Late Night Review

You know, I’d love to pretend that I’ve just come in from hanging out at the Edison, or the Blue whale, or some other fun place, feeling a bit concerned about my morning class on how to write equations for the shape of the universe (we do some cosmology in the General Relativity class tomorrow)… but instead I’m up at almost 1:00am because of a persistent dry cough, indigestion, and a noisy mockingbird in a tree just outside. Are these connected? I do not know. All I know is I cannot sleep.

So I blog.

It has been, once again, a crazy week. There are times when I wonder if this has become the norm, which usually leads me to valiantly fight a bit to ensure that is not the case, resulting a a withdrawal from a lot of stuff to regroup. I hope to do that soon. Although I’ve said yes to so many things, it is looking like July or August before that can happen. That’s bad.

Right now I can only remember back as far as Wednesday, where the day began with a last check of the midterm I wrote for the GR class (second midterm for them) before setting it at 10:00am. (Perhaps the most interesting thing on it was perhaps the computation of the surface gravity of a static black hole, working in Eddington-Finkelstein coordinates…) At 10:25 I snuck out of the classroom to meet with a screenwriting student who is working on a screenplay featuring a physicist character. She was seeking some advice and wanted to exchange some thoughts about the work she’s doing… I got to gripe a bit about my pet peeves about scientist characters (not just the scarcity of well drawn ones – although things have gotten better in recent years) in TV and film. Somehow the rest of Wednesday (after the seminar ended at 1:40) is a bit of a blur, but I think it did involve me leaving campus to head home to hide and do a bit of finish work on a page I mentioned in the last post. Maybe. (Oh, there was also the official opening party for Umamicatessen (new restaurant downtown) in the evening, that kept me out to almost midnight. I’ve been meaning to blog about the place since the official “soft” opening party about two months ago, but had not got to it yet.)

Scene from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books 2012. More to follow below.

Thursday saw me start the day way too early (as described in that post), and the mockingbird seems to be involved again, as I can see from looking back at what I wrote. I eventually started writing some thoughts down for that talk. For old times’ sake, I did this down at Intelligentsia and Casbah for a bit. Hadn’t been to either of those cafes in a long time, so shared the love a bit. I settled on a strategy I don’t entirely like, but one that fits the crowd I was talking to fairly well. I wrote the complete talk down by hand and then typed it all up as a speech. The idea is that I had a 20 minute time limit for the event, and so my usual off-the-cuff style would not be tight enough to ensure that I’d get all the ideas and content into it in the time allotted. I’ve noticed that my field tends to stick with the OTC delivery for seminars and colloquia and so forth, while in various fields on the arts and humanities sides of things, the reading from written remarks delivery is much more common. Interesting. But in any case, that was my plan. I then built a series of slides to illustrate the whole thing, with some fun sequences of delivery, designed to happen at various points in the 20 minute thing. Love Keynote.

Somewhere in there I had to design and write a second midterm, as one student had been away on a field trip on Wednesday. I wanted it to be similar in difficulty to the first, but with new questions, and it was (after numerous emails to set it all up with student and TA) set for Friday afternoon. Ultimately, the most interesting thing on it was an exploration of Rindler space. I think I’ll set the whole class to look at if afterwards as a fun extra worksheet, connecting it to an exercise on acceleration we’d done a while back.

Friday’s talk went very well, with lots of excitement from the crowd, resulting in a good deal of feedback and very generous congratulations on the work done on The Project. It is the first time that anyone’s seen a presentation on the arc of what I’ve been doing, and certainly the first time anyone has seen several completed pages side by side (I took along some samples printed on large art boards in a portfolio that was circulated. A bit of show and tell, if you like.

Then it was back to the office and some frantic editing and scribbling computations to check that I’d not made any mistakes in the new midterm. I then had to rush to a 3:30 planning meeting about “transformative hiring”… then back to my office to decide on the last edits of the midterm before printing it at 4:28pm. There was a knock on the door at 4:30 and it was the TA ready to pick it up to set the midterm for the student at… 4:30pm. I then dashed for the bus and home…

…only to spend a mere 45 minutes there showering, changing, eating a quick dinner before heading to the LA Times Book Awards ceremony. It was ok, but I did not enjoy it as much as previous years. I think that it was connected to the weird way the people who were deemed to be only general public (myself included) were segregated off into the peanut gallery. I was separated off from lots of my friends and colleagues in the writing (etc) world, many of whom I usually catch up with at this time of year (and others of which had come to my talk earlier that day) and so it felt a bit weird, to be honest.

Saturday saw the LA Times Festival of books and walking around, sometimes with friends, eating at the food trucks, going to panel discussions, and looking at books. It was tiring but fun, although I think I might stop going to panels on graphic novels because they never seem to get past the discussion of whether or not they are mainstream now or still underground culture. The answer to this question lurches sharply and firmly one way or another depending upon the person answering, and always boils down to whether or not they measure things according to what big movie and TV studios think (and video game companies), or what the literary world thinks. It’s an important topic, and I completely get why it comes up, but sometimes the discussion of it gets all so obvious and tedious and takes over a lot of the overall discussion leaving little oxygen for getting very far into discussing interesting things about the medium, various approaches to it, and so forth. Often, it also seems like the point of a lot of the discussion is always to try to “educate” the audience on the basics of the medium as though they accidentally came to the wrong panel. Truth is, the people who really need their minds broadened about the medium (and note I say medium and not genre – a major point that was well made during the panel discussion, I must say) probably skipped right on past this panel when they were going down the schedule planning their day’s activities, and so those of us who showed up for some depth ended up with a lot of well-trodden chit-chat. To be fair, quite a bit of the panel discussion was good, and I did get to hear a bit from Ed Brubaker, whose work (with Sean Phillips on things like Criminal and Incognitio) I like a lot. Earlier in the day I heard a nice discussion at the cooking stage featuring Nancy Silverton and Michael Voltaggio on food and food in LA, which was really good.

Home in the evening and tired as hell, I had to then spend three hours writing a grant application I’d been delaying the last few days due to all the other stuff. It is for money to fund next year’s USC Science Film competition. I ended up with a nice tight narrative over five pages in Pages, including some nice tables imported from Numbers, for the budget. (Really gave my iWork suite a workout this last couple of days, didn’t I?)

Three readers waiting for a panel discussion to start.

Sunday saw another day of visiting the LA Times Festival of books. I did two really great panels, one with Greg Bear (whose work I like a lot) on it, on speculative fiction, and the other with my dear friend Aimee Bender, on other aspects of what might be called more literary fiction (let’s not have the discussion about what all these distinctions mean). Ben Ehrenreich, Mark Leyner, and Elizabeth Crane were also on the panel, and it made for a fantastic discussion. There was no sitting around reflecting on what the larger culture thinks or cares about what they do, and so more time was spent going interestingly and substantially into discussions of their varying takes on approach, process, motive, etc., in their writing.

Hmmmmm. At this point I should embed some pictures I took, but I am too tired, and so will try to update the post later. Moreover, it is 2:00am and so I should try to get back to sleep to make sure I give a good class in the morning. I note that the mockingbird is even louder than before, so this might be tricky to pull off. [Update 26/04/12: Pictures added. – cvj]

(Oh, and I never got around to posting my CicLAVia pictures and video from last Sunday. Gosh. My weekends are too full these days. I will try to get to that too.)


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9 Responses to Late Night Review

  1. Jude says:

    Wow. The graphic-novel-as-valid-and-underappreciated-literary-form discussion reminds me of reading science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s, when all we seemed to talk about–fans and writers–was how underappreciated science fiction was. It seemed then that only a few works broke into the mainstream–logically, Flowers for Algernon; irrationally–Stranger in a Strange Land. Eventually, I think everyone got tired of the discussion, and eventually we even almost accepted what used to be a pejorative term–sci fi–instead of our preferred term, SF. And I was just a fan, not a writer. It must have been worse for the writers. As long as you don’t burn out completely, this is probably the pace you need to be keeping at this stage of your career and life. But the persistent dry cough makes it sound as though your body might “think” otherwise.

  2. Clifford says:

    Hi Jude,

    Nce to hear from you. It has been a long time. Actually, the same discussion about SF and fantasy that you refer to has not really gone away either. People just got bored with it and realized that it got to a point where it did not matter so much due to acceptance by mainstream culture. Various authors tried to position themselves differently, by adopting the term Speculative Fiction, – the wonderful Margaret Atwood is a notable example – but to be honest the situation did not really change, it just became an uninteresting discussion. I think the same will be true of graphic novels (the term itself being an analogous repositioning term to some extent) and so forth…



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