Academician in Training

Chronicling the Adventures, Exploits, and Random Musings of Lady Sparks

A Haunting Southern Murder Ballad

Posted by ladysparks on May 2, 2008

Over the last few years I’ve expanded my musical listening repertoire to include a growing array of Roots, folk, and bluegrass offerings. I admit to generally preferring female artists in these genres on the whole, so when I recently stumbled across Caroline Herring‘s new album Lantana while browsing my local indie music store I was immediately intrigued. As an impulse purchase, this one was right on the money.

Although Herring’s underlying Christian faith figures prominently in certain songs (such as the gospel tune “Lay my Burden Down”), the album does not come across as preachy which was a relief to the very firmly agnostic Lady Sparks. Herring, originally from Mississippi, digs deep into her Southern roots and creates an atmosphere throughout the album that is at times nostalgic and bittersweet, at others refreshingly insightful and contemplative.

The real gem on this album, however, is the haunting murder ballad “Paper Gown.” Few people in America, and most specifically those from the South, can forget the horrifying real-life case of Susan Smith–the white South Carolina woman who drowned her two young children in her car and then tried to blame a black man for the crime. “Paper Gown” has an eerie Southern Gothic edge (think shades of Flannery O’Connor) as it recounts this tragic tale and examines the political dimensions of gender and race that circulated around the Smith case. What makes it more disturbing, in many respects, is the fact that it’s told from Smith’s perspective. Herring provides a provocative interrogation of gendered heteronormative ideals, specifically the feminine domestication of women, and the tragic misguided lengths to which a woman might go to escape such circumstances. The refrain which repeats throughout the song, speaks to this in a very powerful and disturbing way: “Long ago I used to be/ a little girl on my daddy’s knee/ dreams lie like diamond rings/ babies and pretty things.” At the same time, Herring subtly confronts the politics of white womanhood in the South and a long history of racist fear and antagonism toward black men.

Although the song is in some ways sympathetic to Smith, casting her in a tragically naive light, it certainly doesn’t attempt to excuse her of the crime. Rather, it provides a disturbing perspective into the motivations and fantasies that seemingly led her to commit such a horrifying murder.

This song will haunt you long after one listen.  The album as a whole is fantastic and I definitely encourage any Roots and folk music fans to buy it.

I’m going to see Caroline Herring perform this Saturday as she lives here in Atlanta in the suburb of Decatur and will be playing at Eddie’s Attic. I can’t wait!

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Sports and yet another Reason why I Love Japanese Manga

Posted by ladysparks on April 22, 2008

As many of Lady Sparks’ nearest and dearest know, I have never been a sports fan. I don’t watch professional or amateur sports of any kind, as I find they do not hold my interest in the least. I don’t play sports either, as anything that requires running or physical coordination in general is not likely to bring out my best abilities.

I wholeheartedly admit that I am naturally and hopelessly spastic. In elementary school I was always the last kid picked for teams. Nobody wants the super-spaz girl who dribbles the ball to the wrong hoop or inadvertently beans people in the head with her bat. Less still does anyone want the kid who can’t seem to follow moves that require synchronization or multiple steps for execution. Needless to say, PE was the class I loathed most passionately from K-12.

The one exception to all of this, however, was badminton. Some may call it tennis’ limp-wristed cousin, but badminton is the kind of sport that appealed to my physically inept self. It doesn’t really have any hard and fast rules–the primary goal is to hit the birdie (aka the “shuttlecock”–hee-hee) and rally until someone misses. The birdie is light enough that the player does not need to exert a great deal of strength in order to lob it, unlike tennis. Similarly, players don’t need to learn or perfect particular swings or footwork, at least not at the “amateur” level. (Is there even pro badminton? )

Thus, whenever those nets would come out at the beginning of a random PE class like a gift from unknown deities, I would send out a fervent prayer of thanks because it was a brief respite from the other horrible physical exercises in humiliation that I consistently had to endure in front of my peers. When playing badminton, I at least came across as moderately capable, as with many things in life, what I lacked for in talent I made up for in enthusiasm.  Consequently, I’ve always harbored a fondness for badminton in my heart.

Imagine my wonder and excitement the other day when I was trolling around MangaUpdates and I spotted a manga all about…BADMINTON!  You may think I jest but, gentle reader, I do not.

Smash!

Smash! is a sports manga (Japanese comic) about kids experiencing the passion and the pain of….badminton!  From what I can gather thus far, as I’ve only managed to read the first volume in scanlated form, the narrative revolves around childhood friends Shouta and Miwa.  The latter is a girl who has earned a badminton scholarship to a prestigious high school where she will become a first year member of their famous badminton team.  Miwa has been playing badminton with her friend Shouta for years, but he has never taken it very seriously.  She, however, really wants him to go to the same high school with her so they can continue playing badminton together.  Much to her consternation though, the catalyst to inspire Shouta at badminton turns out to be a mysterious “new” girl who appears at their local gym one day.  In typical Japanese manga fashion, we enter the realm of semi-ridiculous when it is revealed that the mystery girl is not only a badminton whiz, but also mute.  That’s right, mute.  Uh….not entirely sure how or why this is the case yet.  But of course, it intrigues Shouta who immediately develops a crush on her and decides he’s going to aim for super-elite-badminton-school in the hopes of being near said girl and/or getting to play her again.  He gets in just barely, but has to do a lot of grunt work for the team as he is nowhere near the level of becoming a player just yet.  Nonetheless, Shouta is inspired by luurvvvve and so begins what looks to be a cheesy but wonderfully campy manga series full of hokey love triangles, badminton challenges with high school heroes and villains alike, and lots of wacky Japanese humor.  I’m almost inspired to join a badminton team myself!

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Hot for Teacher?

Posted by ladysparks on April 17, 2008

Recently, I had unprecedented good fortune when I went summer clothes shopping to find four fabulous sundresses that look very nice on me.  This is a rare event, as I often go years on end without finding anything that doesn’t make me look/feel wretched.  Yesterday I decided that since the weather was so gorgeous I was going to celebrate and don one of my new dresses. Based on the event that followed, it would seem this gave Lady Sparks an aura of hotness that particularly appeals to the geek boy segment of her classes.

Case in point:  I am meeting with students in my office to  go over feedback on a project they had completed.  A very nice, but incredibly shy lad arrives and immediately becomes very flustered now that we are ALONE in my office.  Granted, the door is open but the boy started turning a very interesting shade of pink immediately upon arrival and was unable to look me in the eye for most of the meeting (i.e. would glance up, turn red, and look away).  When I did try to engage him in conversation he was breathing rather fast (the whole discussion was punctuated with little gasps) and I didn’t quite know what to do to make him relax.

Odd?  Hell yes.  Perhaps I am overrating my hawtness factor, but I dare say the sweet boy has a teacher-crush on me.  That, or he has some weird panic disorder I was unaware of.  Alternatively, maybe I just inspire terror in young men that I could very easily break.  What do you all think?

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A Not so Taxing Birthday

Posted by ladysparks on April 16, 2008

So, yesterday was my birthday.  Yeah, yeah.  Tax Day.  Pretty crappy coincidence.  I frequently get looks of pity or horror when I tell people the date of my birth.  It’s actually rather amusing to witness that second or two it takes them to realize because their resulting expressions are always entertaining.  But Tax Day aside, I had a rather enjoyable celebration of my 29th year on earth.

Granted, I did actually have to start the day off by mailing my taxes (boo!), which was really cutting it close this year, but the onerous nature of this task was offset by the knowledge that the feds have gotta give me back almost $1200 this year.  Score!  Now I can pay my bills during the month I won’t get paid this summer.

After taking care of this mildly irksome chore, I went for a fantastic 90 minute massage at this charming little spa/salon in Atlanta called Sweetgrass.  The massage I had incorporated aromatherapy, Swedish, and deep tissue techniques.  My masseuse was a wee little woman, but damn did she had powerful hands!  At one point she actually had to clamber up onto the table in order to really work my bod.  It was kind of erotic being straddled in that fashion…

By the end, however, I was perfectly content to lie on that massage table all afternoon and sip fruity daiquiris.  Alas, they had other customers who needed to be serviced so I had to give up on that fantasy.  But I then went to their salon and got my hair trimmed, which desperately needed to happen as my ends have been looking raggedy for quite some time.  Let me just say, there is something incredibly soothing (and sometimes erotic depending on context) about having your hair washed by someone else.  I love going to hair salons for this very reason.  Plus, I love the smell of hair products.  For some reason, the shampoo and other grooming products I buy for myself never seem to leave their fragrance in my hair the same way salon products do.  Thus, after a haircut I have a tendency to wander around sniffing my hair for most of the day which no doubt makes me look crazy.

After a tasty lunch at a local pub, washed down with some Strongbow cider, I relaxed at home for part of the afternoon before heading out for dinner with some friends.   I had a total blast with everyone.  We ate spicy Thai food and chatted for several hours in a very nice but casual restaurant.  It was an ideal way to end a very relaxed and therapeutic birthday, especially at this stressful point in the semester.

But, there was one big excitement at the end of the evening.  That’s right, I know you’ve been waiting for something spectacular folks.  Guess who’s getting her bling-tastic glasses?  That’s right, the good old dad and wicked step-mom have decided to buy them for me as a birthday present!  My bling factor will be going up a notch once I get those beauties.  Anticipate pictures to come!

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Bada, bada, BLING!!!!

Posted by ladysparks on April 13, 2008

Bling of my dreams....Damn those evil geniuses at Swarovski Crystal!  How I covet this glorious hair accessory (sure, it’s pretty much a tiara, but Lady Sparks could rock it like nobody’s business!).   I made the very bad decision to “browse” in the Swarovski store at the mall and immediately had a bling-gasm when I spied this baby.  Seriously folks, this image doesn’t do the real thing justice.  I was very nearly blinded by its supreme sparkletude under the overhead store lights.  It glowed like the freaking holy grail of bling and I practically fell to my knees in supplication.  And then, I was promptly denied.  As the Swarovski website attests, this beauty is a whopping $525.  Leave it to Lady Sparks to immediately gravitate the most freaking expensive tiara in the whole bloody collection (a quick perusal of their website confirmed this sad fact)!

*le sigh*  My sentiments toward Swarovski Crystals are much the same as my feelings about Steve Madden shoes–extremely vexxed love-hate.  The products I like from both of these designers always draw me in with false promises, only to laugh in my face once I’ve fallen in complete lust with them.  The former because of cost, the latter because of size (curse you Steve Madden and your just *always* slightly too narrow size 10s!).

Why must the bling I covet be so costly?  I’m starting to think I seriously need to find a patron to support my bling fetish.

Voila dear readers, yet another piece of bling-tastic awesomeness that I desire with every fiber of my being:

These Bulgari glasses give me heart palpitations!  I tried them on in the Bulgari store at the mall (same day as Swarovski–I’m still in withdrawal) and they fit me perfectly.  This is a HUGE deal.  Let me explain.  For those who do not know, since birth Lady Sparks was gifted with, shall we say, a gigantic cranium (to accommodate her large brain of course).  Hence, it often proves nigh on impossible to find glasses that fit.  But like bling-fated destiny, these glasses seemed like they were made just for me.   And the color?!?!?!?!  OMFG!!!!  I thought the sales clerk was going to call security when I went into ecstatic raptures in her store.  Parting with them was like leaving behind a piece of my soul. *sobs*  Because, once again, my modest income cannot pay for glasses that are nearly $400!

Anyone care to start a Bling Fund for me?  I will accept all donations gladly.

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Student Woes

Posted by ladysparks on April 10, 2008

Teaching at an institution that is primarily geared toward scientists and engineers can be rather daunting for liberal artsy Lady Sparks. This semester I’m teaching a composition course that revolves around zombies in popular media. I have been told that it is quite “badass”. I’ve certainly been having a blast teaching it, but every now and again the tech atmosphere of this institution rears its ugly head. I present you with several recent student discussions.

Scenario 1:

Student X: “Professor, I just don’t think this scenario is realistic. I mean, how could a mysterious “pulse” from cell phones start turning people into zombies? This is completely unbelievable. There is no scientific logic at work here.”

Lady Sparks: “Well [Student Name], I’m not sure that Stephen King’s primary aim was for realism in this story. As we’ve discussed in class, the cell phone as catalyst for zombie apocalypse has a larger symbolic function…”

Student X: “Yes, yes. But I really think some of the narratives we’ve been looking at this semester are completely implausible. We need definitive and believable reasons for zombies coming into existence.”

Lady Sparks: “Like, say, Rage infected monkeys?”

Student X: “Exactly!”

Scenario 2:

Student Y: “So, I’m not sure what’s wrong with my project topic proposal.”

Lady Sparks: “Well, as I noted on your draft, your focus is too general. How are you planning to develop an argument about the texts?”

Stduent Y: [blank expression + pause] “What do you mean?”

Lady Sparks: “Er…what do you think the texts are trying to say about your main idea?”

Student Y: [blinking] “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

Lady Sparks: “Okay, remember how we’ve been analyzing and interpreting meaning in texts all semester? What are some of your interpretations of the texts you want to use in this project?”

Student Y: [long pause] “I don’t have any.”

Lady Sparks: “Uh…well why did you pick this topic?”

Student Y: “I couldn’t think of anything else.”

Lady Sparks: “Right… [insert some efforts to get Student Y thinking about some key examples from the text, but yielding no results]

Student Y: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand symbolism or any of that stuff.”

Lady Sparks: [having mild but contained panic attack] “But [Student Y], we’ve been addressing this all semester. I’m sure you also had to perform textual analysis in some of your high school English classes. Let’s try and review what you do understand.”

Student Y: “Oh, well I never understood it in high school either.”

Lady Sparks: [marshalling her resolve] “Okay, let’s think about one of the examples we discussed in class. In Night of the Living Dead, the scene in which Ben and Mr. Cooper have the final struggle for the shotgun is very important to the narrative. Why?”

Student Y: “Because Mr. Cooper wants the gun.”

Lady Sparks: “Why does he want the gun?”

Student Y: [look of honest confusion] “I don’t understand.”

Lady Sparks: “Why does Mr. Cooper’s character want the gun so badly?”

Student Y: “Because it would be more practical for killing zombies.”

Lady Sparks: “….well what did we discuss about this scene in class?”

Student Y: “I don’t remember.”

Lady Sparks: “Did you take notes?”

Student Y: “No.”

Lady Sparks: “Okay, well let me refresh your memory. Ben ends up being the “leader” of the group of survivors but Mr. Cooper wants to be in that position and spends much of the film complaining about his lack of authority within the group. He views the gun, which Ben controls, as the symbol of power that he craves [I skipped over the phallic signification of such an object as Student Y was already looking mystified]. Why is it significant that when he tries to take the gun from Ben he is ultimately unsuccessful?

Student Y: “Yeah. I don’t get any of this stuff. I mean, the gun is for shooting zombies. I don’t see any other meaning.”

Lady Sparks: [mental scream of anguish] “Okay [Student Y], I think we’ve got a lot of work to do….”

Posted in Academe, Student Tales | 2 Comments »

April is Anime Month!

Posted by ladysparks on April 8, 2008

Ah, sweet April…month of my birth, host to blooming flora and fauna, the end of the spring academic semester (woot!) AND the beginning of the new anime season in Japan! Seriously folks, this has me doing fangirl cartwheels. Let me explain why.

First of all, as most of my close friends know, I am addicted to serialized narratives. When it comes to anime and manga, which take this to all kinds of zany extremes, I’m like a crack ‘ho trying to get my next fix. Thus, with a bevy of new series starting all at once I am already falling into geeky raptures.

Although there are several shows I am particularly looking forward to this season, I have decided to blog about only one of them today. A die-hard fan of the manga, I nearly had a stroke when I found out it was being turned into an anime series. I am counting down the days and sending prayers of sweet love and gratitude well in advance to the wonderful folks at aarinfantasy who will no doubt be fansubbing all 24 glorious episodes for the rabid fangirls (and boys) like myself.

Junjou Romantica, by Nakamura Shungiku, is a boys’ love series that is still ongoing in Japan (and being translated far too slowly by Tokyopop’s Blu division, curses!). Focusing on three main relationships, this manga manages to achieve a successful balance of humor, romance, and super hawt man/man smexiness. Nakamura-sensei’s art style adheres to the androgynous conventions of male beauty that are hallmarks of the genre but sets itself apart in several ways. Firstly, she has a real gift for depicting emotions in characters’ facial expressions at crucial moments in the narrative that can leave the reader dumbfounded and breathless with awe. Secondly, she is able to create a fluidity of progression in some of her panels that feels wonderfully cinematic. Her mise-en-scène at these moments can be utterly minimalist (although not to the same degree of say Fumi Yoshinaga) and yet hauntingly powerful. There is this one sequence in volume three of the manga (which I wasn’t able to scan because my printer is misbehaving) that I’ve returned to several times because it is just so beautifully done. I’ll try to post it later if I can find my printer driver disc…

In the meantime, here’s a quick promo video for the animated version of the series, which will begin airing on April 10th (happy early birthday present to me!):

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Like a Phoenix from the flames, Sparks Rises Again!

Posted by ladysparks on April 7, 2008

After a wonderful phone chat with Monkey last night I realized that I had not been active in the blogosphere for over a year. Granted, I have been busy in the meantime. I moved to a new city, started a new job, and began a new phase of my life in general. It’s been a good transition and now that I’m feeling more firmly ensconced within the hallowed walls of the Ivory Tower I figure it’s the perfect time to to reconnect with everyone on the Internets.

I’ll be back later today with another post, but for now, please enjoy this song from an indie Canadian band I recently discovered:

Jane Vain and the Dark Matter “C’mon Baby Say Bang Bang”

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