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Funerals and Censorship

February 22, 2007

The last two weeks have been very full, emotionally and physically. Gwyn’s grandmother passed away two weeks ago this Saturday. We got the call at around 8am Saturday morning, and at 1:15 Ian and I were on a plane to Alabama (Gwyn and Eva followed the next morning, due to frequent flyer miles and the availability of bereavement rates–apparently you have to wait a day or so before you’re sufficiently bereaved to qualify for the discount). The trip was quick (Ian and I were back late Tuesday night) and covered the ground that those situations usually do. That is to say, sad but celebratory: Mama Saxon was 90 years old, and a truly remarkable woman who lived the closest thing to a perfect life I can imagine. She had a long and loving marriage, a large and close family, and was the nearest thing to a completely non-judgemental, balanced and compassionate individual that I’ve known. At 90, it was not unexpected, but she had been relatively healthy and active until very recently. When we visited Gwyn’s parents last May, for example, Mama Saxon made the seven hour trip over from Alabama to see us, and while there helped clear a fallen tree from the woods behind the house, smilingly wielding a hacksaw and dragging heavy limbs long after most of the rest of us had given out. We will miss her.

So in many ways it was the passing of a true matriarch–Gwyn’s side of the family seemed at times held together by the gravitational pull of our orbit around Mama Saxon. The task now will be to maintain the closeness without that pull. Which won’t be difficult, most likely. It’s a great family, and the time together two weeks ago was good time, even with the sadness of the occasion.

All four of my classes had major assignments due while I was gone, and I returned to something on the order of 85 papers to grade coupled with a lost three days of class time right before spring break. I have only 23 exams left of those 85 assignments, which I will get done this evening (and tomorrow morning, probably) in order to hand back at 11. After tomorrow, UMary is on spring break and I hope to go into that completely caught up. (I know it isn’t spring, and I know there’s snow on the ground here; I don’t make these rules).

I also hope to use spring break to do some intensive writing–mornings for the London book and afternoons for the novel. I’ve also just been green-lighted to have an editorial assistant to work with me on the Carmilla project next year, so I’ll be writing a project and job description for that so we can interview students by mid-March. I’m excited about that, both as a help for me and as a great opportunity for one of our English majors to shore up their pre-grad school resume.

So that’s what’s going on. I’m reading David Skal’s The Monster Show, a cultural history of the (mostly film) horror genre from around WWI until 1993 (the publication date). It’s very good. I know Skal’s work as a scholar of the novel Dracula (he co-edited the Norton edition), but he’s primarily a film historian, and his knowledge of film trivia and esoterica coupled with a good eye for cultural metaphor make this a good book. Mostly unrelated to what I’m working on right now, but fun nonetheless.

Right now I’m listening to Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. My step-father is a huge fan, and I ripped two of her albums from him at Christmas. Really catchy rockish singer/songwriter stuff, with a fairly bleak lyrical content that you miss if you just listen to the tunes. She’s come a long way since being the lead singer of ’til tuesday in the eighties, not least in having way better hair now. Also listening to Bad Religion a lot, mainly while working on the novel, the protagonist of which is a wanna-be punker. Greg Graffin–the smartest punk on the planet? Most likely. Something about that PhD in evolutionary biology. And the catchy hooks in the songs.

Finally, here’s an article from the New York Times about Sharon Patron’s Newberry-award-winning children’s novel, which many elementary school libraries are banning because it has the word “scrotum” in it. The main complaint seems to be that teachers and librarians don’t want students to ask them what the word means. Personally, I’d rather have Ian use and know the word “scrotum” than the many other words which I know he has already heard for that particular body part. He certainly knows about the body part, what with it hanging there all the time.

One of the librarians interviewed said that “you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature,” thus instantly barring Shakespeare, Chaucer, D.H. Lawrence, and every twentieth century poet I can think of from being quality literature. I don’t know how she feels about the Bible, which doesn’t use the word “scrotum, ” but which does include adultery, homosexual rape, father-daughter incest, and onanism, in all of which there must at least be an implied scrotum present. Just for fun, I’d like to type the word “scrotum” again.

Gwyn, who is a children’s librarian at the Bismarck Public Library, tells me that they have the book. I hope they put it on prominent display. Usually a book’s being banned is a clear sign that as many people as possible ought to read it. Neil Gaiman says that any librarian who won’t carry a Newberry award book based on a single word isn’t a librarian. I tend to agree.

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