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August 1, 2004

August 2004 Archives

August 30, 2004
Aimee's First Day of School

Rising at the truly heroic hour of 7:24 in the very a.m., Aimee marched off to her first day of class. It was mostly a day of orientation, in which a great many well-meaning people in charge demonstrated a marked lack of organization. Making the transition from resting to active state infused Aimee with a deep hunger for detailed scheduling, and she came home from school knowing only a little more than when she left.

Things will become more clear, of course, as she’s due to get her syllabubs… er, sometime this week? Meanwhile, she watches movies off the school of nursing’s internet site on the correct way to make a bed with the patient still lying in it. Truly a task worthy of David Copperfield (the younger and nonfictional).
Other upcoming highlights: a lab day in which the nursing students practice giving baths to each other. The lab teacher cheerfully suggested the fresh-faced class to "wear swimsuits, or be okay with getting wet as we will be using real water." No doubt there’s an entire internet site somewhere out there dedicated to that very theme, but some things need to be learned in person.

It was the first day, which was a day we’d been working toward for a few years. Of course, there will also be a last day of school, which is ostensibly the point, but the first day is always the most exciting. There will be challenges and tests and things that will just freak us out, but even with all that in the future there is the ever-present fact that we are here, we have made it.

Posted by Us at 08:12 PM | Comments (3) |

Yeah, Aimee! Off on your own grand adventure! You certainly look perky.

I have now reached the point in my own life when I seem compelled to grumpily say that by 7:24am I have already been at work 39 minutes! My hours seem to be getting earlier and earlier. Jd & I now leave the house at 6:15-- when the world is still asleep but for drowsy commuters and huge trucks delivering Nilla Wafers to Fred Meyer.

Posted by: Kris at September 2, 2004 09:09 AM

aimee appears to be toting the very same coffee mug that joel had on his first day of school... Does joel no longer need coffee after he's left the house? do you plan to alternate days of who gets the coffee?

Also, i will note that joel's first day picture had significantly more pixels, and was nicely centered... Also, if you're looking back to joel's to compare... what is that in his hand? a cookie? piece of toast? slab of ham? i just can't tell.

Posted by: seeger at September 2, 2004 01:23 PM

Clever observations, Seeger; you have astutely pointed out the lack of pixels, due, apparently, to the lack of time (as it were) ... I will confide in you, and only you, because you are a friend and because you live in birthplace of the reuben sandwich: Joel is holding a slice of my mother's banana bread.

Posted by: Aimee at September 2, 2004 05:31 PM

August 25, 2004
Picking Up a Stitch

While visiting Joel’s family in Brookings one Thanksgiving Break about six years ago, Joel’s mom, Molly, generously offered to pass on her knitting know-how to me, an admiring, but intimidated observer of Molly’s handmade mittens [I believe, that holiday season, Molly was busy at work knitting countless pairs of woolly mitts for the neighborhood homeless shelter’s Christmas]. Then, Molly sent me home to Minneapolis with a hank of white cotton yarn, a turquoise pair of steel number six needles, and an encouraging phrase: “You can knit a sweater with those.” Those being the needles, not my fumbly hands. Engrossed in re-run episodes of Twin Peaks that Winter term, I managed to perfect my knit. But, that was it. I recall an unpleasant scarf that I “bound off” by simply pulling the needle out of the stitches, leaving a row of forlorn loops to dangle in the winds of unraveling chance. Every once in a while, especially during football season, I’d gather together the needles and the odd ball of yarn and try to complete something, anything. I was heartily encouraged in my efforts by Joel, who, having been raised within the warmth of maroon bobble sweaters and cozy tasseled stocking caps, was eager to have a knitter in the family, if only for the comforting clack-clack of the needles on a snowy evening.

These past few weeks, I’ve lounged in our new South Dakota flat, burning through the PBS afternoon programming while making yards of window treatments. About a week ago, I finished the final pair of curtains and was casting about the Internet for other crafty-type projects. As many crafters are wont to do, I stumbled upon that site of domestic display: Martha Stewart Living. Under “Crafts” and “Needlework,” I found the following invitation: “Perfectly choreographed, the movement of yarn between two needles yields hats, scarves, sweaters, and mittens as if by magic.” I rallied myself to the needles and some dusty Lion Brand black wool. Timidly, I cast on half of the stitches required by a Martha-easy-does-it knit hat pattern to an effort to see if I still had the knack to attempt a full-blown knit hat. By the time Joel arrived home from his daily lectures, I’d created a mini hat, measuring three inches high and three inches in circumference. Bolstered by the success of the mini hat/pepper cozy (see photo), I trotted off to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of Stitch ’N Bitch.

Knitty for your Kitchy (Note: fancy knitted pepper cozy)

This weekend my knitting efforts were coaxed along by Molly, Joel’s sister Phoebe, and occasional warm-hearted quips about knitting therapy from Joel‘s dad, Doug. Molly, this year’s Beltrami County Fair blue ribbon and Best-in-Show winner for a lovely grey and rose colored maple leaf patterned sweater, coached me through a ribbed stitch washcloth, while Phoebe glanced now and again up from her beautiful dragon’s head cable knit pillow to encourage me with smiles and laughter at unexpected mistakes. I finished the washcloth with a flourish and promptly moved on to the next project. Suddenly, I’ve developed an addiction. I’ve garter stitched my way through another washcloth, increasing and decreasing as the pattern suggests, and am ready from my next project. Eek! I haven’t any yarn! So, tomorrow I’ll lure Joel up to Sioux Falls with a promise of a pub dinner for a visit to the yarn store, but for tonight I’ll dream of potential stitches ...

The Knitting Bandit
Posted by Aimee at 06:07 PM | Comments (5)

How long did it take to knit the pair of panties you're holding in that picture :) Miss you Aim! Macd

Posted by: mac at August 25, 2004 07:28 PM

Macd! I'm surprised at you! They're not panties! I guess they kind of do look like unmentionables though, don't they? This innocent washcloth took me a day to make ... Easy! For what it's worth, I do have a knitting pattern for panties ... Christmas is right around the corner! (Miss you, too.)

Posted by: Aimee at August 26, 2004 07:34 AM

I couldn't resist Aimee! (But I knew it was the washcloth)

Posted by: mac at August 26, 2004 08:21 AM

As you can imagine, I haven't touched my knitting since May 8th, when we first saw this new house. But I do miss it-- hope to go back to it in the chilly, drizzly days of November. I've got the back of my first sweater done and the front partway!

I got a (free) load of horse manure for the garden this morning-- the cats think I smell interesting, but I know I'd better go take a shower.

Good luck starting school next week, Aimee! And, you've been reading Pride & Prejudice forever-- knitting keeping you from reading?

Posted by: Kris at August 27, 2004 10:52 AM

I started a sweater in 1994. It's not done yet, so I'm impressed even by completion of the washcloth. (Hey, how about combining a washcloth and panties? Two birds...)

Posted by: Lisa at August 29, 2004 06:08 PM
August 23, 2004
Being Well Tested, Being Well Paid

I have taken two med-school exams so far, a biochem test last week, and gross anatomy today. I did well on the biochem, which has become my favorite subject, we’ll see about the anatomy test. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m way behind my classmates as far as chemistry goes, and a little ahead with the anatomy, which may be why I find chemistry invigorating and my anatomy lectures thuddingly dull. I liken biochem to a runaway team of horses. I’m in the wagon behind the professors/horses desperately trying to gain control of them as they gallop across the chemical countryside, whinnying out incomprehensible but important-sounding words. Slowly, through diligent study and frequently embarrassing questions, I gain control of the team and the gallop slows to a trot. Then we have a test, and the next day the team is off and running again.

Metaphor established? Good.

While I’ve become more chummy with my classmates in general, we haven’t made any close friends thus far. I’ve worn my Shakespeare t-shirt and made various bookish references in front of people, but no one’s shown much interest. A random sample of my classmates’ interests from our class portfolio: “Mountain biking, knitting shawls… golf… fishing… basketball, fishing… Chicago Cubs, golf… Lambda Chi Alpha…. Reading…” ooh! A few mention reading! I’ll have to bring that up, see what happens.

My parents Doug and Molly and my sister Phoebe visited this weekend, and we all went down to my grandmother Mare’s for 1.5 days. It was great to see all of them, I hadn’t seen Mare in maybe three years!

During supper, Doug and I had a discussion about health care costs. If I may paraphrase poorly, Doug felt that, in our environment of skyrocketing health care costs, it’s ridiculous for doctors to make so much money. Why are nurses and aids periodically laid off but never doctors?

His questions were troubling, especially because they revealed my own ignorance of the Byzantine world of medical economics (something that most med-schools never educate their students about). My first response, that doctors make a lot less money than they used to, seemed pretty flimsy. So what? That doesn’t answer the question. (From here on I’m asking my own questions of myself, not paraphrasing) Why should doctors be well-paid? Well, their work is very important, so we want to attract talented and ambitious people to the field. But they make 3-10 times what a teacher/professor makes, aren’t teachers important? I’m fairly sure that, because physician remuneration is declining as costs increase, “greedy doctors” aren’t responsible for our national health care pinch, but I still don’t have a great answer for him. I want to be a doctor for a lot of reasons, and I have to admit that being well-paid to do a respected job is one of them. I don’t feel very guilty about having this kind of greed, but I like to have a good argument, and I’m not satisfied with my answers to his questions.

I suppose that I know a few things about costs. I have known doctors who run more tests than are strictly necessary, because they’re afraid of being sued. This points to the gulf that exists between litigious patients who are afraid of being harmed or neglected, and wastrel doctors afraid of humiliation and ruin. I’m not sure I believe in a halcyon period wherein doctors were always right and patients always trusting, however. I think there has always been a power gap between doctor and patient, complicated by a mutual dependency between the patient’s need for the doctor/wisewoman/shaman’s knowledge and the healer’s dependency on the patient’s faith and trust. Doctors shouldn’t work without personal consequences, and patients need some recourse when they are harmed.

Technology also contributes to the cost. We may receive diminishing returns, occasionally negative returns, from a lot of our new and expensive instruments and tests. But often these tools make a real difference, and often they need experts to use them. In a capitalist society (and it should be mentioned that Doug is an advocate of Canadian-style socialized medicine), these experts will work for the highest bidder. And I wonder, “How much should we pay for a year of someone’s life?” And suddenly I’m glad USD doesn’t teach a course on medical economics.
Posted by Joel at 07:07 PM | Comments (3) |

Joel - this may be an old question for you, but what sort of medicine do you want to practice? Do you know yet?

Hi Aimee!

Posted by: at August 25, 2004 11:51 AM

Hey Denise. No, I'm not sure what field I'd like to work in. Apparently all will become clear for me during my third year in which I'll get a chance to try EVERYthing. Right now I'm getting periodic time with some primary care/internal medicine docs, which is good.

Posted by: Joel at August 25, 2004 06:58 PM

I have heard that you don't really have to specialize until late in the program. I was just wondering if you had some burning desire to be a surgeon, or just a general practitioner, or perhaps you really like feet or something like that.

I look forward to reading about all of your and Aimee's adventures in school. Even with all the classes, studying and stress involved, I still miss school some days: meeting new people, challenging your mind.

Sometimes work can get very monotonous.
Posted by: Denise at August 26, 2004 01:12 PM

August 19, 2004
Coverage of the 2004 Olympic Announcer Games

We have been truly enjoying the NBC coverage of the Athens Olympics, especially the men’s and women’s gymnastics announcers: Al Trautwig, Elfie Schlegel, and Tim Daggett.

Although we must give credit to Tim and Elfie for explicating the intricacies of judging, it is Al we love. Each night, Al’s ardent passion for the sport and its athletes tumbles onto the scene in a series of impromptu, heart-on-his-sleeve commentary. He is exuberant, emphatic, and (unintentionally) hilarious.

The women’s team competition is a fierce battle for the gold medal, despite the appearances of pixie-esque athletes with their be-glittered faces and petite figures. Towering above the traditional forms of women’s gymnastics is Svetlana Khorkina, a reknowned Russian competitor, who looks more suited to the ballet barre than the uneven parallel bars with her ridge-pole thin body and elegant movements.

Al extols the virtues of Svetlana by uttering, “Svetlana always seems like she’s putting on a performance … Because she probably is.”

Well said, Al.

Al’s mates in the announcer’s box, Elfie and Tim, are gymnasts from National and Olympic record books who gently attempt to school Al’s understanding of the sport with the use of subtle innuendo over blatant declaration. However, sometimes underscoring the obvious is the best (and only) way to get through to Al (and us) …

During the women’s team final, American gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj was a last minute substitute for another injured gymnast on the balance beam. Mohini had to come up with an eleventh-hour routine and “stick the landing” in order to save the American team a medal.
As we’re watching Mohini dust the chalk from her hands, Al empathetically says, “What a spot to be in.”
Tim dead-pans with, “Yeah, it’s like worst-case scenario, Al.”

But perhaps unlike Tim and Elfie, we actually enjoy Al’s presence in these Olympic Games.

Here are some highlights of Al’s Best Comments:

Later during the men’s individual all-around, the announcers watch a Chinese gymnast take a spin on the pommel horse …
Tim says, “This is incredible”
Al replies, “It’s like he’s got bird bones!”

Giggles ensue … Bird Bones Comment gets a 9.5 for surprising, non-conformist simile comparing of athlete to bird on prime time television.

Other winners …

Observing a young American athlete work a few push-ups on the sidelines after a particularly trying rotation on the rings, Al shouts at the besieged gymnast a la boot camp, “That was not good enough, get down and give me two!”

About a Korean gymnast’s taped bicep Al comments, “That tape job on his left arm looks like you need an erector set.”

As the Chinese women enter the arena to compete in the team final, Al waxes quixotic with “The cute meter is officially broken, guys.”

Al’s celebratory statement following Paul Hamm’s excellent gold-medal winning routine on the high bar: “The air went out of the balloon and with those mighty lungs from the American Midwest he filled it back up.”

Hmmm … What does he mean?

Love, admiration, and passion for a sport he does not understand. It’s wonderful …

Posted by Us at 07:56 AM | Comments (6) |

I think Fred Willard had commentators like Al in mind when he created the role of Buck Laughlin in "Best in Show."
Buck: "Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?"
"And to think in some countries these dogs are eaten."

Posted by: Joel at August 19, 2004 10:12 AM

yes, al is funny, but i am still a huge fan of bob costas' suave demeanor.

Posted by: Pam at August 20, 2004 11:47 AM

How are you liking Crossing Mr. Morgan?

Posted by: mac at August 22, 2004 10:10 PM

I'm loving it, Mac. I've read up to their third meeting with the Langs (the picnic on a hill), and I keep thinking of our first year in Portland. You guys were definitely the Langs for us, and when Larry speaks of the joy of inclusion, of being chosen, I get a little misty.

Posted by: Joel at August 23, 2004 06:41 AM

glad you are liking it because i have never seen mac get so excited about a book. every few pages he feels the need to say, 'this book just speaks to me.' and he reads me all of the science analogies with awe and respect. i wish he'd stop talking to me about it and just let me read it!

Posted by: Pam at August 23, 2004 09:47 AM

I don't care enough about the commentators to know their names, but we've been laughing at the not-so-witty comments as well. I loved the one during a swimming race, where the commentator was droning on about how "he knows what he has to do, and now he needs to do it." Uh... Hello? Win the race? Yup, I think that would be pretty clear.

It's almost as good as making snarky comments about 90210.

Posted by: Lisa at August 25, 2004 09:53 AM

August 17, 2004

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the role of language in everyday descriptions. Okay, okay, perhaps I’m a little bit bored waiting for school to start, but something has been grating on me for a while …

Why do doctors, nurses, or caregivers say “I delivered a baby today”?

The verb to deliver can mean a whole host of things; synonymous with to surrender or to convey or to give or to speak or to rescue, deliver fits perfectly with commencement addresses, the arrival of piping hot pizza, and that old-time gem “deliver us from evil.”

In the “I delivered a baby” model, I is undoubtedly the care provider or health care authority, and there is an implication that baby is being rescued or saved from the trauma of birth by said authority.

But, perhaps it is not the delivery alone that is my issue …

A Midwife’s Tale, chronicling the eighteenth-century life and times of midwife Martha Ballard, uses the verb in this way:

18 November At Capt Meloys. Birth 48th. I receivd 24/. At Capt Meloys. His Lady in Labour … My patient deliverd at 8 hour 5 minute Evening of a fine daughter (Ulrich, 162-163).

The change is not all that severe, but is obvious. The subject of the sentence alters the entire meaning of the phrase/event! “My patient,” Mrs. Meloy, is “deliverd” of the child. It now seems that Mrs. Meloy is being rescued or saved from the pains of labor and childbirth. Moreover, the primary care provider in Mrs. Meloy’s labor is not mentioned or alluded to in the statement at all, and we are left to suppose that the empowered Mrs. Meloy has somehow saved herself in the birthing process.

How has the meaning of a simple phrase and a momentous event altered so much between that rural winter of 1793 and our modern (or post-modern) Twenty-First Century?

Somewhere in the last couple of centuries, the Doctor emerged as a white-collar profession, worthy of education, honor, and authority. The Doctor, leaving behind a legacy of hog butchering and hair cutting, began to study, experiment, and practice to further understand and save the human race exclusively. The Doctor gained entry into the taboo world of the women’s birthing boudoir and changed obstetrical practices, in some cases for the better, such as the development of aseptic technique and its reduction of childbed fever.

As we have learned from Spiderman, with great power and authority comes great responsibility. Our own courtrooms, heavy with malpractice suits, bear the weight of this responsibility endowed to physicians and hospitals by their patients. However, in a small corner of medicine, an ancient African proverb is beginning to resound in the halls of childbirth centers, lavishly decorated birthing suites, and detailed Birth Plans:

Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge.
People can accompany you to the bridge.
They can greet you on the other side.

But you walk that bridge alone.

All who have observed or participated in life (not exclusively childbirth) will recognize the truth in this old idea. There are simply some things in life that we cannot do together. In fact, some may argue that everything in life is experienced alone, from each individual’s carefully established and maintained set of biases.

So, why not, then, give the delivery back to she who delivered?

Posted by Aimee at 08:48 AM | Comments (1) |

Go Martha! I was thinking fondly of her chapters regarding parasitic worms just the other day. I brought three books to read on this trip and have finished the first two. Sadly, they were both COMPLETE CRAP! Fforde just didn't do it for me, guys. The third is Mac's book pick, so I'm hoping it can save the day and fill the lungs of American literature with the sweet breath of plot-worthiness.

Posted by: Kris at August 19, 2004 08:49 PM

August 13, 2004
House Rules

Things are fairly laissez faire here at the as-yet-unnamed rental in Vermillion. Go to bed when you're tired, wake up when you're ready (or when Nine feels that enough time has been wasted), watch all the TV you can handle, and eat a lot of beef. Utopic, in many respects.

But there's no such thing as Utopia, it's unattainable. And why? Because human nature contains too many paradoxes. We love freedom, yet feel the need to control. The scarcity of resources is ever-apparent, but nonetheless we fail to conserve properly. The respect and love we feel for our fellows constantly sings from our hearts, and then we forget to replace the empty toilet paper roll.
For these reasons, any society, whether uni- or dystopian, needs rules.

I broke two of our house rules this evening. I failed to replace the toilet paper roll after using it all up, and I yelled (something complimentary) from one room to the next rather than getting up and communicating in a civilized tone. Aimee was quick to note that I was the original creator, the Solon if you will, for both of these rules.

To serve the cause of justice, to better myself and the society of two that I live in, it was decreed that I must symbolically bear the empty toilet paper tube wherever I go for the rest of the evening. And to further explicate the symbolism, a sad face (like the kind of face one makes after reaching for the toilet paper and finding none) and an angry shouting face was depicted upon the side of the tube.

Let justice be done.


Posted by Joel at 07:23 PM | Comments (0) |

August 09, 2004

On Sunday afternoon, the sun emerged apologetically from behind the clouds and presented us with perfect weather for some tubing. On one of the state's ten thousand near Upsala, Minnesota, we successfully picked up our lake-legs (and in the process may have disturbed or delighted five-odd fisher-folk, enjoying the calm serenity of the family pontoon). Don piloted, Erin explained the technique (“When the boat starts, lean back on the tube. Then, when he goes really fast, hold tight.”), Mary expertly kept the ropes from being tangled, and Mame doled out the snacks.

Ready for your wake!

We’ve always been more of canoe people, paddling softly up so as to have a look at some turtles and whatnot, but being drug on an innertube behind a loud speedboat at 30 m.p.h. is really fun.

Ha! My eyes are closed!

Next time, we're ready to go faster ...
Posted by Us at 07:25 PM | Comments (5) |


Did that lake have a surface area greater than five acres or just greater than two acres??

Posted by: Pam at August 11, 2004 03:58 PM

Ha, ha ... I thought of you, actually, when I wrote the "state's ten thousand." Ah, the memories ... So silly, yet so educational.

By the by, forgive me for pointing this out, but I saw you posted on J.D.'s website ... That was you, wasn't it, P?

Posted by: Aimee at August 11, 2004 06:57 PM

yes, since your encouragement to read the miron weblog, i have also been reading JD's (at least the ones that don't refer to a computer, a comic book, or an 80's rock group). it just seemed like all the (un)cool kids were doing it, and the peer pressure just got too strong.

Posted by: Pam at August 11, 2004 08:34 PM

Yay, Pam. Welcome back to the dark side. Actually, I'm happy to have you reading again. I always enjoyed your insightful comments.

And, Joel: you look pretty much like a girlie-man in that photo, dude. You okay?

Posted by: J.D. at August 13, 2004 09:54 AM

Next time try the skies...they're fun, too!

Posted by: Denise at August 13, 2004 10:10 AM

August 08, 2004

Wicked Stepsister


This weekend we drove the relatively short distance (five hours) from Vermillion to St. Cloud to see Aimee's sister Kelli Wurzberger perform in the St. Cloud Civic Theater production of Into the Woods.

As is usually the case with Sondheim, the themes and music of Into the Woods are complex and fascinating, requiring both musical virtuosity and a real understanding of all the meanings that come spilling out of the page. With this in mind, we planned to attend solely to support Kelli, who we know to be both excellent in voice and an apt literary scholar, but were treated to a very good show.

We have seen some very bad professional theater in our time. A production of Enter the Guardsman made us question whether the whole experiment of civilization might not just as well call it a day. A Julius Caesar was survived only by counting and categorizing all the different colors of lights on the ceiling. We've seen a Godspell that may well have been produced by under-handed atheists looking to swell their numbers.

We have also seen a few bad community theater productions. By and large, however, we give these performers/accountants/mall retailers a lot of extra-credit for their effort, their spunk, and, of course, their small budgets. And then there are those community theater productions that, a small blemish or two aside, astonish and delight. Into the Woods was one of those, and we couldn't be more proud of Kelli's work.


Her role was a small but crucial one. As the wicked stepsister Lucinda, she provided the main source of comedy throughout the show, heaping a hilarious amount of disdain and cruelty upon Cinderella, and then (after being blinded by Cindy's avian allies), staggering about the stage with dark glasses and cane, doing her best to suck-up to the newly crowned princess. Her tight-lipped glum expression as she gamely shoveled praise and good wishes (in the wrong direction) had us weeping with laughter.

The rest of the cast was very good, too, and the techincal aspects (lots of tricky lighting cues with four stories happening simultaneously, plus all the performers were miked and needed their sound to come up and down at the speed of a sixteenth note), were capped by an excellent pit orchestra. In this day when more and more Broadway shows are moving to canned scores it was a joy to hear a real live bassoon honking through the score.

Joel's only exposure to Into the Woods was via a DVD version of the Broadway show and Aimee's frequent spin of the score on the CD player. So, despite the absence of Bernadette Peters, seeing the show in a theater as it was meant to be produced demonstrated anew the power of live theater. Theater needs living bodies, everything else is just a flick.

Thanks, Kelli, for putting on the show.

Posted by Us at 08:13 PM | Comments (1) |


Whew! Thank goodness the opening sentence explained the initial photograph. Just before that opening sentence I was thinking that putting a little makeup on Joel did wonders for him and questioning my, uh, "comfort zone", as it were.

You guys were sorely missed at JD & Kris' this weekend.

Posted by: Dave at August 9, 2004 08:51 AM

August 05, 2004

[In a troubled blogging world, I thought that I’d offer up a bit of respite from the trauma …]

I’m not a comic book reader. Or a graphic novel reader, for that matter.

However, in my circle friends and loved ones comics and graphic novels are celebrated as a significant modern (and post-modern) art form. Graphic novels are intertwined with important childhood memories, and are preserved as escapist literature. I have been educated on the gravity of graphic novels through overheard conversations, coming-of-age stories, countless video games, and recent film adaptations of hero/villain-based novels.

When the film adaptation of Spiderman first arrived in theatres in 2002, Joel was anxious, nervous, and thrilled. I had had a inkling of what this particular comic meant to my husband in his pre-teen years, but I was surprised that the deep connection to the Spiderman story and characters survived through high school, college, and on through his adulthood. I recall the elaborate melodrama he described before we took in the movie … “No, no. You see, Peter Parker is a flawed hero, not because of his hubris, like Norman Osborn, but because he is insecure and emotional. It is this flaw that makes him so captivating.” Or, in other words, Peter Parker is like me.

The romance of identifying with fictional characters is not new. We are perversely fascinated by Humbert Humbert and Mr. Kurtz, just as we are moved by the plight of Ishmael and the pathos of Anna Karenina. The fickle heart of the eternal audience has given birth to The Canon and life of literary classics. But, how does the graphic novel format fit into The Canon?

In my experience [not having read a single be-comic-ed book cover-to-cover (saving Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Maus II)], graphic novels are morality tales. Although not clearly identified as allegory, graphic novels employ conventions like personifications of abstractions (e.g., Spiderman nemesis Norman Osborn might be Greed, his son Harry Osborn might be Envy, beloved uncle Ben Parker might be all-around Virtue) and a overarching symbolic meaning: Good will triumph over Evil.

Last night, Joel and I watched the recent film adaptation of the popular comic book Hellboy. I had never heard of Hellboy, but I found the story to be the most captivating of the superhero-themed graphic novel genre. Essentially, a reincarnation of Rasputin terrorizes the city and hatches a diabolical plot that will initiate the Apocalypse. Enter Hellboy, a man/devil, born through Nazi wickedness, is raised from infancy by a sage professor of the paranormal in modern-day America. On the side of good humor, Hellboy battles nasty Rasputin and demon legions only to discover the significance of his role in the impending Apocalypse. Without spoiling the end, I’ll simply say that the battle becomes one of pre-determination versus free will. Although Spiderman hero Peter Parker clearly struggles with his choices in life, Hellboy takes the allegorical cake in a head-to-head with Spidey over this divine conflict.

In life there is joy in knowing the roles that we are destined to play. The joy is in the comfort and security of a Plan, a Destination, a Goal. Like the rest of humanity, Peter Parker has a choice in his life; he can choose to live a normal life as a student/photographer/scientist/lover, or he can be a Hero. An alter ego offers mobility and choices. It is true that Peter Parker relives one choice again and again and again, but he actually makes many decisions throughout his struggle to heroism.

Hellboy, because of his looks and his power, is a demon, a freak, and a nothing. Hellboy’s very existence insists on the reality of the Apocalypse, so the real drama for Hellboy is in his attempt to do what Spiderman does each time he removes the mask. Hellboy files his horns “to fit in,” but as important as his free will is, his destiny mocks him each time he looks in the mirror. At one troubled moment in the film, Hellboy’s grim, red visage fills the screen as he says to love interest (and firestarter) Liz “Sparky” Sherman, “I can’t change this.”

For Hellboy, there is only one choice in his life. One critical choice that either saves humanity or destroys it.

Plus, if you needed just a bit more evidence, Tobey Maguire ain’t no Ron Perlman.

Posted by Aimee at 11:10 AM | Comments (10) |


Nice entry, little Aimee Rose, but one correction: the comic Hellboy is not "popoular"; "obscure" is a better description.

I'm anxiously awaiting my Kris-less comic-book-film watching week in December. Ah, think of it: sitting around in my underwear all day, drinking scotch, eating donuts, watching Hellboy. What could be better?

Posted by: J.D. at August 5, 2004 02:20 PM

Pants always make things better, JD. Pants, pants, pants, I really cannot emphasize that enough.
Thanks for posting, Aimee, and moving my cheezy first day of school picture off of page one!
I'd like to reiterate what you said about the roles we are destined to play. One of the first questions I'd ask as a child about a superhero is, "What does he/she do?" As in, do they fly? Shoot beams from their nose? Go all plasticky? But also, how are they heroic? To find what you do and do it well, that can be the Meaning of Life for some people, and superhero comix present a compelling picture of that in action.

Posted by: Joel at August 5, 2004 02:43 PM

[T]he comic Hellboy is not "popoular"; "obscure" is a better description.

'Popoularity' is eye of the beholder, no? I just presumed that someone out there would know Hellboy on an intimate level ...

Posted by: Aimee at August 5, 2004 04:59 PM

What are your powers, Joel? (Other than the ability to kill a cow with your bare hands.) We already know that my superpower is organization. Well, that's what I think, anyhow. Kris disagrees...

Posted by: J.D. Roth at August 5, 2004 06:36 PM

Resistance to mosquito bites.

Posted by: Joel at August 5, 2004 07:18 PM

Ignore JD.
From his point of view, anything that wasn't a Marvel book in the mid 80s isn't 'popular'. :P

Obscure? The Flaming Carrot. 4-D Man. Wonder Warthog. Willy Lumpkin, the Fantastic Four's mailman (look it up!). The Heckler.

Hellboy, in the actual World of Comic Book Geeks, is highly regarded and well known -- it's frequently suggested by comic book geeks for non comic book geeks to read as an introduction. Does it have huge sales? No, not it's individual issues -- but it has been selling in graphic novel form for 10 years or so. Aside from this movie, do vast hordes of non-comic book people know anything about it? No.

But it is award-winning, critically acclaimed, and, as you noticed, pretty keen.

Plenty of non-comic book readers in fact do read Hellboy -- much like Maus, it's blend of mythology, pulp adventure, and lovecraftian horrors plays well with the non-"superhero fanboy" crowd. =)

Posted by: Dana at August 6, 2004 07:59 AM

Huh, I must have missed the appearance of Nyarlathotep in "Maus", or maybe that was Spieglemen the elder's second wife? Oh, wait, that's not what you were saying.

Posted by: Joel at August 6, 2004 10:05 AM

Ignore JD. From his point of view, anything that wasn't a Marvel book in the mid 80s isn't 'popular'.

Dana, don't be an ass.

First of all, I had stopped reading comics by the mid-eighties.

Second, your statement just isn't true. I may prefer Marvel comics of the late sixties to early eighties, but that doesn't mean I think they were all popular.

Third, I meant what I said literally. Hellboy is not, and never has been, popular. It's obscure.

To say "Hellboy is popular among a certain small subsection of the comic reading crowd, therefor it's popular", is like saying "caviar is popular among a certain food-eating crowd, therefor it's popular". Just because Hellboy is well-known in the world of Comic Book Geeks, doesn't mean it's popular. (And I would never recommend it as an introduction to comics; the comparisons to Maus are ridiculous!)

I do not deny that some people — such as Dana — like Helloby. A lot. All I'm saying is that it's never sold well, and few people know of it. The comics were produced by a minor comic book company just when that company was starting to build a rep for quality. And even among this company's offerings, the book was relatively low-key. I'd wager it never cracked the top 100 in sales. Seriously. That's a minor, obscure comic book. It has nothing to do with the book's quality (which Dana has always loved, and I've always thought quirky but not my thing), but it does indicate that it's not popular.

Popularity is measured by sales figures, not by how enthusiastically a small portion of the population like something. Breadth not depth.

Dana doesn't often say things that annoy me, but she's done a good job this time.

Posted by: J.D. at August 9, 2004 07:17 AM
Dana doesn't often say things that annoy me, but she's done a good job this time.
I kind of thought I said annoying things all the time, actually.

To say "Hellboy is popular among a certain small subsection of the comic reading crowd, therefor it's popular", is like saying "caviar is popular among a certain food-eating crowd, therefor it's popular". Just because Hellboy is well-known in the world of Comic Book Geeks, doesn't mean it's popular.
This is largely true, but it just means that COMIC BOOKS AREN'T POPULAR.

If you are going to compare apples and apples, you have to compare Hellboy to other comic books, and look at its popularity not against everybody in the world, but against other comic books, and in particular its popularity amongst comic book readers.

Despite your enjoyment of the comic book form, I do not consider you a representative example of the comic book reading public, JD.

Individual issue sales are in the top 100, I believe, but that's beside the point. Look at this list of top 50 graphic novels for January 2004. This is 'pre-movie'. #42 is a Hellboy trade, with three more at 47, 48, and 49.

Now, you might want to quibble and say they're right down at the bottom of the list. So they are. But realize that in the case of Seed of Destruction we're talking about a collection that's been in continuous print for 10 years.

There are a few other 'old' books on that list, but most are either collections of recent series, or the very first collections of very old books (Flash Gordon, for example).

Is Hellboy better than Maus? Of course not. Is it more popular? Amongst regular comic book readers, I daresay it probably is -- I rarely see copies of Maus being sold at the comic book stores, but I do see it in bookstores. Amongst the world at large? Again, hard to say. Pre-movie, I'm sure the answer is that Maus is more popular with the world at large. Which will endure? Probably Maus.

But amongst regular comic book readers, Hellboy is not obscure, and it's not unpopular.

Okay, I'll stop ranting and grumping now. JD, I wasn't (and am not) trying to annoy you. But I think your assessment is a poor generalization of your personal experience in an area I have both more knowledge and more experience in.

(Let the Simpsons 'Comic Book Guy' references begin! =) )

Posted by: Dana at August 10, 2004 07:56 AM

One last point.

Another, probably better, way to make my point is this:

To non-comic-book-readers, ALL COMIC BOOKS ARE OBSCURE AND UNPOPULAR, except for Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, the Superfriends, the Hulk, and the X-Men. And these guys aren't obscure because they've had TV Shows and Movies made out of them -- while they started there, their popularity no longer arises from their comic books.

Hellboy has been a commercial success, for 10+ years, to the point that a popular movie has been made about him. I find it hard to imagine a scenario that equates that to an obscure and unpopular comic book.

I'm not saying he's been the most popular. But he hasn't been unpopular and obscure. He's been a regular institution in the comic book world for a decade, with two novels, a collection of short stories, a computer game (not a very good game, granted, but still -- how many obscure comic books get made into games?), and even action figures.

I'm just saying.

Posted by: Dana at August 10, 2004 08:08 AM
August 02, 2004
First Day of School

Just a few quick things about my first day. Biochemistry is very hard and, despite all the I have read and heard to the contrary, I'm going to need to own the textbook. Or maybe borrow it from the library, at least until I can figure out what lysophosphoglycerides are all about. In the meantime, I'm pretty lost, and not helped much by the notes the prof gives us: "Membrane proteins: a. GPI anchors (glycosyl phosphatidylinosital) b. Myristic (C-14) via amide to C-terminal glycine v. Prenylated or isoprenoid groups: farnesyl (C-15) or geranylgeranyl (C-20) at C-terminal cys" I've spent a lot more time decoding these statements than I ought.

Gross anatomy, on the other hand, is very much like the other anatomy classes I've had, and I actually remember quite a lot. My cadaver is very nice.

[J.D. triumphs! and the pesky photo is now displayed. Also note the lovely space between paragraphs. That's my doing, too. :)]
Posted by Joel at 08:20 PM | Comments (5) |


Physician, heal thyself!

Okay, so I got the picture up, but only after a lot of tinkering. I can't say for sure what was wrong, because even following the advice I gave you, I couldn't get it to work for a while...

Posted by: J.D. Roth at August 2, 2004 10:30 PM

Good choice of shirt, Joel - I am glad to see that your out-of-state status hasn't kept you from showing South Dakodan solidarity with your classmates! seriously, hang in there - the first days are overwhelming but it will soon all fall into place, even the lysophosphoglycerides.

Speaking of things falling in to place, I passed the boards! Ironically, hemepath- my chosen specialty field- was my lowest ranking score. No wonder I feel clueless at work these days!

Posted by: Pam at August 3, 2004 07:32 AM

I think that I know what "C terminal-cys" means! [J.D., thanks for your help in making this photo possible, in allowing us this little bit of space on the 'net, and being a rock-star!]

Posted by: Aimee at August 3, 2004 07:35 AM


We're on at the same time ... Well, in different time zones, of course. Sweet.

Congratulations on your boards! Hip-hip-Hooray!

Posted by: Aimee at August 3, 2004 07:36 AM

Yay Pam! I knew you'd do well. I just didn't want to say it too often, in case you didn't. But you did!
Did you note the P-Smitty provided Oregon travel mug juxtaposed with the SoDak t-shirt?

Posted by: Joel at August 3, 2004 10:36 AM