27 October 2003

Oil, cows and George Strait, don'tcha know?

A sign as you enter my town says "Welcome to Medora: The edge of the west." The mentality in the area is definately midwestern, and geographically we're the great plains, but whatever. If the tourists will buy more Kewpie dolls in "the west" so let it be.

It's one of my biggest gripes about North Dakota, actually. We're always trying to pretend we're something we're not. Like a debate a few years back over dropping the "North" and just being "Dakota" because it would attract more tourists and sound less cold and remote. While I would prefer not to live in a state named after a Vegas prostitute, dropping the "North" does not change the fact that "North Dakota" IS cold and remote.

My town was founded in 1883 and named after a French Marquis' wife. Theodore Roosevelt came to the little town in 1886 to hunt a bison before the magnificent herds were gone. He became so enamored of the place that he bought land and set up life as a rancher. He is quoted as saying that if it were not for the time he spent in the Badlands of North Dakota that he would not have been president. (I can list the other 12 or so famous North Dakotans if anyone is interested.)

The winter population of Medora has been wavering around 100 for the 15 years my family has lived there. An older member of the community passes away and the population crashes to a paltry 99. Once a family of 7 moved in and the population boomed to a whopping 106.

Oil was big in the early 80's. The school district, rich with oil taxes, built an elegant K-8 gradeschool with oak lockers and plush carpets. Times were good then. All the ranchers could make it on their cattle business and horse trade alone. After the oil bust in the early 90's the economy fell. Virtually every farmer and rancher in the area has been forced to take a job in town at least part time. Usually with the tourist trade in the summer.

The county just north of me lost more people per capita than any other county in the nation in the 2000 census. Farming is a way of life, not a way to make a living. At least not in the crumbly clay of western North Dakota.

The little town is very closely knit and a tough community to crack. My parents and brothers and I are still "the new folks" despite the 15 years we've lived there. We came because my father works for the park service. Working for the government is not "cool" in western North Dakota and I grew up knowing I was different. I remember my best friend in 3rd grade ranting and raving in gym class one day about how bad Democrats were. I didn't know what a Democrat was, and I was pretty sure he didn't either. But whatever it was I was pretty sure I was one, and I thought that made me wierd.

Most everyone is German/Ukranian and family is very important to them. They get together with the cousins and make lefsa and knoephla on the weekends. They have round-ups in the fall and brandings in the spring. All able bodies members of the town go to help at the brandings. Initiation at these events, at least for 10 year olds, is to eat "rocky mountain oysters" freshly cut from the bull calves and grilled to perfection over a branding fire - lightly seasoned with flecks of dried cow manure, of course.

Entertainment on a Friday night in February? Driving and hour and a half in a blinding snowstorm on red dirt roads and old highway 10 to see a 5th-8th grade girls basketball game. The whole town turns out.

There are three bars and three churches in town. All six attended zealously.

For High School I drove 45 minutes to a conglomerate high school. There were 60 kids in my class. Red ropers, wranglers, cowboy hats, pickups with gun racks and shot guns in the parking lot, George Strait, Brooks and Dunn, and the ever present, ever burgeoning subculture of youth, rejecting it all for airwalks, cargo pants, and hiphop. I keep in touch with one friend from those days. When we talk our combined gossip has led us to approximate that over half of our class either have babies or are married. She just got married in September.

I go home now, and everyone still know my name. "The World Traveler" they call me, because I've left the state. I'm always embarassed. Many of them have never left the region. Montana or Minnesota perhaps. Canada, which is only 3 hours North, might as well be Figi for as many of them as have been there.

All I wanted to do when I was growing up was get the hell out of there. I hated them and their little dreams. All I want now is to live in a place as peaceful and as close and as simple as that little town. Will I go back? Probally not, not for good. But the pull of 100 +/- 5 people who welcome me home a hero grows stronger everyday.


I've noticed that I use the word 'sticky' a lot in my writing. Life is just a sticky thing in general. It sticks me to people, to places, makes change hard, and situations tangled. Were I to try to move away, to go astray, stickiness would be there to pull me back, all the harder. Life and all the fumbling, tumbling, messy awkwardness about it. Sticky. My sticky life.

24 October 2003

The Extinction of Men

Fascinating. A faulty y-chromosom may lead to the extinction of men.

22 October 2003

Imaginary Friends

I just realized that I've been spelling the word "usurp" wrong (ursup) my entire life. Ursup and I have been friends since the middle of my freshman year in high school. How disconcerting to find he doesn't even exist . . .

I read the link Josh posted to William Watkins blog. It seems like he's saying that Agamben is saying that semiotic line breaks are seperate from meaning, that they usurp meaning. But isn't semiotics the study of signs and symbols and their meaning? Are they meaningful in and of themselves? Is that what he is trying to say when he talks about the fusion of form and theme?

Tragedy of the Poet?

It seems to me that poet’s are attempting to do the impossible. It’s like that song from the Sound of Music, “Maria,” that the nuns sing: . . .How do you catch a cloud and pin it down . . . How do you keep a wave upon the sand . . . How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? . . . Poets try to capture with words what they know (however subconsciously) is impossible to write. How tragic?

It’s like my theory on romantics. You know who they (you) are. If you don’t, go to the coffee bar side of Stella’s on a Friday or a Saturday night. They’re in the back, studying, usually alone, and from behind the steam of their lattes they shyly eye the people they think are watching them. They’re there not to study, but to be seen studying. Waiting for someone to see the tragic, romantic beauty of their martyred life (how tragic is studying biochemistry on a Friday night after all . . .) and rescue them. The only tragic part is that the dashing, compassionate person they wait for doesn’t exist. (I’ve waited long enough to know). But they go on believing in the fairy tale.

I suppose they’re none the worse for all their false hopes. Or are they?

Study Break

Check out these crazy cats. The little black and white one looks like my cat Moses.

  • Cat Clobbering

  • Cat Attack

  • If anyone can read the captions on the first one I would love to know what it says . . .

    18 October 2003

    My excuse

    I write mediocre poetry because it's easier than writing mediocre prose. Of course, writing good prose is more time consuming than writing mediocre prose, and writing good poetry is infinitely harder than writing good prose. Is that confusing? I'll clarify in an equation:

    (Read "<" as "is easier to write than")
    mediocre poetry < mediocre prose < good prose < good poetry

    Maybe one of these days i'll get ambitious and try to go a step up to mediocre prose, maybe even good prose . . . but writing good poetry I can only dream of.

    My argument boils down to this (after reflecting on Shana's comment about the economy of words.) I feel a (real or imagined) challenge in poetry to pack the most amount of meaning into the fewest number of words. This challenge makes good poetry hard to write. For good prose, on the other hand, you need meaningful words, but you have the luxury of cushioning them with a few meaningless ones. Add too many meaningless words and you've dropped to mediocre prose. Mediocre poetry is easy; all you need are a few meaningless words, and they're easier to find than a keg at a frat party.

    That's my excuse. What's yours?

    To have your mystery and solve it too . . .

    How many of you were Boxcar Children, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, or Hardy Boys aficionados as kids? (Oh, and let's not forget the dazzling Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Thrillers.) I was addicted to all of these series growing up. I read each mystery story as fast as possible to figure out 'who dun it'. But the neat and tidy solutions always left me feeling empty at the end . . . so on to the next one. Like a 9 year old chain smoker. The problem is you can't have your mystery and solve it too.

    And it's not just books. The same problem exist with people. You meet someone who fascinates you, pry out their dirty secrets, tinker around with their internal cogs and whistles until you figure out what makes them tick, and then sigh with disappointment. Oh, so that's it. Of course it's never really that simple, but our brains have a fabulous way of fitting things and people into categories, and once you figure out where in you're tidy, obsesive-complusive world they fit, it's easy to forget about their idosyncracies and move on to the next "mystery." The cruncher is when you find someone you just can't crack . . .

    That begs the question, why do we crave mystery? Mystery books, strange phenomenon, mysterious people? I'm not sure, but youall had some good ideas: because it offers so many possibilities, because we have an innate curiosity of the unknown. I would like to offer that we are attracted to mystery because we are threatened by it, scared of it. Our survival instincts turn us into detectives out of self defense.

    And perhaps we are also attracted to mysterious people because we are scared of them. When we are scared our bodies pump adrenaline through our veins, our hearts beat faster, etc. The physiological response during sexual arousel is similar. We crave this rush, we become addicted to it, and to the mysterious person.

    On a completely unrelated note, I find the way OJ tastes bad after you brush your teeth completely mysterious. Why does a bowl of Cheerios taste just fine in the same situation? It's similar to wine after a peppermint. Fascinating. My senior thesis perhaps?

    16 October 2003

    Voluptuous vulvas
    undulate under
    animal appetites.

    What the bathroom mirror knows

    "How close they are, love and hate. We are no less bound by one than the other."
    -Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Scarlet Letter

    Josh told me at our first conference that I could write about other things besides, 1) childhood memories, 2) how the weather made me fell, or 3) relationships. For example, taking soil cores, he offered, after I explained that I was a biology major. Maybe I'm missing something, but taking soil cores may quite possibly be the most passionless endeavor I have ever undertaken in my short life. My entire existence is consumed by infatuations, addictions, the intricacies of relationships, and love, love, love! Love, however unrequited. Isn't everyone's? What do you brood alone at night? What do you intimate only to the bathroom mirror? And what is the substance of your every absent minded daydream? Love you answer? Or want of? Or hurt from? Yes! How could anyone answer any differently.

    I don't think love is a necessary component of all writing, but it is necessary of all good writing. We write about things we're passionate about. Even when we write hate, we love something else - all the greater.

    A Favorite Song

    "Independence Day" by Martina McBride is one of my favorite country songs of all time. Lyrics are below, but it really takes McBride's powerful voice and the slide of the steel guitar to make it work:

    Well she seemed all right by dawn's early light
    Though she looked a little worried and weak
    She tried to pretend he wasn't drinkin' again
    But daddy left the proof on her cheek
    And I was only eight years old that summer
    And I always seemed to be in the way
    So I took myself down to the fair in town
    On Independence Day

    Well word gets a round in a small, small town
    They said he was a dangerous man
    Mama was proud and she stood her ground
    But she knew she was on the losin' end
    Some folks whispered and some folks talked
    But everybody looked the other way
    And when time ran out there was no one about
    On Independence Day

    Let Freedom ring, let the white dove sing
    Let the whole world know that today is a
    Day of reckoning
    Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
    Roll the stone away, Let the guilty pay, It's
    Independence Day

    Well she lit up the sky that fourth of July
    By the time that the firemen come
    They just put out the flames
    And took down some names
    And send me to the county home
    Now I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong
    But maybe it's the only way
    Talk about your revolution
    It's Independence Day

    Let Freedom ring, let the white dove sing
    Let the whole world know that today is a
    Day of reckoning
    Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
    Roll the stone away, Let the guilty pay, It's
    Independence Day

    Roll the stone away
    It's Independence Day

    McBride makes a point about domestic violence with this song. (FYI: October is domestic violence awareness month. 1.5 million women are raped or assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States) This song makes me want to scream and yell and cry and beat down the doors of all this hidden misery. It makes me want to punch the man behind the counter at the mini-mart for looking at me with his greasy eyes. It makes me want to gather my girlfriends around me and build an impenetrable, amazonian fortress.

    This song especially reminds of a women I met in high school. A friend and I drove down to a little nowhere town in North Dakota to visit her and her daughter. Her husband was out of town, but we sat in the garage because that was her space. She sucked cigarettes and rocked herself in her rocking chair, clutching her pregnent belly. Over the course of the evening she unfolded her life story to me. Sexual abuse by her father, grandfather and uncles as a kid. Then a teenage pregnancy and her first husband, who she later shot and killed in self defense. Now she was married to the sherrif in town, and she said it was much better. But still he comes home and beats and rapes her, despite her being 6 months pregnant. I can't shake the words she used, the apathetic tone in her voice, "When it's real bad, he pounds my head on the cement, sometimes . . . I just pretend I'm dead so he'll stop."

    Nothing makes me angrier. Nothing.

    15 October 2003


    To fill some little post office town of America with good gossip
    and love letters.
    To rejoice in the complacency we've aspired to
    and laugh at the pedagodgical liars.

    08 October 2003

    The Way I Write

    Except for this class, my creative writing is limited to my journal and the snail-mail letters I write to a few faithful friends. I will write almost anywhere, and since I usually have my journal with me wherever I go, I do. I occasinally do the romantic-tortured-writer-coffee-shop-latte gig, but I will also write in the bathroom, on the side of the road on my way to a party, in airports (I love writing in airports), in the morning when dreams are fresh, after dinner at the kitchen table, and especially before bed. (If I read half as much as I write in my journal I would be a much wiser woman). I won't, however, write without a uni-ball vision micro pen. Cheap bic ball-points and pencils simply won't do. I prefer black ink, but blue ink will do. If all I have is extra fine or fine pens I'll write, but only the bare minimum until I can find a more suitable tool. My journal hand writing is so sloppy the thick line makes it impossible to read. I like having tea while I write: Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer, with the tea bag left in so it becomes super strong or Twinings English breakfast, with the tea bag out and a splash of 2% milk and a splash of half and half. As I write I take time to sip my tea and read over what I have written so far.

    Most of the letters I write I first draft, at least partially, in my journal. Most of the things I have written for this class I have also first sketched in my journal. (I have a lot of bloggs that are still in my journal and have yet to be typed out). I don't enjoy writing with a word processor as much. There is something so satisfying to me to see pages filled with hand written words. Less cheap, more genuine. I also think I go crazy tweaking things like punctuation in a word processor, whereas hand written it just is (or at least I am limited in the amount of correction I can make before things become completely illegible). I like that what I have writtin in my journal is more immediate. The sentences are shorter, more concise, less convoluted, more direct from my brain to the page.

    On another note I want to mention that I have struggled with the writing for this class. I have fallen into a dangerously comfortable habit of only writing for myself. I don't worry about saying something just right, because if I feel I haven't, I ramble on until I get it right. No need to worry about editing and making every word count. No need to be self conscious about how an audience may read and interpret my words. No need to worry about sounding smart or original.

    I also think that the more time we spend together the harder it is to write for the class. Remember the quote Josh threw out for us the first day of class: "I write for myself and for strangers."? We're no longer strangers, yet we still share our writing. I think peer review is great and very helpful and it's fun seeing other peoples' pieces and getting comments on my own writing. But I do think it changes the way I write. I thought Shana's Hi-Lo piece was great. She was able to venture outside herself and experiment with a different voice. I wish I could do the same, but I am finding it hard to experiment with something I am less familiar with; self-consciously fearing being 'wrong.' At the same time it's becoming harder to write in my own voice, for fear of exposing too much; it's harder to take risks, which I think is necessary to achieve truly great writing.

    This comes a little late, but I was thinking about our discussion a few weeks back about voice, and how we tend to identify and sympathize with the protagonist. In trying to think of a protagonist I had not championed the only one I could come up with was Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. (Humbert Humbert is a middle aged man who initiates a love affair with a 12 year old girl, Lolita). Even then I gave him the benifit of the doubt for the longest time, and I had to make a concerted effort to not root for his success. Can anyone think of another protagonist whom they have not rooted for?

    The Space Between Two Texts

    One of my favorite books is Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. He's dead. I realized as I was working on this assignment that I don't read many authors who are still living. I did recently read Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, which I enjoyed. I googled her name and no obituaries came up in the search, so I have reasonable cause to assume she is still alive.

    The protagonists in both of these stories have an internal conflict that centers around their relationships with their mothers.

    Hesse's character, Goldmund, is a vagabond, who leaves a monestary to partake in worldly pleasures of the flesh. Goldmund's copious love affairs are a result of his unconscious search for the mother he lost as a young boy. (Hesse was a big Freudian).

    Kincaids character, Lucy, is an au pair from a developing Carribean island who comes to the states to work for an upscale New York family . Her conflict is not a search for her mother, as Goldmunds, but rather a search for a way to seperate herself from her mother.

    The struggle for these characters to identify their relationship with their mother at times takes back burner to the more immediate action of the story, but I feel like it is the driving force in both books.

    Both characters embark on the quest in search of finding/sepearting from their mothers by leaving the security of their homes. Goldmund leaves the oppressive security of the cloister and Lucy leaves the oppressive security of the island she grew up on.

    Though these books were written 60 years apart I think it shows the timeless importance of the mother/child bond. The nature of this relationship (or lack of it entirely) seems to have had great influence over the characters in these two books. It seems Freud and his philisophical influence are not dead yet.

    Some of my favorite passages from Lucy:

    "Because Peggy and I were now not getting along, we naturally started to talk about finding an apartment in which we would live together. It was an old story: two people are in love, and then, just at the moment they fall out of love, they decide to marry."

    "Then I saw the book Mariah had given me. It was on the night table next to my bed. Besdie it lay my fountain pen full of beautiful blue ink. I picked up both, and I opened the book. At the top of the page I wrote my full name: Lucy Josephine Potter. At the sight of it, many thoughts rushed through me, but I could write down only this: 'I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it.' And then as I looked at this sentence a great wave of shame came over me and I wept and wept so much that the tears fell on the page and caused all the words to become one great big blur."

    06 October 2003

    Poems from a weekend in the Adirondacks:

    Snowflakes from the sky
    Drifting down to meet the ground
    Hide the world in white.

    (Yes it snowed on us!)

    A muddled puddle
    Of ephemeral color
    Limns time senescent.

    03 October 2003

    Another "musical" poem:

    Ode to a Mutt

    Your ears are too long,
    You're a little too chubby,
    Your tails docked off,
    And your feet are all muddy.

    Sometimes I say
    Your head's full of noodles,
    But still I'd prefer you
    To a dozen French poodles.

    Sure you're just a mutt,
    Don't got no pedigree,
    But I love you so,
    And know that you love me.