Dec. 13th, 2009

Here is something concrete that has changed in the last ten years.

P.S. it has been nearly ten years since I started keeping an online journal, though I didn't switch it to LJ until about two years in.

What has changed is that my life is no longer full of talismans. By "talismans" I mean certain mental objects-- thoughts of events, thoughts of certain scraps of conversation-- that, though they were not earth-shattering in and of themselves, took on an enormous significance for me. Sometimes this significance was actually false, but I allowed myself to think that (for example) an offhand remark from someone signified some kind of enormous regard for me even though I knew it wasn't true. But more often this significance was just a fierce treasuring of the few moments of real, free experience allowed to a relatively sheltered teenage girl.

I'd been having some vague thoughts lately about the fact that life was no longer so enchanted now that I have lived so much more of it, but this particular thought about "talismans" crystallized for me just now while re-reading H.D.'s semiautobiographical novel HERmione, and coming across this passage:

"George was the only young man who had ever kissed Her. George was the only person who had called her a 'Greek goddess.' George, to be exact, had said ruminatively on more than one occasion, ‘You never manage to look decently like other people. You look like a Greek goddess or a coal scuttle.' George had said she looked like a coal scuttle. He also said she looked like a Greek goddess. There was that about George, he wanted to incarnate Her, knew enough to know that this was not Her. There was just a chance that George might manage to draw her out half-drowned, a coal scuttle, or push Her back, drowned, a goddess.”

In this novel, H.D. is reflecting on her early 20s and her period of engagement to Ezra Pound, who is here called George. The way she holds on to this one thing he said, and pulls it apart, and hopes to be either ruined or rescued by him on the basis of it, reminded me very much of the way my mind used to work when I was in high school & early college. Mostly I'm glad that I don't have to grasp at straws like this anymore, but I guess I'm also a little sad that I no longer live in such a dreamily obsessive world.

My Heart on Cassette

Cross-posted from my knitting blog, which you really should be reading, an entry that is not at all about knitting, and really belongs on livejournal but I wanted to make it available to a wider audience:

Over Labor Day weekend, my car's 1997 cassette-only stereo got fried, and I was forced, forced I tell you, to replace it with a spiffy new CD and mp3-ready model. I shed a few perfunctory tears for my cassette collection then, but later that evening when I got home from work and actually unloaded all the cassettes from my car, I kind of had to take a moment. Would I throw them out? I couldn't bear to, and I theoretically have a cassette-playing walkman around this apartment somewhere. But for all intents and purposes, these little guys are kaput. I found myself wanting to honor them in some way, for all their many years of service, and for their role in making me who I am today. So I've selected the best of the best, the cassettes most near and dear to my heart, and I have arranged them here for you:

Well, that's the first batch of them at any rate. My actual cassette collection is at least three times this large, and there will be another photo of some more recent acquisitions at the end of this post. But these are the tapes that turned me into who I am, from grade school to grad school, and I am now going to tell you a little bit about each and every one of them in rough chronological order. The reason I'm doing this, apart from my own nostalgia, is that this is a kind of history that simply won't be writable anymore in the digital age; more and more we live in a world where our music is unconnected to physical objects -- and the physical limits of the cassette (in terms of how much music you could put on it), as well as the journey of the object through the physical world are the things that shape the stories I'm about to tell here. Read on below the cut.Collapse )

Jul. 15th, 2009

I decided, almost against my better judgment, to re-up my paid account today when I got the notice that it was going to expire. So I figured I ought to write something here, and here it is.

Today I walked across the park at the center of campus, on my way home after teaching my class from 4:00 - 6:50 and then meeting with students until about 7:20. The sun was low in the sky, and the heat of the day had been swept away by a gentle breeze. I cast a long shadow. I very much wanted to take my shoes off and walk barefoot through the grass, but I didn't. In another life, or maybe even on a different day in this life, I would have immediately and even sort of defiantly taken my shoes off, as an affirmation of the importance of impulse, and grass, and free-spiritedness. But I didn't. I thought: that's silly. This grass is not as lush as it looks, and even if it is that lush here, in a minute you'll come to a thinner place and you will cut your feet on acorns.

Teaching a three-hour class is something I've never done before, and it's not as difficult as I feared it would be to fill the whole three hours, but it's soul-draining. 50-minute classes go by in the blink of an eye, and 120-minute classes are nice and comfortable, but three hours is a different animal entirely. Three hours on my feet, trying to sparkle my ass off, trying to be exciting and lively and engaging, trying to get my students to care about the material and to talk about it-- it's tiring. My students are shockingly good this summer; I'm teaching an upper-division writing class, so most of them are juniors and seniors, and they really surprise me with their level of sophistication. And this is a class where I got to write the syllabus myself, so we're doing all kinds of great stuff. But afterward it's all I can do to trek dutifully home, without even taking my shoes off to enjoy it a little bit. What bothers me is not that I suppressed the impulse to take off my shoes, but that I did not feel the impulse strongly enough to obey it.


rewritten poem 4

Right, so I'm definitely not trying at napowrimo. But here's another rewritten poem:


then go. in any town you can find the dawning
of felt presence—wherever the eye opens
and the very breath is quickened. farms,
voters, antique clocks in store windows—what more
is needed to goad the spirit into unfolding?

a storm hit before the banner dried.
the paint ran, and the letters grew little tails,
but the message was still legible. the daisies
stoop with their burden, tops imperfectly glazed.

a traveler under that sign would know he had arrived.


faerieboots requested that I post the original poems, so behind the cut is the stanza of Robert Frost that I drew on, with the key words bolded for your edification.

The Mountain, lines 20 - 33Collapse )

rewritten poems 2 & 3

Guys, I thought that last poem was pretty good -- but you have somehow failed to shower me with praise. These two I like less, but maybe you will like them more. I wrote them this morning in the library, killing time before class. I deliberately set out to find some poets I don't have in my own collection, and I ended up using two poems from The Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry edited by Helen Vendler.


My toothless animal,
my dyed existence.
Life asks, what about me
is gospel? Earth, I say.
Things. To have
humility, I say. As
maternal oxen nurture men
in need of forming, and of being formed.

(source: "My Shoes" by Charles Simic, every 5th word)


Melon flesh: damp velvet formed so as to carry
precious objects, fantastic in their taciturn glitter.
Twins, they mirror each other,
but north and east never meet except
at the center of the compass, which is nowhere.
There was a tough outer rind, there were flaws and
then a parting, a parting to sparkling.
The heavy, sweet, cracked-open cavern

(source: section of "In Nine Sleep Valley" by James Merrill, every 4th word)


What's interesting about this exercise, I suppose, is how it makes me write with very different sets of diction. With Simic, the words happened to fall out almost in a poem by themselves, so I added very little & the whole thing has a very spare feeling. But Merrill's universe is much more lush & baroque; when I have words like "melon," "velvet," and "taciturn" to work with, the words I use to fill in the blanks tend to rise up to that sensual level.

Fun fact: in each of these poems so far, I've used three words from the original poem in each line. This means, for example, that those first two lines of the Simic-based poem are just my straight transcriptions of every 5th word. Except I cheated & changed "died" to "dyed." Sometimes I cheat.

rewritten poem 1

Yes, well, I seem to have dropped the ball in my whole "I will update more often" initiative. I just don't seem to have the need to share the minutia of my life with the internet anymore. But we shall soldier on, and sometimes I will tell you some things, and sometimes they will be amusing.

This year, I won't delude myself into thinking that I can actually complete NaPoWriMo, but since it's here and everything, I thought I'd use it as an excuse to write some poems. I've been having some success lately with constraint-driven writing, particularly this "rewriting" technique that I've been developing. Basically, I choose a pre-existing poem, and then I transcribe every Xth word in that poem (where X is a value I determine arbitrarily in advance), and then I write a new poem that connects those words in the order that the original poem presented them.

I've done a couple of these in the past months with wildly famous poems, where the key words might be recognizable, but for these I think I'm just going to do the old "close my eyes and choose a book, flip to a random page" method. Here's one I completed just now, using every fifth word from "The Tinker Camp" by Richard Hugo, from The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir:

whatever luck they had, they made.
it’s us who are stuck, or is it just that
we can’t move our eyes, riveted to the horizon?
we would have lied, stolen, even
made their beds and kissed them goodnight, but you,
you are the “they” we read about in books. we might
scrape bare the places where kisses turned to food
for insult, so that scorn might seep through the skin.
and if this gesture signals anything,
well, we are not to blame.
Livejournal, I have been holding out on you. I have started a knitting blog, and I have not told you about it because, frankly, I'm a little embarrassed to have a knitting blog at all, and I didn't know if any of you would care. But there you go. I claim in the "about" section of the blog that I will be writing entries about my life in addition to entries about knitting, but that hasn't really happened yet and I'm not sure it's going to. We'll see. What's more likely is that I'll tell stories about things in my life that relate to my knitting in one way or another; the best example of this kind of post that I've made so far is this one, which is part of a series I'm doing on My History As A Knitter, aka Things I Knit Before I Had A Blog About Knitting. Anyway, I could really use some commenting readers, because although I'm getting some hits, I don't actually have any of those right now.

You might also be interested in a real live cut-and-paste collage poem that I recently posted at my academic blog, and perhaps in the list of 20 books that made me fall in love with poetry that I posted there the other day.

the power of synonyms

I just received a piece of spam with the subject line "make your hose's radius great." Am I getting email ads for sprinkler heads now?, I wondered, thinking of garden hoses and a sprinkler's radius, which would be a sensible use of that term. Then suddenly I realized it was about penises. As a teacher of writing and a scholar of literature, I find it strangely heartening that there is still a need for the thesaurus in these godforsaken digital times.

I'm still working my butt off to get this article finished, and will return to posting more frequently & more substantially in a couple of days. I have, in fact, been taking pictures.


When I was a kid, I was really into the occult-- I read every book about ghosts, ESP, witchcraft, etc that I could get my hands on. At some point in about sixth grade, I developed the ritual of reading my horoscope in the paper every afternoon while eating my milk and cookies. It was that terrible part of life when your hormones have awakened and you have crushes that consume your entire soul, but you are hopelessly awkward and ugly and basically certain that nobody will ever love you. So reading my horoscope always meant scrying for signs that that the stars were aligning such that my obsession-of-the-moment would be compelled, fated, drawn into love with me. And the people who write horoscopes know that you are in all likelihood looking for either love or money, so at least three horoscopes a week would be full of thrilling promises of romantic success (which of course never came true). At some point in seventh or eighth grade I began to recognize this pattern, and began to lose faith in the stars. One day, instead of the usual vagaries, my horoscope read "Your taste for exotic food will bring you into contact with a famous writer today." It was so bizarrely specific that I decided then and there that this was the test: if it happened, I would believe forever, and if it didn't, I would stop reading my horoscope entirely. It didn't, of course, happen.

Now I am older and wiser, and I know that love is something that two people decide on rather than something toward which they are compelled by Mysterious Forces. But today I happened to be reminded of Rob Brezney's Free Will Astrology, which I have enjoyed in the past for its smartness and style and general good advice, even if I don't believe in those Mysterious Forces anymore. And this horoscope is pretty shockingly relevant for somebody engaged, as I am, in writing an article that she hopes to get published:

TAURUS: Hope "is not the conviction that something will turn out well," wrote Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel, "but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." That's the kind of hope I suggest you invoke during your current adventures, Taurus. Be hungrier for meaning than for any specific outcome. If you do that, ironically, the outcome is more likely to be one you feel pretty good about.

Well, then. This is doubly bizarre, of course, because the article I am writing is in large part about spiritualism & the occult movements in the early 20th century, and the poet I am studying had a particular fondness for astrology. ::Twilight Zone music::

all i want is all you got

If I have been absent, O Livejournal, it is not because my resolve to write here has weakened. It is because I am currently buried under a mountain of work, scrambling to meet a January 15th deadline.

To summarize: Christmas was nice, and my family more or less continued to be more mellow than usual. On the 26th I went to a college-friends-reunion in Astoria hosted by metacognizant at her apartment/art gallery/performance space, which was awesome and a little surreal. A major highlight was reconnecting with sovht after many years of not being substantially in touch, and over the course of the night (which, for us, lasted until seven in the morning) compiling an extensive and eerie catalogue of similarities between us-- from stuff as fundamental as having been raised by psychologist parents, to stuff as random as not being allergic to poison ivy.

The Boy (who claimed at one point that he wanted to be called Pnin, but I think he was joking, plus I basically refuse to write sentences such as "Pnin and I went bowling," which I would have to do later in this paragraph) came to visit me in New Jersey for the latter part of winter break, and it was awesome. We had a minorly epic but very cold New Year's Eve in the city, whose highlights included the musical instruments wing at the Met, Indian-Chinese food, champagne and whiskey and fireworks (and frostbite) on the steps of the Natural History Museum at midnight, and a crowded but delightful party full of old and new friends. We did in fact go bowling, and also to the diner, but apart from that we didn't focus too much on doing local tourist things-- in part because this was his third visit, and so we've exhausted a lot of them. We did, however, go to the ridiculously small but still kinda interesting aquarium down at the boardwalk.

Then I came back to California and started doing work, and I will continue to do basically nothing but work until my deadline on the 15th. My New Year's resolution is to write at least two, if not three chapters of this damn dissertation before the year is out.

I'm also attempting to do Project 365, whereby you take a photo a day, which has the potential to be interesting. (Thanks to flamingjune07 for leading by example!) I didn't get started until yesterday, and I can guarantee that I'm not going to bother to post the damn things every day, but theoretically every couple of days you will get a couple of photos. I apologize in advance for my eventual loss of interest in this project, which is almost certain to occur in a few days or weeks or months. In the meantime, you will get a photographic glimpse into the glamorous life of a graduate student. Please do not scour these photos for clues about my location and come murder me in my sleep.

beholdCollapse )

Finally, here is something you ought to take a look at: The Recently Deflowered Girl, a 1965 satirical etiquette manual illustrated by Edward Gorey. It's got a wryness that is somehow both contemporary and Victorian at the same time. Like, you could imagine Oscar Wilde doing a version of this book, but you could also imagine it published by McSweeney's. Enjoy.



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