Spartan Holiday Is Not Dead

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Well, it’s happened. From the nest of Spartan Holiday has  hatched a hungry little cross-eyed blog called Disglossia. Spartan Holiday will be taking a brief hiatus to gather worms and such to feed it.

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Meanwhile, I think you will find Disglossia to be refreshing, readable, and completely relevant to your eternal struggle for meaning-making in this cypress swamp of a world.

And that’s good.

Here’s what you can expect:

Pictures: At least one per post.

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Words: A whole freakin’ lot of them (but not too many) strung together into sentence systems syntactically correct for the English language.

Interviews: Eventually…when I get to know some important people.

Timelines: I like history and following lines of history through time all the way into the present tense, sometimes skipping over vitally important things to demonstrate how history writing works in the real world.

And more!

Meanwhile, Spartan Holiday is not dead. If it were, I would not say it was out “looking for worms.” I would say it was killed, murdered, or crushed by army tanks.

Spartan Holiday is alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

Antarctica Myths Unraveled

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Finally! Here we are in beautiful Antarctica where scientists roam free as seabirds in the summer and the sun never sets but just keeps circling elliptically.

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What’s it like to live in Antarctica? Most of us would like to be told second-hand from our comfy armchairs beside a crackling fire.

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So that is just what’s going to happen. Dial up the thermostat. Pour yourself some Mexican hot chocolate (Chef’s tip: just take some regular hot chocolate and ram a cinnamon stick in it). Get comfortable. You’re gonna wanna be really warm and indolent while reading about subzero temperatures, and polar winds, and the Frosty Boy ice cream machine. I have compiled below a list of Antarctic myths and then cracked them wide open, beaten them to a pulp and shipped them off continent. We don’t want any dirty Antarctic lies soiling the pristine snow-blanketed land! (Is Antarctica blanketed in snow??! Scroll to #8 to find out.)

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How do I know so much about Antarctica, never having been there myself, you ask? Well, I hear about it incessantly from Dave who has gone there every field season (October-January) for the last five years. Turns out Antarctica is sort of the measuring stick and ne plus ultra for every uncomfortable or extreme situation.

Obviously, it is never as cold in New Mexico as it is in Antarctica, a fact I’m reminded of whenever I gripe about the cold. If I say, “Isn’t the landscape desolate and barren?” Dave would say, “Not as barren as Antarctica.” If I say, “We live in the southwest.” Dave would say, “Well, this isn’t really south. Not as south as Antarctica.”

Stuff like that.

So I know a whole frickin’ lot about Antarctica, actually, some of which I wish I could unknow, but I can’t. And so:

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Antarctic Myths Unraveled

1) It makes total sense to have time zones in Antarctica

Sure. Sure it does. Because think about what happens to all of those longitudinal lines at the poles. They all converge, like stripes on a watermelon at the ends of a watermelon. This means that at the pole proper the time is always all times at once, or more accurately no time at all. It’s crazymaking. (See Myth # 4.) So how are time zones chosen at each of the bases? Some observe the time of the home country. Others, like McMurdo, the U.S.’s base, observe the time of their country’s official port of departure–Christchurch, New Zealand. As you can imagine, it is totally nuts and leads to lots of funny misunderstandings re:times of dinner parties and countdowns at New Year’s Eve, etc.

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The view from McMurdo

2) You can pee anywhere you want in Antarctica

False. The overarching mantra in Antarctica is “leave no trace.” You cannot steal rocks or pee on the ground willy nilly or even bury a piece of macaroni with your girlfriend’s name written on it in ballpoint pen for future generations to discover. So if you’re working in the field, you pee into a Nalgene bottle. On a bad day your bladder holds more than a Nalgene bottle does and you need to switch bottles in an awkward urination interruptus.

Although the waste at McMurdo is treated and then dumped into the sound, the waste from the camps is either incinerated in what is known as a rocket toilet or shipped off continent on big ships back to America. Dave says the ships come bearing supplies and leave bearing poop, which could be a metaphor for so many things in life.

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Don’t even think about peeing there

3) German engineers are the best glacier berry pickers

A glacier berry is a huge hunk of ice calved from a larger hunk that is “plucked” from the Antarctic landscape near a camp (in one of the many classic countermands to the leave-no-trace rule) and hauled back to camp via snowmobile to melt for drinking and kitchen water.

Although some German engineers at Lake Hoare Camp believed and perpetrated the myth that they had collected a new record-weight glacier berry, in fact, if they would have just looked out the window they would have seen a much larger glacier berry freshly plucked by someone else. If you are wondering about the nationality and scientific field and name of the person who did break the record for the largest glacier berry, yes, you guessed correct. It was Dave, American biologist and his science team Bravo 330.

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The “berry patch” bin at Lake Hoare Camp

4) Impeccable mental health is a requirement for a tour of duty in Antarctica

Dave reports that although scientists who “winter over” at the South Pole station must undergo rigorous mental testing, the average work-a-day summer scientist does not. Almost every year, someone goes crazy, what with the cold and endless daylight and freaky-deaky time zones. Sometimes people just wander off into the Antarctic weald. Sometimes even people at the south pole snap and the FBI has to go remove them, like the galley cook who attacked another cook with the claw end of a hammer in 1996. Even when you don’t go crazy you may need to do crazy things, like the south pole doctor who diagnosed herself with breast cancer, biopsied herself, and administered her own chemotherapy while waiting for rescue.

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5) The Antarctic soil is sterile

Wow, do not drop this as a fun fact at parties, because it is not fun or factual.

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6) Rubbing your hands together is a great way to warm them up.

False. Dave says rubbing your hands together is crap. What you really want to do is drop your arms to your side and vigorously jerk-shrug your shoulders to forcefully shunt blood down to your hands.

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7) Fumbling, mumbling, stumbling, and grumbling are nothing to worry about in Antarctica.

FALSE this string of behaviors is known as the “umbles” and is a good sign that you are suffering from hypothermia. This is one of the cutest and cleverest survival tips they teach you at snow school before you are allowed to work in the field.

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A scene from snow school

8) There are brothels in Antarctica

Wrong. Though apparently Antarctica does go through an alarming number of condoms (16,000 a year, says Dave), the misconception that there are Antarctic snow whores probably is rooted in a miscommunications involving Lake Hoare (homophone for “whore”) and a small adjacent pond known affectionately as Dirty Little Hoare. The pond is not dirty, per se, but it kind of seems gunked up just because it is so close to Lake Hoare Camp.

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Not what it looks like–these are scientists at work.

9) The food sucks in Antarctica

While it’s true that “freshies” are a rare delicacy, Lake Hoare Camp (soon to be featured in an upcoming issue of Food and Wine) is a culinary mecca by any standard grace à the impressive skills of Rae Spain, camp manager for the last 18 years. So while I am sitting at home slurping lukewarm soup from a box, Dave will phone me up (on the iridium phone) and report that he will be dining on paella or pad thai or freshly-baked bread.

The food is less spectacular at the McMurdo galley, save for the Frosty Boy ice cream machine, which Dave reports is very delicious. (If you thought it was a myth that ice cream is popular in Antarctica, you were wrong.)

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10) Antarctica is covered with snow

I know this one is especially hard to swallow for those of us who picture an entire continent of shimmering snow drifts, unending as a Texas sheet cake, but it turns out that part of Antarctica is desert which means no precipitation, which means no snow. Dave, for instance, works in the Dry Valleys which gets around 10 centimeters of precip per year, most of which ablates. Here he is in what appear to be moon boots rather than snow boots.

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11) Antarctica has a ton of polar bears and sled dogs

Wrong. Those things only exist at the north pole, which yes, I know, we should call them north polar bears. But still, whatever you do, don’t ask an Antarctic scientist about polar bear encounters. They will laugh at you and drop phrases like “biogeographical ignorance.” Although early explorers used sled dogs to slog from one creaky, frigid little shack to another, dogs are now illegal on the continent because they spook (and eat) seals. You can stop searching for a Puppies in Antarctica slide shows on Youtube and instead look at this cute picture Dave took of a seal.

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Well! I think I have successfully identified and obliterated all of the long-cherished myths about Antarctica. Everything else you believe about Antarctica not mentioned here is probably true.

But do you have a question? I invite you to post them in the comments. Remember, no questions are dumb questions except for ones that are really ignorant.

Anti-Artikos: Prologue

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It’s time. It’s time to shake off the shackles of grad school. Are you in grad school? Join me in my freedom fight! It’s spring break here and we can all just walk away and never look back. At least for a week…if we didn’t have a mini-inquiry power point presentation due when we get back. Solidarity!

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This Soviet family is sticking together through graduate school.

Are you not in grad school? You can stand by grad schoolers by inviting them to share in the fruits of liberty…like having a beer on a week night or patronizing a movie theater. You can refuse to laugh at their pale faces and shifty eyes. You can sneak them a cigarette or slip them a shiv, no strings attached. You can send them air mail letters!

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We will revel in the winter wheat

Oh…what? It’s too soon for gulag jokes? When will gulag jokes be politically correct? Not until 2053, one hundred years after the death of Stalin. Then it’s no holds barred.

Prison itself could be funny someday when it ceases to exist because 1) all criminally disposed DNA is bred out of the species 2) every last person on earth is in prison or 3) prison becomes a much posher place than the outside world.

Note to Andy: movie script where people bend over backwards to break the law in an ever more lawless world, because prison is such a safe and swanky place to be.

So we are off to Antarctica, land of scientists, libertines and mummified penguins. Won’t you come along? Won’t you? In a few days I mean. When we go to Antarctica. Because Dave has to give me pictures and he’s tramping around some rock with his brother in northern New Mexico.

Bundle up. Get ready to pee in a jar. Say goodbye to your loved ones. Things are different there.

And call me if you want to go out for a beer

Two Things

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I have taken a break from my studies to share a couple of things: 1) The Antarctic Mystique blog is still in progress. Keep in mind that it’s a blog about an entire continent–a rather inaccessible, morbid and glacier-slammed continent at that.

What should you expect? The same balls-to-the-wall, ends-of-the-earth drama as my Artikos series. Which takes time.

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Right now I would say I’m in the middle stages–conducting interviews and gathering data. I’m processing the data and collecting waivers to shield me from any possible litigation. I’m photo-shopping pictures. I’m also doing some other stuff like…fact checking and umm…processing data…

Other things I’m doing: corroborating inflammatory claims. Claims like: “There is no ‘pole’ at the South Pole.” and: “Ernest Shackleton was a much nicer guy than Robert Falcon Scott, as evidenced in the layout of his Antarctic headquarters in an egalitarian fashion as opposed to Scott’s more hierarchical design.”

I’m asking hard-hitting questions: “Is it true that the Americans have not scored a single point against the Kiwis in the 25-year-old annual Antarctic rugby game?” “Is the Frosty Boy soft serve machine in the McMurdo cafeteria really that much better than other soft serve machines on more civilized continents?”

These are the sorts of questions I’m asking.

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Also, I am in grad school. Remember??? Jeesh. I’m busy!

Okay, onto the second piece of news: 2) The Winter Olympics are over and I only watched two events. (Thank you Grace and Will for hooking me up.)

What was it like? Instead of Men on Skis there was just a bunch of Kids on Snowboards doing whirly twirlys and these weird jumpy thingies over giant nesting dolls. That’s when I decided that the magic of the 1988 Calgary Games that I’ve been trying to recapture for 26 years is gone…vaporized like snow in certain atmospheric conditions.

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Let’s review the facts: Palm trees grow in Sochi, the cold war is over, and I don’t even recognize half of the events anymore.

Am I the only one that feels this way??? About the Olympics??? No, I’m am NOT.

Here’s a brief interview with the paragon of old-school Olympianism (and by “old school” I mean the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics), men’s downhill gold medalist and Swiss skier, Pirmin Zubriggen.

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A few things you should know before reading the transcript: Zurbriggen won the men’s downhill by half a second, just edging out his Swiss teammate Peter Mueller. Mueller skied first, giving ABC the opportunity to zoom in on his face as he waited for Zurbriggen to descend. It was intense and made all the more suspenseful by ABC’s laying down “Every Breath You Take” by the Police while zooming in on Mueller’s ice-blue eyes. I have it all on VHS.

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Spartan Holiday: Pirmin Zurbriggen, there seems to be a sort of romantic alpenglow around you that I haven’t noticed around today’s Olympic athletes. Why is that?

Pirmin Zubriggen: Well, I live in the Alps and the sun is now setting.

 Spartan Holiday: That’s one explanation. But wouldn’t you say that the belle epoque of the Winter Olympics are over?

Zurbriggen: I wouldn’t say that. There are many, wonderful people…dedicated athletes…still competing…

(We lose Skype connection)

So there you have it. If Pirmin Zurbriggen, the Swiss deity on skis says the Olympics are ruined, you can hardly argue. But I do sort of wish I had a TV. And free time.

If you have free time, you should share your favorite Winter Olympics moments here. Wouldn’t it be fun to reminisce? Freely? With your abundance of time? I think it would.

PS: I found the song lyrics to “Every Breath You Take” and paired it with this picture of an Arctic whale to sort of synthesize the different topics of this blog. Music here. Enjoy:

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Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Every single day
And every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me?
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take
Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

Stuff I Learned in Grad School: Part One

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Things have been quiet in the Spartan Holiday offices of late. Production outputs are down even as demand for new blogs is skyrocketing. And by skyrocketing, I mean somebody mentioned that they were still waiting to read Spartan Holiday’s Insider’s Guide to Antarctica.

Well guess what, Demanding Public? Somebody else just started grad school and is burning the candle double time, reading scholarly papers night and day, day and night, so maybe all of you leisurely, indolent, brick-throwing blog readers should GET OFF MY BACK!!!

That outburst was intentional and meant to illustrate two points: 1) Grad school is stressful and can cause people to snap at the slimmest provocation. 2) Grad school is mentally taxing and can make you forget the second point of your outburst. 3) Social media research shows that angry outbursts receive more “likes” than posts that assume a neutral position.

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Is my daughter pretending to be trapped in kitchen cupboards as a last ditch effort to get Mommy’s attention? This never happened before I started grad school.

So don’t worry, lathered-up readers, the Insider’s Secret Unlicensed Uncensored Guide to Antarctica is coming, but for the next few months you should expect a leaner, meaner, greener Spartan Holiday. (Less blogs means less chance of tree killers printing off the blogs…which calls to my attention that “blog” sounds an awful lot like “log.”)

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Spoiler Alert: An Antarctic hut or lab or something.

You should also expect me to frequently list Things I Learned in Grad School. I can’t help it, it’s the budding, dewy-eyed educator in me. So let’s begin, keeping in mind that learning is not merely transmitted; it’s an exchange, the respectful co-creation of ideas. Please share your own rich stores of knowledge and experience below.

Things I Learned In Grad School

1) In First and Second Language Development within Cultural Contexts, I learned that some cultures teach babies to wield knives before they can even walk.This means that instead of overprotective Westerners having their baloney-handed, pin-cushion babies bat at mobiles, they could be training them to slice, dice and cut various items such as fruit, meat, rope or twigs–a useful skill! This is but one illustration of how human potential is limited and channeled by cultural expectations.

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(A few of my friends (Dave and Brian) argued that this Efe baby did not look all that “skillful” in his knife work, but I attribute their criticism to reactionary ethnocentrism.)

2)  In my Intro to Linguistic Analysis class I learned the articles “a” and “the” are primarily used in information structure to convey and reflect whether or not we have addressed certain information before, or to designate identifiable (given) concepts versus unidentifiable concepts. We use the definite article (the) when the concept is identifiable or when a unique concept is intended. We use the indefinite article (a/an) when the concept is new and not identifiable. The fluent use of a/the displays an intricate unconscious system of shared conceptual categorization and remembered discourse.

I pretty much knew this before, but I could never have explained it at parties so succinctly.

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Would you like *the* canape from *a* tray?? Oops, I mean *a* canapy from *the* tray.

3) In that same class I learned this joke: There’s a German guy and a French guy and a British guy arguing about whose language is the best.

German Guy: German is off course zee best language. It is zee language of logik and philosophy and wiz German you can communicate wiz great clarity and precision even zee most complex ideas.

French Guy: Aaaaah non! But French ees ze language of lurve! En Française you can capture all of ze subtleties of romance wees great flair wheech ees good for ze survival of ze species.

English Guy (after long contemplative pause): I see what you’re saying, and it’s all well and good, but…take a spoon: you Germans call a spoon a “löffel” and you French call it a “cuillière.” But we call it a “spoon” and when you really stop to think about it, isn’t that what it really is?

Oh man. It’s funny because it’s true! English just makes sense! (It’s also funny because it reinforces cultural stereotypes in a world where generalizations are becoming more and more compromised by cultural pluralities.)

spoon - goodSo as you can see, grad school is not just laborious, it’s also fascinating…and making me a more fascinating person at parties…and maybe more employable. For that I am grateful.

If I learn anything else, I’ll be sure to post it here either immediately, eventually, or never, depending on my workload.

Until then, fare-thee-well and start getting pumped for Back Stage Pass to Antarctica: The Truth Behind the Lies: Microbial Life in the Dry Valleys. (Don’t get too pumped, as I mentioned before, I’m pretty busy with grad school.)

Things That Did And Didn’t Happen at the Bosque Del Apache

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Something Hitchcockian happened to me yesterday. Before I explain, I’d like to know, for quantitative research purposes, if anything Hitchockian has ever happened to you?

Have you ever, for instance, made a tongue-in-cheek pact with someone on a train about murdering each other’s spouses and then found out he wasn’t joking?

OR: Has your head ever detached from your body, taken on a strange green pallor and emitted rays in a purple vortex of vertiginous light?

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OR: Have you ever fallen in love with a woman only to discover she’s an actress hired by someone else to 1) impersonate his wife (whom he murdered) and 2) fake her death by “jumping” from a mission tower so he could switch out the body of his actual wife for his fake “hired” wife whom you’re in love with???

vertigoNo? Okay. That’s disappointing. I don’t want this blog to be all about me. I’m most comfortable writing about other people.But if nothing Hitchcockian has happened to you lately, then you’re not giving me much to work with.

So…The Birds. 1963. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is terrorized by legions of vicious birds in Bodega Bay. Film critic David Thomson called it Hitchcock’s “last unflawed film.”

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What happened to me yesterday at the Bosque del Apache, a bird sanctuary outside of Socorro, was really pretty similar to this seminal film about evil, psychosexual paranoia and loss of control over the natural world. I would like to take a moment here to compare and contrast the film with my experience.

First, some backstory: Every winter the Bosque del Apache’s marshy lakes are deluged with migratory snow geese, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, etc., attracting birders from all over the U.S. Dave and I decided to drive down and give it a once over. We thought maybe birding was a hobby we could take up in our retirement and wanted to give it a test run.

Note: All text in quotes are taken from Wikipedia’s entry on The Birds.

What Was the Same

1) There were lots of birds

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Some of those birds attacked me.

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In The Birds, “An amateur ornithologist dismisses the reports of attacks as fanciful and argues about it with Melanie.”

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Dave dismissed my reports of attacks as fanciful and argued about it with me.

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In The Birds, “Melanie drives there and waits for class to end, initially unaware that a huge number of crows are massing nearby.”

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We also drove there (to the Bosque). We weren’t waiting for class to end, but I was initially unaware that a huge number of snow geese were amassing nearby.

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“The film concludes ambiguously, as the car carrying Melanie, the Brenners and the lovebirds slowly makes its way through a landscape where tens of thousands of birds are perched.”

Our trip also concluded ambiguously, pretty much the exact same way! (Except without all of those extra people in the car).

What Was Different

“At Cathy’s birthday party the next day, the children are set upon by seagulls.”

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That didn’t happen.

“Melanie develops a relationship with Mitch, his widowed mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright).”

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I didn’t really build any new meaningful relationships to speak of.

A drunk believes the attacks are a sign of the Apocalypse, and a traveling salesman suggests exterminating them all.

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Dave and I didn’t drink a thing on the trip and you aren’t allowed to shoot birds at the sanctuary, no matter what they do to you.

So, I fully admit that there are some significant discrepancies between the plot summary for The Birds and our own little outing to the bird sanctuary.

Another difference is–Dave was right– I wasn’t really attacked by birds as much as I let on.

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In The Birds, Hitchcock neglected to include a shot of a lone sandhill crane.

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I think this was a bad move.

In The Birds Tippi Hedren never took time out to “bird watch” the birds that were attacking her.

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In The Birds, Tippi looks pretty fantastic while under attack.

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I could probably have looked a little better with some effort.

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So that was my HItchcockian event.

Hitchcockian-ish.

(Incidentally, I saw Tippi Hedren speak live before a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie at the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque. You’re probably all aware of Hitchcock’s obsessive infatuation with Hedren on the set of The Birds and Marnie. When she smacked down his advances, he ruined her career.

Hitchcock is still one of my favorite directors, but he had his moments of douchebaggery.)

Happy New Year(s): I Made You Some Cards

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Well, here we are in 2014. It makes sense that it would be 2014 eventually. Numerically I mean. We probably could have seen it coming, in a chronological sort of way, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of us still feel completely disoriented and betrayed.

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Some of us already felt unmoored in space and time, never knowing what year, season or month it was, let alone our current age.

Should I wear leggings because it’s 2013 or because it’s 1985? Why are those French people who despise American food holding hamburgers on the boulevard?  Who is this Shia LeBeouf kid? There is something very off about these strawberry shortcake dolls. William the Conquerer did what??? What do you mean I should vacation on the Albanian coast this summer?

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When my cousin is sending voice texts over the phone while driving should I reveal my alarm or act like I knew all along you could do that?

Time feels all bendy, ribbon-candy-ish again, of late.

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I’ll tell you why. All of that postmodernism stuff we were talking about in 2005–or whenever it was we were in a postmodern literature class together as non-degree students because we thought any class with postmodern in the title must be nonstop laughs–all of that talk of fracture, intertextuality and fragmentation was just a teaser for the HYPER postmodernism about to explode on the scene.

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When all media from all eras is available instantly on youtube; when typewriters and record players and curing your own meats and sewing your own sandwich bags are en vogue concurrently with ipads and drone-delivered mail; when nearly every historic and fauxstoric era has its own cult following and romping grounds (renaissance fairs, steam punk conventions, speakeasys, nursing homes)…it is impossible to feel locked into a stable time and space with an underpinning culture. It’s just layer after layer of vellum, everything is overlaid translucently on top of everything else.

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To make matters worse, for the last eight days I’ve been displaced to my old pre-21st century home in Harrisonburg, Virginia where everything is mostly the same but slightly askew.

For example: I’m driving along…do dee doo…in my parents Prius, which is like this partially electric car thingy, ready to blow under my all-time favorite railroad trestle by my old friend Danielle’s parents’ house, when I am driving under….nothing! I see the trestle has vanished.. ripped out, I’ve been told, to widen the road so there would be less “traffic jams” and “fatal accidents.”

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That’s not all. Acme Stove and Video where you could once purchase a new wood burning or gas log stove and/or rent videos is now plain old Acme Stove. YOU CANNOT RENT VIDEOS!!

And Spanky’s! Everyone’s old favorite Little Rascal’s themed hang out, where we cut our names into the table and split bills to the half penny, is nothing but an apparition of floating sandwiches and hot fudge croissant sundaes and chubby adolescent faces haunting the soulless Asian tapas restaurant that replaced it.

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Yet the town is predominantly intact, more same than different.

So in that spirit of muddled space and jumbled time, I have designed the above new year’s greeting cards for you my dear readers.Though they all say 2014, they’re pretty much valid for any year. Nobody’s keeping track anymore.