Wednesday, March 31, 2004

crazed egos

Neil Gaiman wrote this on his blog a few weeks ago, in response to an email from an aspiring author:

It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you'll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job.

Which is the attitude I've adopted towards my school work, since I'm crashing and burning in a few of my classes and have fucked up several papers. I know I'm better than this slacker chick I've turned into; it's just funny how a major emotional/mental identity crisis tends to distract you from the important things in life, like the details of the French Revolution. How long are personal crises supposed to last anyway? Aren't I due some vacation time at this point? Anyway, when I sit down at the computer tomorrow to write 10 pages in French on historical representations of Charlotte Corday, it'll be with a "Ha! Just you try and flunk this you bastards!" kind of approach.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Northanger Abbey ~ Jane Austen

I had this big fancy entry written in my notebook, 2 pages front and back, with quotes from the introduction and analysis of Ms. Johnson's assessment of Henry Tilney's attitude on authority and epistemology and, honestly, it's a pretty darn good entry but it's not what I want to say any more. Or at least I don't want to say it that way; it sounds like a paper for class. Really I could (begrudgingly) quote E. M. Forster (boo! hiss!)

Jane Austen is my favorite author!...Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers.

and leave it at that. But criticism, for me, only makes me admire her more. I'm always irked when people treat Austen like a glorified romance novelist; she's using that old boy-meets-girl plot to say so much more. And her prose is so skillful, her wit so sharp and observant. Henry Tilney is her best hero. I like Darcy but he's highly overrated; he and Wentworth act like jerks (disclaimer: I like Wentworth as well. That heart-stopping love letter of his redeems him). Mr. Knightley is a bit imperious. Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars are barely there. And I don't think anybody likes Edmund. Henry is not only a delightful person himself, but I love the way Austen uses him. She makes us laugh not just at Henry but at the ideas he's mocking--that women are ignorant and stupid and silly, etc. According to Claudia L. Johnson's introduction to my so-gorgeous-I'd-run-into-a-burning-building-to-save-it Everyman's Library edition (and let me take this opportunity to say how much I fucking hate Amazon's new search engine. Bah humbug)--Johnson claims that NA is really all about reading, a defense not just of novels but of a female literary tradition, of women's reading and women's writing, and I agree. Sure, Catharine's taste for gothic novels exacerbates her naivete and gullibility, but the joke is that in the end, she's right. General Tilney is a villain, and Henry's speech about "the country and age in which we live" seems ultimately a bit naive itself. Austen's novel is proof that excellence really is pretty fairly divided between the sexes. I hate it when people fall into the Austen-as-kindly-maiden-aunt routine, call her "Dear Jane" or "Our Lady" (ick), it reminds me of Henry James' condescending praise of her; I don't want her artistic integrity and genius forgotten, the real importance of her work overshadowed by swooning fangirls and "Victorian" fetishists. She's still so readily dismissed, as a witty spinster who just happened to write a few good romances. A guy in my lit class last semester complained that Persuasion was boring and pointless--after all, it wasn't about anything important. I think Austen is revolutionary in the fact that she's become a great artist by writing about "unimportant" things.

Apropos of nothing, take a look at this website, created by a Ukrainian woman who likes to ride her motorbike through the Chernobyl site. I was only 4 when it happened, so I don't know much about it; but we had old issues of National Geographic in our basement and as a kid I remember looking at their pictures of the accident. I still remember them; I should dig up that old issue next time I go home. I mention the website here because Elena (the webmaster) is strikingly eloquent in her imperfect english:

they call it a town where time stands still. May be it is because clocks in a ghosttown don't show real time, they are set for showing a radiation level.

I wonder how this guy feel, who once went for a fishing trip and who was not able to return home. It is like you life is cut on two pieces. in one is you slippers still under you bed, photos of a first love that left on piano.. in other is you yourself, you memories and a fishing rod.

Usually, beeping of dosimeter speed me up and I pass this part of road as fast as road condition allow. The place in front of me called red or magic wood. In 1986 this wood has been red with radiation and then they cut it off and left there and bury under 1 meter of earth. As you can see, on asphalt things not bad, but if I step 10 meters forward, my dosimeter will run out of scale, if I walk few hundred meters towards reactor, then I will find 3 roengen. If I keep walking all the way to reactor, then at the end of a journey I will glow in a dark. May be this is why they call it a magic wood. this sort of a magic when one walk in in a biker leather and coming out like a knight in a shinning armour.

The pictures are even better. You get a feel for the eerieness of the place; people just up and left and you can see what remains of their ordinary lives; and there are a few who stayed, who came back and live in Chernobyl alongside the wolves and bears and wild horses.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Well at least I'm not the Grinch...

I am the Lorax
You are the Lorax!

Which Dr. Seuss Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Fairly accurate, although it could do with some better results. What about Sam-I-Am? Or Thing One and Thing Two? Or Fox in Socks, Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose or Gertrude McFuzz? And I'll take this opportunity to endorse a constitutional amendment banning all Hollywood live-action versions of Dr. Suess books. L.A. must be a strange and wicked place for them to rip off and exploit Dr. Suess.

And now for something completely different:

If you only knew the power of the dark side.
Postatem obscuri lateris nescitis.
"You do not know the power of the Dark
Side." There are two possibilities: you
are a Star Wars geek, or you are unreasoningly

Which Weird Latin Phrase Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hm. I haven't been a Star Wars geek since junior high. Close enough.

[I removed the grammar quiz because some of the other results are tasteless and insensitive, to say the very least. Sorry if I offended anyone]

Allen Ginsberg was an insightful cultural critic
writing in the beat style of the 1950's-- he
championed his queerness and his radical
leftist views through his poetry.

Which famous poet are you? (pictures and many outcomes)
brought to you by Quizilla
Holy Shit. I'm Ginsberg, huh, not Dickinson or Plath? Or even my beloved Walt Whitman? I tried to read "Howl" once when I was 15 (I was very into the Beats. Wore a lot of black), got as far as the part where he tells America to "go fuck yourself with your atom bomb." I really am going to have to read him one of these days.


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
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Rock on! And Neil Gaiman wrote a kick-ass comic book series about me.

You are Schroeder!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Aw! I love Schroeder! **grooves to Vince Garauldi**

Monday, March 22, 2004

Beginning With O ~ Olga Broumas

I met Olga Broumas in Emma Donoghue's novel Hood, which opens with a quote from Broumas' poem "Little Red Riding Hood":

I kept to the road, kept
the hood secret, kept what it sheathed more
secret still. I opened
it only at night, and with other women
who might be walking the same road to their own
grandma's house, each with her basket of gifts

It was love at first sight, and finally I was able, through inter-library loan ([insert deity of choice] bless whoever thought that up), to track down some of her work. Beginning with O was Broumas' first published book of poetry, and she didn't disappoint.
I've been sitting here thinking, or trying to anyway, about what to say and write about Olga Broumas. I could write reams of essays and theses about her work, it's so rich and steeped in ideas and themes that interest me. My life is so wrapped up in my identity as a student that I have a hard time being anything else. I'm the only person I know who reads poetry for pleasure, in her spare time. I always have, ever since I was a kid clutching my copy of Shel Silverstein. I don't mention it much though; it feels pretentious and snobby, to say you read poetry voluntarily. I keep thinking of Captain Benwick in Persuasion. I read poetry mainly for the pleasure of language, the way words sound, how they fit together, the images and rhythm they create, for the feeling Emily Dickinson describes, as if your head has lifted off your shoulders. I tend to like more traditional forms--I love sonnets--I have difficulty with free verse. But Broumas' work is so wonderful and challenging, sensuous and vivid, I'm starting to warm up to the space and difficulty that free verse offers. Since Broumas is lesbian poet from Greece, the presence of Sappho is (of course) everywhere in her writing. I love these lines from "Caritas," a poem that seems to describe lesbian desire as a kind of mysticism:

Her handsome hands. Each
one a duchess in her splendid gardens

Isn't that wonderful? It's just the most lovely image I've ever read. And this too:

Here the remnants of
an indefatigable anger, the jubilant
birth yell, here the indelible
covens of pleasure, a web
of murmurs, a lace
mantilla of sighs.

I wish I was up on my Greek mythology, since the first part of Beginning With O, "Twelve Aspects of God," is all about Greek female deities. She never refers to them as "goddesses" though, always using the "male" term, which is interesting--she makes "god" a woman (again, some would say). Exploring the spirit of ancient goddesses in the modern world, how they manifest themselves in women. Spirituality, sex, desire, anger are all woven in her meandering, elliptical free verse. Her metaphors twist and turn, her imagery unexpected and sharp. In "Circe," I love how Broumas turns what's usually regarded as a negative experience into an expression of power.

By the time
I get to the corner

bar, corner store, corner construction
site, I become divine. I turn

men into swine. Leave
them behind me whistling, grunting, wild.

In "Maenad" she takes a clever twist on an old adage.

Hell has no rage like this

women's rage.

IIRC the Maenads were female worshippers of Dionysus who would tear men to pieces. Broumas' poem is about the fury of women scorned at every turn, by sons who use them, daughters who reject them, mothers who control them, and by other women as well. In "Artemis" and "Demeter" she addresses female language, a feminine literary tradition:

...a curviform alphabet
that defies

decoding, appears
to consist of vowels, beginning with O...

What tiny fragments
survive, mangled into our language.
I am a woman committed to
a politics
of transliteration

In "Demeter" she names a literary lineage of women writers:

Anne. Sylvia. Virginia.
Adrienne the last, magnificent last.

Modern Demeters/Persephones maybe?

Broumas ends Beginning With O with poems based on fairy tales. I loved what she did with "Cinderella":

Apart from my sisters, estranged
from my mother, I am a woman alone
in a house of men
who secretly
call themselves princes, alone
with me usually, under cover of dark. I am the one allowed in

to the royal chambers, whose small foot convienently
fills the slipper of glass. The woman writer, the lady
umpire, the madam chairman, anyone's wife.
I know what I know.

Cinderella as the Token Woman! How cool is that? Her "success" only reinforces oppressive structures and isolates her.

The princes spoke
in their fathers' language, were eager to praise me
my nimble tongue. I am a woman in a state of siege, alone

In "Sleeping Beauty", she is awakened by a kiss from Princess Charming:

...your red
lips suspect, unspeakable
liberties as
we cross the street, kissing
against the light, singing,
is the woman I woke
from sleep, the woman that woke
me sleeping.

"Little Red Riding Hood" is my favorite poem in the book. She manages to put a fresh perspective on the sexual overtones of the story, and focuses on the relationship between mother, daughter, and grandmother. I love the last image the poem ends on:, alone
in your house and waiting, across this improbable forest
peopled with wolves and our lost, flower-gathering
sisters they feed on.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

P is for procrastination...

Don't Trip
You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little
anti-social, and may want to start gaining new
social skills by making prank phone calls.

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

Personally I always figured I'd take my cue from Leonard Bast and be crushed by a bookcase (which, I agree, is the most lame fuck way to die ever), but smothered by a rug is more cozy at least.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Book Lust

For those of us consumed by bibliophilic desire, now we can proclaim our passion to the world. Who wants to volunteer and buy me an unbirthday present? I could wear it while I moon over Olga Broumas.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

There ought to be five seasons. Summer, Fall, Winter, March, and Spring.

I'm going home for "Spring" Break tomorrow. I plan on spending it sitting around, resenting my parents and reading Northanger Abbey. I'm also hoping to finish Olga Broumas (with whom I am truly, madly, deeply in love) and the collection of lesbian fiction. More scintillating and thrilling reviews when I return!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Yes, I know it's midterm week, and no, I do not give a shit

Did I mention that I'm a quiz freak?

Which Famous Homosexual are you?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

Say it with me folks: "She's a MAN bay-bee! Yeah!" [/Mike Myers] Apparently I've conquered the world; ironically, I've managed to spread Christianity in the process. FEAR ME!

I have the kind of friends who spend their Saturday nights debating Cold War policy and the ethics of nuclear energy (seriously). And they do it very passionately. Thankfully, I'm secure in the knowledge that when the revolution comes...

Which Survivor of the Impending Nuclear Apocalypse Are You?
A Rum and Monkey joint.

Which is funny, since I basically figure out technology by the seat of my pants. When in doubt, CTRL + ALT+DELETE

Are you damned?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

You will die a warrior and be spirited away by warbling wenches to the Hall of the Slain. Meat and mead for ever more, well until Ragnarok, anyway, when you will do battle with giants, giantesses, dwarfs, elves and Nidhug, a dragon who likes to nibble trees. Odin is great!

Odin is great. I dig Norse mythology; my first result said I'd been reincarnated, but I decided I'd rather hang with the dragons.

I took the Austen heroine's quiz, but I can't seem to get the picture to come up on my blog. Anyone know how to work this thing?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Door in the Hedge ~ Robin McKinley

I love that feeling, when you've found a new author, and you've still got their books still spread out before you, like a new country to explore. I'd heard of McKinley but what finally pushed me toward her was a line in Briar Rose:

She went to bed and finished only a few pages of McKinley's Beauty, a book she reread whenever she felt troubled. (pg. 94)

The best kind of recommendation, I think. Somebody had already checked out Beauty from the school library, so I picked up The Door in the Hedge. McKinley's prose is marvelous, it really makes these stories work (which is not to say that her plotting or characterization is weak). I love her wry humor (I thought she was British at first; she lives in England now but apparently she's originally from Maine). I'm afraid I don't have anything really interesting to say; I didn't think too hard about this book, not because it's lightweight, but there's something to be said for escapism, and lord knows I need some right now. I don't mean to imply that it's fantasy fluff; they're charming stories but they're also well-written and engaging and full of emotion--and magic (of course!). "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is the last and the best of the four tales. I think "The Stolen Princess" is original; it's not about capture and danger, as the heroines pretty much rescue themselves, but more to live in a peaceful, neighbourly fashion when your country borders on Faerieland. The other stories are retellings of traditional fairy tales, with McKinley's own twists and spins on them (I think the re-told fairy tale must be one of my favorite genres).
I hate it when I find a good book and all I can think to say about it is "Wow! That was great!" Anyway, here's the author's website; go read her, she's much more interesting than I am.

The Witch of Exmoor ~ Margaret Drabble

Talk about an apt name. Drab is the only word for this book. I gave up after the first chapter. It looks like it might turn out okay in the end, but I just didn't care really. Not at all engaging. I don't have the time or energy to bother with middle-class Brits and their existential angst and demented elderly mothers (the "witch" of the title. She was the only interesting person and I didn't even meet her.) Drabble's style seems similar to her sister's, from what I can tell from my cursory reading. I did, however, get to use my handy National Geographic Traveler's Map of Britain and Ireland, to find Exmoor. I have it up on my bedroom wall; I read so much Brit lit that I like to see where my characters live and follow their wanderings.
Why, yes I am a geeky Anglophile, why do you ask?