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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A dream

There were two houses on opposite sides of a street, on a hillside, such that the house on the higher side of the hill had floors above the road, and the house across, on the bottom, had floors lower than its "ground floor" or street entrance. 

We were staying at the lower house, but attending a party or celebration of some kind at the upper house, which was superior in every way.  In fact, each floor of the house, ascending was more luxurious. The opposite occurred with the lower house.  The street entrance floor of the lower house represented something like basic common sense. The floor beneath it was at the cultural level of "Jesus saves!" and BBQ.  We felt inferior while we were in the upper house, with the elaborate fixtures and pretentious discourse. No other person in the dream had a clear identity, other than myself, but it was clear that some of us were from the "lower" house.  

The dream continued many hours, with many details I cannot recall. The upper house was more like the Ivy League, theoretical researchers. The two houses with their various levels represented the intellectual and cultural hierarchy in very concrete terms. As I was awakening I was also analyzing the dream as much as possible. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

 I noticed that there are several possibly *negative* components of running:  

Being hot / sweaty / thirsty. 

In cardio-vascular terms, breathing hard or having elevated heart rate. 

Feeling tiredness / soreness in the legs or pain in legs any part of the body. 

Being bored / unmotivated. "I'd rather be doing something else." 

The first two don't bother me (unless I were running outside in high heat).  

Usually, my legs will feel tired before my cardiovascular system.  I am not really tired in any meaningful sense. After the run, or next days, legs will feel sore, but a *good sore.* I don't mind sweating, because that is the body's system for cooling down. 

So the key is mental, receiving the signals from the body and processing them in the way I want to. It is a training of the mind. Now, since the weak part, as far as the body is concerned, are the legs, then I don't have to worry as much about other components. The weakest part of the mind is the part that wants to quit at a certain point, but then I can just slog through those parts. Presumably the muscles in the legs will get used to running and not protest as much.  


Back windshield shattered yesterday. Extreme cold temperature, and then heating up the back window with built-in heating coils to melt the ice, must have stressed the glass too much. The dog got sprayed by skunk; then I noticed she had peed in the bed at some point during the day. [I don't even own a dog!] 

Bad things happen in threes.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Cognitive load and canine intelligence

 Running in the gym (because the ground is icy) requires a lot. I can lock up things in a small locker, but must remember a combination and which locker I have used. I have to have ear buds (they must be charged), the wallet containing id, the phone to play music in my earbuds, water. I must change clothes; make sure I am aware of the hours of the gym (not a problem usually but Sunday they open at 1). 

I set a running app to keep track of my miles, and select music on a play list. All these organizational tasks seem difficult, whereas the running itself is physically taxing but cognitively uncomplex.  


The cat was trying to get something from under (behind) an open door. Then the dog came along and tried for a few minutes with snout and paws. I got up and moved the door, and the dog retrieved its bone. The dog could have physically moved the door, as I had, with minimal effort, rather than trying to dig out the bone from underneath. I'm sure there are dogs or cats smart enough to do that; even a crow or squirrel.  

Saturday, January 20, 2024

the gym paradox

 There is a cognitive bias, I will call the gym effect. At the gym, if I catch my reflection in the mirror, I see and old, weak-looking guy with five pounds extra body fat.  At home, in the mirror, on the other hand,I see a relatively young looking guy, with a decent physique for his age and not very much overweight.  

The gym is where the students work out, so I am going to be 45 years older than the average person there. The more out of shape students do not work out as much, so the typical person is a student with zero body fat. The substantial muscles on some are due to the fact that... it is the weight room.  

It is the same if I think about the fact that my 35 minute 5 kilometers is very slow. Yet some people cannot run that distance (or do not choose to run at all). 

My brother in law is in palliative care. He called me the other and the conversation turned sentimental; he was talking about how brilliant everyone in my family is (he is married to my sister, also in palliative care) and that he felt inferior. But in my family it is normal to have a PhD.  My dad, my brother and I, two uncles on my mom's side. For him, it is like being at the gym, intellectually speaking (and he is a very smart guy, just modest and very generous).   

I guess the point, in abstract terms, is that there are always multiple sets in which a potential comparison might take place. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Writing as manual labor

 Murakami's book on running suggests that writing a novel is manual labor. It is just laborious work. He says that three things are required: talent, focus, and endurance. Talent is necessary but not sufficient. There has to be a way of grinding it out over the long haul.  

This makes perfect sense. The book itself, What I talk about when I talk about running, could be seen as a slight book, a mixture of travelogues and diaries. If you like Murakami and running, though, it is worth a look. The authorial persona is humble and realistic.  Failures and successes are both treated lightly.  


"Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems. The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you. Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion."

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International) (pp. 79-80). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024


 It took only two months to reclaim most of my running fitness. I ran 5k in under 32 minutes, just three minutes faster than my record time of 29 something, when I was maybe 7 years younger than now.   

I started by running six minutes, walking three. Then 9 and 3... Then I did 8 and 4, 12 and 4, 16 and 4... until I got into a good alternation.  Soon, I could run 25 minutes without stopping, then 30.  I gradually left out the walking part. I set my app to measure in metric system, and usually decide in advance on a distance, between 1.5 and 8 kilometers. On days I run, which is not every day, I alternate between shorter and longer distances. Longer ones, I do as slowly as possible; shorter ones, at a brisk pace, and medium distances, at a steady pace only slightly slower than my "speed" runs. I only have about 3 gears: slow as possible (8,5 minute kilometers) and still be running, steady middle pace (6.40), and one slightly faster than that (6.30) Ideally, I should have four gears: slow, medium, medium fast, and all-out. 

The slow pace is actually the most powerful, because it permits more mileage and endurance. I can run a long time and then still be able to speed up at the very end.  I don't feel particularly tired after running. 20 minutes later, I feel as though I had not run at all.  


 I felt I was dreaming all night.  1st, a love scene I don't care to describe in detail, but entirely soft-core. 

I was playing a game based on chess, but not exactly chess. I moved my queen to threaten opponent's rook, but of course their rook took my queen instead. This was agasint someone I know in real life to be a skilled chess player (as I am not). I resigned the game in disgust with myself.   

There was an altercation in front of our favorite bar, a mass brawl I witnessed from outside a circle of people.  Once in a while I got a glimpse. Then they were carrying people out and someone said, "Now, for some triage..."  The bar itself had emptied, and I had not paid my tab. 

I had moved my alarm clock to another room so I didn't see the time as I slept and woke. When I thought it was my normal time, 7ish, I got up, looked at my clock, and it was 7:09.  I had woken up between different phases of this night-long dream. 


I use some poems to fall asleep: 

Frost: the way a crow, silken tent, for once, then, something, a bird half woken in the lunar moon, never again would the bird's song be the same, design, acquainted with the night, nothing gold can stay.  

With WCW: I use, red wheelbarrow, this is just to say, iris, flowers by the sea, as the cat, to waken an old lady, complete destruction, the jungle. 

And then, Yeats: no second troy, when you are old and gray and full of sleep. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

out loud

 You do'nt get to judge the quality of your poetry (out loud). That's because, egocentric bias. 

On the other hand, you do get to judge the quality of your scholarship.  There is an ego there, too, but you can objectively lay out the strengths and weaknesses, and you compare yourself to others because you are all doing the same thing. 

That being said, I do think my poetry is on the level of what semi-famous poets do, or actually better than the Pinsky, Collins type of poet.  

Friday, January 12, 2024

Some other handy notes

 Some other handy notes:

Use only present tense to analyze literature. If you use past, then you will make mistakes with preterit / imperfect, and mix up present and past in the same sentence, to much confusion. 

Avoid any second person grammar: no "you" or yours. 

Use the 1st person only for convenience as discursive marker. Don't talk about yourself. Don't say, "when I first read this poem, I didn't understand it." 

Don't make references to the course itself. "As we learned in class last week..." 

Avoid the "dawn of time" opening and the "dictionary definition" trick. Those are high school.  

Don't make a generalization and then say "blank is no exception."  [This is one for scholars too; you know who you are.]. 

Set the language of the word doc to Spanish.  Then some spelling errors will show up and you can correct them. And some grammar errors as well. 

Agreement, agreement, agreement.  

Don't make every verb reflexive. Some verbs are reflexive, others aren't.  

Make all the mistakes in the subjunctive you want! You are a student and still learning.  But don't make the "Spanish 101" errors if you are a senior Spanish minor or major. 

Don't tell me Lorca is a famous writer, etc... Start the paper at the beginning, without all the bullshit throat-clearing. Entrar en material.. ir al grano. 

Another recycled post: how to write a paper for your undergraduate Spanish class

 [This post will replace the one I wrote more rapidly a few days a go on the same subject.]

1. What you are being asked to do is very difficult. Produce college-level writing in Spanish. Think of what you are asked to do in a course in another department. You would probably be embarrassed to turn in a paper with a grammatical or vocabulary mistake in every other sentence, or with a very low level of intellectual content. Writing in Spanish, you still need to produce college-level work, so you need to remember everything you ever knew about academic writing. If you are already a good writer in English, then you need to transfer those skills to the new language. Principles of organization and rhetoric or not fundamentally different between the two languages. For example, you probably know that you wouldn't start a paragraph with "Also..." in English. So why would you start with "También..." in Spanish? That's a weak transition. If you aren't a good writer in English, you are in trouble, because then you have to learn composition at the same time as you struggle to master a foreign language. Write well-developed paragraphs of about 5-6 sentences each, with topic sentences in each paragraph that all support the main thesis statement of the paper.  

Because of your language skills, you might unconsciously dumb down the content of your paper. Your sentences might be too short, your vocabulary limited. Don't let poor language skills make you seem less intelligent than you are. Avoid grandiose or obvious statements. "Lorca is a famous writer." When doing a compare and contrast, don't say "There are many similarities and many differences."  

2. Read the instructions. Figure out what the professor wants from the paper. It is likely she doesn't want her own ideas from class parroted back.  

3. Do not translate your ideas into Spanish. Before you begin writing for the day, look at some authentic Spanish academic writing to get a feel for what your style should be. Borrow some frequently used phrases like "Sin lugar a dudas" or "Así las cosas." A frequent source of unclear writing is the literal translation of phrases that made sense in English but produce garbled Spanish.  

4. What did the Spanish language ever do to you? Why are you mistreating it so? Now is not the time to forget elementary grammar. To say "like this" you just need "así," not "como así." "As much" is not "tan mucho" but "tanto." Don't make verbs reflexive or subjunctive in a random way. Distinguish between parts of speech. "Mágico (magic, adj), "magia" (noun). Use technical terminology correctly. Never use the word "cuento" unless you mean the literary genre of a short-story or short oral tale. Look at the corrections of previous Spanish papers you have written, in this class or previous ones. Chances are you are making the same mistakes over and over again. Don't make grammatical mistakes in the title of the paper.  

5. Choose quotes carefully. Don't use the quote the professor analyzed in class to make his main point. When you do quote from a text, use the quote rather than merely quoting it. For example, with a long block-quote that occupies a quarter of a page, you need to point out some relevant details after the quotation, not just have it sit there using up space.  

6. The good news is that the professor is likely to be more tolerant of some level of grammatical mistakes than a professor in another department. The professor does not expect perfection. A few errors in the use of the subjunctive will not make an A paper into a B-. Really basic mistakes tend to produce more anger than more subtle ones.

Here's another recycled post: how to comment on a grad paper

 I found these comments in my file for the theory class. 

“Critical Review of...”


Let’s start with the title: it could be a bit more revelatory and interesting—a minor issue. The intro is strong, but the last sentence of the 1st paragraph is weak. Here is the place where you could insert a strong thesis statement, but instead you simply announce that your paper is going to comment on the article by B. Something that we already know from your title. Likewise, the concluding sentence of the essay is weak: you apologize for not dealing with every aspect of the essay, instead of taking advantage of the final position to highlight your own strongest point, whatever you feel that to be. The time to make this kind of statement is early in a paper, as a kind of captatio benevolentiae.  

You might need more context in the second paragraph. What exactly was B reacting against? I would say there are two main traditions: neo-classical poetics in Europe did not really consider the novel as an artistic genre because it was a new, upstart form that did not form part of the classical canon. Secondly, B was writing partly in reaction to the Russian formalists. If you don’t see this context, it becomes hard to see why B establishes the dichotomy between poetry and prose. Poetry (poetics) entails a certain narrower, classical view of genres. I don’t think that it as easy as you assume to extend his “prosaics” to the realm of “poetics.” I also think you need to consider the historical development of the novel as a genre.  

In the third paragraph: it is unlikely that B knew Gramsci. You should look up the actual dates of publications of Gramsci’s work rather than just saying that you don’t know whether he knew Gramsci or not. Good summary here, though. 

Page 5: “Essentially a genre theorist of the novel, I...” Who is the genre theorist, you or B?  

You make good points throughout, but a better thesis statement and conclusion would result in a better, more cohesive paper.  


Final Grade A -

Most of my previous comments have been addressed. Generally, this is a strong paper, building on strengths of the first version. My main critique at this point would be that the paper could test B’s theory against real examples of novelistic and poetic discourses. It seems a little abstract, too theoretical, in a way. The reader doesn’t really have a sense of what B’s theory would look like when set in motion. The paper could go even further in the direction of proposing an interesting idea about Bakhtin’s theory. 
I didn't give a grade for the first version, because I wanted attention on substance not on "why did I get this particular grade." I didn't have to change any information to publish this on my blog because there is nothing personal here. Everything is about the work, nothing about the writer as human being. [update 11 years later: now I really don't know who wrote this paper!]. 

I also gave some interlinear comments that I didn't save.  

Now I'm feeling I should have kicked his or her ass even more. But beyond a certain point is becomes counter-productive.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Wooten's theory of improv

I was watching some videos of Wooten [bass player of renown] on improv.  I will mix in his ideas with some of mine.

1] Improvise badly.  [This is similar to my idea of writing bad poems; it frees you up.  The results will be good, possibly]

2] Wooten says: there are 7 notes in any given scale, and 5 notes NOT in the scale. So play any notes you want; you have more than 50 % chance of those being the right notes.  If they aren't in the scale, they will be altered notes or chromaticism.  [My idea is: there is only one bad sounding note, which is the fourth degree in a major seventh chord.  So play CEGB and then F in your right hand.  That F sounds really bad.  You can avoid that one if you like. Everything else is pretty good.]. 

3] Make the groove solid, says Wooten.  Note choice is less important than the rhythmic feel of the music. [So I can improvise with simplistic ideas or repeated notes.]   

4] My final idea [not attributed to Wooten] is just to do it.  Sit down and do it enough. Anyone can improvise.  Now can anyone improvise well? No.  The quality of the ideas might be good, bad, or indifferent. One thing I learned from Chick Corea's book is this: you are the judge.  You get to decide what you like and what you don't, so you are developing your own taste. That fact that the fourth over a major seven sounds bad to your ears [if it does] is just as useful as knowing that the third sounds super consonant and sweet.  Maybe the third will be too sweet, what Herbie Hancock calls the "butter notes."   

Reading in anthologies

 I remember the revelation of reading the Complete Works of a certain poet. [Wallace Stevens]. I was maybe 14 or 15.  Anyway, reading in an anthology gives a false impression. You find that the poems are more uneven in the complete works. Some fall flat; some are dull or incomprehensible (especially if you are 14); some good ones never get into the anthology. It seems as though the anthologists only read other anthologies and choose the same ones out of inertia. (Can an anthology be plagiarized?) Even the weaker poems provide satisfaction, and make the ones you like stand out even more. The dullness is part of the over all experience of finding out for yourself what is interesting, and finding out what poetry is really about: a process of large numbers of failures punctuated with tenuous and temporary successes.  

Also, books of poems are works of art in their own right. They have organizing principles. Who would know that Lorca's "La guitarra" is part of a sequence of poems, and that this sequence of poems in its turn is part of a book of poems? The anthology does not give you that information. Even your professor might not know this, using an anthology of poems selected by someone else. 

Many people, even famous people, in my own field I have heard say over the years: Oh, I don't really like / read / understand poetry.  It's odd to me because I would not have gone into the field to read modern Spanish novels. Nothing wrong with the modern Spanish novel, but I wouldn't have felt compelled to go into the field from reading Azorín, Gabriel Miró, Benet, Marsé, Laforet, or even Goytisolo. My late colleague Bob Spires asked me in the intrerview: why don't you study fiction?  I had no great response, but now I would say: all of you are already doing that.   

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

rescuing a post from 2006

My criteria for an article:  

Problem The article must first address a significant critical problem. That is, it cannot be merely informative or descriptive, but must make an argument. For me, the critical problem usually involves a paradox. For example, we know that Creeley's poetry was influenced by Pound and Williams. Yet, in comparison to their work or Denise Levertov's, his poetry is not strongly visual in the same way. A paradox is like a wrinkle in the fabric of our expectations, or a distance between what most people think about a particular writer and what is *actually* the case. I had an interesting talk with Mark Halliday: his perception of Thank You was that it contained many difficult poems that did not make sense on the surface. My perception of it was the opposite. Of course, when we got out the Collected Poems I saw that we had both overestimated the proportion of "easy" and "difficult" poems in the book, overlooking the ones that did not confirm our previous bias.

The critic must feel that the problem is of some significance and make a case for this significance. Does literary history change if Creeley is not a visual poet? Maybe it does. Maybe not. There has to be a non-obvious consequence that makes a difference for something else.


The critical article cannot repeat what has been said before. It cannot argue an obvious thesis, that Levertov derives her line-breaks from WCW. It has to take into account what has already been written and enter into a critical dialogue with it. Even if not much has been written about the topic, there must be some demonstration of the gap in the critical literature.


The critic must speak with voice of her / his own. It can't be the application of an already existing critical discourse. The critical voice is the authority--not the literary theorist to whom the critic is beholden. Nobody else could have written this article but him / her / me / you.


I haven't said anything about theory. That is because the presence or absence of theory in the article (i.e. references to specific works by "name" theorists) is not directly relevant to these criteria. For me, the theory will usually be more implicit than explicit, simply because I have my own voice, more or less. Barthes is not theoretical because he quotes other theorists or presents abstract ideas (although he does do this too) but because his is an interesting mind dealing with critical problems. I find my own ideas more valuable than applications of Derridean theory, say, to a particular text. The silliest idea in my head is worth more than the most profound idea in someone else's head (Frank O'Hara, as paraphrased by Kenneth Koch). This is not arrogance. It is the starting principle. Why should you listen to me if I'm simply a less accomplished version of someone else?

Good academic criticism has to be extremely imaginative. It should convey the same excitement we get when we read Barthes on LaRochefoucauld. I hate "imaginative" criticism where I feel the critic is simply making things up. After all, making things up is pretty easy to do. That's cheating, in my mind. You can't say you'd "rather be interesting than right." You'll end up being interesting in a kind of dull way. If you stretch out a little bit, you have to have the smoking gun, the piece of evidence that makes your argument not only possible or plausible but probable. We've had students who seem to have the "spark" but can't quite put things together in a cogent way. I've been that student myself.

Bad criticism is bad because there are not that many people who can do all of this and put it together. Ever read a plodding, descriptive dissertation, where the dissertator seems to be merely going through the motions? He is not incompetent; he deserves the doctorate and a place in the profession, perhaps.

For myself, I feel that I need to have something for the formalist reader and something for the cultural critic at the same time. That is, if I'm writing about poetry there has to be something interesting going on in what I'm saying about the poetry, as poetry. At the same time there's got to be some other point beyond this as well--some reason for you to care even if you don't care about the poetry as poetry.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Research is still "writing"

 What I mean by this is this: if you are researching, you will be taking notes, putting what you learn in written form. The exception is when you are reading a book and not taking notes, just marking pages or keeping mental note of ideas. The process of writing is continuous with the process of note taking.  

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Scratching my head

 This is the strangest statement I've read this year:

"What makes me uncomfortable about this situation was how so many people, under the guise of being 'objective,' did feel the need to invest their time in the name of establishing some kind of truth in the situation." It's on Andrew Gelman's blog, but in a post by another contributor.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

You need an hour, but you only need an hour

I have decided to return to my practice of writing every day on my book, for an hour a day more less, using the Seinfeld chain method; I began on January 1.   

Many things require an hour (or less) a day. Practicing an instrument (for hobbyist ambitions). Running: yesterday I ran (walked) for an hour and did 4.5 miles.  Now, I don't even need to run everyday, even, just every other day, alternating with weights. I only spend 30 minutes lifting. Making progress on a book ms. For meditation, 30 minutes is good if you aren't a Buddhist monk.  

You can prepare class in an hour a day. I teach two and a half hours a week, and I need about an hour of prep for each hour of class, if it is a class I have taught many times before.