ONLY A FEW MORE DAYS OF MARKING…until the new term begins. *Sob*
Ah well. Have some more Casey Being Weird.
ONLY A FEW MORE DAYS OF MARKING…until the new term begins. *Sob*
Ah well. Have some more Casey Being Weird.
Grades are due on May 3rd. I have been marking almost non-stop for weeks now. I’ve got through thirty exams today and may try for up to ten more tonight (I may not; my head is going thumpy-thumpy-thump); there are ninety left to go. Last week, I gave you five ways in which huge piles of marking altered one’s life. They were all sort of quirky and lighthearted. I have passed the quirky-and-lighthearted stage now, and I just want the marking to go away and leave me alone.
I have, however, always found it ironic how much easier it is to get other work done when the marking is at its most heinous. This must be how workaholics feel all the time. I’m not sure how they keep it up. Maybe they secretly cry a lot.
In the last week, despite–or, perhaps, because of–the mountains of marking, I have accomplished the following on my “breaks” (read: the periods during which I have to stop marking because my head hurts too much):
1) I have held an initial meeting about creating a short film for the online course on fairy tales I am authoring.
2) I have paid my taxes.
3) I have sorted out my banking situation, something made necessary by the teller’s gasps of horror and astonishment as he processed my taxes and, in the process, discovered that I had not set foot in the bank for about ten years.
4) I have published a comic every two days.
5) I have reapplied for my job, a process that takes way too long and involves a lot of typing.
6) I have come close to finishing the first chapter of another novel that I have been writing entirely during fifteen-minute breaks from marking.
7) I have written this Rant.
As soon as the marks are in, I shall be returning to my usual sloth. I wish I were capable of being productive without also being too busy to eat.
It’s marking time, so I would merely like to mention five ways in which huge piles of marking alter one’s life.
1) Time slows down. You would think it would be the opposite. Wouldn’t the contemplation of appalling piles of essays and exams make the clock race? Wouldn’t the thought “There’s no way I can finish all this in time” actually prompt the second hand to zoom around in a brisk little circle, destroying all hope of finishing before the deadline? But no: suddenly, unexpectedly, there is enough time for everything. An hour becomes a vast blank space in which ever so many things can be accomplished. I believe this is called Being in the Zone. I believe it is also called Sheer Desperation.
2) Procrastination becomes less urgent. It’s sad but true: during Marking Panic Mode, you just work more efficiently. The breaks you used to take every fifteen minutes become the breaks you take every four hours (but only if you finish a certain number of essays during those four hours). You become a marking machine. Two weeks from now, you will not understand how you did that.
3) Sugar becomes a necessity. Forget caffeine; it’s all about the sugar. If you have nothing sweet around, you will go shopping and come home with several mammoth containers of Sour Cherry Blasters and Gummy Worms. You will eat way too many of them as rewards every time you finish a paper.
4) Creativity happens. Despite–or, perhaps, because of–your relative lack of procrastination, you will start to have a series of ideas. If you like to write, they will be ideas for stories. If you are musical, they will be ideas for songs. If you paint, they will be ideas for art. Ideas will teem within your brain, and you will have absolutely no time to do anything about them.
5) Everything that goes wrong will seem both inevitable and trivial. Your watch stops the night before the exam?* Meh. Your shoe’s sole comes loose?** Whatever. An alien spaceship lands on your balcony? Okay, sure, but I have to mark this essay on television sitcoms. The world could be coming to an end; it wouldn’t be worse than those 150 essays sitting on your desk.***
Happy marking, fellow instructors. Reality will reassert itself eventually.
*It is, in fact, the night before the exam, and my watch has stopped.
**This one happened last weekend.
***Or, more accurately, on the floor beneath your desk.
I spent this weekend at Ad Astra, a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/etc. convention, and somehow, I ended up on six panels. The first and the last, which technically had nothing to do with each other, have set me thinking. The first panel was “Introversion is not a Bad Word”; the last was “So Much Sherlock.”
Introversion has been coming up a lot lately in various articles and books, as well as a TED talk by Susan Caine. People are beginning to observe that introversion is not the defect many have assumed it to be for the last century or so; introverts simply have a different way of approaching the world and generating ideas about it. The old Myers-Briggs cliche is that extroverts get their energy from social interaction, while introverts get theirs from being alone. Cliche or not, it’s a pretty good definition. As the people on the panel observed on Friday evening, extroverts also tend to develop their ideas by talking, while introverts develop theirs by thinking. The results are the same in both cases, but the extroverts end up praised as indulging in “constructive conversation” and being “proactive,” while introverts are criticised as anti-social, not team players, and even slow on the uptake. In a world dominated by extroverts, introverts are treated almost as handicapped.
My first panel dealt with this frustrating social situation. My last was devoted to a discussion of Sherlock Holmes and the current revival of Holmes-focused stories. One topic that came up more than once was our apparent need, especially in North America, to diagnose Holmes and other Holmes-like characters with brain damage or some sort of mental illness.
I have no problem with telling stories about people with mental illnesses; in fact, I think there should be more such stories and much less of a tendency to treat mentally ill people as diseased and contagious. However, there’s a difference between a story of a person who happens to have a mental illness and a story of a brilliant but eccentric man or woman whose eccentricities are automatically explained away as something that in a less useful person–one who didn’t solve crimes every Monday evening at 8:00 p.m., for instance–would need to be cured or controlled. Even if we just stick to television, we find this impulse everywhere. In the BBC series Sherlock, some characters describe Sherlock as a psychopath; Sherlock calls himself a sociopath. The title character of Monk has OCD, Walter of The Finder is brain-damaged, Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory is broadly hinted to have Asperger’s, and House of House is occasionally diagnosed by other characters with Asperger’s or sociopathy. Temperance Brennan of Bones went through an extremely traumatic childhood and can probably been seen as suffering from PTSD. It would not surprise me if in the pending American show Elementary, which transplants the Holmes story to New York, Holmes were portrayed as having something the matter with his brain.
On the Holmes panel, someone observed that Holmes wasn’t a sociopath; he was an introvert. In both the original stories and the BBC series–even, in fact, in the Guy Ritchie movies–Sherlock Holmes goes inside his own head to reason out the answers to the problems with which he is presented. His powers of deduction work because he does, in fact, think and act like an introvert. A good contrast (again sticking with TV, since we’re already there) would be the Doctor of the British series Doctor Who, currently being produced by Stephen Moffat, who is also responsible for Sherlock. In at least his last two incarnations, the Doctor has been the epitome of an extrovert; he is a genius who needs to talk everything out, and he draws his energy from his relationships. Holmes is the opposite; in the original stories, he frequently keeps his deductions to himself until the big reveal at the end, and though he does have a sort of symbiotic relationship with Watson, he usually has his ideas sorted out before he confides in his one friend. He doesn’t tend to launch into long, rambling speculations during which he has a series of revelations. The revelations happen before he opens his mouth.
I wish we could just let Holmes be Holmes. Yes, he’s outside the norm. He’s eccentric. He’s interested in the wrong things; he can differentiate between different types of tobacco ash but doesn’t know that the earth travels around the sun. His fascination with puzzle solving borders on obsession. But it’s his position outside the norm that allows him to be as effective as he is at what he does, and arguably, it’s why so many readers angrily cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand when Arthur Conan Doyle killed him off. Without his eccentricities, Holmes would just be a very smart man with a cocaine addiction. Moreover, without his introversion, Holmes would not be able to solve crimes at all.
Is it really necessary for eccentricity or introversion to be explained away as something that could, in an ideal world, be “fixed”? Holmes marginalises himself; why do we have the urge to portray him as someone marginalised by disease or defect? Does the impulse to stand apart even have to be a defect? As Caine says in her TED talk, for millennia, we have revered people who remove themselves from civilisation and go out into the wilderness. We call them mystics, sages, prophets. I would take it further; look at folklore and mythology, and you can see that we also call them heroes. The hero is the one who goes off alone into the dark. There are very few stories about heroes who are the life of the party. Yet nowadays, being the life of the party is “healthy.” Internality makes one a little bit weird. It’s more important to talk than to listen. Mental illness is clearly the only explanation for the urge to go off alone into the dark.
Let the brilliant, eccentric problem solvers of fiction have both their brilliance and their eccentricity, please. Why shouldn’t they be different because they want to be, not because they have to be due to some tragic accident of genetics? In a way, “eccentricity” is only another word for “creativity”; the eccentrics of the world just look at things from their own beautifully wacky perspectives. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason we shouldn’t let them do so. If we don’t want to live in a universe full of little clones who never deviate from the norm, we’ll stop trying to find something fundamentally wrong with Sherlock Holmes.
I am the first to admit that I like tiny little musical instruments. I play a number of them, from the ukulele and the piccolo to the harmonica and the pennywhistle. I also play some particularly huge and ungainly instruments, such as the piano and the accordion, but there’s a certain appeal about being able to stick an instrument in your purse or sling it over your shoulder and carry it around all day without suffering major back pain. Portability means greater ease of access. In the case of instruments, it does sometimes have its drawbacks. Playing the piccolo is fun, but people tend to run away whenever you get it out. I am happy to argue that the ukulele is a viable musical instrument capable of complexity and beauty (take it away, Jake Shimabaukuro), but I’ll also admit that it has much less sustain and resonance than a guitar, and the fact that it has a short scale and four strings instead of six can be seen to limit it as well. Devotees of tiny instruments love them because of what they can do; others shun them because of what they can’t do.
However, a trend that sometimes rather baffles me involves an apparently endless series of attempts to make already small instruments even smaller.
Let’s stick just with the ukulele for now, simply because it offers us so very many example. The ukulele comes in four standard sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The soprano is the size most people think of when they think of the ukulele; the larger sizes are tuned more or less the same (except, occasionally, for the baritone), but they offer longer scales and larger, more resonant bodies. A typical soprano is about 21 inches long and weighs so little that it can easily be balanced on a single finger. Even a tenor uke, at around 26 inches, is small enough to treat as carry-on luggage.
And yet there are compact “travel versions” of even the soprano ukulele. Kala makes a thinline travel uke that simply reduces the depth of the body, making the instrument easier to stow in a bag. Ohana has a sopranino size that is about 19 inches long and is generally tuned a bit higher than the soprano. I own one of these, and it’s fun and kind of cute, but it is really just taking something that’s already very small and making it even smaller. Kala has gone Ohana–and itself–one better and produced a pocket ukulele, which is 16 inches long and tuned even higher than the sopranino. The KoAloha Noah is 3/4 the size of an ordinary soprano. The Kala pocket uke is usually considered the smallest playable ukulele, but there are smaller ones out there; Tangi makes a tiny model that is supposed to be mostly decorative (though some do try to play it), and a few independent makers, such as this guy, make miniature ukes that are meant to be played. A few higher-end uke makers also do sopranino, sopranissimo, and miniature ukuleles.
But that’s just the beginning. Eleuke, which makes electric ukuleles, has the Peanut, a soprano-scale solid-bodied instrument that is much slenderer than a standard uke. Risa also has a tiny electric uke. An independent maker sells kits for making foldable ukuleles; they sound pretty terrible, but they do fold up quite small. Another independent maker has come up with a very small and not very nice-sounding travel ukulele made from scrap lumber.
I could go on. Over and over, people are taking an instrument that is already about the length of a grown woman’s arm (hand not included) and making it even smaller. Sometimes, it becomes so small that the sound quality is entirely compromised. Sometimes, it sounds okay. But the impulse to force the instrument into teenier and teenier packages remains.
My personal theory, which I have expressed before, is that ukuleles and other small instruments are a bit like puppies; they have the “awww” factor on their sides. This does not detract from the fact that they can sound absolutely gorgeous at times, but it does make some people take them less seriously. We try to compensate, in a way, by accentuating the convenience. You laugh at my tiny instrument? Look how easy it is to carry around! How do you feel about your double bass now?
I do enjoy my sopranino, though if I want the best possible sound, it’s not the instrument I pick up first. I don’t think I’ll ever own one of the Kala pocket ukes. They remind me too much of those little wee dogs rich women carry around in their purses.
Well, so far, we’ve seen Marie dragging Casey to Davies…which gives him another panic attack…leading him to become depressed about his memory problems…whereupon Marie tries to force him out into the world…making him behave so oddly that Barbara begins adding to her list of why he must be Satan…and subsequently dresses up as Sherlock Holmes and goes on the hunt…culminating in her presentation of a dead mouse to Casey…at which point he takes the mouse and runs out of the apartment…apparently prompting a frantic phone call from a mysterious unknown person…after which Casey returns and demands the tie he hasn’t worn since his reappearance in September.
On to the next link in the chain…
I know I write about the weather too much. However, it’s just been weird lately. When you get 26C temperatures in March, that’s odd. When they are followed three days later by snow, that’s freaking bizarre. Today, it hailed…with “today” being April 1st. Perhaps the universe has a sense of humour after all.
While we were roasting in Toronto, it was snowing on Vancouver Island, where spring habitually begins in mid-February. On March 31st, a friend of mine living in St. John’s was forced to shovel his driveway. The weather forecast for the next week shows temperatures varying by 17 degrees within the course of a single day. It’s as if the season is having a genuinely hard time coming to terms with its identity. Someone should write a coming-of-age YA novel about it.
One problem is that it’s impossible to know what to wear. If it’s -2C when you leave in the morning, 15C when you go out for lunch, and 6C by the time you start to make your way home, are you just supposed to keep donning and/or shedding layers all day? Do you wear boots? Sneakers? Walking shoes? Sandals? Do you need a tuque? Gloves? A scarf? Is the wind blowing, making it seem ten degrees colder than it really is? What if the wind stops blowing? Should the windows be open at night? During the day? What if everything changes five minutes from now?
Are the wild fluctuations in pressure and humidity harming my musical instruments? Do they account for the fact that I’m tired all the time? Can I blame them for my reluctance to start marking? Why have I not started marking? Why do Cinnamon Pops not taste like cinnamon? Are people going to try to kill me again after they read this week’s West of Bathurst comics? Has the weather affected my attention span?
What is the meaning of life? Why do dogs have wet noses? What if you gave God a sandwich so big he couldn’t finish it? What did I do with the driver disk for my portable scanner, and why is there no way to find the driver online? Why are old clocks and old keys so wonderful? What would happen if I decorated my apartment with old clocks? Could I recreate the opening scene of Back to the Future, and would there be dog food involved? Am I subconsciously a steampunk fan? Why are tiny little musical instruments so appealing? Why does everyone sneeze in a different way?
Damn you, weather: this is what you’ve done to me.