The worst sentence of the year

Well, at least the worst sentence of the year according to The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where the goal is to write the worst possible opening sentence to an imaginary novel. Here’s this year’s winner by Dan McKay of Fargo, North Dakota:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

Yeah, that’s pretty bad….

Check out the site for more humorously bad writing.

A wiki on the fly with pbwiki?

Mark Crane posted a link to something called to the Tech-Rhet mailing list. The “pb” part of things comes from their motto/catchphrase: “Make a free, password protected wiki as easily as a peanut butter sandwich.”

I haven’t quite figured out what I would use a wiki for in my teaching, but I did set up a wiki with this site in about 3 minutes, which strikes me as being kind of a good and cool thing.

A few unofficial notes on our visit to Virginia (and time to start a diet again…)

I’ve posted plenty in recent days on my official blog about my trip to Richmond, Virginia where I appeared on something called “The Writing Show.” You can read all about it there, if you’d like. I thought it was a great experience, I thought the show was a great idea, and, because of bad management and squabbles, it sounds like I was on what is likely to be the last version of the show, at least in this format. But that’s a different story.

The story I was going to talk about here was the unofficial stuff of the trip. There was a lot of fun crammed into a day and a half. We got to meet the “friend John” that our friend Mary talks about once in a while on her blog, we had a chance to check out Harrisonburg, we took a sort of mini-trip down memory lane (Annette and I drove by the apartment where we used to live, we drove by Annette’s parents’ old house, which is where we got married, etc.), we went to an absolutely excellent book store in the Cary Town area called Creatures n’ Crooks, and Annette and I ended up staying in a really nice hotel for not a crazy amount of money, thanks to

But as we were driving back Friday, both Annette and I remarked about the fine culinary experience we had had the previous day. It started with breakfast in Harrisonburg at The Little Grill Collective, which is a co-op/very hippie-like little place. Located off of the beaten path (this is not the kind of place a tourist could stumble across easily, I don’t think), it was pretty darn scruffy, the mismatched furniture in the dining room not a fashion statement so much as a necessity. The food was equally rustic but darn good. I had biscuits with gravy and a darn tasty potato cake (along with eggs), and Annette had that key Southern breakfast staple, grits (which I find yucky, personally). I hope Mary will send me a bumper-sticker.

We had lunch in Richmond at Joe’s Inn. Ah, Joe’s…. When I first moved to Richmond as a grad student back in 1988, the bars my friends and I hung out at were the ones closer to campus, places like Bogart’s and The Village (couldn’t find decent web sites for either one of these joints). But I went to Joe’s too, especially after I was done with VCU’s MFA program, and super-especially when I lived a block and a half away from the place and when Annette and I got together (for example, Joe’s was the first place I met her parents).

Judging from the web site I link to above, a lot has changed for Joe’s since Annette and I moved out of town 12 years ago. Instead of there being just one in The Fan (which is the very large historic neighborhood right in the city I lived in pretty much the whole time I lived in Richmond), there are Joe’s spin-offs out in the ‘burbs now. I guess that’s okay; more places to enjoy the fare.

Annette and I had the meal we had when we were dating way back when: a shared portion of the Spaghetti a la Greek with the meat sauce. It’s a huge mess of spaghetti that is baked with feta, provolone, romano cheese and garlic and then topped with either their marinara or meat sauce . It’s a great dish, nothing too complicated, but with more than enough cheesy goodness (especially with the feta) to make it interesting, and topped off with their excellent meat sauce (0ur choice), well, it brought me back a few years.

The only thing better at Joe’s, in my opinion, is just about anything they serve for breakfast, but that is both another meal and another story.

We didn’t really have a lot of time for dinner because “The Writing Show” gig was at 6:30, so we checked into our hotel and then wondered around the Schockoe Slip and Schockoe Bottom area. To be honest, I remember it being a lot nicer than it is now– or at least I remember a lot more stuff going on down there. My friend Dennis told me that there was a freak flood last year that caused a lot of damage, and I suppose that’s part of the problem. But when I lived in Richmond 15 to 12 years ago, I recall this area being a lot more vibrant than it seemed now.

We did find one great place, Café Gutenburg. They are in the same place that used to house the Main Street Grill, which was a funky/grungey/hippie sorta vegetarian restaurant that I remember going to a lot when I lived in Richmond. I was sad to hear that the Main Street Grill had closed, but I have to say that this new place is quite an improvement.

Café Gutenburg is a combination book store, coffee shop, and wine bar. Frankly, I cannot believe such a place has yet to open in Ann Arbor. As Annette put it when we sat down, “all of my favorite things– I just wish they had chocolate.” It’s a beautifully refinished space with some good used and new books (I picked up a copy of Snow Crash for fifty cents), little and large tables, very Europeanish finishes, and a nice patio area on the street. We each ordered a flight of wine, which was a sampling of three wines of your choice for the reasonable cost of the most expensive wine on their menu– I had white, Annette had red. Like most other places where I have sampled the flights, they bring you notably more than the equivalent of a single glass of wine, so it tends to be a good deal.

They also served a number of topas-styled dishes (basically, large appetizer portions based on a popular Spanish style of eating), which was perfect for us since we weren’t ready for a full meal after Joe’s but we needed to eat something before “The Writing Show.” We had a couple of filo-dough wrapped sorts of things, both of which were excellent.

And then, just to make matters better, it turns out that Café Gutenburg does have chocolate and in the form of an extremely rich flourless chocolate tort. We shared a piece and I had a cappuccino to wake up a bit (EXCELLENT coffee, by the way), and it was a perfect way to cap off eating in Virginia.

Well, not exactly. Annette and Dennis and I enjoyed some cheese dip over drinks and bitching about things after “The Writing Show,” but the food and beer at this brew pub wasn’t that notable.

I really have nothing to complain about in terms of dining options around Ann Arbor (despite what Bill says, there really are a ton of great restaurants around here), but I missed eating in Richmond, too. And really, I’ve just scraped the very tippy-top of the iceburg of the food options available in this former capitol of the South.

Anyway, we’re back home, and after all this eating and the bad eating on the road home (and all the eating in various trips before this one), we are both ready for a diet, a serious diet. We’re back on the South Beach plan as of tonight. I still think it’s a bit of a gimmick and it is a diet I for one stalled on previously, but it is the only diet I’ve been on in the past that I that was relatively easy for me to stay on and it’s the only one where I lost any significant amount of weight.

We’ll see how it turns out; ideally, I’d like to lose about 10 pounds before the start of school in a month. In the mean-time, I have my travel and eating memories….

Finally, "The Writing Show" goes on: thoughts and conclusions

Finally, it was time for the grand event itself, “The Writing Show.” Here’s how it went:

The event was held in downtown Richmond at the Creative Change Center, which describes itself as “a community space and an organization of collaborators promoting creative, innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors in the region.” It’s a cool and funky loft space in an old warehouse, but one where some group spent a lot of money making it cool and funky. My guess is it’s used on a day-to-day basis as a “spill-over” space by the advertising agencies on the second and first floors.

Anyway, it was set up pretty much like Dennis promised: there were some couches and chairs with microphones up front, and Dennis sat stage left (as is the tradition on most talk shows), the other two guests (Jeff Lodge and Doug Childers) and I sat stage right. Dennis asked us questions, we answered and chatted. There was an audience of about 20, which I thought was reasonably good (how many conference presentations and/or readings have you been to with much smaller crowds?), though it’s apparently small for this thing. Past events have had much bigger crowds, 80 or so people. Of course, the timing of this event, late July, probably meant a lot of people were out of town, and, in my experience, the internet and its related geeky factors often make writerly-types and English majors seek cover pretty quickly.

The intention of the format was for us to talk amongst ourselves for the first hour or so and then take questions from the audience, but the crowd jumped in pretty early with questions and comments of their own. People on the panel did a few “show and tell” things as they came up (I showed folks Stuart Moulthrop’s web site when a question came up about using to web to do things other than as a publishing vehicle for more or less “traditional” print writing, Doug showed the web site he did for a writer in Richmond, Jeff showed some links, including the electronic journal he helps edit, Blackbird), but mostly, it was, well, like a talk show.

Personally, I thought the format worked pretty well, and I’m thinking about ripping it off borrowing from the concept. I think it might be kind of an interesting teaching tool (groups of students put on a talk show about some kind of writing concept for other writers), or it might just be kind of cool to try to replicate the concept in the Ypsi-Arbor area.

The only thing that marred the event a bit was at the very end. Dennis was cleaning things up and I was milling around, talking to him, talking to a few straggling audience folks. All of a sudden, Dennis and a woman named Colleen (who, it turns out, is the director of James River Writers and the only person who is actually paid to do any of this stuff), start having this confrontational, ah, discussion. Colleen didn’t think the event went all that well. She said she wanted to see more people taking notes (actually, a lot of people were taking notes), she didn’t think people were all that engaged (though the fact people were interrupting sort of suggested to me they were), and she didn’t think we were really delivering the right “product” (which begs the question “just what exactly were you expecting?”).

It was a kind annoying/marketing wonk way to end the evening. I’ll let those folks sort out their own internal political issues, but I guess what annoys me about the whole thing is the way she treated me. Or rather, didn’t treat me. Sure, I did come in and do this because I wanted to make a road trip to Richmond, to see Dennis, to participate in a unique kind of presentation, etc. And I’m not exactly a “superstar” or the sorts that can draw people just with my name. But that doesn’t give this Colleen person the right to more or less just ignore me (I don’t think she ever said “thank you” or much of anything else to me), and I thought it was bizarrely unprofessional to have that “discussion” right there. It’d be too bad if a good idea like “The Writing Show” was sunk because of petty politics and “creative differences” and micromanagement.

Anyway, even with all that, it was cool and fun. Now I gotta hit the road.

Day 2 of "The Writing Show" road trip: Dennis makes the news?

Dennis being interviewed

Annette and I said farewell to friend Mary and headed to Richmond, first for lunch at Joe’s Inn (the original, mind you) with Laura, Sarah, and “Writing Show” organizer and host Dennis Danvers. A fine time was had eating at Joe’s (Annette and I split a spaghetti ala Greek– ah, memories) and then wandering about in Cary Town (not to be confused with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown).

As we were about to part ways, we were approached by a channel 12 news crew asking for an interview. Since Dennis was the only local, he was the interviewee. They were asking about the prospect of a new movie theater in dowtown Richmond, something Dennis certainly favors.

Okay, this doesn’t have much to do with “The Writing Show” or even using blogs for creative(ly) publishing writing with the Internet, but I thought folks might get a kick out of it nonetheless.

day one of the writing show roadtrip (brought to you by a witty and reassuring lower-case san-serif font)

cute lettering

Annette and I stayed last night at a Hampton Inn in Harrisonburg, VA, where we stopped off to visit an old friend. A good time has been had by one and all and the hotel is very comfortable and pleasant.

But I have to say that I am really struck by the “branding” of this hotel, more than I have been by just about any place I’ve stayed recently. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING– the cups, the little writing pads (as you can hopefully see in this not great picture), the shampoo, the signage in the elevator, the listing of the available channels, the little sign that tells me there is “hi-speed internet access. complimentary.“– is is this font. And they are trying to be kinda funny/cute about it, too. The water cup says “some like it cold;” the cup for coffee says (you guessed it!) “some like it hot.” The soap says “clean your body.” Thanks for the tip.

This sort of branding is around us all the time of course. I guess I don’t give the hyper-consistency of font and color a second thought when I am in a store or surfing a well-designed web site, but it kinda freaks me out a little bit in a hotel room.

This is SO wrong…

You Are a Soy Latte

Yeah, you’ve got a bit of that healthy hippie thing going on
But you’re more Kate Hudson urban bohemian than Phish groupie
You’re worldly and well traveled… and you know where to get the best coffee in town.
All your experience makes you a compassionate person – and a caring girlfriend.

What Kind Of Coffee Are You? Take This Quiz :-)

Find the Love of Your Life
(and More Love Quizzes) at Your New Romance.

Soy Latte?!?!

Of course, this was a quiz intended for women, so maybe that was the problem with me taking it….

The Sidetrack burger is #19!

According to this list of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” the “famous burger” at Ypsilanti’s very own Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

The Sidetrack does indeed have a very good burger; I mean, I don’t know if it’s a must eat before you die (that’s a mighty high standard), but it is what I often get when I go there.

I think such a memorable hamburger is really based on atmosphere and place and such, so for my money, the “best burger” is actually at the Hamburg Inn #2 in Iowa City. But back in those days, I didn’t think a whole lot about calories, fat levels, cholesterol, etc. Like I said, it’s a lot about time and place.

Damn you, Borders parking validation…

We went out to dinner tonight and followed it up with a stop at American Spoon for the excellent gelato. Dinner was at Palio, which was the first time we had been there, actually. Pretty good stuff.

Anyway, while the family was finishing up the gelato at American Spoon, I ran across the street to Borders to get my parking validated. I am accustomed to doing this when I am in this part of dowtown and I have to park in the deck there. If you buy something in the store, they will validate you for two hours. If you don’t buy anything, they will validate you for one.

Or, more accurately, they used to do this.

I went up to the register and the young person started into a well-rehearsed speech. “I’m sorry, but we no long validate parking without a purchase. If….” When he got to this part of his speech, I picked up a piece of chocolate at the register. “Oh, well thanks for doing that,” he said.

“When did you guys started to do this? And where is this posted?” I asked.

“Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? It’s posted here,” he said, pointing to a completely unreadable piece of paper posted far behind the register. “They’ve posted it for us but not for anyone else.”

“So, can I still get two hours if I buy anything?”

“No, just an hour now,” the kid said. “They told us it had something to do with competition from other places giving validation.”

“No one around here validates parking.”

“Really?!” said the kid, realizing that once again the corporate line from the Borders managers lied to him. At least I think they lied to them; to the best of my knowledge, there is no other restaurant or store or anything that validates parking in town. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, please.

Anyway, this will make me think twice about the need to go into Borders the next time I have to park in the deck. What’s the point?

Far FAR too close to my Happy Academic home

From the July 29, 2005 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education comes this article, “Guilty to a Tee” by Michael “actually his real name” Bérubé. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about what it was like in the summer as a “Happy Academic.” I tried, but I think Bérubé has done a much better job of capturing the feeling. There’s a lot of good passages in this piece, but this one kind of captures the general “summer and academia” kind of feeling:

You would think that whenever college professors get too depressed or whiny about their lot in life, they could simply chant to themselves the mantra, “May, June, July, August.”

But you’d think wrong.

For many of my friends and colleagues, summer is a time of anxiety about both work and leisure. Professors tend to be driven people; many of us have internalized a fairly severe academic regimen in which we are accustomed to jumping through hoops and meeting deadlines, even when no one’s watching (maybe that’s why Foucault’s accounts of modern self-policing caught on so readily in some academic circles). So we often seem to spend half our “downtime” worrying about why we’re not getting more things done.

Ain’t that the truth. One of the great things about the academic life is that the work can be a lot of fun and engaging and even addictive. And stopping to work can sometimes be down-right hard.

Bérubé writes about several different kinds of sport activities he and his colleagues engage in during the summer and at other times of the year. But golf, as he points out, “is another matter:”

It requires years to master, it tends to be more expensive than tennis or fishing, and it takes a full five hours out of your day. Last but not least, somehow it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a liberal professor from the humanities wing of the campus to buy a local club membership or test out a new $400 driver. For the record, I do not have a membership anywhere, and my driver cost $150. But it still adds up, and it’s still hard to be casual about golf.

This is so very true. Discussing my golf game kind of wanders more or less into the realm of “the unofficial” blog space, but since Bérubé brought it up in an academic space, I suppose I can spend a sentence or three on it here. I started playing golf again quasi-seriously a couple of years ago. This summer and last, I have averaged about one and half rounds a week, this despite the fact that I have plenty of deadlines and I have been teaching at least half of that time, too. It is a huge time-suck, clubs cost a fair amount, and actually playing the game costs too much, too. It’s not a game for poor (albeit happy) English professors.

Still, it is a whole lot of fun, and since I have plenty of other things to feel guilty about, I think I’ll just follow (what I think is) Bérubé’s advice and just enjoy this pleasure.