Showing posts from September, 2011


So well I have no idea what to do with myself tomorrow night and Sunday night here in Sweden. My flight leaves Monday afternoon, and the conference activities are all over at 3pm tomorrow, leaving me 48 hours with nothing to do. I had hoped something would come up during the conference, and I contacted all the friends I know in Stockholm also. Nada. So that was poor planning on my part.

Some magic words

Here at Kalmar I just heard an interesting talk from a man talking about Russian Blood Stopping Charms. Words and the imagination and concentration seemingly were used to make people who suffered from hemophelia suddenly stop bleeding. I remain skeptical.

So excited!

Well I am finally getting jazzed/stressed/excited about my trip to Sweden, which begins tomorrow night. This is I think the first conference I have ever been to where I literally do not know anyone before I go. There is one Icelander who is giving a keynote address whom I have met briefly, but never spoken to. Other than that, everyone--including the speakers in my own session who come from the Bay area--are people I have never met or seen in my life. Just a bunch of people with the same interest in me, in how places of violence become landscapes we forget. Having just finished putting my own ideas to paper on the subject, I am so looking forward to hearing how other scholars conceive of and discuss this obscure little corner of scholarship. 

The best Saturday night ever

Palmer just came over a few minutes ago, and he is cracking me up playing with the toys he keeps here in such exuberance. I need to go make the boy some Mac and Cheese and hot dogs, but it is much cuter listening to him tell me about the semi-aquatic vehicle he just built. I have had plenty of good Saturday nights in my life, some more memorable than others, and some longer ago than it seems. But I am thankful that I have not had a Saturday night like Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" in a very, very long time. When my Old Norse friends and I went out in Reykjavík last time, the craziest thing we did was climb Ingjolfur's statue.


Icelandair has had my international travel dollars consistently for years now, even before I moved to Iceland; of course once I was living there that was all I used, except maybe twice on Iceland Express. This upcoming Tuesday, however, I will be flying international on a British airline, direct from SFO to Heathrow. I am so excited about this change of pace, and already trying to figure out how to best use my time during the 12 hour flight. I think I will buy a new battery for my laptop, since this one is 3 years old now and looses juice in about an hour. I will probably also buy a Soduko book, and bring some other reading with me. And sleep. I believe I will arrive in London ready to change clothes and start my day of intra-European travel.   I had of course checked Icelandair first, but the flight took much longer that way, especially because I would have to take a domestic flight first. Now instead I will be flying the route preferred by professional businessmen, and I am feelin

Shoes for Óskar

The cousin in Iceland whom I was closest to as a child, Fanney Halldorsdóttir, has three kids. Two beautiful twin daughters who have our family's dark hair and dark eyes, and a younger boy who takes after his father's family, with reddish hair and blue eyes. I babysat the twins a lot, but never did so with Óskar. But he was always great with Palmer, and of course as he got older I started to notice that he has at least one thing in common with me: he is a Libra. Very much so. He is turning into a funny, smart and outgoing teenager, and cuter by the minute. So when he sent me a message on facebook asking me to do him a favor, well of course I could not refuse.  He needs me to bring a pair of sneakers to him when I come to Iceland. Problem is I am not really coming to Iceland; I am just landing at the airport for a couple of hours. But his mom is going to come up to the airport and meet me, and hopefully bring me some of my stuff stored at her sister's house.  I realize


Next week, I am going to Sweden for a conference. So when my mom and dad and brother were hear this weekend, I was talking to them about my upcoming trip. Then my brother asks me, "What are you going to do about kitty?" Now of course I have had a lot on my mind preparing for this conference: making the travel arrangements, writing the paper, figuring out how to cover my class, and how to pay for it. But still I felt really bad when my brother asked me this question. I had totally forgotten that I would be leaving my cat all alone for a week. It is like I had forgotten that a cute, sweet, funny, lively kitty lives with me, and depends on me to take care of her (even though she jumps on my bed every morning and lays on my computer when I write). Although she might not perceive the ownerly-slight, I do, and I am determined to make up for it. Putting her in boarding at the vet's office is totally out of the question. I am not heading off to an international trip, while


Yesterday I bought a huge organic mango at the store, but have still not gotten up the nerve to eat it. Instead I have opened the fridge several times, and stared at the mango suspiciously. No matter how many times I buy a mango, cut it up, and eat it, it always strikes me as a very weird thing to do. I literally remember every time the first time I ever ate it, at Wendy's mom's house when I was in my 30s. It is almost as if part of my brain is saying, "I don't think this lumpy green thing is food" and the other part of my brain is saying "Yes it is, remember that time we had it a few years ago, and it was good?" Then I look at it trying to figure out how to cut it, always mystified by the size and placement of the pit, where the stringy parts are, etc. Needless to say, buying mangos in Iceland was even harder for me to come to terms with. Of course, once I get a piece properly cut and manage somehow to get the slimy texture into my mouth, it alway

A good beginning

So this week was an interesting one for Dave and I as parents. Palmer's teacher informed us that he's a very intense and emotional kid, and that she thinks he needs some at-school counseling. Of course I guess a parent hopes to hear nothing but perfection and praise about their child, and constant perfect model behavior. But this news about Palmer having some difficulties has actually, ironically, made me rather happy. It has made me feel like I have a mission, something I need to focus on, something I can actually contribute to improving. Usually one goes around with this sort of helpless, directionless feeling of wondering what it is they are really supposed to be doing. And so well now I know. Now I know that I can stop worrying about teaching him Icelandic or shoving lots of high-calorie food in him. Those artificially and self-prescribed goals have been replaced by something tangible, something immediate, something that definitely needs to get done. I am excited by the

Academic journals

Yesterday I was explaining to my students the requirements for their research paper, namely that they have to use at least three peer-reviewed academic journal articles. I then proceeded to tell how such journals work. Academics write an article that they think is good. They send it to the chief editor of a journal they respect, who is generally knowledgeable about the field. He or she may immediately reject a submitted article because it is not relevant to the journal or for other technical reasons. But judging the content of the article is left to an outside reviewer who is more specialized in the subfield of the article. I told my students I had been through this process. Sent in article, had the editor forward it to an outsider reviewer. Then I explained the role of the outside reviewer is to give the editor feedback about whether or not to accept an article, and that the feedback usually went something like: "If you rewrite the beginning and the end and take out the part in


My son needs some basic pointers in conflict resolution. His current strategy is to let conflict escalate as far as possible at home, and seems to enjoy the process of arguing (it is a skill many in my family possess). But at school, he immediately runs to the teacher for even the slightest offense. I don't know why he refuses to engage directly with his classmates, and am looking for suggestions for shows, books, or movies that might  be good for him to watch. Apart from Lord of the Flies, of course.


Working on my dissertation, which is about Þórðar saga hreðu, has redoubled my skepticism towards narrative and words as any sort of reflection on reality. Instead the more I work on it, the more I see the way words try to distort reality. After months and months working on this thing, I can honestly say I would be very grateful, very glad, to have my faith in words restored, if it ever could be.

School systems

I once read an article that the public school system developed at the same time as capitalism because what school systems really train children to be is good little factory workers, or good little office workers. Follow instructions, do what you are told, get along with everyone, have marketable skills. As much as math and science and art, school systems teach conformity, social conformity and intellectual conformity for the assembly line of life. I think they are efforts to change this, efforts to make it more flexible to different learning styles and aptitudes. But at a certain point, it becomes clear that, really, the best place for a child to learn is at home, with family who love and understand him, or her. The revolution could not come soon enough for my little Palmer.

Tennis lessons

Well-off Americans have, for at least the last 20 or 30 years, been rather diligent about enrolling their children in "enrichment activities" of various sorts. I have always found this a bit distasteful, because it seems to be about parents showing off their expendable income, and thereby their status, plus it is a preemptive attempt to give one's child a competition edge for college. If little Johnny or Suzy ends up being great at water polo, they will get a scholarship to a good college or admitted to a great college, even if their academics are less than stellar. The pressure therefore is manifold in the United States to be a "good parent" by signing one's child up for afterschool learning--either of a sport or of a skill like chess or music or art. In Iceland, either because it is less expensive or because the pressure to get into college is not so great, these afterschool activities, which all my cousins' kids are involved in, just seem like a nor

A plan well executed

I know everyone has their own thoughts and ideas and memories about 9/11. I have recently acquired renewed interest in it, because my dissertation deals with communal trauma like 9/11, when a community as a whole is forced to experience something they were not prepared for. I went through a phase right after the events where I felt a great deal of sympathy with the patriotic outpouring. I never hung a big American flag from my window, but I was happy to see them hanging on the freeways around Washington D.C. I worked in D.C. when the attacks happened, and it was a frightening day for me personally. I wonder though, because I did not watch the events at the WTC live on television if I actually experienced less trauma and disbelief than some others. My experience was specific, personal, and tied to my memories of one specific place. It was not abstract or unbelievable. After that patriotic phase faded, I began to think a lot about Osama bin Laden. I remembered seeing a video of him d

Service call requested!

When I moved into my apartment in Iceland, they threatened to take away my garbage disposal, which would have ceased to work after they switched over to 220 volt electricity. I told them instead to leave things at 110. There were several reasons for this, but one of which was my desire to keep my garbage disposal. That thing is magic. I do not have to throw any icky food into the trash where it sit there rotting. Nope, straight into the garbage disposal where it gets ground up and washed away . Whala! Discovering how useful the garbage disposal is has significantly changed my attitude about doing dishes, which is something I had a bit of a complex about when I was a kid (my mom always left the dishes soaking overnight until the water had gotten dirty and cold!) Imagine then my dismay when I came back to the states, only to find my apartment had no garbage disposal. I had assumed an American apartment would, but neglected to reckon one built in 1904 would not. So for seven months I sc

Academic articles

In the last month, I have gotten two requests for a PDF version of an article I published in 2009, both from colleagues in Iceland. I knew that the journal I was publishing in was relatively new, but still I would think that a Scandinavian journal (Nordisk Museologi, published in Norway) would be accessible in Iceland. I once published an article in Material History Review, and am not at all surprised no one has ever read that, even though it is a really good article (about how objects were re-appropriated by Viking raiders). I should become more particular about publishing in journals that are more widely read, I now realize. There are other tricks to publishing academic articles also. Most academic journals have a rather long lead time. Sometimes a submitted article takes over a year to make it to print, although on average it is about 6 months I think after acceptance. My Nordisk Museologi piece was in print less than 3 months after I wrote it, which was great. Because you never d


Four years ago, I was at my sister's house, trying to figure out if I should take a job I was being interviewed for in Seattle or not. My sister could tell I was stressed out about it, so she suggested we draw runes and see what they said. The order in which runes are drawn are important.* As I recall, the first one says something about the person drawing the runes, the second one is the issue that must be worked through, and the third one is the outcome. Here is what I got: The first one was pretty generic, Raido, a person in transition. The second one was kaunaz, the rune for Loki. The third one was ehwaz, the rune for an incredibly strong and lasting bond. I still have no idea what any of it means. *Also if the rune is drawn upside down or right side up makes a difference, but I don't remember which one of these I drew upside down.

Maybe, just maybe, this will actually make a difference

Palmer's elementary school divides the kindergarden, 1st and 2nd graders into something they call "early birds" and "late birds". The Early birds come to class at 8:25, but the Late birds come at 9:25. The Late birds obviously get out an hour later than the Early birds. Last year Palmer was an Early bird, and my feeling was that he rarely got enough sleep. So this year, I am hoping he will be a Late bird. I arranged my schedule so that I can be home with him in the mornings easily until  9:30, and I wrote the teacher a note expressing my preference. Maybe it will not make everything magically better this year than last, but I am willing to try. A simple change of schedule could be all it takes.

Pretty disappointing

When I left Iceland in May, I told everyone I would be seeing them again in September. Because I knew that I was going to Sweden in September, and I assumed I would route through Iceland on my way. Even after I got a teaching assignment this fall on Tuesday and Thursdays, it still seemed like I would be able to come to Iceland for a few days, because by missing one day of teaching I get a whole week worth of vacation. Since the conference is only three days long, simple math meant I should have four days in Iceland. Well, I did not reckon entirely on a few things. First of all is just how long it takes to fly from San Francisco to Sweden. Even with leaving San Francisco immediately after teaching, I will miss the entire first day of the conference. I do not speak until the third day of the conference, so this is not a big deal. But it suddenly meant a week in Scandinavia was actually only five days. Still, only two days would be occupied with the conference, so I thought I could spen

Orkneyinga saga

For the next two weeks, my students at UC Berkeley are reading Orkneyinga saga. One student said yesterday in class discussion, "so far there has just been generation after generation of devious behavior" (they were assigned to read through chapter 20). I laughed and said, "Well, actually, that is how the whole book is." Everyone looked at me in amazement. I told them that they were not reading this for the plot, they were not reading this to find out "who won or who done it". Rather, this saga features repetition with variation; certain circumstances are fixed, others variable, and in each generation, because of the characteristics of the players and the specific circumstances, events unfold in subtly different ways. In this sense, it is like going through different levels of any video game, even Angry Birds. There is always the same set up, but slightly different birds and slightly different arrangement of pigs to shoot. Then I asked them, "what c

Building aesthetics

The manager of the complex I moved into explained to me that it was "built by a bunch of hippies in the 60s". Ever since he told me that, I have been looking for evidence of some sort of hippie-love-commune aesthetic to the building. The shape of the building, seen from the air, would be like a hammer and sickle, maybe? Well anyhow, the main section of the building is a u shape that has a pool in the middle, and maybe the idea was that all the residents would hang out at the pool together? (Now a days, no one goes to the pool if they see anyone else there.) Inside the apartment, there is even less evidence of some sort of hippy aesthetic; rather it seems to inculcate a traditional family life, with his and her sinks and his and her closets. This is not a swinging bachelor pad. So, anyhow, I think I may offer to the building manager that the building is built in a Scandinavian modernist style, which is not a hippy aesthetic. The thing that is rather hippy commune about it,