24 November 2003

Yes, I am procrastinating. It's what I do best these days. Biding my time until in two days I can sleep in without feeling guilty about missing orgo lecture, until I get to see my boyfriend and he gets to take a break from the hefty task of being the only honest politician on Capitol Hill, and until I get to spend some quality time with the out-laws and some long lost cousins from Norway who will be celibrating their first Thanksgiving. Almost outta here . . .

hanging like a ragdoll

Perhaps you've been wondering. Perhaps not. Perhaps the time has come for me to tell you.

This summer I worked at a remote field station on the north slope of Alaska. We didn't have showers, but we did have a private yoga instructor, Mr. Allen Finger. All we had to do was pop him in the VCR, scrape the mud and popcorn from the floor, and an hour of post mosquito-bogged fieldwork, pre data entry, nirvana was ours. By the end of the summer I was classically conditioned, like a dog salivating after a bell, to instantly relax at the sound of Allen's terrifically faked Indo-Afro-Austro-accent. In one of the poses Allen would have us stand, feet hips distance apart, folded over at the hips like a jacknife, arms crossed holding opposite elbows. With R's rolling and voice inflecting wildly he would grandly state "This posture is called 'the ragdoll,' because you are hanging like a ragdoll."

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.

23 November 2003

I just spent the last hour learning how to do targeted links. I'm going home now. I spent the afternoon organizing two months worth of merriam-webster.com word-of-the-day words that have been cluttering my inbox. They are now neatly added to my spreadsheet o' words, in which they are organized: a)chronologically, b) alphabetically, c) and alphabetically by part of speech. After that fun I just don't know what to do with myself. Going to bed is boring.

So, poetry in Kroch library or biogeochemistry seminar? Friday at 4:00pm I started walking in a non-commital direction, I ran into a classmate, gave into my fatalistic tendencies and walked in his direction, which led me, ultimately, to an hour long lecture on mycorrhizas and global climate change. In seminar I mused over my choice of genera over genre.

Yes, I do live my life from infatuation to infatuation. Right now, it's writing. I know myself well enought to know that this, too, will pass.

The one constant in all this is the people I meet along the way. I may forget everything I ever learned about form being an extenstion of content, but I'll remember each of you like it was yesterday.

It does seem like only yesterday, doesn't it? It was the first day of class and I walked in late (yes, yes, I know!). We had to name one poet and one prose author we admired. I blanked and couldn't think of one whose name I even remembered, let alone one whom I admired. "Your trying too hard," Josh insisted, "Just say the first thing that pops into your head." It had been a long summer and nothing was "popping" in my head. I said something after an eternity and was so embarassed I didn't think I could come back. I'm immensely glad that I did.

So we've gotten to know each other much better than most other classes allow. I like that. But here I've gone and assumed I know you. Just the other day I was talking with Charles and I learned that he is an animal sci major, which is very cool. Sorry, Charles, but for some reason I'd assumed you were in AEM. And Julia is nat resc, which is infinitely cool, because so am I.

Our time together is growing short, but the adventure is really just beginning . . .

21 November 2003

Bonus Question

I couldn't resist posting this. Now if only I can pull off something this great in Orgo . . .

The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid term.  The answer by one student was so "profound" that the Professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law, gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following: "First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing over time.  So we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving.  I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.  As for how many souls are entering Hell, lets look at the different religions that exist in the world today.  Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell.  Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.  With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.  This gives two possibilities:

1.  If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2.  Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.  So which is it?

If we accept the postulation given to me by Karen during my Freshman year," ..that it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you.", and taking into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having relations with her, then, #2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze."

The student received the only "A" given.

From our discussion last Tuesday.

Check out this proactive art. Advertisement is a particularly "sticky" art form used to change the way we act and think. Is it the only form of art that transcends the art/life divide?

This is quite a pressing issue for me at the moment. I took a personality test the other day. I came up a helper and a thinker. As a helper I am driven by a need to be loved and by a fear of being unloved. As a thinker I am driven by a need to understand the world and a fear of being overwhelmed by the world. These descriptions seem to fit me pretty accurately, though no more than my daily horoscopes.

Assuming the basic validity of this analysis, I see two pathways for myself. 1) understanding the world through the science of ecology, which is one of the more holistic, encompassing sciences, or 2) through some sort of creative writing. Let's for a moment assume that I have the capacity to be equally talented in either of these general areas. Ecology seems like a slightly more helpful and altruistic career path to follow. They both have the capactity to be overwhelming. Ecology may be more grounded, but ultimately may be too deterministic and grueling for me. Writing sounds like more fun, but ignorance is bliss.

The rest of my life starts in an hour and a half. Do I attend the reading in Kroch library or go to the biogeochemistry seminar and learn about mycorrhizas and global climate change? (For all you nerdy, science and etymology, freaks: mycorrhizas is usually written mycorrhizae in the US, but it is more correct to write mycorrhizas, as mycorrhizae mixes the greek base -rhiza- with the latin suffix -ae. Cool, huh? Mycorrhizas are the way of the future. All the Europeans are doing it.)

My mentor, Gretchen, whom I love and respect, says I should look into scientific writing. (Apparently there is a class offered at Cornell.) It sounds dull, but mentors, like mothers, often know us better than we know ourselves, and their suggestions are not to be taken lightly. Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss Josh's suggestion to write about taking soil cores?

Of course there is always option three: trading in my dictionary and fountain pen for feathers, sequins, and the life of a Vegas showgirl. Lola, she was a showgirl . . .

16 November 2003

I would like to take this procrastination break to post another one of my all time favorite songs. "A case of you" by Joanie Mitchell. The lyrics are great, the accoustic guitar is simple and sweet and Joanie Mitchell has one of the sexiest voices of all time. My friend Katie Sawicki covers this songs, and I actually like the way she sings it more, if that's even possible. Tori Amos also covers it, I haven't heard her version yet, but I'm sure my procrastinating ways will remedy that shortly.

Last night I thought for a while about my post on audience. I decided that the whole writing/reading relationship building analogy may only be relevant when we personally know the author/readers. This makes writing for a group of friends and acquantainces difficult.

I also think that certain things are written with the intention of them never being read. Like a poem some avant-garde poet did recently. She tattooed each word of her poem on a different person but didn't tell anyone what the encrypted poem actually said.

I still haven't started studying for my o-chem prelim on tuesday.

15 November 2003

It's 9:00pm on a Saturday night and I'm at the library and my blood sugar is exremely low. I would like to go home, but I must finish the blog for this week, otherwise I'll be thinking about it tomorrow, and I must study for o-chem tomorrow. Have you seen those commercials recently for adult attention deficit disorder? You can test yourself online. I tested negative but I thought it would be a great way to explain my incredible distractedness and disorganization this semester. Perhaps I have adult organic chemistry deficit disorder. If anyone has a link to the test for that I'm interested.

So the computer lab is closing soon. How'd that happen? I've been here since 7pm. Maybe this will have to wait. What DID people do before Google searches, I mean really?

So audience. The interesting thing i've been thinking about lately in relation to audience is how reading and writing parallels building a relationship. In a relationship we start out with superficial topics. The weather, what classes we're taking, where we're from, etc. Then we delve deeper. Politics, political stances, dreams, aspirations, past relationships. Deeper yet. Insecurities, childhood traumas, feelings about the other person. As social beings we have a very accute sense of this process and are very sensitive to disruptions of it. For exampe if you meet someone and the first thing they tell you about is their fetish for touching eye balls. Weird right?

Usually this process is a two way street. We reveal something about ourselves and the person we are building a relationship with matches that revelation with another revelation at the same level. But in a writer/reader relationship, the writer does all the revealing. As a writer I feel like consideration must be taken for the reader to not move to an intimate level to quickly, which may turn the reader away. But then there is the question of poetry? I don't know what to say about that.

My point is that there is a slight imbalance between what, in part, drives the need to write - to reveal some of the most intimate details and emotions of our lives - and what drives the need to read.

As a side note, at this point we all have a pretty imbalanced relationship with Josh. Which is why I think he needs to read to us from his book to even the terrain a bit. What do you say, Josh?

14 November 2003

Arrow Math by Katherine Hawke

This is the most academical thing I've been forced to write in a while. I'm not saying that's bad I'm just saying. But if reading this causes you, my faithful reader, to fall asleep in your chair, which in turn causes your mouth to hang open, from which drool pours forth, and this drool happens to land on your keyboard, which causes an electrical shortage, which causes your computer to crash, which causes you to lose the infinitely more interesting blog you were in the middle of writing, i'm truly sorry. I'll understand if you stop reading now.

You have been warned. So Arrow math. Where to start? The interesting thing about this piece is the way it read as a story, even though it isn't really, though the author would most likely disagree. It would probally also read as a story if it we're jumbled, and put back together in a different order. That's the fascinating thing about this. It isn't a linear, feed-forward story, but a puzzle of the memories, thoughts, and projections of the protagonist. Yet, it does tell a story because as we read we are able to fit the pieces together: Who are Wyn and Larry and Linda and what do they have to do with the protagonist? But memory of history is present tense, so is this really just a confusing exposition? Or could the turning point be the point at which the reader has fit all the pieces together and the rising action is the deeper involvement in the characters the more intimate the reader becomes with them?

I have looked long and hard for another more conventional turning point. It's like playing where's Waldo. The thing is, we expect Waldo to be anywhere, or rather we don't expect him to be anywhere particular. But we do expect the turning point to occur sometime in the last third of the story. But since this story isn't feed-forward that doesn't apply. If we deconstructed the story and put it back together "in order" we would have many potential turning points. The abortion, Wyn leaving the protagonist for Linda, Larry's encounter with the Greenpeace hippie, Larry and Linda visiting the mountain, etc. The turning point that we are expecting is of the protagonists encounter with Linda and/or Larry sometime in the present, beyond the time in which the italicized voice is occuring. This doesn't occur, or maybe it occur's in the words she has figured out that she will tell little Larry. Or perhaps she intended for it not to occur, like her meditation on closure. Maybe I just didn't get it. Who knows?

I think it would be an interesting experiment with this piece to see how crucial the particular arrangement of the numbered puzzle pieces is to the readers interpretation of the characters and the story. If I had started out reading the story by learning that Linda collects makeup and has her nails done I mightn't have liked her so much But then again, I pretty much stopped liking her with this information, so maybe the order is irrelevant?

I also thing the italicized sections were crucial to this piece. Like a mother coaching the me the reader along, begging me to "get it". This voice helped me step back from the piece, and gave me a different, more involved vantage point to view it from. It would have been hard for me to read otherwise. Maybe someone older and wiser would cringe at the well-meaning, but overbearing hand of the author pointing her intentions out. I for one, wouldn't have gotten the metaphor without her gentle, persistent help. It was a metaphor, wasn't it?

10 November 2003

Friday nights with Walt

Throngs of swanky boys and lanky ladies:
Sweaty scents dripping from those who have adorned themselves
To bestow themselves on the first that would take them.

Let's keep it together kids, this is still a rehearsal

Random, late-night, procrastinating-exam-studying, wonderings . . .

Can poetry be proactive? My limited experience is that poetry is mostly a reactive art. If it can be proactive, does anyone actually care enough to read it and to do anything about it? I mean, can poetry be action inspiring instead of merely experience explaining?

On another trajectory: Is there really such thing as fiction? When we write imaginatively, we still write the truth, right? Does anyone sit down at their typewriter and say to themselves, "This is the way the world is, but I'm going to lie about it today?" Hopes are not lies, nor are visions, dreams, wishes, fears, regrets . . . They are truths projected into the future or past, or alter reality/dimension.

Misinterpretations perhaps, but lies? I mean LIES? Let's except the US Government and various media sources from this analysis . . . Or perhaps the crux of this semantic debate lies (no pun intended) in our expectations. It may very well be easier to find untruths in non-fiction than in fiction.

05 November 2003

Smiling like a Fool

As the Ithaca weather we all love to hate turns grayer with each passing day, do not despair, I have the cure!

I've been conducting a, highly unscientific, research experiment this semester. As I walk around campus I commit the social gaucherie of looking at people who pass me, trying to catch their eye, and smiling at them. It's amazing the things people will do to avoid eye contact: play with their cells, bird watch, check to see if they put matching shoes on in the morning, etc. But when I do get their glance long enough to share a smile, it's incredible. A look of wonder comes over many of their faces, "What? Your smiling at me? Wow!" they seem to be thinking. A few of them smile with recognition, "Oh, hey . . . " and the cogs start turning in their heads, "Where am I supposed to know her from?" this reaction is really funny; I want to run after them and explain, "No, no. You don't know me, I'm just a nice person who smiles at strangers, thanks for participating. Oh, and have a nice day." But I've decided that's a little weird, so I figure it at least it gives them something to ponder during the rest of their walk to class. It has been my observation that older people smile more readily than younger people, and people of the opposite sex as the researcher smile more readily than people of the same sex.

This may sound incredibly banal, but it truly is the most ground breaking mood enhancer since prozac. That's the reason why i'm soliciting your help. My conservative estimate is that the average Cornellian has an opportunity to smile at 150 people per day. And there's what, 16 of us? We come from different areas of campus, so our class alone has the possibility of reaching 2400 people. And the fabulous thing about this is that smiling is contagious, a "sticky" message.

So go on and grin like an idiot. Imagine a campus where everyone smiles at eachother. A town? A world? Social civility may reach Tipping Point yet.

Very usually out of the ordinary

Fabulous title, huh? Someday i'll write a story with that title, maybe even a book, who knows. In the meantime I'm preoccupied with finding titles for things i've already written. What is in a name, anyway? Is the title, A) a way to tidily package the meaning of the piece, B) a gimmick to interest the reader, C) strictly informative of content, or perhaps even D) something that came to the author in a dream and is completely unrelated to the piece at hand? How does an author or poet choose a title that isn't melodramatic and vague, and still tells the truth, without turning into a sentence long ordeal? Or is a title even necessary?


Up, up, up into the mountains they climbed, away from the smog, away from the concret jungle gym they called home. At one time she had been fire engine red, but she had turned dusty rose in the relentless California sun. He had aptly named her Rosarita, after a little Mexican town on the Baja where they had once spent the summer together. His parents told him that 64 VW bugs were relics. They knew a collector who would buy her for three times what he'd paid for her in '91, the summer after high school graduation . He wouldn't hear of it. It was like an old cowboy and his horse, he told them. They would ride the trails and superhighways together until one of them died.

Linda rondstadt hummed faintly on the tapedeck he'd installed in college. He sang along to the choruses of her Spanish songs. With all the windows rolled down he let the mountain air blow through his hair and dry the sweat from his back that had completely soaked through his t-shirt to the cracking white vinyl upholstry. Rosarita was most at home in the narrow, busy streets of Mexico, but next to that she was most at home up there, on the open road, in the mountains. In the city she always looked out of place parked next to the BMW's, Porshes and SUV's that crowded around the posh restaurant where he worked in downtown Santa Monica.

Miraculously, she hadn't needed any major repairs since he'd bought her. He was most afraid of her being stolen. He'd been especially paranoid when he'd worked as an editor in a bad part of town, so he'd found a club at a junkyard and used it to deter thieves. It had never actually locked, but he still faithfully placed it on the wheel whenever he left her alone.

The side pockets were stuffed full of maps of places they'd been together. The great basin, Idaho, various national parks in the Southwest and the Las Vegas strip. He had half a pack of marlboro lights in the glove compartment, along with rolling papers and a flask 3/4 full of Wild Turkey Bourbon. His red daypack, nearly as faded as the car, bounced around in the backseat, along with his camping gear and a few gallons of drinking water in plastic jugs, a safety precation after a particularly hazardous adventure into the Mojave desert with the Mexican dishwashers and several bottles of tequila.

Into his daypack he'd stuffed A Brief History of Rome, a dozen sesame seed bagels, cream cheeze, and three litres of cherry koolaid flavored water. Into his book he'd carefully folded a half finished letter to a girl he'd once known, who now went to a liberal arts school on the East coast.

The mountain air blew, Linda Rondstadt sang, he carefully planned how to finish the letter to the girl, and up, up, up the mountain they went.