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.