When I’ve felt stuck with writing, I’ve sometimes tried to make art. My tastes run more to the semi-abstract and non-figurative, so that’s what I often end up doing. I’m a longtime fan of the natural media app Painter, and my production cycle goes back and forth between Photoshop and Painter (I use a tablet and stylus), with frequently saved iterations. It tends to be a process of discovery: I seldom know what it’s going to come out as when I start (the derivation from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais is an obvious exception), and simply follow the lines or patterns as I iterate, usually over several dozen versions. I’m sure my deuteranopia shows in my color selection, and I’m fine with that. The files linked below (click to embiggen) are a little less than half the size of the originals (about 40 inches wide at 150 dpi).Read more
I’m teaching all online this semester, and I miss the classroom. Part of what I miss is the sociality, of course; the ritual of getting dressed for work and going in to the office. And I like being well-dressed for work—I held a day job during my first year of grad school, and of course the Army and uniform influence, and part of it is that I have some nice hand-me-down sport coats and blazers from my dad and other nice stuff I’ve scored at thrift stores—and my feeling is that it shows respect for my colleagues and students, like, “Hey, I take this gig seriously.” And I’ve been doing arting as a hobby for a while, enjoying playing with a stylus and tablet and Corel Painter, a natural-media-imitating app. So I figured I’d have some tongue-in-cheek fun with the Zoom interface and remediation.Read more
I’m moving I’ve moved
vitia.org to a new hosting provider, and
I’ll soon be changing changed the URL to integrate with my professional site at
That means Please consider the blog
vitia.org will be mirrored at
preterite.net for a while. This URL (
vitia.org) should be good at least for the next few months, and I’ll have more details as I get the move finalized.
vitia.org now defunct and reincarnated in updated form at
Short explanation: I started this weblog as a graduate student way back in the early social media days of 2003 (!), when fabulous beasts like the Invisible Adjunct and Culture Cat and the Happy Tutor roamed the green hills of Academic Blogistan. In those days of MySpace and Friendster and LiveJournal and Movable Type 2.6, my default mode was that of grad student critique-ish-ness. The blog’s title, Vitia, indicated that splenetic mode in Latin, and its tagline translated the second declension neuter plural noun: “faults / sins / abuses.”
I like to think I’ve mostly moved away from that splenetic mode, especially with sobriety and being a dad. Thomas Pynchon fans will recognize the reference to preterition, which for me intersects with praeteritio, the rhetorical device (like occultatio) associated with saying something by not saying it or explicitly “passing over” it, as well as with the notion of grace.
The site’s been down for a while because of some brute force attacks and such. And my writing’s been down for a while because other stuff’s been happening. So I went in and updated stuff under the hood, though I still haven’t changed the look of the place — maybe that will come soon. But I’ve also realized the old domain and title — vitia, a Latin word that roughly means things like abuses, faults, sins, and such — no longer fits what I’d like to be doing here. It was from 2003, when I was in grad school, busy finding faults and being critical. So I’ll be moving to another domain and merging material with my professional academic site around the end of 2019 or the start of 2020: preterite.net. No changes at the moment, though, other than an attempt (not quite a promise) to get back into writing more regularly.
Some of the folks on the team compensate for being away from home and family by eating. Food gets fetishized. Not so much the food at the KBR dining facilities, although there are the quirks there, the exotic things some eat when away from home: chunks of blue cheese by the salad bar, sliced boiled beef tongue for lunchmeat, Nutella. But the true fetishizing happens in spending money on food. There’s a real Thai restaurant on base, staffed and run by Thai nationals who got the contract and rotate over here for six months or a year like the AAFES and KBR workers, and a Turkish restaurant operating under the same circumstances (the Thai place is better), and a pizza and sandwich shop, and a tiny, smoky two-picnic-table kebab shack that’s mouth-wateringly excellent on the other side of the runway. Guys will spend fourteen Euros for dinner or four Euros for lunch, sometimes two or three times a week. “It’s my only luxury,” one of them says. “It’s the only thing that gives me pleasure here, besides Skyping with my wife.”
Or folks compensate by going to the gym. It’s open 24 hours, and there’s usually a wait for the treadmills. Everybody reads, of course. There are swap bookshelves everywhere, weirdly diverse (or not so weirdly; as diverse, perhaps, as the military itself): there are the usual titles you’d expect, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, and Mack Bolan The Executioner, whose novels I had never encountered until I saw one of the series on a bookshelf at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California in 1993, and who I never saw after I got out of the Army until I came here, but there’s also a copy of The Book of Mormon on the same shelf as an old library-bound hardcover of The Hite Report, and a while back I spotted Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives a couple shelves down from Grace Paley.
And the pirated DVD shop at the bazaar does booming business. Every DVD is $2, lots of them of movies that are still in the theaters (I’ve watched Black Swan and The Adjustment Bureau while I’ve been here), although many are DVDs of the movies being shown in movie theaters, so you sort of get the whole experience. Since we’re prohibited from taking them home to the U.S., some folks buy one or two or three a week and just leave them on the swap shelf, which makes for a sizable library. From what I’ve seen, I’m anticipating that The Hangover and The Losers will get picked up a lot more often than Inland Empire and Enter the Void, but you never know.
My habits are pretty much what you’d expect.
I’ll cop to being selfish: I’m not going to leave any of my scholarly books on the swap shelf. (I am planning on leaving my Afghan books behind, though, and Chronic City is very far from the Jonathan Lethem I know and like.) There are two seasons of The Wire on those hard drives on the left, as well as about 260 GB of my music collection, mostly ripped from CDs just before I left. And while it sounds OK on the Bowers & Wilkins 600s at home, the Sony earbuds I brought with me weren’t cutting it, so I ordered the pair of Etymotics there on the keyboard. They go much deeper into your ear than other earphones, so they’re a initially little uncomfortable. We’ll see how well I get used to them tonight as I give them a test drive and take a look at Zombie Economics.
Warren Zevon, “The Hula Hula Boys”
Metric, “Satellite Mind”
Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Match Box Blues”
Outkast, “The Way You Move”
The Clash, “Straight to Hell”
David Bowie, “Modern Love”
Morphine, “Honey White”
Dengue Fever, “Sui Bong”
Emmylou Harris, “Walls of Time”
Greg Kihn, “Breakup Song”
Joan Jett, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Depeche Mode, “Stripped”
Lupe Fiasco, “The Coolest”
Beck, “Farewell Ride”
Melvins, “At a Crawl”
My Brightest Diamond, “Feeling Good”
Rachid Taha, “Kelma”
The Grass Roots, “Midnight Confessions”
Sisters of Mercy, “This Corrosion”
Steve Earle, “Copperhead Road”
Natacha Atlas, “I Put a Spell on You”
Talking Heads, “Girlfriend Is Better”
Neko Case, “Furnace Room Lullaby”
Jurassic 5, “What’s Golden”
Led Zeppelin, “Over the Hills and Far Away”
I’m enjoying listening to the Dead Kennedy’s “Halloween” tonight, especially the following bits:
So it’s Halloween
And you feel like dancin’
And you feel like shinin’
And you feel like letting loose
Whatcha gonna be
Babe, you better know
And you better plan
Better plan all day
Better plan all week
Better plan all month
Better plan all year
Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say
Because your role is planned for you
There’s nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you
And what will your girlfriend say to you
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whaddaya know you’re pretty self-conscious too
I’m celebrating my 40th birthday this year on Halloween (I was born on November 1), and I’m excited about it, but it’s also kind of a big milestone that’s got me looking back.
I first heard the Dead Kennedys when I was 9th grade — can that be right? Yes, that’s got to be right — and man, they were scary, and they were cool as hell. There was a mix tape that made the rounds and got duplicated and reduplicated, with Black Flag, Government Issue, Black Market Baby, and the Dead Kennedys, and it was garbled and hissy and recorded from a vinyl LP so there was a brief scratch and skip in “Trust Your Mechanic” that I still miss every time I hear the version I have now, and the climactic fantasy moments from “Riot” and “Forest Fire” were the first times I realized that music could do that energizing, subversive stuff, and the ominous bass melodies for “Holiday in Cambodia” and “I Am the Owl” were like nothing I’d ever hear until Primus, and I’ll still contend that the opening guitar riff for “Government Flu” is one of the best and most underrated in all of rock ‘n roll, up there with Suicidal Tendencies’ “The Miracle.” So yeah: back then, at a virginal 13, this was wicked-scary, dangerous, very cool stuff, as tinny and hissy as it was on that Maxell Gold cassette.
And I still like it, thinking back on my skinny nerdy self 27 years later, not as skinny but still plenty nerdy, gone from spiky hair to mullet to bleached mullet to fat mohawk to long hair to spiky again and then to the crew cut and finally to the shaved head: not really punk now, no.
Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say
But I guess I was punk once.
This weekend’s brief respite from the steadily quickening pace of helping to facilitate the department’s Arriving Faculty Workshop and preparing to administer the fall semester’s first-year composition course was a trip into the city to take in a gallery exhibition and a meal, and for L. to meet her friend.
The exhibition was Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s “Black Acid Co-op,” and it was remarkable. The NY Times slide show gives a taste, and the accompanying review’s characterizations of the installation as “an immense, labor-intensive, maniacally contrived walk-through environment” and a “warren of some dozen rooms, interiors, and passageways [that] includes a burned-out home amphetamine lab [and] a red-carpeted gallery of pseudo-artworks” are apt. The word I would have chosen, I told L., was “methodical”: there was a remarkable and consistent phenomenological attention to the most minute details of the experience of the space.
One walks into a dark wicker-lined room strewn with paper trash. A book of polaroids lies in a corner of the concrete floor. There are thermal-printer astrological charts with attached polaroids pinned to the walls. And there is an uneven hole in the wall, the first of many, leading to a brightly, badly fluorescent-lit space, exposed wires hanging from the light fixtures, a scabrous analogue of run-down strip-mall commercialism.
The wigs are clotted with paint and cement. The hole beckons.
There are multiple paths. Inward, toward the heart, they all lead through iterations of meth labs.
In deeper, one climbs into an open refrigerator and out the back.
Lauralea and I went for a short, hilly run this morning — net change in elevation of 350 feet, repeated several times over 2.5 miles — and then went to Lost River State Park for a hike up Big Ridge (elevation 3200-3300 feet) on White Oak Trail. On the way, we passed groves of trees that looked almost exactly the way I imagine the edges of (nerd alert) Lothlórien looking.
I’m typing this on the deck of a log cabin deep in the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, somewhere near the town of Mathias and Lost River State Park, 15 miles from the nearest store or filling station, further from any cell phone coverage, and even further from any work obligations for the next two weeks or so. My companion and I set out from New York yesterday morning, cats and bags and groceries in the back, traveling south and west first by interstate and then by state and local route and finally by dirt road, until we got here, somewhere around