed much--though I did come out this time with somewhat more regard for Max Ernst than I'd had previously.)

I learned about this from an Englishwoman (who only referred to herself as "British" despite being originally from Chesire) we met in the café when we broke for tea. (Well, parsnip soup for him and smoked whitefish spread for me.) She sat down a few seats away and warmly struck up a conversation. Her husband splits his time between here and Ottawa, so sometimes she accompanies him to Chicago and consumes culture while he's tied up with work. I recommended Hinterland to her when I learned her mother lived in Cardiganshire (she's seen it) and she suggested River, a BBC crime series.

Afterwards, itchwoot had plans to meet another LJ friend for dinner, so we rode together as far as Loyola and I went home to monshu, who'd put together a second vegetarian New Year's dinner, this one featuring sesame noodles and headless lion's head soup because Mariano's was out of the crumbles he was going to use to make no-meatballs. Ah well! One more pączek and I sure the hell ain't going to bed hungry.
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I'm voting for Kodos [Feb. 5., 2016|10:18 pm]
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This election cycle is another gradual coming-to-terms with the fact that I'm not anywhere near as progressive as I'd like to think myself. Because if I were, I'd be on fire for Cranky Grandpa and his New New Deal. You can call it pragmatism--it's been clear since the beginning that the DNC is only interested in nominating the Den Mother of Wall Street; show me someone hoping for a repeat of 2008's insurgency and I'll show you someone with way more faith in Millennials' ability to find their way into a voting booth than I think is warranted--but I think it goes deeper than that. I think at this point I honestly prefer the moneyed centrist who I know won't try anything crazy to the untested luftmentsh who dares to dream big.

I really have to feel sorry for my Republican friends this time: so many options, so few choices. It looks like the GOP is drifting to Rubio by default, which must come as something of a relief after seeing first Trump's star rise and then Cruz'. I'm still expecting Angry Toupee's narcissism to lead him down the road to an independent run, in which case it's a guaranteed loss for their man and another four years of relentless obstructionism for the rest of us.

The one good thing to be said for the whole circus is that it's distracting us from the total shitshow on the state level. Rauner's turning out to be just the big government small government conservative we feared with the stubbornness to match Madigan in dick-measuring while Little Rome on the Prairie continues to burn. And the less said about our lame duck scumbag of a mayor, the less of a desire I have to drink until I wake up in the White City.
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A new start [Feb. 3., 2016|04:14 pm]
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I am staggering through the day today--I'm doubting I'll make until five--and I'm choosing to blame a combination of sleeping poorly, getting soaked at lunchtime yesterday, and the two-day effort to declutter our workspace. It was much needed and long overdue, but also strenuous and exhausting. I tried to pay as little attention as I could to whatever nonsense my colleagues were getting up to around the corner (such as unpacking several boxes of materials which are under embargo and can't be cataloged) and focus on my own area. It looks much changed--the head of another work group asked, "What happened to all your stuff?" as he was passing through--but I feel exposed without my comforting towers of books on either side.

One of the discoveries which came from offloading a couple long-beached boxes was that there is nothing holding the access panel on the wall in place except for the desk itself; although I can see screw heads, they're clearly not attached to anything. That explains why sound travels so well up from the sub-basement; today I even felt a draught of cold air I suspect is from the same place. I also found some amusing printouts given to me by a coworker who is no longer here, but fortunately no dead vermin. Whew!
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Same old story [Jan. 29., 2016|10:06 am]
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Halfway through Kristin Lavransdatter and the problem is no longer that it's boring, now it's that I'm starting to dislike the protagonist. I suppose I shouldn't blame her too much, since I think she's all of about 15 or 16 at this point so she's bound to make some boneheaded decisions. It's really Undset's fault for making the new love interest so unappealing. (I could also do without her reflexive hostility to fat people, but that's another conversation.) I want him to die in the war with Sweden before their romance progresses any further, but after bumping off her childhood sweetheart, that would seem gratuitous so she's not going to do it, dammit.

Also reading some Icelandic sagas and tales and loving them like always. Particularly Gísla saga Súrssonar, which I could easily have finished last night but I wanted to draw out a bit further. (I'll also need something to unwind with after finishing Bron/Broen, as is my plan.) It's got that tragicomic mix I love so much, though not as much entertaining taunting as in Vatnsdæla saga. Gísli himself is right up there with Egill Skallagrímsson for badassery. (I mean, nowhere near his equal, but close enough to put up a good fight if they ever tangled.)
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Twisty [Jan. 24., 2016|08:56 pm]
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I'm going to chalk down the limpness of last session to a combination of the absence of vianegativa and everyone's need to reacquaint ourselves with the system and setting after such a long break, because today's session was terrific. I still feel like I'm not quite holding my own with the other players, but two of their characters are so OTT that I feel a certain responsibility to play someone, well, responsible. This has left me casting about a bit for a story arc, but now I'm thinking it could be Dante's in Clerks: the realisation that not everything rests on your shoulders just because you claim it does.

A few days ago, it had occurred to me that, at about this point in Necessary Evil, vianegativa had found a way to make my skin crawl with he'd done with a character of mine whereas JB hasn't come close to that, so I began to question whether he really had that in him. I think I have my answer now, and I didn't have to wait for my character to get screwed over in order to find it. Enjoy your new body, Boo! Hope it suits you better than your last one.
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Fool's paradise [Jan. 18., 2016|09:58 pm]
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Leaving the Container Store today, I remarked to the Old Man that we'd ended up observing MLK Day by going someplace with the fewest Black people we could find. I was painfully aware of the irony when we planned the trip, only I didn't see an alternative. If he'd been feeling better then, we could've completed it last weekend and I was too sick of all the Christmas shit littering the den to put off buying sturdy plastic boxes for it yet another week. It doesn't all fit in the ones we've acquired, but most of it does and we can manage with the odds and ends.

The lunch place, Kingsbury Street Café, felt like Trixie ground zero. (My long hair is trendy again, but I'd have to wear it down and artfully radiating even at the cost of rendering a fur-lined hood purely decorative in -27°C windchill.) I was genuinely shocked when monshu made the decision to eat there even after being told of a twenty-minute wait. My "salmon hash" was flavourful and generous with the salmon, even if I didn't care for the trendy substitution of tater tots for actually potatoes, but he's being super cautious and only had plain pancakes. We hardly need to come to North & Clybourn for that.

Sunday was a day of pure hibernation. We'd spent Saturday running around so we had plenty of heat-and-eat treats from Middle Eastern (the chive-feta spread is a keeper). I ended up having to hike all the way to Whole-mart for the "vegetable crumbles" for the meatless shepherd's pie, only to find that pea protein is a key ingredient, so they might not actually be lower in purine than real meat after all. Same for the fake chicken strips I transformed into a kind of gyro with the help of fresh tzatziki and a little romaine.

But I had to do something to make up for my splurge on speck at Spacca Napoli on Saturday with tyrannio and innerdoggie. To be honest, it felt distinctly odd eating at a straight-up Italian place with them, but they vetoed the Mexican place I wanted and I nixed the inconveniently-located Turkish café with its paradoxically meat-heavy menu. Hours later, as I was coming back home on the Broadway bus, I learned that someone had been shot dead at a McDonald's only a mile due east right about the time our pies arrived. But that's the privilege that comes with living on the "right" side of a divided city.
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Ad finitum [Jan. 13., 2016|02:43 pm]
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Yesterday's get-together was a little sad and awkward. The idea was to spin off an LGBT "affinity group" to discuss...something. But we weren't really sure what. Apparently, whatever faculty/staff group we had on campus has gone dormant and no one seems really interested in restarting it. Right now it's just an orphaned webpage with a few outdated staff contacts.

The elephant in the room, of course, was whether our organisation actually needs such an affinity group. I tried to steer us toward this question by talking about the equivalent group at my last place of employment floundered after domestic partner benefits were made available to all staff and faculty. That just prompted some limp discussion of what other causes we could take up. What about homeless LGBTQ youth? Does anyone know of any bias incidents? What about queer foreign students, is anyone reaching out to them?

I estimate that the average age in the room was 50, which makes me wonder if there hasn't been a paradigm shift and we're on the other side of it. When I drop in on online discussions of sexuality among 20-somethings, I find myself confronted by an entirely new vocabulary. And not just for "new" identities--the entire categorisation system doesn't line up with what I know. Their whole conception of gender seems fundamentally different from the binary I was raised in, and that affects everything else.

So it's frustrating: there are clearly some rewarding conversations to have and plenty of worthwhile work to be done, but I don't see this particular constellation of individuals leading me to it. The one ray of hope was the suggestion that we get together with members of some of the student organisations and have them break down for us how they see things and what we can do to help.
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Some cat from Japan [Jan. 11., 2016|09:44 pm]
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David Bowie is someone who I've always experienced at something of a remove. He's one of those pioneers without whom the stuff I've loved wouldn't've existed, but I've never gotten the same enjoyment of his work as I have from the work it spawned. (Despite years of being subjected to the classic rock station in my hometown, I'll wager I've listened to Bauhaus' cover of "Ziggy Stardust" more time than I have Bowie's original. And I know I've listened to Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" more times than I have "Space Oddity".) I didn't even really make the connexion until several years back when I saw Velvet Goldmine and realised how much the 80s New Wave (and in particular the New Romantic movement) was a reincarnation of glam rock--and this despite the evidence staring me right in the face for years in the form of the Blitz kids marching through the "Ashes to Ashes" video[*].

So all my most poignant memories of Bowie are really memories of friends who loved Bowie. Like my high school friend (now a moderately successful performer in NYC) who would dissect his personae for you at the merest provocation. Or the time I wormed myself back into ladytiamat's good graces by translating an interview with him in Der Spiegel on the fly. By the time I really became aware of him, it was during his more "corporate" Let's Dance/Tin Machine period. I never owned those albums, and when he vanished from the pop airwaves (and later when I stopped listening to radio altogether) he faded from my memory. Just a few months back, I hunted up some of his more recent work on YouTube and tried to give it chance but it just didn't grab me.

Vicarious experiences can still be powerful ones, however, and as I was lying in bed scrolling through my friends' and acquaintances' heartfelt tributes on social media, I felt my eyes grow wet. I don't have to enjoy or even understand someone's art to recognise when my society has lost a major artist. But my personal reaction was, after learning his age, to find monshu and tell him, "Dude, you outlived Bowie."


[*] I was genuinely surprised to discover that this single came out the same year as "Fashion", because "Ashes to Ashes" feels so 80s and "Fashion" so 70s. Plus I have vivid memories of seeing the video on MTV and I could've sworn we didn't get cable until 1981 at the earliest.
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Änden är nära [Jan. 10., 2016|08:25 pm]
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One way or another, I'm done with Bron/Broen after this season. The departure of Kim Bodnia already made Season 3 a tougher sell, and the decline in the writing is helping not at all. Or maybe this was the standard in the first seasons as well and I didn't notice because of the novelty of the setting and the storytelling. Either way, the seams are showing and the payoffs are declining. This time around, the crimes seem more arbitrary, the villains more dumb, and the police response more implausible (not least of all because they're no longer newbies at dealing with a threat on this scale). At least the interplay between Helin and Bodnia is still there and they didn't have to jump through too many hoops to justify them being paired up again. Bodnia is on record as being dissatisfied with the direction they took his character in, which has me piqued to see whether I'll agree with him or not.

So, yeah, we're into full-scale winter Scandimania again. I didn't wait until the end of the Lagerlöf to begin the Laxness, which despite being set in the 18th century is strongly redolent of the old sagas. (Much more so than Gösta Berlings saga, ironically, which despite the title is full absolutely to bursting with pure 19th-century Romanticism.) The Old Man suggested I read it in tandem with Njáls saga (which it's already referenced two or three times in the first twenty pages) for a proper intertextual reading experience, but I may just return to The Kreutzer Sonata for the nonce. Or pick up something else entirely. (I did dip into Torgny Lindgren's Klingsor the other day but I'm not sure I have the stamina for even a short novel entirely in Swedish.)
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Special delivery [Jan. 8., 2016|09:27 pm]
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Okay, this is too weird not to share: It was raining when I arrived home today, so I came to the front in order to have a little shelter while I pulled out my keys. In the entryway, I noticed a familiar rank odour. So I started poking around. We keep a plastic trashcan there for disposing of all the flyers and unclaimed newspapers that pile up. There was a firm plastic mesh bag in it and in that bag, covered up in toilet paper, were faeces. Human faeces, as near as I could tell from a cursory inspection. Not in a nappy, as I first thought, but loose. Naturally, I had to tell monshu immediately--and send him down to check for himself, just to confirm that I wasn't imagining this.

How did they get there? A year ago, when the door wasn't closing properly, there would've been no mystery. But ever since the door was repaired, I haven't found it ajar once. Could someone have been buzzed in? We know that some of our condomates are deplorably lax about ascertaining the identity of people before they left them in. (More than once we've had to chase out solicitors who buzz one door and then go straight to another.) But that's some cheek, to buzz into a building before defaecating there, right? I guess we should be thankful they used a bag rather than just leaving it in the middle of the floor? That's probably the weirdest twist: Who on earth is that neat about leaving shit behind?
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