Monday, December 31, 2012

Stroppy New Year

I am more than a little affronted by the passage of time.  It seems so personal, you know?  A giant f*ck you, you're one year closer to death and so is everyone you love from the universe.

Or maybe that's  narcissism speaking -according to an article I scanned this morning over breakfast, the only thing keeping pace with the growth of narcissism in our society is the obesity epidemic. (Possible NY Resolution: stop reading).

 So basically it's a giant, f*ck you, you're one year closer to death and so is everyone you love and also you are all fat.

Well played, universe, well played.

When presented with a universe-style fait accompli  -or a person who is much, much better than you at pool- you have two choices.  You can succumb, a gentlewoman to the end, dabbing on a chalk-colored smile as you dribble your balls, one by one, into the pockets (wait, who's winning here?  Possible NY resolution: figure out what the heck is going on in pool). 

Or, you can unclench your jaw, unloose a tigery howl, and slam that eight ball where the sun don't shine. (Possible NY resolution: do not assemble metaphors without instructions.  Or Ikea furniture.  Gingerbread houses also.)

For whatever reason (genetics, narcissism, crotchetiness, bad at pool), I prefer the contrarian approach.  Dylan Thomas, Walter Matthau, Oscar the Grouch: these are people, my partners in perversity, and we'll be damned if we go gently into the good night or 2013 or Walmart.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light!  (Possible NY resolution: order lightbulbs online.)

In recent years, I've tried to surrender gracefully.  But 2012 is almost gone, and I'm not going to take it anymore, time, you hear me? 

Or, of course I am going to take it, but I'm not going to like it! 

Take that, universe!  And by "that" I mean my pool cue.  It's not like I knew what to do with it.

Just don't take anything more.  Not yet.  Please.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book it 2012!

Cold, but not as cold as you think it should be: the definition of a Southern winter.  I'm running through mine, guzzling its exhaust, gunning it dry.  No: it's already dry:  High of fifty degrees, brown ground, no snow.

In this middling purgatory of a season, a young girl's  human's thoughts turn to books!  Books will get you out of almost anything, and they'll do it with admirable extremes of temperature! Bring on the sere sentences, the heated dialogue, the boiling plot!

So here, without further ado, my least temperate, most absorbing reads of 2012!  Rescue me from Winter Lite and reply with your own!

1)Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

I'm not done with this one so I probably shouldn't even list it, but OH HECK WHY NOT IT'S SO GOOD!  Mantel writes bleak, yet oblique prose -a handy trick- and there's nothing colder than the machinations of the Tudor court!  Mantel introduces us to Thomas Cromwell, a man for all seasons- oh, no, wait, that's Thomas More, who is depicted as a slavering self-scourger.  Everyone is named Thomas, or Anne.  Mix in hair shirts, a doomed lutenist, bastard sons, whispering women, London Rain, Oxford, the wool trade, and buns.  Oh, the humanity!

2) Freedom, Johnathan Franzen

I'd avoided Jonathan Franzen diligently for years, on the principle that he is an unmitigated whiner, and I had my quota of those in college  Reading Freedom was a lesson in humility -for me, not for Franzen, who can write the pants off anything.  And does.  Lots of pantsless Minnesotans in this one, folks!  Ignore the worst book title this side of "Fifty Ways to Leave your Llama-" I found Freedom so absorbing I went on to chug The Corrections, which is saying something.

3) Light in August, William Faulker

This was my first Faulkner.  Heretofore, I'd been of the opinion that classics were designated as such for their ability to render high school students comatose.  But Faulkner is a fabulous writer, sere and lush and bitter.

4) Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a novel about a battered wild child rediscovering her center via long-distance hiking. I found the premise, the press, and the authorial voice almost indescribably annoying, but you know what?  I finished it in forty-eight hours.  I spent forty-four of those hours wanting to brain Ms. Strayed, but do we not, after all, come to books in the spirit of self-expansion?  We do, and we should, and remind me never to hike that far.

5) Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

I read a whole, whole lot of genre fiction, most of which goes in one lobe of the brain and out the other.  Of all the mysteries, I read this year, this one stuck.  It's a suspense novel, though not a particularly clever one: the twist swims into vision several miles out.  But it's also a meticulous catalog of the ways in which we hurt and twist and mar those closest to us, and in this capacity, Gone Girl is stupefyingly eerie: an outline chalked around the sprawled body of reality.  My most uncomfortable -and fastest- read of the year.


Monday, December 24, 2012

I Am Here

Love, IN

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Driving in Russia

I am the kind of person who buys a new computer and then lets it sit in the box.

This became clear to me after I bought a new computer and, yes, let it sit in the box.  A box which is  currently skulking in bag under my bed, actively shaming me as I type this blog entry on the computer I'd decided was too old and sickly to be viable.

It's something to do with the difficulty of the changeover.  The transferring of the data, plus the installing of the new programs and the rediscovering of the passwords my browser previously took care of and the wiping of the old hard drive and the disposal of the old machine-

How much easier, to fire up the ancient, ailing standby?

The fact that I am this kind of person- an irrational, box-sitting crazy person- came as a surprise to me.  After all, I'm nothing if not dutiful: an everyday exerciser, a caller-on-your-birthday.  

But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about being human is our scope for failing to understand, at a basic level, who the hell we are.

To which point I can only add that, yes, I wasted thirteen minutes watching this.  Woah.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

The final couplet of our national anthem never made good sense to me, growing up.   Land of the free?  I wasn't free. There were dance classes, music lessons, chores, college applications, jobs, outings, taxes. And, waiting to be stuffed into those intermittent cavities between duties, books.  

Home of the brave?  My mother described me, politely, as "timid."  I made the Cowardly Lion look like a badass.

Then I saw my father dive headfirst into the garbage after a basketball game.  At the arena, the trash cans were heavy, clangorous affairs, sounding against your head as you burrowed for what was, according to my dad, a big-time plastic cup bonanza.

The theory went like this: If you bought a drink at the game, which we never in our wildest, most profligate dreams, would think of doing, the concensioneers handed to you in a 16 oz plastic cup.   And at the end of the night, if you were the kind of person who spent $3.50 on lukewarm pepsicola, well, you just might be the kind of person who threw away a perfectly good plastic cup.

He was right.  There were lots of cups.  For free!  All you needed was an iron stomach and no shame.

It's powerful, the lure of the free.  It's how I got at least half of my furniture, a shameful percentage of my shoes, and, um, certain of my drinkware.  It's why I finally picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild, an over-marketed, over-Oprahed, argually overpriced retelling of the author's summer-long schlep up the Pacific Crest Trail.

But hey!  Free!  On Overdrive, direct to my Kindle! Thanks, libraries!

In Wild, Strayed chronicles her spiral away from, and back towards, mental health, as enabled by a whole lot of walking.  I don't usually go in for nonfiction, but did I mention this was free?  Plus books are supposed to muscle us into worlds beyond our ken, and if there was one thing I'd never contemplated, it was walking until my toenails fell off.

I started.  Then, only a couple of pages in, I stopped.   Strayed had dropped a reference to the fact that she'd been a cheerleader.  She'd been a homecoming queen.  It was so easy, she reported, of picking up man after man. 

All of this, the beauty and the power and the ease, was the furthest thing from my experience.  Cheryl had trouble not sleeping with the many men she encountered.  I had trouble getting a date.  She struggled to conceal her beauty of the trail.  I struggled to stop longing to be -under the male gaze- visible. 

Clearly, the author was not my kind of woman. 

I set the book aside.  I tried out some lines  Easy come, easy go, I told Wild.   It's not you, it's me.  You're just not my kind of book. 

But Strayed kept slogging forward under the weight of her pack, and, at last, so did I.  She'd wanted to hike the PCT, and she'd had to live with the consequences.  I'd wanted a window into a life that wasn't, and could never be, my own, and, hell, I'd gotten it. Neither of us had any right to complain.

It's a very human thing, to search out ourselves in one another. It's lonely on the trail and it's lonely off it, and if some part of us comes to every book hoping -hunting- for the story of ourselves- well, it's not the worst thing in the world.

But it's not the bravest, and it doesn't allow us, as every book should, to slip, for an hour or two, our reins.  I shouldn't have stopped.  But at least I'm on my way.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Am Here

Asheville, NC

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank You

Sometimes the expression of gratitude manages to bump the feeling along behind it, your Grandpa's jalopy towing a tin can.

Other times, gratitude rips down your street, squealing.

With love this Thanksgiving, and thanks.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Am Here

Pittsburg, KS

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thirteen Ways of Looking at The Prophet

The Prophet, one-sentence book review: If you're going to be psychologically terrorized, you might as well do it in a loving fictional depiction of Elyria, OH.

Why I took The Prophet off the shelf: #1. Michael Koryta lives in my hometown.  Go familiarity, go!  #2. Eye-level shelf positioning, a la expensive cans of peas.  Go librarians, go!  3. Residual guilt over never having read, nor intending to read, Kahlil Gibran.  Go intellectual torpor, go!

The Prophet haiku:  Football is our God/Psychopaths are also here/two brothers wing it

Male characters, The Prophet: 27?  Ran out of toes.

Female characters, The Prophet: 6.  Some dead.

Male characters, demographic breakdown, The Prophet: Football players and/or psychopaths

Female characters, demographic breakdown, The Prophet: Three hot wives/hot girlfriends.  Two deceased individuals.  One drug addict.  Some category overlap.  Sex of snakes indeterminate.

Reading time, start to finish, with breaks, The Prophet: 8 hours.

Stuff I was supposed to get done during these 8 hours but didn't, The Prophet: Workshop planning, dinner preparation, leaf raking, vacuuming, returning-of-emails, more practicing, laundry.

Bad dreams, Post-Prophet: One. In hotel.  Psychopaths/snakes/no one responding to my email.  If email is re: snakes, ppl, pls respond!

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran References: 0.  Actually, how would I know?  0 plus double dose of guilt.

The Prophet, Hot or Not: Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Prophet libation: Scotch.  On the rocks.  But with those stupid whiskey stones instead of ice. You'll drink it anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Foxy Lady

I've been watching Fox News.

This is true even though my politics are way more MSNBC.  I read the New York Times daily, for Pete's sake (who is Pete, anyway?).  I scan the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos.  I'm an NPR supporter.

Nevertheless, I've been watching Fox News.  And I've been doing so precisely because, to me, the outlet seems insane.  The Atlantic recently featured a kick-ass piece on how right-wingers drank their own media koolade, which led to a straying from reality sufficiently serious that Romney's defeat was, to many conservatives, an out-and-out shock.

It made me think.  About the blinders we don, the dangers of niche marketing, what is salable versus what is true.  

It made me think that must be some pretty damn good koolade.

Fox News turns out to be utterly and immersively fascinating, on the order of documentaries that spirit you into the lives of the Amish, or disabled rugby players, or parking lot attendants.  It's as if, without boarding an airplane or stepping into a car, I've managed to wake up on the other side of the world.

I recommend it without reservation.  Fox may be (OK, is) maddening, but watching it reminds me -as we increasingly, desperately need to be reminded- that there are many ways of looking at a blackbird.  

Yes, some of those blackbirds might have horns and polka dots.  But for every horned, polka-dotted blackbird on TV, somewhere there sits a man with binoculars waiting for a speckled, fierce-tusked creature to wing through his window and fang its way into the sky of his nose.

Worth a gander, no?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I Am Here

Durham, NC

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sandy

Hurricane preparedness, feline style.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hang Up

Anxiety is a red cord, knotted into my life yet visibly distinct from it. It's a Greek chorus, simultaneously generating and commenting upon the action.  It's an influx of air, rushing to fill the emptier pockets of my hours.

Anxiety is many things to me, but most of all, it's mine.  I know plenty of people who've divorced anxiety; they meditate, medicate, stick themselves with needles.   They grow very slightly more calm  -usually in inverse proportion to the stridency with which they promote their therapy du jour.  I've watched my friends and family revile their fear even I've hugged my enemy, my anxiety, close.  Over time, as enemies are wont to do, it has become my friend.

Naturally, I'm anxious now.  There's a hurricane bearing down on me, and my parents are inching toward incapacitation, and there's trouble at work, and my music career may be tanking, and global warming will kill us all, and I'm not sure I can handle seeing any more blissful people, and the election is coming, and the cat has fleas, and the roof has lost some shingles, and did we pick the right health insurance plan, and what about Syria, and why hasn't my editor responded to my pitch, and do I have rare late onset type 1 diabetes, and OMG I should oil my instruments, and what will happen to the lawn if I don't rake the leaves, and why is there so much autism?

All of that, all of the time. Anxiety is symphonic. Anxiety is Mahler, or Bruckner, working out its massive, multiple motives over vast gulfs of time.  It's not comforting, and it's not pleasant, but by Golly, it makes a lot of noise.

And maybe that's good.  Because anxiety's gift to you, besides a OCD level of preparedness such that, should the apocalypse come, you will be the one marshalling a zombie army from behind your screen of impeccably coiffed steroidal bodyguards, is a keen ear.

You're alert.  You're awake.  You're listening.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Am Here

Winchester, VA

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2.5K

Maybe there's only so much writing allotted to me.  I'd hoped it wouldn't be so, that writing would be like running: the more I did, the more I was able to do.  Instead, I can track my precipitous dropoff in blogging to the very same week I decided to re-institute my weekly novel-writing quota.

2500 words.  That's all I require of myself, no less, no more.   I finished two novels this way, chugging placidly along like Amtrak's Northeast Regional, and I'm some 40,000 words into another one. 

I haven't published, or even much tried to publish, my works, but I like the sense that I've set, and actually managed to achieve, a goal.  There are so few things that are under one's control in life; extruding words happens to be one of them.  Novel-writing is empowering, even if the results are not particularly readable.

But hey, blogging -down the tubes.  Which I regret.  I think less, when I blog less.   I live life more bluntly, less keenly.  It's drab.

Though I don't supposed you've missed much.  Here's October to date:

  • Coffee
  • Cat
  • Coffee
  • Cold
  • Faulker
  • Tea

Friday, October 5, 2012

I (Was) Here

Durham, NC

Friday, September 28, 2012

I Am Here

Bloomington, IN

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shock & Awe

Going to the humane socity "just to look" is like heading into the fudge shop "just to smell."  I've managed to do both successfully, but the act left me hollow, a brittle shell of a woman, a wraith desperate to plug her empty heart with M&Ms.

You don't do something of this ilk without knowing, in your bones if not your brain, where you're likely to end up.  The justakisses of the world, the onlyonebites and notgonnacheckoutanythings, are, ultimately, disingenuous: we know where we're headed, even if we dislike admitting our ends: boys, donuts, books.

So I can't pretend to be shocked we ended up with this:
But I can still wonder, a little.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Am Here

North Garden, VA

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I Am Here

Chicago, IL

Friday, September 7, 2012

I Am Here

Memphis, TN

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Quixoting Time

9/2/12: 98%

Mood: Gritty

Drink: La Croix

The fact that I am almost done with this sucker, and am therefore draining the dregs of two solid months of literary toil, is making me maudlin.  I'm desperate to end it.  Yet, as with so many terrible relationships, it's difficult, at the very last, not to hesitate.  The end of Don Q means the end of summer.  It means the days drawing down, the cold coming, death creeping closer and closer still.

Maudlin, like I said.

I find myself, in a Stockholm Syndrome-esque fit, missing the old coot.  I miss him in the piercing way you feel an absence that hasn't yet managed to manifest itself -a keener missing, and a truer, than you can ever conjure once a person is gone.

O, Don Q!  Your speeches; your long underwear; your saturninity!  How will I go on, deprived of your windmill-tilting, your futile charging, your umbrage-taking, your ill-advised quests, your slaughter of straw men, your multiplicity of unhorsings, your hasty restreats, your glorious immolation of the body of practicality upon the bright, hot pyre of gallantry?

You didn't look good doing it.  But then, how many of us do?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kidding

Sometimes I do the right thing.

Today, I held the coffee shop door open for the world's slowest stroller-laden mother of two, even though, had I shouldered past, I could have been halfway back to my house and covered in muffin.

This morning, I sent a measured email to colleagues suggesting that, in future, we do X, despite the fact that what I wanted to write was: XBJKLWEJLASDF.

I have listened, patiently and with appropriate murmurings, to people discourse on any number of topics in which I have no interest whatsoever.  I should note there aren't many of these topics -I have a high boredom threshold- but in case you would like to bore me in future, they include a) Your child's potty training b) NASCAR c) Ars subtilior d) Dog grooming.

Other times, though, I do the wrong thing, and the rightness of the wrong thing -its electric, sparkling whoosh- shoots up my spine as if I've hit the third rail.  The power of the right kind of wrongness lies in its direct line to desire: whenever you do the right kind of wrong thing, you're finally admitting that, despite what you told yourself, you've wanted it all along.

And thus it was that I came to this.  A small thing, really: a browser plugin that allows you, finally, handily, to replace all of the baby pictures your friends plaster on Facebook with something you choose, like cats, or daleks.  Free at last!

It's a small thing, a stupid thing, but it points at something larger: the fault line, growing though not undbridgeable, between folks who are parents and folks who are not.  I doubt that many people with children will use unbaby.me, or even find it particularly funny.  But I do. 

The plugin touches something in me.  It's something a little bit nasty and not at all compassionate, an aggrieved something, a something both judged and judging.   To admit to it makes me uncomfortable, but I have to say that when I think about the app I feel the zing, the delectable spark, of doing the wrong thing, of having someone else speak, at last, the words that have been rotting on my tongue.

Hey!  Parents!  No one thinks your kids are anywhere near as interesting or awesome or gifted or so all-fired-cute as you do!  You're programmed to think that way; get some perspective,  have some consideration, and spare us the constant updates on your progeny!  Your kids are only doing things the hundreds of children I see every day, and in fact every other child on the planet, have done before!  Only your kids are probably doing them more obnoxiously, because you've obviously made them the center of your universe!  

The vitriol I carry around on this surprises me.   I wonder, as I always do, if I'll feel differently when -or if- I have children of my own.  I like children.  I spend most days of the week with them.  They're cute.  I enjoy seeing, from time to time, a photo.  And if the point of Facebook is to share your life with others, and your life consists pretty much entirely of your kids, are you, as an over-sharing parent, really doing anything wrong?

Is it fear?  Do your posts make me worry that I'll have no life apart from kids if I become a mother? Or does my irritation come from feeling judged, from that air of superiority parents adopt, as if you couldn't possibly understand the great sacredness of my undertaking, you poor childless boob.  Is it the frequent and the self-righteous prioritization of children's wants over adult concerns?  Is it jealousy?  Or does it come from grief: I used to have a friend, but now all I've got is Tommy's Mommy?

Probably a little of all of these, plus a soupcon of genuine boredom.  But I get it, parents: that's your story and you're sticking to it.  Keep it up.  You're dong the right thing.   I'll just be here in my corner of the Internetz, turning your children into cheese.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dallying with the Don

8/26/2012: 82% and lollygagging

Mood: Equable

Drink: Tap water

One -yes, at last, one!- interesting thing about Don Quixote: Cervantes has begun to evidence a fillip of self-awareness.  He's set up his book as a history of a history, a scholarly work several steps removed from the events in play.  This allows him to do some narrative layering -sometimes with spot-on results. 

I read this passage and thought, YES, OH GOD YES.

"It is stated, they say, in the true original of this history, that when Cide Hamete came to write this chapter, his interpreter did not translate it as he wrote it- that is, as a kind of complaint the Moor made against himself for having taken in hand a story so dry and of so little variety as this of Don Quixote, for he found himself forced to speak perpetually of him and Sancho, without venturing to indulge in digressions and episodes more serious and more interesting.  He said, too, that to go on, mind, hand, pen always restricted to writing upon one single subject, and speaking through the mouths of a few characters, was intolerable drudgery..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Only Peripherally About Don Q

08/22/12: 81%

Mood: Fetid

Drink: Sparkly Garbage

I have this to say about Don Quixote: Shhh.

It's the dog days, and I seem to have embarked, pun oh-so-shamelessly intened, on the worst kind of wallow.  I got back from vacation on Saturday.  I did quite a bit of work on Sunday, not much work on Monday, a pittance on Tuesday, and absolutely nothing today in a slow deceleration that reminds me, alarmingly, of that film montage in Up in which a couple of lovebirds go from bounding up the hill to picnic to staggering up the hill to die.

I'm not dying, but I'm sure as heck not doing much of anything else, either.

I'm supposed to be working right now: three days of slog at a job that relieves me, during the normal course of events, of the time and energy necessary for penning the next great American novel or manuscripts on spec or invitations to fabulous parties or my signature on credit card receipts for stuff like actual chairs. 

Instead, I don't know if I'll have that particular job (my company's contract with the system is out for bid) or if I'll be scrambling to find something else.  I can't even scramble just yet- still waiting on a solid answer either way.  I'm finally in possession of the the time to relax, to loll expansively toward ALL THOSE THINGS I'VE BEEN MEANING TO GET TO, only I'm not getting to any of them.  Even leisure has palled: I should socialize, get out of the house, but....meh.

Cue self-loathing. And more wallowing.

It's worth knowing that you require, in the ointment of your leisure hours, the fly of work.  It's also kind of gross.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Instead of Don Q

08/16/12: 72%

Mood: Dark

Drink: Tea

Books I have gobbled since July 3 while pretending to read Don Quixote: 6

The Long Goodbye, Anne Tyler
Crappy Romance Novels #1, #2 (names have been changed to protect the innocent.  By which I mean my ego)
Broken Harbor, Tana French
Dare Me, Megan Abbot
Desert Solitaire, Eward Abbey

Sigh.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Am Here

Blowing Rock, NC.  Yes, for real, that is the view from our porch.  I'm on vacation!  Kind of.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Am Here

Asheville, NC

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don Quixsnorte.

"You take a long time to tell it, Senor Don Quixote."
                                        -The Curate

Truer words never spoken!  (August 8, 2012).  At 58% and slogging forward, the experience of reading Don Quixote has distilled itself into a titanic battle against literary intertia.  I want to stop; everything within me cries out to stop; I cannot stop.

Neither can Don Quixote, who will be in the middle of speechifying -actually, truth be told, he'll be long past what you thought must necessarily comprise the middle of his discourse, because if it weren't the middle, but were more toward the front end of things, the dude would still be standing there speechifying as the skyscrapers tumble and the clouds mushroom and the nukes are deployed- he'll be in the middle of speechifying, closing in, only to duck around a rhetorical corner and emerge, like a first-class featherweight, primed for more.

It's rather impressive, truth be told.  Watching someone extend themselves beyond the outer reaches of your imagination is galvanizing.  Think of the Olympics, of the Curiosity Rover, of yourself at the end of a couch-to-5K program.  It is satisfying to have your limits belied

It's also monumentally soporific.  They should sell this thing to insomniacs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I Am Here

Bloomington, IN

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Crack

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
                                -unknown

Like your cervical spine, every aphorism has its breaking point.  For me, it's this: I'd really like to see some dancing about architecture.  Our skyscraping bones, our gargoyle hearts: when you get down to it, why the hell not?

Which is not to say that the exposition of art, its vivisection by trained professionals, doesn't drive me up the wall.  Today, I went to see this:

And I read this:


"Balancing the monumentality of Al-Hadid’s sculptures is a quality of light that seems to animate and deconstruct them. While she leaves behind the folkloric, mythological, and historical narratives that inspired previous works, Trace of a Fictional Third continues her interest in themes of time and motion. Cascades convey liquidity; undulating fabrics merge with more solid structures. And examples of the human figure, more overt than in prior work, are both voluptuously corporeal and spectral."

I mean, wtf?

The work is called "Trace of a Fictional Third," by Diana Al-Hadid, and I liked it better before I knew the title.  The copy is from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website, and as artswriting goes, it's pretty mild.  (The last time I attended a Musicology lecture, I had to run from the room with my hands over my mouth to prevent vomitous hilarity.)

This stuff bugs me.

It's not the vagueness or the grandiloquence of the prose (the wtf factor) though these things grate.  Nor is it the transgression of the boundaries of modality: there's nothing wrong, in my view, with words about art.  Rather, it's artspeak's assertion, implicit yet terrifically strident, that there must be an explanation.

I don't want there to be an explanation.  I just want to listen to some tunes.

It's why I'm not a Musicologist, although I love music; it's why I wasn't English major, although I'm passionate about words.  To me, art is achingly simple: a call and response, that most basic, most vital cell of human communication.  And I'd dance to it all night before I'd lay it out on the table.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sex, Don Q, and Rock n' Roll

Tuesday, July 31, 2012:

There's story, and then there's the story of story.

Which is a totally #vaguebooking way to say there's the book you're reading (just for the sake of argument let's call it DON QUIXOTE), and then there's narrative of your reading journey.

Yes, I totally just said "your reading journey" with a straight face.  This is what comes of dabbling in Literature.

My reading journey usually plays out something like this: wanttoreadwantoreadwantoYESGETTOREADREADREADREADOHYESMOREREADINGMOREMUSTFINISHohcrapI'mdone.

A pretty standard narrative shape, right?  Complete with set up, ramp up, climax, and come down.  An indubitably human narrative, the shape of sex, of hunger, of rock n' roll.

Except Don Quixote is different.  Today, July 31st, 2012, is the deadline before which each member of my book club agreed to be done with half of the 1,000 pages that are our purgatory.  We worried about this deadline, when we set it.  We reasoned, drawing on our previous experience with stuff like other books and potato chips, that we'd have trouble preventing ourselves from wanting more.

HAHAHAHAHAHA.

I reached the halfway mark on Saturday.  Between Saturday and today I have finished two -yes two!- complete novels, neither of which bore the slightest resemblance to more of Don Quixote.

Book club meets tonight.  To utterly degrade Susan Cooper, Tonight I get wine, but tomorrow will be beyond imagining. 

The shape is wrong, see.  We've left the bedroom and are sojourning in the narrative equivalent of a bathtub.  There are gentle ripples of story, episode after self-contained episode, even episodes nesting within episodes, but nothing strong enough to rock the rubber ducky of our souls.

That's right. I said that, too.  Blame Literature.  I sure do.

Friday, July 27, 2012

At Home with Don Q

Friday, July 27th:

You'd think that reading a peripatetic novel on the road would be doubly satisfying, kind of like slamming scones while scarfing Austen.

You'd think wrong.

It's true that there was a whole lot of traveling going on.  Don Q was gallumphing more or less gracefully down the high road.  I was schlepping through two countries and six states.  He covered less ground (horse, ass, feet) than I did (plane, train, automobile), but he impaled things a whole lot more.  (Don Q's solution to life, the universe, and everything: Lance it!)

I got back yesterday at 2:00 AM EDT.

He, God help him -God help ME- still going.

It's the aimlessness that bugged me.  I mean, I had stuff to do!  Don Q had stuff to do, too, but it was so amorphous (embody knight errantry! Gallantly!) it might as well have been nothing.  And so, even though Don Q and I were both making up our beds anew night after night, and thus ostensibly had something in common, I started to resent him. 

Why did he get to run around speechifying when I had to figure out how to make my Power Point go "whoosh?"  Why did he get to maunder shirtless over the mesas while I drank a lot of very, very bad coffee?

We'll see if he and I get along better now that I'm at home for the luxurious span of a week.

Other notes:

*Lothario!  The word!  Comes from Don Quixote! I mean, hot damn!  Almost (not quite) worth the schlep!

*Are we there yet?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I Am Here

Newmarket, Ontario, CA

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Am Here

Ypsilanti, MI

Monday, July 16, 2012

On the Road with Don Q

Monday, July 16th:

It was at about 14% (who needs pages when you've sold your soul to Amazon) that I began wishing my longstanding conflation of Don Quixote with Dos Equis took a more tangible form.

I feel, quite strongly, that this is the sort of of novel that improves with beer.  Partly because it reels, like a drunk, from episode to episode, but not insubstantially because the process of forcing comedy through the long, tight tunnel of four centuries demands lubrication.

Comedy doesn't travel well.  You grasp this when you watch episodes of The Daily Show from 2009, but you really understand this, bone deep, as you read satirical passages in Don Q.  Poking fun at literature so old your grandmother couldn't have used it for toilet paper?  Not so hilarious.

Other thoughts:
  • Satire sours over time, but some basic comedy is indelible.   Like poop.  Still about as funny or not funny as it always was, depending on how hilarious you find poop.
  • Chapter names that announce exactly what will happen next are counterintuitively entertaining.  Why do we demand surprise all the time?  What's wrong with watching stuff unfold?
  • Is there going to be any character development here, or is the point merely to move characters though space and time, like comedic chess men?  Because that's kinda boring.  And there's a whole, whole lotta Don Quixote left to go...


Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Am Here

Seattle, WA

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Don Quixote Liveblog

7/8/2012: Crap!  I am not reading enough Don Quixote.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I Am Here

Communal toilets, Portland, OR.  I think this goes under the heading of "you know you're on a college campus when..."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tilting

Book club has chosen Don Quixote for August.  Here's an excerpt of the email by which I cast my fateful vote:

"Tough choice!  I think maybe The Forsythe Saga, though I have to say that Proust is also very tempting.  Really anything but Don Quixote- just not sure I can hack that."

Cue the universe's maniacal laughter.

July's a busy month for me: I'm making my first ever recording in the my-name-is-on-the-CD-and-not-buried-in-the-back-of-the-booklet sense, and I'm running scared.  The perfect time, it would seem, to have at those mills of wind.

But if I have to suffer, y'all do, too.  You know you've just been waiting for a DON QUIXOTE LIVEBLOG!  Oh yes.

 In addition, I hereby issue an open invitation to y'all to hop onboard and read along.  Please?  Where are you going?

Le sigh.

Thus far I've downloaded a free version of the book to my Kindle, tangled with the translator's preface, and skipped Cervantes's rambling prologue.  Now I'm on page 3.  Page 3, people! Bow down!

Though I have to say this sounds eerily familiar:

"In short, he became so absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise, and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits."

Quixotically Yours,
Anne

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Newsroom

The first episode of Aaron Sorkin's newest coitusless interruptathon is out, and I like it way less than I'd like to.  Newsroom is a one-hour drama centered around a one-hour news show, which sounds as if it would inspire you to immediate narcolepsy were it not for your longstanding, inexplicable, and not entirely proper fascination with Jim Lehrer.

Not that you know anyone like that.

I wanted Newsroom to be both intricate and fast-paced, in the manner of a Robert Altman film or -hey, it's true- a Tina Fey sketch, and to some degree it is.  But it's also not cool.

You know what I mean.  You may pretend you don't, that you've forgotten Middle School and its attendant terrors, the maneuvering, like so many social battleships, of seventh graders though the stormy pubertal sea.  But you know who wasn't cool in Middle School?

You.  Because you cared.

Newsroom cares, too.  It projects an aura of coolness, with its snappy dialogue, its fashionably offbeat cast.  It's got the right clothes.  But as soon as you think, hey, this kid's not so bad, Newsroom invites you down to its rec room for a glass of chocolate milk an earnest discussion of climate change.

Climate change standing in, of course, for the colossal failure of television news networks to deliver, well, news.   It's not news, either, this failure.  Journalism is an onanistic industry, and Sorkin is more than a decade beyond the feverish burst of self-flagellation surrounding the rise (stop me?) of Fox News.  The waning of objectivity in Journalism is a story that's played out; yet Sorkin, curiously, seems determined to break it.

LOUDLY.  AND WITH MUCH SPEECHIFYING.

I'm not one for speechifying.  Or, truth be told, for network news.  There are too many constraints on TV journalism, and not enough space for investigation or imagination, those twin lodestars of print.

Instead of Newsroom, a show not even a deliciously nerdy supporting cast can save, I recommend an hour curled up on the couch with the latest issue of the New Yorker -its coverage ranging, in this issue, from the Guadalajara drug wars to a University of Chicago scavenger hunt.  I laughed.  I cried.  I turned the page.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Am Here

Cullowhee, NC.  Working my tail off, I should note.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Salome! Salumi! Sartre!

Among the crueler facts of life (childbirth, unrequited love, snot) is the fact that, slowly and surely, your universe will disappear.

Oh, sure, you'll still be ambulatory.   You'll walk (for a while, at least), talk (for a while at least), wine, and dine (when eating goes, you're in trouble).  But the world you labored so mightily, in childhood, in young adulthood, to apprehend, begins, piecemeal, to slip away.

NPR runs an occasional segment on endangered sounds.  Recently, they featured that ubiquitous squawk/buzz of my youth, the sound of a modem connecting.  To me, the sound -twangy with an underlay of steel- conjures afternoons hunched at the computer  typing mad and terrible poetry, evenings yelling at my parents to get off the phone so I could check to see if my crush had written me back in the last three minutes (no).

It wasn't a particularly enjoyable world, but it was mine, and it's gone.

Encyclopedias: kaput.  I found a set by my bed a few weeks ago during my travels and was startled to be reminded of their browsable heft. We've gained Wikipedia, but we've lost serendipity: no longer do you flip to leprechauns and come out with leprosy.

The trick is, you don't notice it happening.  One minute you're staring at skeletons in volume S and the next moment you're an adult.   Car phones, phone trees, pagers, walkmen, card catalogs, summer jobs: poof! 

But what else is new?

It's worth taking the question literally; what's new is all you'll have, in the end.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rose Hill

This is my favorite graveyard.  There are no roses, but there is a hill.  The graveyard, perched at the top but spilling over the sides, boasts a view that is sweeping without sweeping you under -gentler than the too-sharp, too-fierce vistas of the American West.  The graveyard is sizable but not overwhelming, well-kept without being fussy, pretty without being precious.  It embodies, in short, everything I love about the Midwest, with the added plus of hilarious signage.

Life is a dead end, and all that.

I try to make it out to the graveyard at least once each trip home.  It's a fair walk, almost two miles each way, and the route wends through the university I intermittently attended, the downtown in which I was married, and, finally a neighborhood of weary, gentrifying bungalows on the western edge of town, in which I wore through, pace by pace, the soles of a heartbreak or two.

I enjoy walking by myself, and the graveyard is always empty.  So there's that.

There's excellent coffee available on the way back.  So there's that.

But the real reason I come is to be reminded.  Slow.  Down.  No way out.

Last night, as I was battling sleep to read just one more page, someone died.  Someone dies with every inhalation, every release of breath.  This particular death came late but still too early, after head injuries sustained during a bike ride with friends. The deceased was a colleague with whom I was to teach in 10 days' time.  I knew him only a little.  He had a lovely smile; in any case, he's gone.

I'll keep wandering through the graveyard, but you should know I've opted for cremation.  At my end, let there be, at most, at least, a reception and some decent joe.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Home & Away

Home and Away is the name of a long-running Australian soap opera upon which a roommate from a long-ago summer internship shot to B-list glory.

(I have to add that walking around NYC with this woman, who is unequivocally, no-holds-barred beautiful in the manner of the Televised, was like entering a parallel dimension.  The gorgeous do not inhabit the same world as the rest of us.  And their world has way more free stuff.)

I've never seen the soap, but the name splintered and lodged.  I like the rhythm of it, a hop and a gallop. I like, too, the way it conjures, with a troubling yet pleasant vagueness, one of the central tensions of our lives.

Were home; we're away.   What's home shifts- our mother's arms, our bedroom, our hometown, our comfort zone.  Away changes, too.  It's the coffee table we toddle toward; the wilderness of the backyard; our first love; Alaska.   What's constant is the transit.  We're on the move, wandering somewhere between hearth and horizon.

At this point in my life, a lot of this is literal.  I've been home for about a week; in another few weeks, I'm leaving again.  Then home, then away, then home, then away, then home....later, rinse, repeat.   I've gotten used to it, which is to say I hate it and I crave it, both.  There's something essential in going away; there's something equally vital in coming home.

How will I find unearth these necessities when I'm homebound?  I say "when," not "if;" there will come a time in my life when I won't, or can't, travel anymore.  What's your home? What's your away?

And how come the rest of us don't get free drinks?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jarred

 I'm rereading The Bell Jar.

This was a book club pick, not something I would have come back to on my own.  Plath's book is possessed of both brevity and wit, but there's very little soul here, and a great deal of the slough of despond.

[Sidebar: What better phrase is there, really, than "the slough of despond?" I will attempt to inflict this on all of my conversational partners in the next week or so. You've been warned, preschoolers!]

Not that it's not a graceful slough: Plath has a poet's eye, and the dark, hurtling force that propels her poems straight into your gut is present, too, in her prose.  But the despond is so erotically and exactly depicted, so lovingly rubbed up against, you tend to get sucked in.

Not a book, in other words, that leaves you better than it found you.

The first time I read The Bell Jar, I was 17 and suggestible.  Plath's oeuvre propelled me almost single-handedly into the only bona fide period of depression I've ever experienced.  (In retrospect, I can't pin the whole thing on Sylvia: I'd just quit ballet to concentrate on music, and thus for the first -and hopefully last- time in my life, I was getting no exercise.  That stuff about exercise acting as an antidepressant?  Totally true.)

In rereading, I can still feel the downward slurp of the thing.   Plath's insight, what makes her so dangerous, is that depression isn't abut sadness.  It's about revulsion.  The ordinary, intensely examined, is revealed to be sickening.  Fountains, mothers, boyfriends, pipes: the disgusting excrescences of the everyday.

She's right, of course.  Look at anything too long, too closely, and it reveals itself as foul.  But then you learn -as I had to, as Plath never could- to keep walking.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I (Was) Here

Norfolk, VA

I (Was) Here

Charlottesville, VA

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Finally Fantasy

Fantasy gets a bad rap.

It's what I read in seventh grade, for starters, and seldom does anything one did in seventh grade bear scrutiny.

Then there are the novels themselves, great jellied slabs of book lousy, like fruitcake, with preservative spirit.  In fruitcake, alcohol preserves the fruit; in fantasy, it's our deepest longings that are captured, whole and unmacerated, within the suspension of other worlds.

We want to be special, important, an integral, even necessary part of a band of brothers- and in fantasy, unless we manage to take a sword to the throat, we are.

It's been a while since I've done fantasy.  After adolescence, naked longing smacks of gaucherie.   Desperation is only fashionable in disguise, and so we turn, most of us, to the twinned, half-hearted embraces of literary fiction and life.

But lately, I've come back to fantasy.   Not the section in the library, though that has its place, but the whole untrammeled wail of the word, its method of plunging offtrack.   Fantasizing, by definition, means overstepping.   You take something, anything, from life.   You walk to the end of it and then, as if it were a plank, you step off.

Tomorrow afternoon, 60 miles down the road, I'm leading a workshop on fantasias. The musical kind, fantasias and fantazias and fantasies and fantazies in which one composer or another starts with a cell of melody and allows it to divide and multiply.  For y'all on the blog, here's one of my favorites, a bang-up rendition by Jordi Savall's ensemble of Henry Purcell's Fantasia Upon One Note.

If you listen, you'll hear that one note spinning and spinning, that single clod of earth which anchors every castle in the air.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vault

You and I had a moment.

Vaguely embarrassing, but true.  If we are -or were- close friends, I've got a memory of you stashed somewhere, a silvery playback of a span of time during which I looked into your eyes and thought, violins wailing, this is it.

OK, OK, I exaggerate.

But not, as I've begun to realize, by too much.   For every person I am, or have been, close to -my good friends, ex-friends, ex-boyfriends- I can dredge up a moment of connection.  Or, more precisely, the realization of connection.   A kind of slap upside the head, a mental reeling during which, for whatever reason or reasons, I cottoned to the fact that we would -not even should, but would- be friends.

On that couch, discussing rabbits.   The bus back from the Ren Faire.   Scrubbing a stranger's dorm room.   Trying out socks.   Explaining ice cream.   Borrowing your prom dress.   After choir.  Dancing through the labyrinth.  Throwing sand. 

And on.

These moments- their existence, and the surety with which I recall them- come as a surprise to me.  I've often thought, or wanted to think, that humans are, if not exactly interchangeable, then loosely so.  That any two of us could be friends, if given the chance, and that most of us, if forced to marry one another, would have a fair shot.

It helps to diminish the preciousness of each individual connection.  It guards against the loss which inevitably, inexorably, comes -even to those of us who are still friends, who did marry, who are right next door.  If we can all just get along, my thinking goes, who cares if we must -sometimes sooner, sometimes later- get along without?

It's much less comforting to acknowledge what is probably true.  That I like some of you better than others.  That you can't force friendship.  That each of those connections I've cut or lost or wasted was real and particular and capable of lodging deep.



Sunday, May 6, 2012

In Beds

Perennial sources of enjoyment are few.  Enjoyment, in the main, is an annual: bursting into bloom one year, sere the next.  We will never have as much fun bowling as that first time; we will never be as blissedly stuffed; the lake will never shimmer quite so piquantly as now.

This is not to say there are no repeatable pleasures.  It's to say that experience, like dental anaesthetic, tends to deaden. We still feel it, whatever it happens to be; just not so hard, not so sharp.  (I lay to one side, for the moment, the particular pleasure of familiarity, that extra, shameful bounce in my step at  aerobics that is a direct result of a bad remix of "Everybody Dance Now.")

Perennial pleasures do exist, no matter their scarcity, and not the slightest of them is perusing, preferably whilst reclining, the two-line book summaries offered up by the NY Times Best Seller Lists. 

"A billionaire who needs a wife offers a one-year marriage in name only to a bookstore owner who must save her family home, but complications ensue."

Complications?  They ensue, you say?  What a brilliant twist on the old billionaire-wife-name-only-family-home story!

"Tiger, who has made it clear he will not take a mate, falls for a human female."

Because we are so foxy tasty!

"An inexperienced college student falls in love with a tortured man who has particular sexual tastes."


I'm fondest of the words "particular sexual tastes," as if the dude is a picky eater.   Garcon!  I'll have the dressing (down) on the side. 


"When a biblical scholar who makes an amazing discovery is murdered, his daughter hunts for the killer (and a missing document)."

Paper chase!

"Did Vincent Van Gogh Really Kill Himself?  His friends in the 19th-century Parisian art world set out to discover the truth."

A: Yes.  Done.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Was Here

...in Indiana, and then VA, and WV, and Chicago, and Indiana, and back, with a couple of drive-through states thrown in there for spice.  Nowhere did I take indifferently shot snapshots to post on the blog, and nowhen did I seize time to reflect.  Instead I was consumed, ingested and digested by the black ravening monster that is the business of living.
 
Bad for blogging, for sure.  Bad for me?

Now that I've crawled out the other end, and for the next two weeks can cobble together some semblance of my weekly routine ( Thursdays: adminstrivia; Saturdays; aerobics  Wednesdays: booze!), plus a few glamorous extras, like getting my teeth cleaned, I have space, once more, to turn around.  To look back.  To ask -the impetus every time I blog- what happened here?

I believe in reflection.  More precisely, I believe in refraction: what is the point of the white, unfiltered blaze of life if not to direct it, to force it, prism-like, to show its colors.

And yet, with space comes second-guessing.  You worry old wounds; you covet alternate lives; you bemoan the state of humankind -in short, you engage in all the bookish, first-world endeavors that make the literary subset of the population so god damed miserable.

As opposed to running full-tilt, unthinking, here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Am Here

My heart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Foolishness

My husband and I have a semi-anniversary on April Fools Day.

It's self-selected.  April Fools is not the day upon which we got married, but it is the day we affixed our pre-marital anniversary to,  a kind of pin-the-tail maneuver on the asses we made, and continue to make, of ourselves.

Relationships aren't for sissies.

Foolishness is what redeems us.  It's what redeems most things, from politics to religion to childbearing to love.  Without Bottom, you've got A Midsummer Night's Snore.  Without Timon and Pumba, you've got an overwrought, anthropomorphic, and vaguely culturally imperialist film about lions.  Without the antic, the tomfool, the punny, all we've got are our paltry human selves.

Does he laugh at your jokes?

It's the first thing I ask, my litmus test.  If he doesn't, you're a fool to stay.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Am Here

Durham, NC

Monday, March 26, 2012

You Choose

I just got done with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is  definitely one of those titles that's better in French (c.f., La Vie en Rose, Les Miserables).  L'Elegance du Herisson has a lovely lilt; The Elegance of the Hedgehog sounds like....hedgehogs.  Dressing up.  For hedgehog prom.

It's not a book I would have chosen for myself, is the point.  I mean, I suppose if it were a choice between hedgehogs and literary theory I'd say bring on the spikes, but given free rein...

And that's just it: Free rein is all mine.  We live, these days in a world of I-choose.  Businesses and even government figures compete to give me more of what I want, when I want it.  On-demand TV.  Radio tailored to my likes.  Ads micro-targeted to me, me, me.  Even books: Amazon dangles books under my nose based on what I've read before.

Which is where Book Club comes in.  In Book Club, rather than choosing my own adventure, I'm thrust into someone else's.  Coincidentally, this is the best part of reading: being plunged, forcibly, into someone else's world.  If we always choose for ourselves, how can we ever move beyond ourselves?

And so I meet hedgehogs, and elegance, half a world away from my couch.

Anyone else want to choose what I read?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Still Life with Yummy

Pursuant to my adoption of a puritanical, no-pouring-on-table-salt diet, I have gone through 6/7 of a bottle of Sriracha in one month.  Also, I no longer feel pain.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Heel

Two hours before the wedding, you are destroying, Godzilla-style, the shoe racks at Target.

How did you get here?

You are lazy.  Also, you are chronically short on time and you dislike footwear.  And stores.

And, OK, no, you didn't get around to shopping for bona fide grown-up shoes to wear with your bridesmaid's dress for your sister-in-law's wedding because, well, who wants to spend one's free afternoons cramming one's toes into money-sucking torture devices carved out of the tummies of baby cows?

Hmm?

You ransacked your closet six hours before leaving for Atlanta, at which time you discovered your shoes had once again failed to mate and reproduce when you weren't watching.   Lacking legitimate dress shoes, you lit upon your illegitimate shoes, the clompy Mary Janes with the comfort insoles you purchased six years ago to wear at the bedsides of hospitalized elderly people.  Your bastard shoes, leathery, strong.  Your Viking shoes, breasting the earth like boats.

At the hotel, your mother-in-law catches sight of these.  She hies you to Target where you stand, bewildered, before a pile of pumps.  She buys you three-inch heels, the only black shoes in your size.  You put them on and totter around like a carnie.  There is, it cannot be denied, a joy to failing to fall over.   Heels are a rebel yell, a barbaric, Whitmaesque yawp.

Suck it, gravity!

Two hours later your sister-in-law is getting married and your feet are threatening divorce.   You have been unfaithful to the smaller bones of your toes.  You have cuckolded your heels.  The balls of your feet broadcast their maltreatment in throbbing morse code.  The bride and groom are kissing and you are crying, probably because the ceremony is so moving, possibly because your feet are a towering inferno of pain.

It strikes you, not then but later, sometime between snuffling down the aisle and slipping those fuckers off under the table at the reception hall, that heels are not so different from weddings.   The same defiance; that brief suspension of doubt.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I Am Here

Atlanta, GA.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Smug

I enjoy the word smug.  It's got a certain, well, smugness.  With its neat, four-letter profile, its flirtatious initial cluster, it's fun to get your lips around.

I have a more uncertain relationship with the emotional state for which "smug" stands in.  There is a great deal of satisfaction in self-satisfaction, but there's also an irritating circularity: I enjoy myself, therefore I am enjoyable.  I am enjoyable, therefore I enjoy myself.

Not much room for improvement there, and I mean that in its most literal sense: if you're smug, you've kicked self-betterment to the curb.

I've been thinking about smugness because I've been reading about it.  In the evenings, with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a novel which, in its opening chapters, is notable for the smugness with which its protagonists skewer...smugness.  And, in the mornings, with this NYT editorial by Andrew Delbanco.

Delbanco's opinion piece, which riffs on presidential candidate Rick Santorum's now infamous attack on higher education, urges not knee-jerk condemnation, but rather introspection.  What if there is a needle of truth in Santorum's haystack of hooey, Delbanco argues, and that needle is lancing, painfully, the complacency of the elite?

After reaping the significant academic benefits that parental support, high socio-economic status, and cultural privilege have to offer, most freshmen shows up at, say, Princeton ready to learn.  Only 3% of their classmates will have come from families in the bottom 20% of earners.  Our freshmen have worked hard, it's true, but most of them had a head start.
"Yet once the beneficiaries arrive at college, what do they learn about themselves? It’s a good bet that the dean or president will greet them with congratulations for being the best and brightest ever to walk through the gates."
Does this beget achievement?  Maybe.  Does it forward good citizenship?  Probably not.
"In this respect, I agree with Mr. Santorum that our leading colleges could use a little more of their own old-time religion — not in any doctrinal sense, but in the sense of taking seriously the Christian virtues of humility and charity. In secular terms, this means recognizing that people with good prospects owe much to their good fortune — and to fellow citizens less fortunate than themselves." 
Delbanco waxes a little too wistful about "Christian virtues" for my taste, but I find his argument compelling.  It's easy to think highly of ourselves.  It's even easier to forget what we owe to one another.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Am Here

North Garden, VA

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hard News

And not the good, in-depth foreign policy analysis kind.  Though that stuff wears on me too, truth be told.

I've received some hard news.  I'm not supposed to divulge it.  News has owners and renters, after, and I'm the latter.

It's tough to know what to do with hard news.  It can knock you flat; it should knock you flat.  But life continues until it doesn't, and so, inexorably, irritatingly, you continue, too.  You open and refold your newspaper. The hard news slips into and out of staring you in the face.  You forget; you remember; you forget; you remember; you read and read and read.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mirror Work

As I write this, I'm wearing men's socks, no shoes, a pair of knit charcoal-colored elastic-waist stretch palazzo pants a friend didn't want any more, a pull-on poison green belted cardigan sans belt (also free!), and a sky blue t-shirt with "Wholesome Midwestern Girl" printed across the boobs.  I haven't bothered to put in my contacts and I'm sporting what I can only describe as a walk-of-shame-style bun.  What's more, these are not my pajamas.

You expect me to put lipstick on this pig?

It's true: I cannot be saved.  I skulk in the shadows, pale-faced, red-eyed, a member of fashionably damned.  It's true that I'm not working a traditional job today, and that pretty much my only obligations are to practice, write a concert preview, and watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. But if I were to leave the house, probably the only concession I'd make to fashion would be to trade the stretchy palazzos for cargo pants.  I'm so far from working it I might as well work out. 

I've written about my card-carrying schlubhood before.  I bring it up again because a fellow blogger pointed me toward this, in which two women actually make a 60-day "project" out of a (lack of-)grooming regimen I've undertaken virtually every day of my adult life.  I should note that these women are still, during their 60-day primping fast, blow drying, whereas I have not owned a blow dryer since 1992.

Suddenly foregrounded, the distance between my normal and everyone else's normal seems disturbingly vast, a continent of serums and straighteners and, god forbid, spanx.

There's an elephantine helping of laziness at work here: maintaining one's appearance to the specifications of contemporary womanhood takes WORK,  and I have long resented work that doesn't come with the prospect of remuneration, monetary or otherwise.  This will shock you, but I find I receive the same hourly rate for doing work with frizzy hair than I would if I were to break out the John Frieda.  I have yet to lose a friendship over my lack of lip liner.  Nor do I find my inability to attract men to be particularly onerous, given that my husband is due home at 6:00.

But there's also, it must be admitted, a tiny fillip of shame to my endeavor -or rather, my lack of endeavor.  The truth is that sometime, a long time ago, I gave up on beauty.  All of us, as teenagers, wanted to be beautiful/sexy/wanted.  And when it dawned on me in high school that none of this was going to come easily to me, I decided to give sexiness a big fat screw you and got on with the reading of books.

Why try, if you can't succeed? 

It's this tiny chunk, this splinter of why I don't dress nicely and do my hair, that makes me think I should start.  I'm pretty clear now on the fact that trying -in all fields of endeavor- should be divorced from any notion of success.  Trying is important.   It's the bulk of what fills our days, excepting the TV watching and Internet surfing.  If we don't try, we pretty much just end up watching reality television and eating Cheetos.

Success is two minutes and a cake  Trying is a lifetime.  And I'd hate to continue living my life according to a maxim (see above) in which I no longer believe.

So we'll see.  There's also that whole laziness bit.  Which I may, in fact, be too lazy to try to combat.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Help!

OK, seriously, who ARE all you people who enjoy doing yardwork (per my v. scientific poll) and WHY?!  I need to figure out how to wring some pleasure from this stuff.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In Which I Drive an Imaginary Truck

I wish I didn't have to write this.

It's more than a little embarrassing, for starters, and not embarrassing in a socially-sanctioned way, like admitting you watch the Bachelor or play for team Jacob.  There's no me too attached to this confession, no murmurs of recognition, absolution.

I shouldn't have to write this.  I have a college degree. (Er...many college degrees.)  I have a job.  (Many jobs.)  I am married; I contribute to charity; I try each day to help rather than hurt, to live a life that, if not useful, is at least more or less blameless.

I'm also trying really hard to get to Boise on time with the dirt. 

My name is Anne and I drive a virtual truck.

It started innocently enough.  Someone close to me was addicted to an online trucking simulator, a concept I found so ludicrous, so hilariously pointless, I had to step up to plate, if only to amass more stuff to make fun of.  Why on earth would you waste your daylight hours doig something so patently useless?  Real trucking is an important part of our national economy, but virtual trucking?  Pressing a button again and again in order to inch 67 miles further along the road to Southport, NC?

Surprisingly addictive.

It was easy -too easy- to set up my free account.  A quick trip to www.truckingsim.com and I was in possession of my first truck, a run-down Mack from the early 1990s.  It got 5 miles to the gallon and I painted it a brilliant shade of puce.  Then I hit the road, on my way from Richmond to Corpus Christi with 40,000 lbs of TV dinner.

There's something comforting about it, this imaginary trucking.  One hour of trucking equals one hour of real time, so you press your button ten times (one push = one hour of driving), and then are forcd to wait until you're no longer "exhausted" and can drive again.  There's a rhythm to it, therefore, and, in addition, a satisfying forward motion, and ononon you can never quite achieve on the muddy, rutted roads of day-to-day.  It's a cooperative game.  My company, Atlantic Coast Transport, has 10 drivers. We're stalwart, diligently running our contract loads, chatting from time to time on the company's CB.

224 to Houston, says Canadianjohn.

2nd load down, responds Mirmil

My response is brief, a single emoticon, one pixillated beer.  There's no point in talking; I'm on my way.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bound

I've been reading a lot of books lately with caveman titles, by which I mean titles that hit you over the head with their cudgel of metaphor before dragging you back to their cave of obviousness screaming, LOOK!  Here are the THEMES!  I've pointed them out to you in the TITLE!

And I'm not just talking "Hot for the Duke," here.  Romance novels always come neatly labeled, like bottles of rat poison, and this is OK, because you know what you're after, with a romance novel, and it's not surprise.  The Happy Ending, the dead rat: Satisfaction Guaranteed.

No, I'm talking books with titles like "Freedom" and "The Corrections."  Both of these titles come courtesy of Jonathan Franzen, whose writing is addictive, self-conscious, and self-consciously addictive, and whose titles, like eager beagles, point at the author's preoccupations.

I've never been much of a fan of being hit over the head, so it was with trepidation that I approached "Bound," Antonya Nelson's snapshot of a tangle of ordinary lives lived around the time of the mid-2000s resurfacing of the Witichia serial killer BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill).

Nelson's principal character is Catherine, a mild-tempered trophy wife who inherits, from a long-dead friendship,  a sullen fifteen-year-old-girl.  Catherine is the third wife of Oliver, a self-made, self-made-over philanderer.  Cattie, the daughter of Catherine's old and wily friend Misty, most often chooses not to speak; in contrast, Catherine's mother Grace, a former English professor, can't speak at all due to a stroke.

These characters are "bound" to one another even as they alternately attend to and are repulsed by, the "binding" of BTK.  It's all mind-numbingly obvious-

Except it's not.  There's very little obviousness about the way Nelson has opened up each of her characters, exposed their insides with the patient, plodding dedication of a pathologist.  The story passes from character to character, not moving linearly but nevertheless gaining speed, direction, traction.  Despite the inclusion of a serial killer, it's not a lurid novel: those hoping for literal bindings will be disappointed.  Rather, it's a short-story-writer's novel  -which is what Nelson is, when you break down her bio-  a series of shimmering miniatures, like variations on a theme.

BTE: Better Than Expected.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Edging

It's the rare grey day.  There are too few of them here in VA, which at first I thought was a blip, a glitch in the cycling of the weather, but now I understand to be How Things Are.  Confederates; confederates; sun: the Commonwealth triptych.  In my crankier moments, I even go so far as to hypothesize that too much sun, and not enough chill, is at the root of the profligacy of this city, its too-large portions and outsize greetings.

"Hi, how ya doin'?" 

"Fine, fine.  How 'bout you?"

"Well, just fine, thank you.  And your wife?"

The whole rigmarole takes three minutes, during which your average Midwesterner would have said "hi," and gone back to shoveling snow.

But today, at last, is grey.  No snow, no rain, but indisputably grey; the sky with a flat, cats-eye sheen.  I've responded with a grateful hunkering, a ready retreat to my unmade bed.  I have books, tea, windows against which the grey world, so unexpectedly taut, thrums.

Or is that motorized lawn equipment?

I sit up.  The next-door neighbor becomes visible, he of the power saw and the annual resodding of the lawn, he of the biannual gutter cleanings and impeccable patio.  I know very little about this neighbor, but I do know that he cares, deeply, whether the bushes on our property along his fenceline are pruned, so much so that among the things he first imparted to me, after his name and the name of his wife, was the nature of the "deal" he had with the last neighbor, whereby he, user of leaf-blowers, would regularly trim said bushes in exchange for...well, nothing.  And would I like to continue the "deal?"

I would.  I understand the drive to control one's own environment, and the messy ways in which that campaign overlaps with, and is infringed upon by, one's neighbors and loved ones.

What I don't understand is deriving pleasure from lawn care.

Which, clearly, the neighbor must, or  why would he be out there on this day, this most rare and precious and grayest of days, manicuring his shrubs?  I hear the clop clop of the shears through the walls of my house, the thunk of sticks hitting the bottom of the specially-designed wastebucket.  There must be joy here, headiness, exhilaration, or else, why today?  Why yesterday?  Why every day of this too-long, too-bright year?

The neighbor's lawn makes my lawn look shabby, but the truth is, my lawn would look shabby anyway.  My husband is a reluctant mower; I am a desultory weeder. We're not even sure what edging is.  If a stick falls off the tree (river birch, my neighbor has informed me, "kind of a trashy tree"), it will be weeks before I get around, grumblingly, to picking it up.  I'd rather be reading, or eating, or watching bad TV, or writing, or talking on the phone, or staring into space.  Heck, I'd rather be doing my taxes.

We claim to understand one another, we human beings. We read books and blogs; we watch movies; we talk it through over dinner.  We ask ourselves what-would-you-do-if?  and would-you-rather?   We say, "If I were you..."

And to a certain extent, we're right.  We sympathize. We understand other people's pain because we've been there; we recognize, and respond to, hurt in others.

It's other people's pleasures that are inexplicable.  Other folks' joys, those small, potent signifiers of how wide, how howlingly, unbridgeably vast, are the gulfs between us.

I head out for a grey-day stroll.

"Hi, how ya doin?" I nod to my neighbor.

"Oh, fine, just fine.  How bout you?"

"I'm doing OK," I tell him.  "Thanks."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mapped Out

I have suspected (and feared) this for a very long time!

The short version: Apparently, research suggests GPS is eroding our ability to make mental maps of our worlds.  To which I say, BLERG!!  One of the greatest of the smaller joys of my life is constructing inside myself, inch by painful inch, a map of the universe.  To not know where you're going beyond a tinny, off-kilter string of words?

I'd say heartbreaking, but I'm too busy mapping where the pieces fall.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

No Salt, No Service

I've given up sugar.  And salting my food.  And, for the most part, booze.

It's dreadful, truly.

It's not that I believe that food is medicine (medicine is medicine).  Or that I need to rid myself of toxins (the liver is mighty handy in this regard).  Nor do I subscribe to some general philosophy of cleansing, as if I were virtuously turning the power hose of my will upon the dirty porch of my soul.

But I do believe in calories.  And I can't believe that all my clothes, even the dry-clean-only specimens, have shrunk in the wash.  So: a month of no goodies.  Or at least a week.  For Pete's sake, just let me make it through the week.

I am most of a week in, and truth be told, considerably svelter.  Alas, you cannot gobble svelte.  Svelte is not delicious and chocolately.  You can't swirl svelte in a glass.

Still, I'm forging ahead.  Why in God's name, you ask, am I doing this to myself?

Stubbornness.  Because the one thing that's become apparent, during this dull, dun, joyless, time of denial, is just how much of my emotional life takes place in the refrigerator.  Need to complete a task?  Reward with food!  Sad?  Console with food!  Bored?  Hello, stove!  Happy?  Celebrate with food!

There's that old saw about eating your feelings, but I don't think that's quite right.  It's not so much that if I were to work out my myriad and not-particularly-fascinating emotional issues, I'd stop over-eating.  It's that I'm not sure, away from food, I can conjure emotion at all.  I'm still eating, of course, but without salt, food tastes beige.   Life tastes beige.  Like a drug addict coming down off a high, I'm experiencing a world leached of color.

I'm determined to stick around until the colors come back.   Because -surely-  there's more to my life than sugar.  And salt.  And tasty cocktails.  And capers in an espresso glass with a tiny spoon.

But I'll be damned if I'm giving up caffeine.