Happy centenary, Mr. Auden

February 21, 2007

It’s good thing I started checking my Guardian books feed again when I did, or I might have completely missed the 100th anniversary of W. H. Auden’s birth. In his honor, the cabbies of his hometown of York are going to be reciting “Night Mail” to all of their passengers. So cool. If I can find it online or in the library, I’ll try to post the poem that got me started on Auden back at the end of my junior year in high school. I don’t mean to imply that I know any great amount of things about Auden (I totally flunked the Auden junkie quiz the Guardian posted), but he is one of the poets I read most during the years that I gravitated towards literature and poetry. So it sticks with me.

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And on that note, I’m moving Marie Antoinette to the top of my Netflix queue. There’s a certain kind of jaw dropping horror in this piece by George Gurley for the New York Observer, but after the initial shock of just far a person’s head can go up his or her own ass (apparently this is even more likely to happen when one is wearing really expensive clothing and drinking really expensive liquor) I start to think it is all a matter of degree. Sure, I’m sitting here in my five year old jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt, getting ready to do some homework and then not spend too much money shopping at Whole Foods–but how different am I really? I comparmentalize the horror and pain of most of the world while I stick my head back in these books, this browser window, and a whole lot of DVDs that I can both afford to rent and have time to watch. I’m still powerless, despite my guilt and awareness, and I don’t really use the power that I do have. I send emails to congress people maybe once a month, and usually only the form letters that my social justice e-mail reminders link to. I haven’t donated one cent to a directly Darfur related organization (although I may have put a tenner in the plate if we ever had a collection devoted to it at church–but I really couldn’t say with certainty). Ugh. What are we going to do? The worst are filled with passionate intensity and the best are clubbing it up in high fashion.

Big things are going down in the world of me and my friends. LCB is giving her program the finger, clearing her student, and getting the hell out of Dodge. AH is going to give her supermean prof the finger by not only surviving her mean spirited comments but by getting all law school apps fit to turn in done and on their merry way. D is dusting off the idea of teaching for Broward County while he works on this thing called the Master’s of Accounting. And me? Well, I haven’t really wanted to mention it, but I’m having a bit of the professional crisis as well. I walked up to the third floor of the library today and grabbed a big thick Chemistry textbook and a big thick College Algebra textbook. I met with the pre-med advisor last week. I’m calling up the community hospital across the street and scheduling a volunteer orientation.

Aaaaand now you’re all laughing hysterically. Okay, this is a highly improbable turn of events, and not one that I’m ready to trust, but one I feel I need to feel out long enough to 1) satisfy myself that yes, I have happy and fulfilling future ahead of me as a librarian by day, writer by night or 2) realize that I am certifiable and am lucky that no one has turned me in to the head shrinkers yet. Nothing is changing right this minute, but I’m in the spirit of letting all ideas back onto my horizon. This one might float back out of view like any good cloud or it might become the whole sky. Only time and perhaps a few good blog entries can tell. (I’ve admitted this strange thought I’ve been having to just about everyone I know via Gmail chat already, so I might as well fess up here. It’s part of the reason I’ve been non-blogging so much recently. I’m spending my days obsessing about taking chemistry and learning massive amounts of stuff I’ve sworn for years now not to be the least bit interested in and trying to imagine a life so different from the one I have been actively training for, but not so different from the one I once imagined. It felt a bit awkward to just start talking about it, as if it were a normal thing.) 

And in the midst of all this, my neighbors have finally gotten wise and put a password on their wireless network. So rather than going home right away and fixing myself some dinner, I’m staying at school to gather up articles to transfer to my flash drive to take home, blog a bit, and try to watch Veronica Mars online (though alas the newest episode is not posted yet–curses!).

In some ways it’s good to be sitting here, and not home alone on the couch, when I’ve just gotten out of a poetry workshop in which we discussed Helene Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, which actually got us into some down and dirty areas of discussion. What really forms our identity, and how can we know that we are not lying to ourselves? Do you need to have a close experience with death in order to be a writer? Given my recent doubts about the direction of my professional life, I also asked myself: could I still know myself if I were something other than a writer, a book person, a person living more in daydreams than in what’s going on right in front of me? A person trying to be a poet? Has too much time passed and too many other people, important people to me, been persuaded that they have known the real me to change so drastically?

What merits a moment like the one Cixous describes here:

“When do we reach the hour when we say we have deceived everyone in our lives in order to keep what we call life going?”

I like my life. I like my laptop, my cats, my ability to go to the wine store and spend hours at a time watching The Wire. I love my husband and my friends and my family. I often love Florida, every smell and color and taste of it. It feels wrong to disrupt all of it, even to imagine disrupting all of it. My life has not been a lie, I don’t think–so where could this urge to change everything come from? Must one or the other be a lie?

Fortunately, in a decidedly un-French rhetorical moment, Cixous answers her own question pretty straight forwardly. Before I succumb to further melodramatic meanderings, I will give you her answer: “I don’t know.”

Ha! That’s it. We don’t know. We won’t know, nothing may ever seem settled beyond a second, third or fourth possibility. So as AH was advising me today, the key thing is not to lose our breath. Not to rush but neither to fear epiphany. It is all, for this moment, possible.

Put that alongside with this other idea we talked about in workshop: the habit of “saving” your best material. Avoiding the exhchange of the possible for the actual. You know, those things you always say you will write about one day, when you are a better writer or when you finally understand it all or when you have the time. We abhor our own shortcomings and wait for a time that is pristine, when we will be pristine and ready. That time may come, but now is a time to produce something that you won’t be able to produce then. If I don’t write out of confusion and imperfection and feeling messed up about every choice I’ve ever made, if I don’t write now, some thing will be lost. It’s a certainty. That thing doesn’t need to be the ultimate, it just needs to be.

See what reading those French feminists will do to a girl? Not to mention her grammar. Vive le run-on and le sentence fragment!

So please leave my beloved shaped-like-a-hand state posthaste, Mr. Romney. It may look like a mitten, but I can hardly imagine that it will be smitten with Mitt. (Okay, that last sentence makes almost no sense, but the mitten connection was too good to pass up.) You don’t get a lot of points just for being born there. I think it’s significant you haven’t lived there since you got into Harvard 30 years ago, and you clearly didn’t take a lot with you if you think that two-faced, forked tongue double dealing is the way to win hearts and minds. First you were for gay rights, and then you decided that you were for inequality. First you were pro-choice, and then you were the far right’s bitch. Some days you are Mormon, other days you are just ambiguously uptight. So I really don’t appreciate you using my state to obscure the fact that you’ve been living the liberal good life in a state that could be seen as a the model for the rest of the country on a number of issues, including marriage equality and universal health care but that you act like you are ashamed of. Too bad. Go home, wherever that is, and take your troop surge ideas and your corporate sell-outism with you.

How the mighty have fallen

February 13, 2007

In the just too skeezy for words department: Ralph! How could you! To think that you were once the considered the finest actor of your generation. Now you bear an increasingly striking resemblance to a ferret who can’t comb his hair. There is only one place to turn for consolation: Christian Bale.

And while I’m at, have I mentioned that it’s totally over between me and Nic?

Lots of things

February 7, 2007

This will probably be a longish, rambling post, but seeing as I haven’t posted anything in a way long time I’ve got to get started somewhere. I don’t really have any good reasons for my blogging hiatus, like cold weather and straightening out a new semester’s schedule in a large Irish university, but for the past couple of weeks whenever I’ve sat down to write something, I’ve found myself with nothing to say. Or rather, everything that I wanted to say seemed just too out of character to admit to, even though “admit” is kind of a strong word for an anonymous web publication whose readers are in the main people who know me well enough to know that I am six kinds of crazy in the head. In short, I think I’ve been having a small fit of “wait, this blog doesn’t fit me anymore,” which I hear is common, but in truth this blog does fit me. It is me. Onward, in no particular order:

1) This excerpt on Anna Akhmatova from Clive James’s new book, Cultural Amnesia is really well written and went at least part of the way toward clearing up why every poet I’ve ever met (and I do mean every poet: profs with 6 books, high schoolers who think they are precocious, MFA grads breaking into publication) has felt the need to write a poem that either is about AA or references one of her poems in the epigraph. I mean, I knew she had some hard times in Russia, but I could not grasp why she was the It reference. From what I gather from the piece, she pretty much had that effect on everyone during her own lifetime as well. Her poems are powerful, spare and profound, and apparently she was able to charm the pants off everyone in her day to day life as well. What I really liked about the piece, though, was its tone. In addition to offering a well-sketched biography and a concise (perhaps overly concise, but that’s just my own ignorance talking) explanation of the politics that doomed AA and her family, it offered geniune, committed reflections on why her art, and by extenstion Art, matters. Without resorting to theory or because I say so, James gets to the heart of why I think most of us suspect that writing really is more important than putting money in the IRA:

“What we have to grasp is that it needn’t have happened to her. That’s what history is: the story of everything that needn’t have been like that. We also have to grasp that art proves its value by still mattering to people who have been deprived of every other freedom; indeed, instead of mattering less, it matters more. “

(Not that I’m advising anyone to stop putting money in the IRA or give up on educational plans that increase one’s earning potential.) Anyway, I think I’ll be looking for this book once it trickles into the library, and I’ll be reading new installments as Slate posts them.

2) And further on the topic of how in times of immense crisis and peril, people tend to stay committed to jobs that place them in harm’s way for the sake of a whole bunch of paper, check out this NYT article on Saad Eksander, the Director of the Iraq National Library and Archives in Baghdad, and his web journal posted on the British Library website. After reading I vowed never to describe the deplorable conditions of our first floor women’s bathroom after the poddy vandals have made their daily rounds with the words “disaster” or “a horror show” again. It’s annoying. Having four staff members and the relatives of 66 staff members assassinated is a disaster I cannot even begin to comprehend.

3) Speaking of the high probability of being assassinated while being Iraqi, I am so mad about stories like this. I’m not mad that Sweden took 9,700 Iraqi refugees last year, I’m hopping mad that the US only took 220. The level of my anger over topics like this disrupts my life on a daily basis.

4) What are we going to do??

5) “Prosti-tots“—why didn’t I think of that word? Love it.

6) While AH was researching the history of Cookie Dough as a Ben & Jerry’s flavor today, she sent me a link to a page on their website describing how the flavor wasn’t released until 1991. That page had a link to the Flavor Graveyard. Scrolling down the lefthand frame that lists all the departed flavors was like learning that a whole bunch of my old friends had died and I never knew. No more The Full Vermonty? Deep Dark Chocolate? No more From Russia With Buzz, ever? (Actutally, FRWB was never a close friend of mine, it was a friend of a friend, and we never got the proper introduction.) And how could a flavor called Holy Cannoli lose? (Seriously, whenever any of you came and visit, I am going to get you some cannoli. I can’t believe I had never had it until I moved to Boca.)

Okay, I guess that’s enough of my thoughts chasing their own tails. For now.