Sunday, December 24, 2006

happy? holidays

My family has a hard time with Christmas. Many of our tragedies have fallen in the weeks around Christmas, including the deaths or death sentences of three of my four grandparents. My beloved last-living grandmother used to live with us, and for the last few years her presence gave us a renewed sense of holiday zeal, but she is in a nursing home now -- she has Alzheimer's; we could no longer care for her -- and we can hardly manage to scrape up a teaspoon of holiday cheer between the four of us. My parents are depressed, and their depression is depressing. My brother isn't talking much, and I spend too much time abed to be happy for everyone.

Tomorrow we leave to visit my grandmother for a few days. I expect a painfully forced lot of happiness from us for her. It is always heartbreaking and wonderful to see her, both at once. The word "bittersweet" was invented for Alzheimer's patients.

My teacher sent me this Christmas wish, the best I have ever gotten, and I hope the same for everyone else:

I hope you have a good day in which you can appreciate breath.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

free clothing rights for all

The best thing about Christmas is the built-in excuse for baking (and eating!) scads of cookies. I have made three different kinds of cookies this week, and my mother and I are going to do another batch tomorrow with the cookie cutters that I risked my life to procure.*

I thought I had escaped my yearly bout of strep throat, but my brother brought it home from school and it's sweeping through the family. It is seriously interfering with my cookie consumption.

*Not really. But I did have a rather awful time trying to buy them. I was led around the entire palatial super wal-mart by a hapless employee who didn't know where the cookie cutters were kept. This took a really long time. She eventually gave up and abandoned me in houseware to "look around for myself." I did find them, but only after I gave up and wandered over to crafts to look at yarn and think wistfully about gingerbread men.

I refuse to let strep throat stop all of my fun. Tonight was Eddie Izzard Night, which can't be postponed just for sore throats.

Eddie Izzard Night is when my friend Tess and I get together (but never before midnight) and spend hours putting on transvestite makeup -- and by this, I mean mostly wild colours and crazy eyebrows, like Eddie in Dress to Kill -- and watching DVDs of his shows. Then we put on high heels or platform shoes and swan around her house, drinking tea and raising our eyebrows while we make jokes in bad british accents.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

cautionary mathematics

Late-night medical documentaries + lots of Faulkner in very short periods of time + Joanna Newsom's "Emily" on repeat for eight straight hours = really surreal and fucked up dreams

Take note! If you ever feel driven to consume a similar media cocktail, at least listen to something bouncy and straightforward to counteract mental images of Southern Gothic amputees.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

not talking about Anna's nose; or, half of an email that I sent to a teacher

I think I might cry if the mysterious alarm in my brother's room goes off one more time. I am as respectful to his privacy as I hope he is of mine, and an excavation through his sports jerseys and technical devices to find the culprit alarm is a frightening and taboo thing.

Yesterday I read all of a biography on Anna Akhmatova. I have been mind-writing a small essay on the relevance (or irrelevance, I haven't decided) that in-depth examination of an author's life has to the study of his or her oeuvre. But today I am reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics (which the New York Times listed as one of the ten best books of the year -- so far I do not agree, but it's fun enough, though not at all Nabokovian, as they suggest) and it is destroying my ability to write in anything but blazingly purple teenage-literature-freak prose. I might give it a try when I can write about Akhmatova without wanting to devote at least a paragraph of description to her nose.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

cranky reader

Not fun: cutting clumps of hardened litter from my cat's back toes because I am an awful awful pet owner and have let the boxes go too long without cleaning them.

I could just say that I have been dissatisfied and disappointed by almost every book I've finished recently, but it's more fun to complain in depth, and because I can't sleep, I'll give some cranky and blurry comments.

Still Life by A.S. Byatt -- Very well written and intelligent, but also completely unfulfilling. The large event at the end is alluded to in the prologue, and so is no surprise and had little emotional impact on me. I hated the main character, Frederica, and do not know if I will continue with the quartet based on this alone. She isn't even unlikeable in an interesting, villainousness, deeply psychological way. No, she is just self-absorbed and emotionally shallow beneath all of her intellectual posturing. I realize that this is probably intended -- a friend of mine commented that Byatt is hardest on Frederica because her life is meant to parallel Byatt's own -- but I dislike her in the kind of way that makes it difficult for me to read the book and care about its plot. Not that there was much plot to this one. I really liked two of the minor characters, and interest in them kept me going with momentum despite my disgust with Frederica, but there was almost no resolution for any of them. I realize that it is very much a piece of a larger saga, but that's no excuse. Just imagine how frustrating it would be to read this book when it was first published! I would probably absolutely hate it if I'd read it then; right now I am just left with disappointment and the desire to reread Possession.

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by someone whose name I can't remember and am too lazy to look up -- Started out promisingly. I was riveted from the first chapter, maybe even the first page. It had all the makings of a great murder mystery that would also teach me some novel, easily packaged facts about snow and ice and Greenland. I got seriously bogged down in the middle, though, when the plot seemed to stray vastly from the investigation into a small boy's mysterious death to some huge international conspiracy spanning generations. Again, disappointing.

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan -- I liked, but didn't love, McEwan's Atonement, and so when I read a synopsis about this book I was looking forward to read it. I almost wish that I hadn't asked my mother to procure it for me because I hated it so very much. The story is basically a clumsy marriage of Lord of the Flies and Les Enfants Terribles, all about four orphans who descend into rotten decadence after they encase their mother's corpse in a block of cement to conceal her death from authorities. I will admit that I knew from the start that it would be twisted and rather terrible in this way; that's actually why I read it in the first place. At some point last fall I was half-decided that I would write my undergraduate thesis on incest in literature. Now, I know this sounds weird, but really it was a veiled excuse to write about Dorothy and William Wordsworth without overtly writing about them. In general, theoretically, I don't have a problem with incest in literature, but it has to be written gorgeously or handled thoughtfully or portrayed truthfully for it to work, and even though Atonement wasn't particularly linguistically stunning, I had hoped that McEwan might at least present an interesting and worthwhile examination of the issue. I was so wrong. The book was obvious and heavy-handed, but not even in a moral sense, which might be a good thing for the believability of the narrator, but which left me feeling disgusted and bitter about the day I spent reading the book.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri -- I suspect that I would have been massively impacted by this book if I'd read it five years ago, but now I have read other, better, discussions of the meaning of writing and the philosophy of aesthetics. I yawned and skimmed more than I should have, but I did read the whole thing through. Must decide on what to say to the uncle who gifted it to me.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -- This book was probably the most satisfying of all that I read, which is a little sad because it is fluffy lesbian historical fiction. Once I got used to the frequent and needless use of semi-colons I was engrossed. I found it as delightful a romp as the first time I read it, though I do still like Affinity better.

Right now I'm reading The Book Thief and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I am -- surprise, surprise -- not thrilled with either of them. Contemporary fiction is failing me, but I'm not sure what I do want. Something meaty and old and difficult? Or something lighter but still with an arresting plot? Both, probably: contemporary and fluffy for night and classic for daytimes. I am thinking of rereading a few of my favourite books from my science fiction and fantasy phase, but I'm afraid that I might hate them and feel disillusioned and sad.

I am officially taking book recommendations.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

This is Luxembourg City, which I visited on a whim, hoping that it would be a nice respite from Paris. (Paris was beautiful but also incredibly overwhelming, and made my brain want to implode from sensory overload.) I'm very glad that I decided to go! Probably very few people go to Europe saying, "I can't wait to go to LUXEMBOURG!" but I think that it's worth a day for anyone who is bumming around for a month or two. There's not much to do, but it is fairy-tale lovely, split by these deep greeny canyons that are scattered with ruined pieces of castles. Gorgeous.

My flickr account, with a small fraction of my Europe photos, is here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Surfing the NaBloPoMo randmizer, I am absurdly amused by how many people posted on December first with nostalgia and regret at the end of the month, or with stories about how they woke up first thing in the morning with the immediate urge to write a blog entry. I felt exactly the same way: ten minutes before midnight I jerked awake from my sleeping-pill induced dreams, panicked because I hadn't blogged.

I still refuse to write about what I learned. But I do think that the challenge was good for me: it gave some small structure to my days. I feel a little lost without it, but I'm hoping to do something similar with writing fiction. This will be more difficult; I won't have the presence of a potential readership to keep me from cheating and skipping days. I'm trying to figure out what would be a good page count to set as my daily minimum. I can't do word count because I never type first drafts; I'm too much of a perfectionist, I always erase whatever I type and never end up getting anywhere.

My daily whine: I had to come to work at seven am. Seven! In the morning! That's usually when I go to bed. It was very very cold and I thought for sure that I'd gotten frostbite since I couldn't bend my fingers by the time I'd arrived at the school. They're better now, but my desk is near enough to the front doors that I get waves of frigid air whenever someone comes in or out, which is pretty much every few minutes. I can't even just doze off and space out over my laptop because we're hosting the regional high school drama conference. Have I written here about how much I hate drama kids? I am horribly prejudiced against them, but it's justified. All of the ones I've encountered through work have been nasty to me. Dealing with several hundred of them makes me peevish and put-upon.

Oh, and I haven't had any coffee.

I am not equipped to deal with today.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

30: at least part of me is superhuman

I should probably talk about what I learned from blogging thirty consecutive days in a row, but I didn't make a list of things that I'm thankful for on Thanksgiving day, and the same rebellious streak that kept me from it then demands that I resist the obvious topic now.

Today is also my last day to write something awesome about my dog and try to win handmade treats for her. I love my dog, and she loves treats, but it simply isn't going to happen today. I'm tired! My mind is barren and empty! I can hardly conjugate verbs, much less write the Ode to a Flighty Retriever that I had in mind.

I went to the dentist today for the first time in two years. In the past, my dentist has behaved like a pirate, leading me to distrust everyone who works with teeth. I had expected to garner a lot of vitreous material to put into my last post of the month. I saw a new dentist, though, and he was great. The technicians didn't try to talk to me when they had their hands in my mouth, he didn't ask me what my favourite subject is in school, I wasn't scolded for my spotty flossing habits, and they didn't even make me brush with fluoride. It was surprising and pleasing. Also, I don't have any cavities or gum cancer or other nasty tooth diseases. I didn't expect any problems, but I've never had a cavity and so am paranoid that I might get one and not recognize the feeling.

Two especially awesome moments:

1. Watching Blues Clues play silently on the ceiling TV while a technician scraped plaque from my molars and the Scissor Sisters' I Don't Feel Like Dancing played on the radio. Surreal.

2. Having the dentist tell me that my teeth are superhuman. What he said, exactly, was, "I'll have a heart attack if we find any cavities." Then the technician said, "I think we'll all have heart attacks if you find any cavities." "Yes. Her teeth are superhuman," the doctor said. Then he invited me to join them in admiring my x-rays.

Superhuman teeth! I was delighted.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

29: some thoughts on falling

Is it deceitful to delete posts? I think it is, a little; it's very totalitarian, very 1984, erasing small bits of personal history that I had let slip through the radar. It is also completely justifiable and necessary. My self control falters when I have not slept; I can be prone to a despairing sort of drama that borders on martyrdom. It's a habit I am trying to break. And it isn't as if blogging is objective, anyway. Rewriting history is perfectly permissible on the internet, to a degree, because we are all doing it to begin with: editing and pruning and rearranging and interpreting our lives in a very subjective, very audience-oriented manner.

This NaBloPoMo experiment has filled me with despair over how dull I am. I can't think of a single thing to follow that up with. Except, perhaps, for this terrifying story:

On Monday night I dropped my laptop down a flight of stairs.

Do you understand the horror of this? I will repeat it, with emphasis, and you can imagine me shuddering and cringing and weeping my way through the sentence: On Monday night I dropped my laptop down a flight of stairs. I was carrying it from the upstairs TV room back down to my lair when I tripped over a pile of my brother's shoes. Instinct took hold: I let go of the computer and grabbed at railings to keep myself from falling. It's curious how poetic falls are, how definitely time seems to slow and sharpen, every movement yawning and dramatic. It's something I notice whenever I fall down -- which is, I'm afraid, rather ridiculously often -- and it was curious to find the phenomenon as present in the falling of things as with bodies. I remember thinking that as I listened to the awful cracks it made as it hit the stairs: how odd that time would elongate for a machine.

It survived with no damage, as far as I can tell, which is miraculous, but I am no less traumatized for this piece of luck. I dropped my computer down the stairs. Just thinking it makes me feel dizzy and ill.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

28? another poem that isn't mine

To the Reader
Denise Levertov
As you read, a white bear leisurely
pees, dyeing the snow

and as you read, many gods
lie among lianas: eyes of obsidian
are watching the generations of leaves,

and as you read
the sea is turning its dark pages,
its dark pages.

Almost done with Byatt's Still Life. I'll finish it tonight. I also bought a copy of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters for a friend and decided to reread that before I give it to her. One of the cover blurbs calls it "deliciously brazen," which is a perfect way of describing it. I am quite enthralled by Still Life right now, but ten pages of Fingersmith had me forgetting all about the romances of Frederica Potter. I have set it down regretfully, and will let myself tear through it as soon as I am done with Byatt.

Monday, November 27, 2006

27: in which youtube threatens to eat my life

I am posting now instead of later because my head hurts. I'm already incoherent and it will only get worse as the day drags on.

I hate reading about TV on others' blogs, and I don't plan to write about it again, but here are the shows I watch, with reasons, because my life is so bleak and empty that I am reduced to discussing my media consumption.

I like Law and Order SVU for the two main detectives. I've watched too many. I can usually predict how the episode will play out after the first ten or fifteen minutes, but the plots hardly matter. The show appeals to me because things are almost always okay in the end: the bad guys are nabbed and the victims -- at least the ones who are alive -- are offered a chance for peace. Also, Christopher Melloni is hot.

I watch House because he is such a perfect anti-hero. Such a bastard, but also endearingly flawed, and so brilliant! As a confirmed hypochondriac, I like medical shows in general, and House is just intelligent enough that I can pretend that all the TV is not rotting my brain. Also, Hugh Laurie is hot.

I'm a little ashamed by my devotion to Project Runway. It is unabashedly shallow, but one of my closest friends and I always watched it together when I was still at school, so I am very emotionally attached to it. Also, Tim Gunn is hot. Well, no, he's not really, but he is smart and positive and gives the show a much-needed shot of calmness and practicality to counteract the drama.

I loved Six Feet Under and miss it very much now that I've seen (almost) all of it. My parents and I watched it together, and for a long time it was the center of many dinnertime conversations. We talked about the characters as if we knew them, which may actually be part of why my younger brother hates to dine with us. I never actually found any of the characters especially physically attractive, but they are all very interesting.

The true inspiration for this post was the discovery of entire episodes of Law and Order on youtube. This is a huge threat to my chances of ever sleeping like a normal person. I can watch TV from bed! All night long! Until now, I had only used youtube for watching the occasional music video or Eddie Izzard clip, but I am getting a glimpse of its endless possibilities for distraction and time-eating. I have only my well-honed multi-tasking abilities to save me: at least I can mess with photoshop or draw birds or knit while watching TV on my computer. Theoretically.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

26: things that I do not like: an incomplete list

I am having an exceptionally grouchy week, so I'm going to indulge myself in a companion list to things that I like. I will limit it to fourteen because if these were ordered in order of favourites then symmetry would be very near the top of my good things list.

  1. movies about inspirational teachers and/or sports coaches who transform a group of delinquents through idealism and good example
  2. when it rains so much in the bay area that all of the small animals, the snails and the worms, think it's alright to cavort on the sidewalks and are crushed by careless people who don't look down when they walk
  3. doctors who do not read your chart before coming in to examine you
  4. tourists, especially the obnoxious ones who take pictures in churches and museums and only eat at restaurants with bilingual menus and never allow themselves to get lost
  5. the colour orange
  6. when students refuse to examine a work of literature within its historical context
  7. group therapy
  8. theater students, specifically the ones who come by my desk at work with impossible demands and then throw tantrums when I can't help them
  9. when some people borrow my car and don't clean up their papers and wrappers and empty coffee cups
  10. the wind in wyoming, and how it can get so viciously cold that it freezes your bones and makes you feel like you'll never be warm again
  11. Thomas Kincaid
  12. people who do not use turn signals with the same religious zeal that I do
  13. signs and brand names that use intentional misspellings ("kopy korner," "buy rite," "sav-on")
  14. insomnia

Saturday, November 25, 2006

25: darlin' don't you go and cut your hair

I hate the song that I took my subject line from, but I wish that someone had given me that advice a month ago. I chopped off my braids -- two braids that I had wrapped around my head in the look that I used to call the bohemian hobo -- with my tiny pocketknife scissors. I was in Siena, on the sunny stairs that lead up a hill towards the house of St. Catherine. I used my shadow as a mirror and when I was done I held my braids in my lap and wept. Tourists stared at me and edged by. No one stopped or spoke.

It was a mistake, a fit of madness, not something I ever would have done if I had been thinking clearly. I miss it: when I was little all I wanted was long hair. I begged my mother to let me grow it, and finally, when I hit third grade, she agreed. It took several years to inch its way out of the straight-banged, boyish bowl-cut that my parents kept on me. As it grew it darkened from dishwater to auburn to dark brown. I later spent a year being quite bitter that I hadn't stayed at the cusp of blonde, but that was a manageable disappointment; I had my long hair and that was good enough.

I'm not pretty. My hair was my best feature, and everyone admired it. When I was bored I would experiment with elaborate styling: the Holly Golightly romantic upsweep, Mary Pickford sausage locks, Scarlett O'Hara southern belle curls, the aforementioned bohemian hobo, french braids, even the gibson girl bouffant. Of course this all took work. Most off the time I did ponytails, buns, or clips backswept from my face. It was always lovely, though.

The bay area made it frizzy, but at home in the midwest it was always straight. Always thick, but always straight. After the hospital, in the months before I turned twenty, it started to curl. It never got to the point of being truly curly, but the slightest change or provocation would induce ringlets or locks.

Now it's just a few inches beneath my ears. I would have bobbed it, but it's too thick. It looks a bit like Colette's did right after she cut off her long hair, which is nicely literary but still not comforting. Right now it's at one of those awkward lengths, but I don't want to cut it shorter because then it would take even longer to grow. I might be able to reconcile myself with the change if it weren't so boring. I can't do anything with it! I can't stand hair in my face, so leaving it down is not an option. I am forced to rely on hats, bobby pins, or two small pigtails. And I hate it. I keep trying to think of something interesting to do. An end-flip, fingerwaves, pincurls, rag-curls? And how will I have it cut when it gets a little longer? Maybe I should dye it while it's short, but I'm afraid I would have to bleach it first to get any effect at all, and that's just out of the question. I hate the reverse-skunk look of dark roots on bleached hair.

Short hair is much more complicated and difficult than long hair was. Everyone says it's the opposite, but I'm not finding it to be so at all.

Friday, November 24, 2006

24: on being twenty

Since turning twenty I have:
  • lost one friend, alienated several others, and ruined a several-year relationship with The (Ex) Boy -- who I will never mention here again at the fear of being dooced -- all through my own stupidity and destructive behavior
  • defeated my internet addiction (I'm only on all of the time now because I haven't got anything else to do)
  • bought a new fish to replace my last one, Laertes, who I killed in a tragic accident with a bathroom sink
  • written most of a book
  • run away to europe for two months. paid for it all myself. survived. thrived.
  • cut off over a foot of hair
  • read maybe fifty books (I do not have my book journal at work with me and so do not have the exact number)
  • decided to go back to school
  • did I mention EUROPE? Eight foreign countries? Feeding myself, navigating twisty streets and train stations, fending off amorous frenchmen? Surviving in Paris alone despite not speaking french and being terrified out of my mind?
  • forcibly asserted my independence from the family
  • changed
And there are still seven months left.

p.s. Nablopomo is finally defeating me. Can't. Sentence. Properly. Maybe tomorrow I'll just post something from a notebook that I've already written.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

23: homesick

Sometimes I'm homesick -- physically homesick, bone-achingly -- for a place that I haven't found yet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

22: my mind is molasses

First: my dysentery has eased away and my CAT scan was clear. Thank you to everyone who left best wishes, etc. I still feel ill, but it's manageable, and I came to work anyway. I can only hope that this is an end to my health-woe blogging.

Um. Um. Ummm. This is the sound of me having nothing to say. Is anyone else getting sick of me talking about books or school? 'Cause I'm quite bored with the subjects myself. I think I talk and think more about school when I am not in it than when I am, and I have obsessed about it this month because I had to decide whether or not I was going to go back. Last Friday I finally decided to return. It seems like an obvious decision now that I have made it, but for many months I have been working under the assumption that I will live the rest of my life as a college drop out. I think I'm happy with my decision, although I am dissatisfied with some of the conditions for my return that my parents have set out.

On Mrs. Chili's suggestion, I made a trip to STAPLES!* to get dry-erase markers. They write very nicely on my mirror! I have put up Percy Shelley's** "Ode to the West Wind." I spent a while this afternoon trying to take a picture with vague ideas of posting it -- to, I don't know, show off my handwriting? -- but I discovered that I couldn't get a picture of my bedroom mirror without showing my bed, which currently has thirty four books piled upon one side, or myself. It does look very nice, though, and I am incredibly pleased with the outcome!

*I call it "STAPLES!" and not "Staples" to emphasize how much I love it! It recently opened in my home town and it is easily the best of the numerous new businesses that we've been getting. I have to leave my cards at home and only bring limited amounts of money, though, because in addition to my book buying problem I find it difficult to resist the seductive call of pens and paper.

**It breaks my heart how overlooked Percy Shelley is. Maybe this is just a symptom of my women's college, where female authors are venerated and held above their male contemporaries and family members? Because at school it's all, "Mary, Mary, Mary!" Dear Percy gets no love! And he should! Some of his poetry is sappy and awful, and "Ozymandias" is as overrated as Frankenstein, but I firmly believe that "Ode to the West Wind" contends with "Ode to a Nightingale" for the title of the best poem to come out of the Romantic movement. And it's probably on my list of "Best Poems in the English Language." Plus, Shelley's death is even more tragic and romantic than Keats' was. What's not to love?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

21: hysterical hypochondriosis

I'll say this first: I would not blog today if not for my determination to finish this nablopomo monster. I would not have made any of my last, oh, week of entries. I despise complaining and flaunting my neuroses. It's just that I am so very neurotic. And hypochondriac. And sick. My God, so sick.

By the end of page eleven I had become so convinced that I'd contracted dysentery that I almost did not finish The Essay. I'm pretty sure it's just the second nastiest drug withdrawal of my life -- and just because I forgot to take those hateful pills a few nights in a row! -- but I am awfully ill, and it took all my willpower to keep from dropping everything and scouring the internet for potential diseases to explain it all. Dysentery fits. I mean, so does lamictal withdrawal, but I'm not feeling particularly logical. I just wrote the worst essay of my life, so bad that it made me cry to send it out. I can't forgive myself for that, and I can't be logical right now.

I'm officially not getting out of bed tomorrow. Unless I am still as sick as I am now. If that happens I am going to the doctor, no matter what.

Anyway, here is Sylvia's Fever 103. Because I have one too, and nothing will convince me that this is not the most perfect way to describe that curious feverish mind-glow, which is like lightbulbs and incandescence and feathers, yes, feathers -- oh, but she catches it better:

My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you. And my light.
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

Monday, November 20, 2006

20: excuses made to my conscience

I didn't finish The Essay last night. But that is only because I remembered that I had to work this morning. I don't think I have ever mentioned my job here before, with good reason: it's boring, unfulfilling, and completley meaningless in the larger scope of my life. I'm a weekend, evening, and holiday receptionist at the local community college, which means that I have developed an excellent phone voice and have come up with dozens of polite ways to inform people that I can't help them, and no, there's nobody who can because it's nine PM on a Friday night before a holiday weekend and all of the professors are at home. Because my job could be done by a machine, I usually do not need to be alert or intelligent in any sense of the words. I regularly come to work half asleep and sick and manage just fine. Most times I don't even have to look particularly nice, since the only people who see me are the security officers and the basketball players. The most challenging part of the job is maintaining the strength of will to sit behind a desk for nine hours at a time without losing hold of my sanity. Today, however, I'm temping for the usual secretary, so I actually had to do challenging and unthinkable things like brush my hair, dress nicely, sleep, and eat before coming to work.

So clearly I couldn't stay up all night finishing The Essay. I'm doing it now, and will have it done by tonight. Then I'll be able to watch House, M.D. and read Dostoyevsky all night without guilt. I remind myself of this every time I feel my resolve failing and my hatred of this paper mounting.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

19.2: also, a short letter

Dear Universe,

Please smite me if I do not finish The Essay tonight.


p.s. "Tonight" is defined as "the period of time before I go to sleep," not "before midnight."

p.p.s. I'll have you know that it is very difficult for me to make this sort of commitment in writing because I am having the urge to drink too much alcohol and go on a drunken meander through Russian literature. Or at least read Crime and Punishment all night, starting right now and going until I finish or until 8 AM, whichever comes first. I'm feeling very hateful towards you, Universe, and also towards H.D. This does not bode well for the cohesion of the essay, since I was kindly, almost fond, towards her when I began.

19: one poem I wish had been written for me

No Te Amo
by Pablo Neruda

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

Sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.

I Do Not Love You
by Pablo Neruda, trans. unknown

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

18: books read and unread

Two things of great excitement: clearing out my "currently reading" list and figuring out how to add chunks of text to my sidebar. This is a fabulous way for me to look at quotes and poetry that I really like. (Related-but-not-really: does anyone know something that can write on mirrors but also washes off really well after some time has passed? I want to write poems on my bedroom and bathroom mirrors to aid in memorization. And because it's the next best thing to writing them on my walls.)

This week hasn't been all doctor visits and days in bed! Okay, well, it sort of has, but somehow I've also managed to finish a load of books and get halfway through two new ones. I didn't even a chance to add the books on William Carlos Williams and H.D. that I read before finishing them. They were for school, kind of, and I don't know anyone who wants to hear reviews of literary criticism, so I won't bother with that.

Some notes on books finished and reading:
  • For the sake of honesty, I feel like I should note that I didn't actually finish Midnight's Children or An Unquiet Mind. I will finish the Rushdie another time -- I love him, but I think he's one of those authors for me that I can only read at wide-spaced intervals to appreciate, and apparently three of his books in seven months is not giving enough time in between -- but I am done with An Unquiet Mind. It's a self-described "memoir of madness" (I'll talk another time about the problematic semantics of using the word "madness" to describe mental illness), which means that it is exactly like the other dozen autobiographies of mental illness that I've read. Because Kay Jamison has a PhD in psychology and specializes in bipolar disorder, I had hoped that it would be more insightful, but it followed the exact same formula as all of the others: idyllic childhood full of promise or, more rarely, hellish family life and abuse; stirrings of problems in mid to late adolescence; descent into illness that might include drugs, promiscuity, very stupid life decisions, financial ruin, estrangement from friends and family, or refusal to work with doctors; eventual culmination in suicide attempts which, in turn, lead to realization that life is beautiful and worth living, something that inevitably occurs while struggling in the death-grip of the drugs (because they are always drugs for women); and a conclusion that involves fervent commitment to drugs and therapy and the promise that everything is going to be all right even if it's still tough right now. I didn't need to read the last section of the book to know that the ending would be just like this, except probably with a bit of preaching about how people who suffer from bipolar disorder are more creative and brilliant than mere mortals.
  • So far I am really enjoying both The Tin Drum and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, though I'm worried that I'm starting to stall on both of them.
  • I will probably be reading The Fall of Berlin until Christmas or some other comparably distant point in the future. I'm not enjoying it: it's brutal and confusing, and I feel like I need to have a huge military map of East Germany and Russia just to be able to understand all of the movement of troops and the battles. But I'm not reading it for fun. It's research, and it's important, so I'll keep at it, even if I can only read about fifteen pages at a time before having to stop and try to figure out which Field Marshall is which, and why does Stalin like this guy so much anyway when he hates everyone else?
I am a compulsive book buyer, but I am also a devotee of libraries, so even though I read a lot, I own a shameful amount of unread books. So when I saw the From the Stacks Reading Challenge, of course I had to join. The challenge is to read five books that you already own before the new year. Here are my five, with short comments on each:

  1. The Art Spirit, Robert Henri -- My favourite uncle gave this to me after listening patiently to my ecstatic descriptions of The Dehumanization of Art by Ortega y Gasset. I want to read this one as soon as possible, since it is so rude to leave gifts languishing on shelves.
  2. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami -- I got this book from a friend exactly a year ago. I gave her Lolita in return. She took my Nabokov with her to Europe and read it in cafes in Paris, but I still haven't read her Murakami. This must be remedied! (Though I did at least read Kafka on the Shore, so at least we got to have some conversation about his style.) She's in Israel now, and I need to read this book so I'll at least have something to write about in my next letter.
  3. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon -- I haven't had this one for very long. I just really want to read it.
  4. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow -- This is a beautiful hardcover that I bought at a used book sale for a dollar. I predict that out of all these books, it is most likely to be the downfall of this challenge. It looks like a stab at the Great American Novel. And I am really not interested in the Great American Novel right now. Also, it's really long, and I can clearly foresee my reading-blocked mind floundering and stagnating once I hit the 300 page mark. But he won a Nobel, and I've been trying to read at least one book by all of the Nobel laureates. I should probably read Humbolt's Gift instead, since it also won the Pulitzer I think, but this is the one I have.
  5. Still Life, A. S. Byatt -- Out of all the books on this list, I've had this one on my shelf for the longest. I bought it just after I read Possession, which was, um, almost six years ago. I loved Possession, and I can't remember why I haven't read any of Byatt's other books. Also, I realize now that the main character is a Wordsworth scholar, which just thrills me. Wordsworth is one of my ex dead poet boyfriends. (These days he's been replaced by Rilke, but I still love him anyway.)
If this challenge works I will probably try to do something like it every month. The more books I read, the more I can justify buying!

Friday, November 17, 2006

17: there will be no fifteen

Those headaches I get? I've got one today, or I will soon. I can feel it starting to coil around my brain in that delicate sneaking way. So I am not writing my Friday bit of multiples-of-five nostalgia. Fifteen was an awful year anyway, and it's better not to think about it extensively, much less inflict it on the faceless internet audience. I can summarize it in a six word story: Bad doctors. Bad medications. Everybody suffers.

I'm going to take lots of painkillers and go to bed. I have to work tonight.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

16.2: dye in the veins

I wasn't sure until I arrived at the hospital this morning whether I was having a CAT scan or a MRI. I was secretly hoping for the latter: I think hard about poetry whenever I am in particularly upsetting situations, and I specifically planned to recite T.S. Eliot or Keats to myself while being rolled through the tube. I was looking forward to asking the technician which areas of my brain lit up for "Ode to a Nightingale." I don't believe CAT scans have this thrilling advantage. They are, however, excellent for locating brain tumors, which was why I was there.

(I refuse to think about the possibility of a brain tumor. My doctor is really just being thorough, ruling out possibilities: she wants to be sure that nothing life-threatening is going on in my head before diagnosing me with migraines. The flashes of light, the dizziness, and the curious numbnesses of my hands that sometimes strike all at once in nauseating force might also be related to my medications; after all, one of them is also used for treating epilepsy, and could conceivably cause this occasional reaction. I refuse to consider elsewise right now. If I start down that path I will do nothing but worry about it, I will sleep even less than I already do. It is not a possibility. It would be too absurdly ironic: survive a suicide attempt only to be diagnosed with a brain tumor just after being to Venice and realizing that life is beautiful after all! These things only happen in books.)

They had to give me an IV to insert dye into my veins. This upset me more than I thought it would. I should not be bothered by needles after having blood drawn 2-4 times a day for several straight weeks, but something about lying on my back with a hospital bracelet and an IV and a blanket that smelled of disinfectant made me panicky and teary. I could feel my face taking on the distinctly hospital expression: taught mouth, eyebrows frozen into anxious furrows; my eyes surely betraying the submissive fear that overtakes me, the dual resignment to and revulsion of being touched and poked and treated without a word of explanation. This nurse was kind to me: she held my hand for as long as she could until the machine drew me in too far for her to reach. The nurses are always so nice to me, but this time her kindness just upset me more: it reminded me of the nurses in Oakland, reminded me of my failure to ask for their names. They were so generous, so comforting, and I never learned their names. I like to think that I recorded my experience with faithful detail, but whenever I go back to hospitals I am haunted by the things I forgot to write down. I tried to notice as many details about this new scan as I could -- I will always regret, in a very small way, that I was too sick to notice the machinery and the procedure and the sensation of chest X-rays -- but I was afraid that I would move my head without thinking. My heart aches and a drowsy numbness dulls! my sense as though of hemlock I had drunk! I thought fiercely. I could see my face reflected in the glass band that covered the scanning machinery. It was widened, distorted, ghostly. I closed my eyes tightly and made sure to hold my head as stiffly as I could. Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

Sometimes I think poetry is the only thing that preserves my sanity.

16.1: there will be more from me today, I guarantee it

One especially good thing about posting every day is that it forces me to keep a firmer handle on dates and time than I probably otherwise would in my current backwards insomniac existence. Unfortunately, I am painfully aware of how much time I am wasting. I really need to write the poetry essay that will finish my last incomplete from spring semester, something I am reminded of every time I type in the date at the top of these posts. It's really difficult to write papers without deadlines or structure. This should be easy!

There are two unfortunate reasons why this paper remains unfinished:
1. My mentor-teacher-surrogate mother is too nice and keeps giving me extensions
2. I suck and cannot impose structure on my days no matter how (admittedly feebly) I try

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

15: tomorrow you may be eaten

I chose the bear for my NaBloPoMo button because recently I have developed a strong fondness for man-eating grizzlies. I think this is because I have such pleasant memories of watching Grizzly Man at two AM with one of my friends from school. Because the recreation room is spooky and dirty, we watched it in her room, on her computer, squeezed together on her bed with our heads close to the speakers to catch all of the dialogue. Her glasses kept sliding off and hitting the computer screen. I am not used to being close to other people, was especially uncomfortable then because that was before I lived through hospitalization and Europe, where one must accept being touched and being very close to other people because there simply is not any other choice. I remember worrying frantically that my feet stunk, or that my hair smelled unwashed, and I almost wished that my friends were not so diligent in preserving my status as a nonsmoker: if they had just given in and shared their cigarettes then I, too, could depend on the musk of stale smoke to protect from potentially stinky feet!

Lately, however, I am wondering if the bear was the wrong choice. I love the graphic itself, but I find myself consciously not looking at it whenever I view my blog because the words never fail to remind me of that song, you know the one I mean. I'm feeling a little paranoid that it might not actually exist because I can't find the name or band or lyrics on google, but it goes, "Here today, tomorrow you'll be gone," or something and it is really obnoxious. I used to feel neutral about it, but it played one night in my hostel in Nice. All of the American and Australian girls in the bar got really excited; they screamed and jumped up and down and waved their arms above their heads and shouted along with the chorus. In retrospect they might have been a little drunk. Anyway, the song immediately attached itself to my brain with leech-like adherence. I endured two straight days of constant looping of the chorus, since that is the only part I know. It really detracted from my enjoyment of southern France, which, I feel, I probably should have been much more passionately in love with than I actually was. I probably would have channeled Van Gogh and had a moment of incredible artistic inspiration in Arles if my mind hadn't droned "heeere today" whenever I let my guard down.

Maybe I should do away with a NaBlo badge altogether.

On another note, it is six AM, and not a "I just woke up and am raring to go" six AM. No, it's a "I haven't yet gone to sleep" six AM. Putting aside the long-term complications of suffering vicious insomnia, this would not be a problem if I did not have to actually be up and out today and tomorrow. Heaven help me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

14: not building any fairy houses

On the rare days when we actually get together before eleven PM, my sole in-town friend and I like to go hang out in the few interesting stores and look at shiny things. We haven't got a proper bookstore in town, just a Hastings, where the book section is an afterthought to the movies and music and video games, but it has enough of a selection to keep us amused. (If by some miracle we are both up, dressed, and fed before 5 in the evening, we also like to go to the library together.)

Once we found an arts'n'crafts book featuring photos by someone who builds tiny, meticulous, perfectly in scale fairy houses. They are like doll houses, except made of rocks and acorns and flowers and leaves and shit. Impressive, beautifully photographed, but also very depressing to two people who consider the day a success if they make it outside before sunset. Can you imagine the work, the creativity, and the insanity that goes into building little houses out of perishable materials that will be sad and wilted come the next day?? Yeah, it's art, performance art of a sort, and art is always allowed to be improbable and useless and impossible. But we both consider ourselves to be creative people, and at that moment we were silenced by how comparatively feeble our artistic attempts are. "Not building any fairy houses" became instant euphemism for "all I did this week was sprawl in bed with the cats, drooling at the ceiling and admiring the play of light across the walls."

I just woke up and have not yet gotten out of bed. I am not building any fairy houses these days.

Monday, November 13, 2006

13: on blogging

As a new blogger, I often think -- obsess, really -- about what my posts say about me, how I come across to strangers. What identity am I constructing with these posts? What if it's something I'm not, or do not want to be? Can I start over if I don't like the way things are shaping up? And by "things" I mean "me."

I am wary about sticking too closely to any theme. It's unfortunate, but the blogging world seems as divided as high school. You have your parenting blog, your cooking blogs, your book blogs, your celebrity gossip blogs, your link blogs, your knitting blogs. So far Tatterdemallion is looking like a book blog more than anything, and this bothers me. I mean, I read 50 Books, among others, religiously, but what if I want to write about knitting, cooking, learning to sew? Or my cats and my fish and my dog? Or the awesome chocolate chip cookies that I made this afternoon? Or my friends, my favourite teachers, my crushes? Or the movies I watched last night? Or the computer game I played until five in the morning? Or my sucky job? Or weather, hiking, travel? And what if I want to veer away from all of these fluffy topics of happy early-twenties existence and talk about something darker? What if I want to write about my little brother's potential drug habits and my own struggles with psychiatric drugs? What if I want to tell stories about bad psychiatrists and suicide attempts and mental hospitals? I've already deleted a post that I wrote about insomnia because it felt inappropriate sandwiched between pictures of Venice and babble about books. If I managed to get even a small readership, would I feel compelled to keep writing the kinds of posts that drew them originally?

I worry about readership. With a readership comes expectations, to a certain degree; it is almost a business agreement: you visit my blog, I provide you with the sort of material you enjoy. I don't like this, which makes me wonder why I am bothering to blog at all. Public writing is not something that can be done flippantly. I like the feeling of being able to post whatever the hell I want at any given moment, but the internet doesn't work like that. I'm aware of the dooce problem: I couldn't write here about how my parents have fucked me up even if I wanted to -- I am taking mild measures to keep my identity hidden, but I know that if anyone I know even tangentially came across this blog they would recognize me instantly. Full-disclosure is for private journals and notebooks only, and everyone who has a blog is, or should be, aware that anything posted on the internet has an intrinsic voyeuristic/exhibitionist quality. No matter how much I tell myself that I'm posting for myself, I know that I'm not. I'm social-phobic even on the internet, but I must still want to be read. Otherwise why do this?

I worry, I worry, I worry. I'll keep going with NaBloPoMo because I need more finished projects in my life, but I will worry.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

12: measuring obsession

I want to count how many times I day I hug, poke, and kiss my cats in order to have an accurate gauge of how physically obsessed I am by them, but every time I start to count I become too self-conscious. The instant I begin my tally I wonder if I am holding back on kissing my white cat's baby-mouse ears just to make the number seem a little less insane. And then there's the problem of definitions. If I pick up the baby, spin her in a circle, and then kiss her nose three times, does that count as one act of affection or five? I'd get my younger brother to keep count if he could do it without actually spending all day in my presence. I need a mechanical ticker that would keep track for me. I suspect that this would be really useful information to have.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

11: I even make lists from the heads of fictional people

(But this one is true.)

--I didn't mean to imply anything racist in my ire about red wheelbarrows. I can totally get into the Racial Other in literature! Post colonialist criticism is fun! But if you're going to make arguments for social commentary in WCW, at least do it in more convincing places. His poetry is ridiculously full of social commentary... But race in a poem about wheelbarrows and chickens!? I cannot accept it.

--My favourite teacher/mentor/surrogate mother thinks it's funny when I get irate about poetry, but I worry that it happens too quickly and frequently, and that because of this I should not study it. I try to see all possible interpretations as fairly as I can, to read within historical context, but in poetry I am too hasty to listen to my intestinal instincts when it comes to interpretation -- I fall in love and hate too quickly, I become stubbornly convinced of my own ideas and feelings. I love poetry, but maybe I love it too much to study it fairly. Or maybe studying it on graduate levels would ruin it for me. Sometimes I genuinely fear academia and what it has done to the way I read.

--This is why I am not studying creative writing: I feel too strongly about it in every way possible.

--I say "intestinal" instead of "gut" because "intestinal" is a much prettier and more interesting word.

--While I'm talking about poetry, may I ask a favour of any stray souls who take the time to read this? One of my friends says that she wants to read more poetry but doesn't know where to begin, so I am making her a home-made book of poems for christmas. I am trying to be varied and interesting in my selections, and my few delicious anthologies of international poetry help a lot in this, but all of the poems I am drawn to intestinally are really problematically morbid. Her father just died and I do not want to bombard her with sad poems. I won't leave them out, though; I hate it when people self-censor for sake of my fragilities, and so I refuse to do it myself, but god, I am so depressing in my taste! So will you give me a few suggestions? Sad things are good too. My only stipulation for this homemade anthology is truth. One of my favourite things about poetry is how searingly true it can be, and I want to convey this to her in the book because I want her to love poetry too, even if it is just a little bit.

--I am trying to learn how to bake a perfect loaf of bread. Homemade bread would be number one on my list of Things I Like if I bothered to order my lists. I yearn to be a breadmaster! So far I have wasted an immeasurable amount of raw ingredients and subjected my family to all sorts of awful and mediocre bread.

I don't think I express how thankful I am regularly enough. I'd make a list of things that I am thankful for if it weren't such an obnoxious cliche.

Friday, November 10, 2006

10.2: the punchline to a mocking joke about literary theory

I just read an article called "Remembering Race: Extra-poetical Contexts and the Racial Other in 'The Red Wheelbarrow'".

If anyone wants to know why this is so incorrect, I would be more than happy to bore you with a rant. Hint: it has to do with W's. And Gertrude Stein.

Sometimes I hate studying literature. And it will only get worse.


I don't remember being ten. I keep thinking of things and realizing that no, that was when I was nine, or eleven, or eight, or twelve. When I was ten I was in fifth grade. In one year I would realize that I was growing breasts and this sudden push towards adulthood would traumatize me so completely that I would never quite recover, but at ten I was still blissfully disconnected from temporal reality.

My two best friends and I played Star Wars constantly, reenacting scenes from the movies sometimes, but mostly making up elaborate stories of our own. Because I was best at slouching and drawling and being sarcastic, I was Han Solo, but my secondary role was Everyone Else because Katie had a monopoly on the role of Princess Leia. Sometimes you might convince her to do a Chewie roar or a stormtrooper, but she always reverted quickly. I never minded: playing every single character gave me almost full control over the plots of our games. I was the sole mastermind of political intrigues and kidnappings! At the time I was very proud of my plots, but in retrospect a lot of our games consisted of gossiping about Luke and when he was going to find a good woman and settle down.

When our third friend played with us she had to be Luke, which she didn't like. We tried to invent a new jedi for her, but Katie and I had so finely honed our interactive storytelling that there wasn't much room for a third mind. Instead, we tried games for three people: Redwall, The Golden Compass, and our famous original, Crazy Tour Guide. Jessica got the role of the Crazy Tour Guide, and she did it amazingly. Katie and I invented an ever-rotating cast of six to ten characters who were taking an exotic tour to the amazon or the sahara or the moons of Jupiter. We always played several characters each to allow room for knocking some off. Travel with the Crazy Tour Guide was dangerous, after all.

(The Tour Guide was crazy mostly because she believed herself to be an alien from Jupiter. She also had a zeal for dangerous sports and a criminal apathy towards the safety of her charges. Also? She could time travel. Jess played her as deliciously spacey and eccentric, somewhere between new-age koogy and obsessively scientifcic.)

The only other thing I can remember is the boy who sat between Katie and me for half a year, and only because on Valentine's day he presented us each with a Reese's Peanut butter Cup and asked us out, both at once. We took the candy, but rejected him. His name was Tommy, but we called him Monkey Boy. He really did have remarkably simian features, almost like a neanderthal. I saw him in August at Wal-Mart or something and it's just gotten worse over time. Poor kid.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

9: drying my salty braid

After checking my email, which is invariably the first thing I do upon waking, I told myself quite sternly that I could not do anything at all until I finished something. I allowed myself a cup of coffee before attacking Europe Central with determination.

And I finished it.

This is the part of the post that should, by rule and format, have a review of some kind, but I don't know what to say or how to say it, or maybe I just can't find the words to begin. It's an astounding book, half fact and half fiction. I had to read it slowly because it is so incredibly brutal. The San Francisco Chronicle said that it has the power to "put a few readers towards madness," and that's exactly how I felt when reading it. It's the most devastating book about World War 2 and Soviet Russia that I have ever read.

Especially interesting to me is its examination of the impact of war on artists. Characters include Kathe Kowitz, Dmitri Shostakovitch, and my own Anna Akhmatova. This gives me an excuse to post a poem rather than continue talking about books or war or myself, so here's an early poem by Anna Akhmatova, written long before Stalin destroyed her life.
Bays cut into the low-lying shore,
All the sails were fleeing out to sea,
And I was drying my salty braid
On a flat rock a mile from land.
A green fish swam up to me,
A white gull flew up to me,
And I was daring, vexed and merry,
And completely unaware that this -- was happiness.
I buried my yellow dress in the sand
So the wind, or a tramp, wouldn't steal it away
And I swam far out to sea;
On the warm, dark waves I lay.
"At the Edge of the Sea," Anna Akhmatova 1914

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

8: only slightly more pleasant whinge

My four (or five) AM whinge post is too depressing and exhibitionist. Boundaries, feather, boundaries! I'm trying again, but I am unable to think of anything in my life right now that doesn't make me feel sorry for myself. There are two things that torture me particularly:

1. I can't finish this fucking toe up sock. It's my sixth sock (it would be my fifth, but I ripped one because I decided too late that the yarn wasn't good for the pattern I used) and my first toe up. When I left for Europe, it was complete except for the bind-off, and I purposefully didn't finish it off, assuming foolishly that the zippy few minute finishing job would give me a nice feeling of crafty accomplishment and provide a good door back into knitting. How wrong I was! I have tried, at this moment, four different bind-offs -- and that's not counting the fiddling with needle size that I've done with each one. I feel a little nightmarishly fairy tale: too tight, too loose, not elastic enough, too ugly ... I'm going to try and rip it again today and give it one more chance. I want this sock, and I refuse to give up.

2. I haven't finished a book since returning home. I was reading two books in Europe -- Europe Central and Midnight's Children -- and I had an amazing amount of velocity going on each of them. I should have finished them in the first few days that I returned! It's not like I have anything better to do. All of the books that I'm reading are good, I think about them frequently with fondness and curiosity for what happens next. I just can't finish anything.

There must be a perfect word for this. Ennui? Apathy? ADD? I don't know.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

7.2: doing my civic duty

Why I am voting today despite having spent the previous two months in Europe, completely oblivious to American politics: Barbara Cubin.

It goes without saying that she is conservative and known especially for her rabid opposition to abortion of any kind -- this is WYOMING we're talking about, what do you expect? -- but she is also known to do very strange things:
While serving in the Wyoming legislature, Cubin distributed Penis-Shaped Cookies(but did not, she insisted to Roll Call, bake) to several male colleagues.
If it weren't for everything else she's done, I might be able to forgive this. Sure, it sounds awful and sexist and always offends my feminist sensibilities, but maybe it was an inside joke between a few old friends? I have at least one friend who would gleefully do something along these lines, and if she did I know we would all be hilariously amused. But for an elected official it's pretty dodgy behaviour. The truly appalling part is that Wyomingites would keep reelecting a woman who is infamous statewide for penis cookies.

As if that weren't bad enough, she has made potentially racist comments, dissected here by Slate. Not that anyone in Wyoming seems to know about this. I hadn't heard of it until today, and I live in the one Democratic community, where all of my parents' friends love to hate B. Cubin. But it's bad, and it makes the penis cookies even worse, not to mention the slut comments, spanking threats, and claims that Republicans are "bending over and taking it from the Democrats" (from Wikipedia again).

Excitingly, this year it looks like there might actually be a chance that she'll lose the election. Apparently, her popularity in the state has dropped considerably ever since she told her opponent that only the fact that he is wheelchair-bound kept her from "slapping him across his face" (source).

I know that Wyoming's one seat in the House hardly makes a difference in the grand scheme, but I hate that our state is defined by Cubin, Cheney, and Matthew Shepard. Can't people at least remember that we've got Yellowstone National Park? And wild horses? And, um ... okay, I'm out of good Wyoming features, but the point still stands! She has been in office for most of my sentient life and I so want to see her gone before I move for good to the Bay Area or New York City or Berlin.

7: things that I like: an incomplete list

  1. deformed or disabled pigeons that have managed to be fat and thrive despite their disadvantages
  2. headless statues or sculptures, particularly ones that are made intentionally so
  3. saints, especially the ones who have really great, bizarre stories. Also, relics of saints and miraculously preserved body parts -- Saint Anthony's Tongue, Saint Catherine's withered head!
  4. famous cities when they are shrouded in mist and how they stop feeling busy and touristed and instead feel magical
  5. birds in railway stations
  6. sugar cubes
  7. ornate manhole covers and fancy doorknobs
  8. when the big black boards of train schedules change over -- the sound they make
  9. seeing other peoples' reflections in mirrors and knowing that this is how they see themselves
  10. red nail polish
  11. angsty dead suicidal poets
  12. old books that smell kind of like mold but mostly like lots of fingers turning pages
  13. when little plants grow up through cracks in asphalt
  14. doc martins and chuck taylors and the way their names make them sound like eccentric old men who smoke pipes and tell war stories

Monday, November 06, 2006

6: the streets smell like laundry detergent

I was going to write something about how I have been a frustrated knitter -- a frustrated everything -- since I got back from Europe. But I would rather think about the light in Venice. The light and the laundry and the cats and the little children playing football against the fountains and the street musicians and the smell of salty water and the old women knitting in squares.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

5: but the trip wasn't wasted

The day was not a waste of time and gas and energy! I had several important epiphanies:
  1. I really need to buy a classy jacket to wear to the theater and to semi-formal social events.
  2. On the same note, maybe I should resign myself to being twenty pounds heavier than I was this time last year and buy myself a pair of dress pants a size above the ones I've got in my dresser.
  3. Because I look like a hobo.
  4. But maybe looking like a hobo is okay because I am so completely socially awkward that even if I made a huge effort to present myself as classy and dressy I would still be a misfit.
These realizations are a little conflicting and a lot depressing. But this, too, is okay because my dad bought me a first edition copy of V. Nabokov's Glory. It looks very nice on my shelf with the matching first edition Ada.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

4.2: guilty admission

So, yesterday I went to Utah to see a theater production of Pride and Prejudice. I did not enjoy it much: the humour was ridiculously amplified and obscured any wit that might have been found. The actor who played Darcy was shorter than Elizabeth and had awful dishwater-blond hair. And worst of all, there were more shrieking and jumping up and down than there should ever be in one theater production, much less one based on a Jane Austen novel.

I probably shouldn't have gone, and I wouldn't have if the ticket hadn't been given to me for free by a former professor. The experience has reminded me of a dark secret, a fatal character flaw that I am finally learning to accept after years of denial: I do not care for Jane Austen.

Yes, that's right. I'm a female literature student who does not like Austen. I am aware of the sacrilege of this, and I apologize. I've tried! I've read the books, I've seen the movies and spin-offs, I've listened studiously to the adoring raves of friends and teachers, I've even spent several years seriously pretending to be a fan. But I can't. I recognize her importance in the literary canon, but the books themselves fail to move me. I think it has to do with their very similar plots. I read an article at Salon a long time ago that discussed "chick lit" like Bridget Jones, calling it "marriage porn," and this is the perfect term for Austen's books: they seem to fulfill this gaping cultural obsession and need for weddings. Not so much the marriage that comes after the weddings; many of the married couples in Austen's books are impressively unhappy -- I am reminded in particular of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. It is the marriage that matters, the ecstatic union of two people who are just right for each other, and this is something that doesn't move me particularly on its own. Maybe this is because I don't particularly desire or expect a happy marriage for myself; maybe it's because I am too cynical. Or maybe it's the characters.* I do like plenty of other "ends in marriage" books.

I don't feel too bad, though. I've got Mark Twain in my corner:
"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."**
*I actually like Northanger Abbey. I relate very strongly to Catherine, who has lost hold on reality after reading too many Gothic novels.

**I do not hate her quite this much.

4: disclaimer

Dear potential anonymous internet readers,

I swear I'm not showing off in my reading sidebar. I really do read geeky books that are completely useless from a practical viewpoint. Like, um,
The American Quest for a Supreme Fiction: Whitman's Legacy in the Personal Epic. And Noam Chomsky.

And I don't generally count poetry books on my reading lists because who sits down and reads a whole book of poetry? Well, I do, apparently, but only when I'm trying to write about the poet. It's unnatural! Poetry books should be kept in your pocket and read in bits and pieces throughout a day or week or month or year! I'm not in school this semester, but when I was in Europe I became even geekier than I was to begin with: I realized how sincerely fun it can be to write interpretive essays on poetry.

I think the solitude went to my head. I memorized poems. And then I planned out the analytic deconstructions I would write about them. I never actually wrote them down because I was too tortured by my lack of resources. Seriously. I sacrificed countless midnight hours lamenting the absence of lexus nexus in my daily life.

So when I claim to be reading ridiculously obscure and intellectual things, I'm not making it up. I can't help it, it's a sickness! Or, more likely, a madness.

Friday, November 03, 2006

3: Friday Five

I have seen blogs do Friday fives -- a list of five questions that you post and answer on your blog. I may fall back on some of these lists later, as I become more and more desperate for content, but for now I am going to use the concept for a different set of themed Friday posts. There are four Fridays in November. Four times five is 20, which is my current age. This begs me to devote my Fridays to reflections on multiples of five in my life. Or really just the ages five, ten, 15, and 20.

Enough preamble. When I was five-years-old:

  • I decided that I didn't like bananas. I remember the moment: we were on an inexplicable picnic in the middle of an empty sagebrush desert. My prepared lunch was a peanut butter and banana sandwich. One bite it and it occurred to me that bananas were completely unacceptable foods and no one should consume them ever! I screamed and dropped the sandwich and enraged my parents. This was the beginning of the systematic axing of foods from my diet that lasted for twelve straight years and cumulated in those three months when I ate nothing but fat free pretzels and peanut butter toast. I'm working on reversing the process. But I still won't eat bananas.
  • My kindergarten teacher was evil. She was the sort of person who should not be allowed to look after small children. Maybe she had started out saintly-patient, but years of laboring to teach five-year-olds to tie their shoes had turned her cantankerous, even cruel. She had a particular dislike for my first best friend. Once she refused to accompany S. to the bathroom, and, when she started to cry because she really needed to pee, the teacher put her in time-out. Poor S. wet herself, her chair, and the carpet around her. We spent years speculating on the source of Miss P's vendetta. Our reconstructions indicate that Miss P's persecution of S. began when S. accidentally dropped the class rabbit after it scratched her. Obviously the rabbit was as unsuited to kindergarten as the teacher.
  • My dad bought me my favourite stuffed animal, a grey squirrel, at a Grand Canyon Lodge. He was, specifically, a kaibab squirrel. I named him after my father, and he soon became king of all of my stuffed animals. His full title is King Richard the Flying Kaibab Squirrel, but close friends and family had permission to call him Ricky. [Note: kaibab squirrels do not fly, but I had no idea about this until I looked up that wiki article. I blame this lifelong misconception on my father, who read me the information card that came with Ricky.]
  • I refused to respond unless I was deferentially referred to as Princess. I stopped calling my parents 'Mama' and 'Papa.' Instead, I called them King and Queen. The titles eventually dropped off, and ever since then I've called them by their first names.

To any poor souls who find their way here: what do you remember about being five-years-old?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

2: stray dogs

I had just begun to write a self-indulgent post about how bleak it is to be back in the small town midwest after months of traveling Europe alone when, halfway through a sentence, my aunt called me to the front yard. She had found a stray dog, a young pup, part pit bull from the looks of him. He was chasing a car up our street, but came when she called out to him. My family has a long history of helping strays. We feel it is our karmic duty: when I was twelve-years-old, my dog Abbey jumped the fence of my aunt's yard and was killed by a car, and ever since then we have no choice but to take care of every stray or lost animal that comes our way. If someone had snagged Abbey before she made it to the busiest street in town, she might still be alive, and I think of her whenever another dog shows up on our stoop. We have to help them!

I always name the dogs Charlie regardless of gender.

This Charlie was well fed and cared for. He had a collar but no tags. After checking with all of the neighbours, we were preparing to keep him for a night or a few days when a car drove by. Happy ending -- they were looking for the pup.


Not all of my posts will be as dull and ineloquent as this one.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

1: stupid obligatory First Post

One of the things that has effectively kept me from starting a Real Blog (as opposed to a livejournal, which I have maintained sporadically for years) for so long is the stress of the obligatory First Post. One chance to make a good impression, to display my cleverness and my panache! One post to capture and display every facet of my personality! Such pressure, such anxiety. I've joined M Kennedy's NaBloPoMo in an effort to get over my daunting blog phobia. I have decided that it doesn't matter how I appear; I'm doing this for myself anyway. Who else will read this but me? NaBloPoMo, the bloggeryNaNoWriMo, is a good way to fill my long and empty November days.

Because this is for me and not for any anonymous audience, I am not going to introduce myself in the first post. Instead, I'm going to copy and paste the entry for tatterdemallion from the OED:
tatterdemalion, -demallion
[f. TATTER n.1, or more prob. TATTERED a., with a factitious element suggesting an ethnic or descriptive derivative. The earlier pronunciation rimes with battalion, Italian, stallion, as shown by the frequent doubling of l.]
A person in tattered clothing; a ragged or beggarly fellow; a ragamuffin.
And from, justifying my spelling of the word in the URL and its deviancy from the modern one L spelling:
[Origin: 1600–10; first written tatter-de-malliani> and rhymed with Italian; sepan>e TATTER; -de-malliani> < ?]
I first came across the word tatterdemalion in Micheline Aharonian Marcom's brilliant and heartbreaking chronicle of the Armenian genocide, Three Apples Fell From Heaven. I was in the hospital when I read the book, far away from my beloved Oxford English Dictionary, but who needs a dictionary for a word like this? It sounds like what it means, it breathes personality, it dances on the tongue. And Marcom uses it in the absolute best way possible:
Rumor tells stories, this is the story she writes. Don't believe her, she's a liar of the first order. A mendacious tatterdemalion. A middle of the night whisperer. She follows you and circles your head like stinging bees in late summer. she is disjointed, disorderly, malapropos. She begins in the middle, she stops and starts; she is a wanderer. When you look for her you cannot see her. Rumor says: Noah is my father and Japeth is my father and Haik walked down the slopes of Mount Ararat and squatted under the cypress to build a fire with still green leaves. In 1915. Or in 520 B.C., an inscription in stone of Darius I at Behistun. With breath there is always a beginning. A neonate lies on the sand, she is the founder of the nation. Rumor says, I am the founder of this nation. And so, and so
Three Apples Fell from Heaven, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Pg 1
The book haunts me on every level possible even now, half a year after I read it, and that phrase has become one of my favourites. Mendacious tatterdemalion! Beautiful beautiful beautiful.