Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Crystal Bridges In the Rain

Yesterday in the chill grey rain of winter, we drove up to Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton's benevolent gift to the People of Arkansas, which is just over an hour from our house.

We'd been up to see the long-running exhibit State of the Art a few months ago -- it's just excellent, and we went through it again this time.

But we had somehow missed seeing the Audubon Exhibit, so we drove up to see that; and went through the museum's 19th and 20th century collection as well.

As long-term readers of this blog know, I have my issues with the Waltons (to put it mildly), but it is hard to understate how much this museum means to the people of Arkansas.

Previous to its construction, the nearest museums were in Kansas City, Tulsa, Dallas, and Houston.  All of these except Tulsa are really out of reach for any except the upper-class in Arkansas (and very few people in Arkansas rank in the upper-class).  This meant no one here saw art, except -- possibly -- in art history classes in high school or college, and then only in reproductions.

As those of you who have access to museums know, this is just not an acceptable substitute.  I'd seen Audubon prints all my life -- how could I not, growing up in New Orleans? -- but the paintings themselves, and the lithographs, seen in person, they will knock you down.

Plus, the museum has a wonderful new Hopper:

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

This image does nothing to represent it.  Believe me.


I still wish the Waltons would pay a living wage.  (I hear they plan to pay more, so that's something.) I still think their union-busting is despicable and disgusting.  I still think the way they treat their women employees is criminal.

But yesterday the museum was filled with families -- many of them working class families; and young people, teens and young adults, many of them having driven miles across Arkansas on their own to see this art; and groups of senior citizens, all of them filled with happiness.

You know, you can't forgive Andrew Carnegie.  On the other hand, public libraries.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gone Girl: A Review

I finally got to read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which apparently everyone in Fort Smith wanted to read. I had it on hold at the library for three or four months, with about fifty people in line in front of me.  I wasn't going to buy it, since from what I heard about it it was unlikely to be a book I wanted to keep.

Which, nope.

So many people raved about this book.  But holy hopping Cossacks, what a terrible book.  I mean, yes, very readable.  And many things about it were fun.  Well-structured, it kept you turning pages, and who doesn't love an unreliable narrator?

But also just ridiculous.  I guess we're supposed to sympathize with Amy, due to that self-serving Cool Girl rant she goes on in the middle of the book.

But it doesn't fit at all with any other aspect of her character, so it just feels like another scam she's playing on the reader. More bullshit, in other words.  Like when she claims to have given all her money to her Taker parents.

I mean, I guess we're supposed to believe that's a lie.  It certainly doesn't seem like anything Amy as we know her would actually do.  Except -- if she didn't do it, then where did all her money go?  This is what I mean.  The book is a mess.  The characters are a mess.

Is Nick a monster who uses Amy -- as we're supposed to believe, from that Cool Girl rant -- who takes her last dollar to start his bar and then cheats on her? Or is he a victim of this raving, fiendish, brilliant psychopath -- as the latter half of the book seems to imply?

(A brilliant psychopath who doesn't know how much milk costs, mind you, despite the fact that she's been living as an adult human, in a marriage, and we have to believe therefore buying groceries and such, in New York, for five years.  A brilliant manipulative psychopath who lets herself be trapped into captivity by a really sort of dopey weasel in the latter half of the book, who keeps her imprisoned on her estate and rapes her daily, because she isn't able to predict his behavior.  A brilliant psychopath who doesn't realize that two rednecks are going to rob her, when the reader knew that six chapters before she did.)

A victim who apparently likes being a victim, since he stays with her at the end: ostensibly to protect his unborn child, but how is it even possible that she's pregnant with his child, as she claims?  The timeline just doesn't work.  This has to be more Amy-manipulation.

Or bad plotting, I suppose.

God, what a stupid book.

"Why THIS?"

This morning, while all the local Xtians were in church, my kid and I went to the local Supercuts to get Supercuts.

As usual, I got my hair cut back, very short and close (though not the crewcut I am always threatening to get).

My kid, who has the heavy thick curly hair which she inherited half from me (thickness) and half from Dr. Skull (curliness) had a couple inches cut off.  And THEN -- and I watched her dismay as the stylist did it -- the young woman who had been firmly told by my kid just to wash and cut her hair used a hair iron, or whatever those things are called, to straighten all the curl out of my kid's hair.

"Why this?" my kid demanded as we drove home. "Why would she do this?"

"The curl will come back as soon as you wash it," I promised.

"What the -- why would she do it?"

"Most people want the curl taken out," I explained.  "So your hair will look like white girl hair, basically."

"AARGH," she said.  "I like Jew hair!"

"I know, sweetie."

"Now I look like every other standard-issue girl at school!  Plus --"  She ran her hands through her hair, "Plus my hair just feels like nothing!  Like there's nothing there!  WHY THIS!"

Little Problems, Annoying As Mites

So my fucking credit card got hacked.

Despite what credit card companies tell you when they're trying to sell you identity theft insurance, this is not such a huge deal.  If you're keeping an eye on your balance, as I always do, you will notice when thing have been charged to your card that you have not charged -- and they're usually very odd charges anyway.  (In this case, enormous sums to bizarre online dating services, as well as hundreds of dollars to Netflix.)

If this happens, you just contact the credit card company and say, whoa, not mine, and they deal with it (after talking to you at length -- but their algorithms are good, they can usually tell what's not yours and don't give you a lot of trouble).

Then, though, they cancel that card.

And, since like most Americans you are paying many of your bills via that credit card -- car insurance, mobile phone, water bill, whatever, Kiva donations -- now you have to go through your entire online life and change your payment information on all those sites.

Some sites are very well run, and it's easy enough to figure out how the change the payment information.

Some, though, good shit.  For instance, Net10.  Who the fuck designed Net10's site?  Apparently it is unpossible to access or change your payment information without contacting Net10 via telephone.  You have to call in, wait on the line for about 30 minutes, and then talk to someone (an outsourced to India someone, to judge by the difficulty this person has in understanding my request) who then refers you up the line (ten more minutes on hold) to someone who is apparently in Texas (judging by the accent) who then takes another ten or fifteen minutes to change the credit card number, and who then tries to sell me phone insurance and an upgrade to more minutes.

Compare this to Geico: two minutes, online, done.

Fuck you, Net10.

And I still haven't dealt with the kid's phone.  Argh.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

How The Other Half Lives

So I'm reading Ellen Gilchrist's new book of short stories.

IDK if you're familiar with Gilchrist. She's a compulsively readable writer of middle-brow fiction (though to be fair she won the National Book Award) who lives here in Northwest Arkansas, and who also lived in New Orleans for a while.

She also comes from money, and has (and I think has always had) tons of money.

Her stories frequently take on a didactic tone (which tone I recognize, since I tend toward didactic myself), especially when she is writing to or about women -- she tends to lecture women about how they should behave toward their bodies and their men.

You need to exercise.  You need to stay away from men who drink.  You need to stay away from men who are weak, whiny, artistic poseurs -- go for big manly men (like Ellen's daddy, I suspect).

And -- this is crucial -- you need to be rich.

God, wealth is at the crux of it all.  Her characters are all rich.  She started writing one story in this latest collection about a character who was (semi)-poor, with student debt, who had to be in the National Guard to pay off her student loans.

But, by the time we were halfway through the story, this student had a tenure-track job and a three-bedroom house with hardwood floors in Fayetteville, Arkansas that was entirely paid off, and we had forgotten that those student loans even existed. I mean, there was some hand-waving about how the house and the job had come to be, but the fact is, Gilchrist just can't do it: at her root, she knows poor people are sad little losers, and she won't write losers.

It's just such a strange worldview to read.  Almost like a Martian worldview.  This woman and I live less than sixty miles apart; not twenty years ago we were drunk at the same party; yet in a very real sense, we don't even live on the same planet.

Gilchrist, I think -- like many other people who have always lived in that bubble of wealth -- is truly convinced that virtue and success are inevitably connected.  Hard work, really, and toughness are all you need.  Do your job and wealth, beauty, and good things will come raining down on you.

I mean, that's how winner happen, right?  They work hard and make good choices and don't whine?


And therefore it follows, ipso facto, that anyone who does not have success, who is not a brilliant winner, living in a lovely three-bedroom house with hardwood floors (paid off, of course) and a tenure-track job, I mean obviously, just did not work hard and make good choices and should stop whining, because all your fault, loser.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teaching Laura Ingalls Wilder As A Major Author

Here at my university, we have an upper-level class, Major Authors, focusing all semester long on one writer.  I've taught Octavia Butler in this class; other professors have taught John Steinbeck, or Toni Morrison. The criteria is deliberately vague, but in general you're supposed to teach someone who is important enough to have major influence on the field of literature or on the culture itself.

This semester I taught Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I first conceived the class after reading this post on Wilder over at Historiann (and the comments!).  I got the Fellman book which is mentioned in the comments, and then several other books from the bibliography, and then more books from their bibliographies, and soon I was reading Wilder scholarship like a boss.

You would have thought I was one of those research professors, not a Creative at all.

Anyway, when it came time to propose classes for this Fall semester, I put forth for Major Authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, and our chair loved it (happily).

I anticipated a few possible problems for the class -- either that students wouldn't sign up, because it was a class about kids' books; or that they would come into the class having only seen the execrable 1970s TV show.  (Directly responsible for electing that fucker Reagan, by the way.  Okay, indirectly.  But see the end of this article.)

Students signed up, y'all!  Only a few of them had read the books as obsessively as I had, as a kid; more had -- as I fear -- been fans of the awful TV show; but not that many. More than a few had never even heard of Wilder.  (WTF.  Kids today!)

The class went brilliantly.  I converted nearly all of them to Wilder fans.  We didn't read any of the critical books, but there are just tons of excellent articles, and we used several of those, in particular  Sharon Smulders' "The Only Good Indian: History, Race, and Representation in Little House on the Prairie," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly; Anita Clair Fellman's "Don't Expect to Depend on Anyone Else," and Claudia Mills' "From Obedience to Autonomy," both in Children's Literature).

The books teach really well, you will be glad to know, and since about half the class were English Education majors, we were able to approach the books from that standpoint as well -- how these books might be used in the elementary classroom.

We spent a lot of time talking about the history of the books --  the time they were about (1870-1880); the time they were written in (1930-1940); and the time of the TV show (1974-1982) -- as well as the political history / impact of the books.  This meant a lot of time talking about The New Deal, and Libertarianism, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, FDR, Frederick Jackson Turner, and what all this had to do with a seemingly innocuous children's series.

We read all eight books.  If I had the semester to do over again, I'd skip Farmer Boy, I think, since we were rushed for time here at the end of the semester.  Or maybe not assign presentations.  Those ate up a lot of time.

OTOH, the presentations were great.  One of the students presented on the Dakota War of 1862 (which appears in Little House on the Prairie as the Minnesota Massacres); another researched the music Pa would probably have been playing and its history, and another taught us to dance the dance at Grandma's house.

I'm also getting just excellent papers.

All in all, a successful class.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Too Snarky?

Hell fire

This is my new post, over at Grounded Parents, about raising an atheist child.

I tried hard to rein in the snark.

Not sure I succeeded.

Go here to read it:  Raising The Atheist Child.