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Fall Break

Ahhh. A few blissful days to regroup, kick off one’s shoes, sip a warm beverage, grade two stacks of papers, read three books, plan two committee meetings, fly to Albuquerque for a conference, finish the revisions on the manuscript, meet with the architects on the building renovation, and otherwise enjoy a few days of… um… calm.

There’s been very little posting here of late (by me, I mean, not by my faithful commenters), which makes me very sad. The falloff has less to do with the fact that I haven’t had time to write than with the fact that I haven’t had time to get interested enough in anything to consider it worth writing about. And that’s just darned sad. So a moment to follow up on a couple of topics raised by earlier comments:

– Mom was in town this past week, and on Wednesday, we caught an episode of The West Wing, the first I’ve seen in just about a year, and can I just say, yawn. Aaron, my friend, you’ve let me down. Where is the pop and fizz of Sports Night, both in the dialogue and in the characters? Where is the obsessive treatment of governmental arcana so fascinating in the first years of TWW’s run? Once upon a time, your show managed to be the foremost public outlet for serious political discourse without being preachy or self-righteous; what has caused this vast decline? Is it simply the never-ending campaign trail? Has the Jeb Bartlett I once wanted to be my president gone the way of Al Gore, self-parodying, bombastic, and impotent?

– Having been taken to task for my gripes with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and in preparation for a student reading group of same (itself in preparation for a lecture by author of same, here at the College Just South of the No-Longer Flaming Hill), I’m delving into the book again, this time with a new appreciation (thanks to CSA and BT) for the ways that Ehrenreich herself actually does describe the limitations of both her project and its potential for inspiring social change. You’re absolutely right, CSA, that the book is a wake-up call, and you, BT, are similarly dead-on in suggesting that this wake-up call is aimed at those sitting the ideological fence, closing their eyes to the difficulties of the working poor and persuading themselves that the American dream works, because it’s convenient. Ehrenreich never really makes any bones about the fact that the book is journalism, not scholarship, and as such, I think I ask too much of it to ask for solutions. Part of my earlier aggravation, which was really transformed into high dudgeon by the play — which is in effect an extended monologue by “Barbara Ehrenreich,” supported by a cast of amusing and pitiful workers — has to do with the centrality of Ehrenreich’s voice in the book, the ways that the narrative becomes all about her. But then, this is a larger problem with journalism today, I think: the story, as a friend once observed, now transforms with light-speed into the story of the story, and in that story, the journalist is hero.

I think there’s a connection between these two things, but I’m too tired to be able to figure it out right now. Perhaps after a little bit of the “rest” I’m sure to get during my fall “break,” and after a little input from some friends, I’ll take another stab at it.


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