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Kvetching Mk II

April 12, 2009

Two more wasted days under the bridge.

Well, I did manage to be productive domestically, but that’s not going to do much for my masters program is it? I’m feeling tired much of the time, which has me wondering if I’m having some sort of problem sleeping properly at night. That and it’s pretty easy to knock me out of the habits I’m trying to develop if anything interferes with them or upsets me. That’s left me feeling out of sorts most of the time.

But, at least I’m getting back on the horse fairly regularly now. Writing this blog/journal really does seem to be shaking off some of the dust from my brain. If I’m lucky, it’ll shake enough off that I can complete my management plan without having to go into sunglasses at night mode. At the moment, though, the thought of my sitting down and writing out just a part of it it (say, the historic background, which I should be able to do now) just fills me with ennui and dread.

As for other parts of that project, I’m stuck waiting on hearing back from people who I contacted just before the Easter holiday after I realized that I was not approaching the project correctly. I could try to do some reading too, although I’ve done a good bit of that already.

I need to fix my reading habits too. I really have had a tough time doing any sort of archaeological reading. A lot of it has been putting me to sleep when I try to read. I think that’s mostly related to the general tiredness malaise I’ve been carrying around rather than the material. But it’s been a concern. I also haven’t been able to do much good pleasure reading for myself. I haven’t finished a novel this year, I believe. I have been reading lots of comics from the library (as per previous entries), but that’s about it.

I also haven’t been doing any gaming, which is also nagging at me. That and the fiction reading are just things I’ve been denying myself until I feel like I’ve got a handle on my various assignments for school. Well and good, but since I haven’t been feeling much up to those, I’ve just been fooling around online or asleep instead, trying to get some energy back in order to get to work.

The coming of spring may rescue me though. Yesterday was lovely and today’s nice and sunny too. Once I finish this up up, I’m going to head out bike riding and work up some sweat. Hopefully, getting some regular exercise will help me overcome the lethargy. I’m also thinking I might take a long hot bath before bed tonight.

Dissertation

April 9, 2009

I’m continuing to struggle with a dissertation topic. I’ve been hoping to find some sort of British analog to Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg in the UK, preferably in SW England. I have not had great success on this front, and I’m starting to think that I’m coming at things from the wrong direction, historical rather than archaeological.

I’ve got a short list of 17th, 18th and 19th century natural philosophers and scientists who might have left their mark on the landscape, and I’ve looked into their history a bit, but each of them could lead to blind alleys. Spending much more time closing in on such seems like it could be a waste of my resources.

I’m slowly coming around to thinking that it’s best to take up what you’ve already got on the ground. Archaeology relies a lot on chance finds (albeit, one needs to be informed and skilled enough to recognized those chances). One can certainly stick with a period and with certain approaches, but beyond that one is going to have to take what comes. I’m still jealous that two of my lecturers recently came upon the electrical infrastructure used by an early 19th century investigator into galvanism in said investigator’s garden.

The other trick is about proving yourself and getting networked, such that one becomes the person who is consulted when a certain type of find comes to light, another good reason to start small, but keep my eyes and ears open.

So, what am I interested in doing for my dissertation instead, assuming that nothing comes to light? I had originally been thinking of doing prehistory, neolithic specifically, but I really haven’t looked much into that over the course of my terms. I’ve done far more post-medieval work, which has the fortunate complement of the historical record. I quite enjoyed researching Arno’s Castle and a lot of my time spent in records offices. But the opportunity that’s staring me in the face is an island that’s within the aegis of my current DBA project in Worcester. It certainly would fit within the scope of my landscape program. It’s been thought to have been a place for citizens of Worcester to retreat to in times of trouble. In the 11th century and in the 17th specifically. It also looks like it was incorporated into a garden landscape in the 19th century. It still bears some thinking thought.

For the moment, I need to just keep musing on it and also ask about my prospects in Worcester with my placement supervisors, that and see if I can dig up some folks to talk about his with who aren’t in the same boat as I am at the moment. I also have a number of tomes I’ve picked up on the history of science. They make a diverting read from some of the other stuff I’ve been trying to get through (Yes, my endurance for reading about PPG16 and other heritage management stuff has waned a bit).

Heritage Management. I’m doing it wrong.

April 8, 2009

Yipe!

So, at the end of this month I have a heritage management plan due. I’ve had the site I’m working on established since early March and I’ve done some general research on it, and have been need to roll up my sleeves and get down and dirty with working on it. Well, I started a bit of that today and just had that gut punched feeling.

See, I was able to get a management plan from a previous MALAite for a nearby feature that’s related to mine and on reading it today, I realized just how wrong-headed my approach has been and that I better get my butt in gear if I’m going to produce something worth the time I’ll be putting into it. Sure, I’ve been spinning my wheels a lot and procrastinating, but the real problem is my tendency to hermit up and do things all by myself without doing the kind of outreach I really need to be doing if I’m going to do this kind of thing properly. The previous MALAite had meetings with all sorts of stakeholders and the like and on reading his work, that’s clearly what’s called for. I’ve had my thumb up my ass and have been hunting up documents when I should have been on email and on the phone instead. GRAH.

Misogyny and Comics…

April 8, 2009

Well, yesterday was a complete loss. One doesn’t feel terribly motivated while suffering from GERD induced heartburn. Got my meds though, finally, and now I’m feeling better and hoping to make up for the slackage. That and I really need to get better about renewing my prescription.

I’ve been reading a lot of comics compilations lately, as every library branch in Bristol seems to have a metric buttload of them and they’re a pretty quick fix for pleasure reading. However, this has exposed me to the reality of just how misogynistic superhero comics have become in the past few years. Sure, I’ve read the women in refrigerators blog and knew about the vile fate that was written for the female Robin, but I hadn’t actually read any of those comics. Grabbing tons of comics that look interesting off the shelves has taken care of that for me.

Oh, Wally West, the Flash, is married? To an Asian-American woman? OK. Oh, she’s pregnant? They seemed like a nice couple. Oh wait. The writer made her pregnant simply so he could have her attacked and suffer a miscarriage? WTF? Or rather, FUCK YOU.

And I also made the mistake of reading Identity Crisis, which I wish I could unread. Actually, I wish I could unwrite it. Killing off Sue Dibny just so the artist could do “awesome” shots of Ralph Dibny’s face melting as he mourned her in utter agony was reprehensible enough. Tossing in a rape scene just to amp up the drama? Seriously? Fuck you, Brad Meltzer.

I’m starting to wonder if Alan Moore was right in bemoaning the Pandora’s box he opened up with Watchmen. Heck, he threw an attempted rape and some battery into the mix too, and did it in a pretty creepy way with even creepier consequences, although he did treat his female characters as more than just useful tools to make male super-characters suffer like what I’m seeing these days. There’s plenty of ultra-violence in comics in general and besides the misogyny and snuff porn aspects of it, it’s also making sticking to some of the conceits of comics just look really really stupid.

Take, for example, the Joker. Sure, he’s always been a fucked up madman, but in the last 20 years, he’s been amped up in the violence and also in how far reaching his murderous sprees are. It’s one thing for Batman to send him over and over again to Arkham Asylum to just break out again if Batman always stops Joker’s attempts to rob and commit mayhem, but when the consequences of Joker’s escapes are the likes of Barbara Gorden being shot and paralyzed or hundreds of people being killed or Robin getting blown to itty bitty bits… It stops making sense for Batnman not to just kill the Joker and accept the consequences. And I’m saying this as someone who’s thoroughly opposed to the death penalty, but the thing is, in real life, mass murderers that get caught and convicted (Charlie Manson, for example), get put away and don’t have a revolving door on their cells. Whereas in the fictional world of comics, prisons and asylums ALWAYS have that revolving door.

Of course, there’s plenty of comics that go in the other direction with putative heroes (or at least protagonists) that’ll gut you just for jaywalking. A lot of those just end up becoming snuff porn themselves, although some are well written enough that they can be compelling and somewhat consistant. I’m not sure if there really is a good way to write superhero comics these days that can maintain the conceits of the big blue boyscout or big red cheese without going over a cliff…

Well, I think they can, but I’ve seen that mostly from animated versions lately, which don’t embrace the levels of violence and which also shrink down the continuity and the size of the fraternity of superbeings running around. Those are also kept a bit in check in that they’re written with a wider audience in mind, including kids. The whole, “Hey Kids! Comics!” thing is well and thoroughly mooted at this point. I’m still bemused that the libraries here stick the comics section in the children’s part of the library, while having things in stock like The Authority and Identity Crisis. Seriously?

OK, rant over. Time for breakfast.

On the Train Again

April 6, 2009

I’m off to Worcester again. Didn’t manage to write over the weekend, but I was rather busy on Saturday and I think I’ll just plan to take Sundays off.

J. and I had a friend visiting this weekend and on Saturday we drove off to Hay-on-Wye again for a book shopping holiday. This time our navigation went much more smoothly and we arrived at 11. I managed to snag 3 different books on industrial archaeology, covering Bristol, Wales and Europe. I also spent about 3 hours going through the Hay Castle bookstore’s poorly indexed collection of maps, photos and other ephemera. I’ll be scanning my finds in when I get the chance. I found several old photos of ancient monuments in Iraq, one shot of Stonehenge from 1934 and a number of portrait photos that I’ll probably use for Call of Cthulhu at some point. All in all it was a pretty good time and I’m getting quite used to driving a manual at this point.

I didn’t do anything for school this weekend, which is fine. I’m feeling ready to hit the books this week and I needed a bit of a rest before I ramped things up. I’ll be in Worcester twice this week and will also be out to Taunton for the Somerset Records Office and Somerset Studies Library to get started in earnest on my management plan. I also plan to go out and visit the site I’m writing the plan for again.

Baseball is finally here! Sunday saw the first game in, but things really get started today. I’ve got my MLB Gameday account all sorted, so I’ll be able to enjoy some games when I have the time to. And this year I’ve managed to get myself into two fantasy leagues, which hopefully won’t be too much to handle. I’m feeling wistful about going to a game though. Wish I’d managed to make it to one last year before I left.

The agenda for today is more literature trawling. Not quite sure what all is there to dig into, but there’s a good bit of miscellaneous reprints, which I looked at a little bit, and a boxful of stuff about things along the Severn. I’m sure I’ll be able to keep myself busy. I think that on Thursday I’ll be visiting the county records office and/or the Worcester library. I also need to get online to look up several cited sources to see if I can wring more info out of them.

Toe Report: I jammed it again on a couch over the weekend, but was lucky not to re-injure it. I can walk on it just fine now without even thinking about it, which is actually perilous, as I’m now more likely to do something to hurt it again if I’m not careful. It’s still a bit tender, but walking on it doesn’t trigger anything.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

April 3, 2009
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OK, this is more daunting than writing on a train. Got up, fed cats. Now? Writing? Really? Luckily, someone recently asked me about living in England and how that’s going. So.

I get asked something similar by British people not infrequently too, and I never know what to say. Sure, there’s some adjustment, but I really haven’t found the changes all that much different than what was involved moving from Chicago to New York City. Of course, New Yorkers also love to ask about how one is adjusting to moving to their metropolis, And I never knew what to say then either. I’m here. It’s fine. Yeah, I am that phlegmatic. You gotta problem with that?

Actually… It’s not really a problem in most ways, but it does make it a little difficult for me to come up with research questions.

Back to living in England, in Bristol. The pizza is a disaster. All the chinese takeout places also serve fish and chips. Bristol is pretty horrible to drive in, but it’s not bad at all for bike riding (compared to NYC). When I first got here, Bristol was a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, but at this point I’ve learned to navigate pretty well here, although not necessarily around the rest of the UK. I’ve come to hate Margaret Thatcher in a very real, rather than an abstract commutative property of Ronald Reagan, way now that I’m enjoying the fruits of all the services she privatized.

Oh, here’s an interesting bit for those of you in America. The UK seems bigger than it is. It’s fairly densely packed down here in the south and southwest AND those twisty streets are a fairly universal property. I’ve been out and about in the countryside quite a lot for my masters program and with the hedges, narrowness of country lanes and their propensity to wend around topographical features rather than steamroll over them in a straight line, it takes up to twice as long to cover a given distance here than it would in the US. And the UK really isn’t all that small anyway, although folks here love to talk about how tiny it is.

I’ve found that I don’t have to get drunk to socialize with my academic peers, although I do enjoy a pint, or sometimes two, with them on Wednesday nights on a fairly regular basis. I have noticed that we non-British grad students have tended to hang out with each other quite a bit. Just kinda happened that way, quietly. We do socialize plenty with everyone else too, but the main lot of folks I end up with at the pub by the end of the evening tend to be the North Americans.

British bureaucracy can be maddeningly byzantine at times, although it does seem to maintain functionality if you can figure out how to navigate it. I could tell you all about the ins and outs and history of heritage management here. It’s filled with odd ducks that are neither fish nor fowl. That seems to be par for the course, lots of responsibilities carved up in weird ways between different bodies with different origins and sources of authority.

OK, I’ve now earned my tea and some breakfast!

Junalla

April 2, 2009

I’m on the Great Malvern train headed to Worcester. Managed to get up on time and get out of the house in a timely manner today. I’ll see if I can keep that up.

Once I arrive in Worcester and make it to WHEAS HQ, I have given myself the task of trawling through all the local archaeology journals in the library in hopes of finding any relevant work done within the bounds of the Northwick and Bevere historic trail (under the aegis of which I’m doing a desk based assessment). It didn’t look like the volumes were indexed, so I’m expecting a day of glassy eyed perseverance with a good chance of coming up with nothing. So it goes.

I’m also hoping to straighten out some confusion I’ve developed over some excavations that were done in the region in the 50s. I’ve gotten to see the very sparse excavation journal that came with a few boxes of finds that apparently came out of an excavation performed on the east side of the Severn just off Bevere island, well within the purview of my DBA. They excavation seems to have been inspired by an aerial photo, which was sketched in the journal and which looks weirdly like another aerial photo that’s included with a report of a Romano-British excavation a few miles north of Bevere and on the west side of the Severn. I should have compared them last night after I got home (having gotten a copy of the latter report during the day), but I’d been out with classmates at the pub and was just ready for bed. Then I spent the morning getting ready and getting out the door. Odds are that I’m just confused, and by making sure about that I’ll clear things up one way or another.

I had hoped to use this blog to bloviate about theory and such, but I’m not feeling it so far. I’ll just have to muddle through with mundane stuff for the moment and let my blathering about how we’ve always been cyborgs wait until it comes without forcing it. This blog’s supposed to be a tool for thinking as much as writing anyway, and if I get really lucky, maybe it’ll have a knock-on effect and get me gaming and writing for gaming again too.

Current Reading: Archaeological Resource Management in the UK

Since I’m currently trying to work on my management plan for the lead rakes and surrounds at Charterhouse-on-Mendip, I’m boning up on heritage management, or at least making the attempt. During the term I did a pretty poor job with reading as much as I should, so now I’m trying to make up for that a bit, but it’s been tough. Fortunately, this book is actually fairly engaging. It’s a compilation of essays and it’s all nuts and bolts stuff for the most part, a far cry from reading French theorists. So far, nothing truly new has come out of the reading, but it has helped to organize my thoughts a bit with regard to what’s called in one essay, “the archaeological database.”

18:06 PM

Now I’m trying to get back home. My intended train out of Worcester went out of service, so I’m just now getting a replacement an hour later. I think I’ll lose another 30 minutes when I change trains at Cheltenham.

Fairly productive day today, although very trying on the mind and eyeballs. I made it through the entire collection of the Transactions of the Worcester Archaeology Society, finding a number of interesting bits, although nothing that wasn’t already known. I just have the documentation to back things up now. I also went through the publications of a local naturalist club, but they were more focused on Hereford and I gave up on them pretty quickly. I also got copies of an index to Nash’s history of Worcestershire, which may come in handy once I track down a copy of it. I also dug through some other things just before I left to catch a train, but not thoroughly enough to be done with them. Still have plenty of lit to dig through on my next visit. I’ll need to go thrrough what I extracted today before then too, as several things I grabbed were for references to other publications.

I also got to meet with the environmental archaeologist who I’m rescuing from having to do the historical legwork. I might end up wading up some streams in the project area looking for likely places to augur some cores. Sounds fun to me.

I also heard that one of the structures (a manor house) that is no longer extant in the project area may actually have been dismantled and reused a few miles off! One of the project managers I’m working under got wind of this in a document from the 16th century and she’s now making inquiries to see if a building inspection could confirm this or show anything of interest. I haven’t managed to find anything that exciting, but I’ll keep slogging away and hopefully one of th4se days I’ll get to pull out a nugget of archival gold.