Okay, there are times when I wonder if I am truly cut out for life in South Florida. Actually, there are many of these times, but the time I want to talk about is the time that happened this morning, when I was in my car, turning right onto Powerline Road on my way to work. If I am running my usual five minutes late (hey, I may live in Palm Beach County, but I am still on Miami time), about the time I am making this right turn is when the Miami Herald local news segment comes onto my NPR station. This morning, right on cue, the Herald radio reporter started in with her lead story about how the city of Miami is planning to spend *&$taxpayer$&* money to put on a party in the Orange Bowl to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death!!!!! F@#$ me! So I’m a party pooper! There’s a word for this, and the word is “disgusting.” If Cuban(-Americans) want to “stomp on the grave” of Mr. Castro, it’s a free country. But if they have so much sway over the elected officials of the county that I plan on being a resident of some day that these officials feel the need to spend public money to rent out the godd@#$ Orange Bowl, I think that is over the line. As you can tell from the bolding and the expletives, I get a little mad about this. The self-serving sanctimony of some of these people really gets to me. I spent the first year of my tenure here being extremely open-minded and sympathetic–you came on a raft made out of oil drums? Must have been bad over there, I’m glad you made it. But what about the Haitians who come from arguably worse conditions (let’s remember that Cuba’s infant mortality is still lower than ous) who have no wet foot-dry foot policy to keep their behinds from getting deported back to rampant poverty, disease and violence after they have made the same perilous trek? What about the fact that once you are here, you are here, and you need to start contributing? Forget about the hyphen–most of you got a green card within days, not years, and some of you got a lot more help than that. Which I don’t begrudge you–but in return, you spend your money hijacking our local governments and lobbying for crackpot invasion schemes, and voting for the R party without a second thought just because they’ll pretend to listen to your ideas about invading Cuba? I guess manipulating politicians for your own benefit is the most American game in the book. And if you’ve got the money, somebody’s got the time. But man it just doesn’t seem fair. We didn’t have a party when Saddam swung, and I can’t see how it is a good idea to get in the habit of throwing lavish parties upon the death of leaders we don’t align with ideologically–how is this party going to play in Latin America, where Brazilians already (insanely, true) believe that the US is out to steal the Amazon and invade Venezuela? Let alone farther afield, where some countries may be legitimately pissed/nervous that we are stomping around acting like we’re going to go Iraq on them? Good Lord I wonder where this country is going.

She was almost a doctor. Yes, that’s right, in the 1890’s, she got into and made it through over three years of Johns Hopkins Medical School. In the 1890’s. Women in some parts of the US were still being discouraged from going to medical school in the 1970’s. Oddly enough, her brains were not enough to make up for a heart that had moved on when she got bored with medicine after finishing the first two years of academic work and moving into clinical training, where she found herself less than thrilled by working with patients. She left halfway through her fourth year, after failing a bunch of classes. But instead of moping around and feeling like a failure, she got back to her writing and eventually headed to Paris. Not that she didn’t sometimes worry about whether or not she was doing the right thing–the article mentions that she feared that she had done a disservice to other women by abandoning her training–but that she stuck to what she just felt she had to do.

Okay, I nearly gave my Mac a chicken soup with rice bath just now as I read the opening paragraphs of Andrew O’Hehir’s Sundance write-up from yesterday. Somehow, I think bad movies bring out the best in all of us. I’m not sure what I like most about the opening paragraphs of this review. Is it how he writes that the movie in question “vomits up huge chunks of undigested Tennessee Williams” or describes his uncertainties about how Robin Wright Penn’s character, “whose relationship to her [Dakota Fanning] is obscure. Aunt? Mother? Stepmother? Adult sister? Some picturesque Southern combination of all four?” I just love it all. I love it so much, I want to ask LCB, did you secretly write this? ‘Cause that line about Elvis is so you… well, so you if you substitute maybe Emmylou Harris in for Elvis. Something else I enjoyed about this review was that it mentioned John Cusack playing a real adult in a movie about Iraq… and that just makes me think, why don’t we have a sequel to Say Anything yet? Did Lloyd become a war protester and stay at home dad for Diane? Are they still together? I wanna know.

Okay, time for more Monkey.

The semester plow through pages-athon has already kicked off with a vengeance by this the third week. The final section of Richard Ford’s Lay of the Land is languishing unread right next to the second novella in Suite Francaise, both having given way to Maxine Hong Kingston, Helene Cixous, various and sundry po-co (post-colonial for those of you not in the biz) theorists, and way way too much antiquated reading on the theory of archiving. You read that right, the theory behind putting old papers in a room. As I explained to The Future Psychologist this morning, I really don’t get why I need to read 200+ pages in the first week of class about how to keep some stuff, throw other stuff away, put it in a closet, and if anyone every wants to see it (doubtful) give them the key. Okay, I get that archives are our collective “houses of memory” and that future historians are counting on us to keep track of the s@#$ they are going to need to write theses and get tenure. I am sure that this is all very noble and worthwhile. But I am not so sure I really want to be involved with it. I hope that none of my fellow library students ever knows that that’s about what I think of it so far.

On more exuberant notes, MHK is pretty rocking. If you have not already done so, you will not be sad if you pick up Woman Warrior and give it a try, and after that China Men, and if you are brave I can now guarantee that Tripmaster Monkey is well-worth the effort. I am presenting on the latter title for my US Women Writers of Color class¬† this Thursday, and in the course of my background research I learned that she graduated from Berkeley with a BA in English in 1962, got married, moved to Hawaii, and didn’t publish WW until 1976. So that just goes to show that you do not have be freakishly precocious to make a lasting impact on literature. Also, check out this synopsis of her most recent book, The Fifth Book of Peace. Blending memoir and fiction in a book that describes both your real life and the novel that you literally lost when your house burnt down during your father’s funeral: the epitome of making lemonade out of those lemons.

Oh, before I ended this I was going to mention where the subject of this post comes from. It’s from the closing passages of Tripmaster Monkey, and I think it pretty much sums up my thoughts on how a country can spend billions on war, far fewer billions on education, and nothing on what it would take to create a world with less violence. What you imagine becomes reality, right?

In a world premiere joint announcement, Let’s Shall is joining G&B in the unveiling of a newly coined word. The word is suckwage. Defined as:

1) noun–the by-product of living in this vale of tears. Example: My psycho brown-nosing classmate already posted three times on the class discussion board with footnotes and that is so much suckwage. Or I had a major suckwage when the pharmacy wouldn’t accept my healthcare savings account debit card.

2) adj.–related to or having anything to do with snow or wind chill. Example: Suckwage Chicago killed my hamster.
3) verb–what a boss or boss-like person of authority in one’s life is likely to do given any opportunity. Example: The head of the deparment suckwaged me out of my byline.

This has been a joint LS and G&B lexicographical announcement. Choose your words wisely my friends, choose suckwage.

Fail. Fail again.

January 16, 2007

And while you are at it, read “Fail Better,” a recent column on what it means to be a writer and a reader by Zadie Smith in the Guardian. As most of my regular readers know, I have always admired Ms. Smith from a far and safe distance, having never read even White Teeth. Why? No good reason other than I’ve always thought I would be scared by her awesomeness and never able to write again. That and sometimes multicultural melange novel make me overly aware of my low and lowering schtick threshold. I have at times been too easily offput but the¬† sustained gyrating verbal energy that emanates from the daring writers who cross social and linguistic boundaries in a single sentence. It starts to rattle me like my un-Ritalin’d middle schoolers. Plus, Ms. Smith is so obviously brilliant in ways that I will never be that I fear massive depression. But I’m sure she didn’t intend that for anyone, and I’m sure that White Teeth is not schticky and I’m sure it is my loss that I have not read it yet, but these are all digressions from the point that I really enjoyed this piece and it made want to go home and fail for even more hours a day than I already do (actually not that many, but I’m working on it). She seems awfully down to earth for a brilliant person. It was a good thing for me to read, since I’ve been beating myself over the head with Eliot and escaping from personality in my writing of late, and I especially like these thoughts:

A writer’s personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner. When you understand style in these terms, you don’t think of it as merely a matter of fanciful syntax, or as the flamboyant icing atop a plain literary cake, nor as the uncontrollable result of some mysterious velocity coiled within language itself. Rather, you see style as a personal necessity, as the only possible expression of a particular human consciousness. Style is a writer’s way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions.

Reading this piece also brought back memories of my first reading assignment in English 2, the universal sophomore English class at my high school. It was the essay “Good Readers and Good Writers” by Vladimir Nabokov, which I remember reading once on my own and then again, aloud with two of my classmates, O and E. It was definitely a prospectus photo moment. O sat at the end of her bed with her back against the wall, me at the other end, and E sat on a big pillow on the floor. We all looked at each other excitedly every time Mr. N pulled a rapturous and meticulously crafted sentence out of his pen. We highlighted and paused from reading to discuss what we had read. E, despite being Polish, would often quote passages from Lolita and O would express her deep-seated desire to be a white-armed nymphet. I couldn’t say much at these times, I had not yet read Lolita. (I should have taken this as a hint–O has abandoned the classical piano training she received during high school, gotten some surgery, and is now a law student by day and Playboy model all the rest of the time. Seriously. She really is and if you are really curious I’ll send you the link to prove it.)

Anyway, both of these pieces make great reads about what it means to a writer and a reader from the perspective of a great writer.

Weekend on the beach

January 12, 2007

I’m headed out to chaperone a youth event on the fair beaches of Key Biscayne, so I won’t be blogging for the next couple of days. I just got back from the first meeting of Postcolonial Theory, in which the prof felt the need to personally question each creative writing major as to whether or not they had read the syllabus because they should know what the class required and by the way it could still be dropped. Oh silly me, I forgot, I’m an MFA so I must be an automatic airhead! Well, that just motivates me all the more to brilliantly articulate exactly where she can take her Homi Bhaba and shove it…. but I’m over it, and ready to head out to the sun and sand and hormone-filled teenagers.