30 December 2003

And I'm back. Mac and I joined my family for a delightfully snowy vacation to the quaint western-themed town of Sisters, OR. My cross-country skiing muscles are duly sore and my younger brothers and I had ample time to reaquaint over snowballs and quarrels for the TV remote.

Now we're back in sunny DC. Mac's back at work and I'm enjoying bumhood in the library of congress until I figure out where to go next. I found out over break that the Dean Campaign internships don't provide housing. No pay I can deal with, but finding housing and affording rent on a part time waitressing job is going to be hard to pull off. I haven't got wads of cash to donate, so the least I can do is donate my time. My duty as an American isn't it? The most pressing question is: do I intern someplace sunny and warm, (South Carolina), someplace with plenty of cross country skiing (Burlington) or someplace close to Mac (DC)? Feminism completely fails me when it comes to important decision making.

Follow these holiday drinking tips and have a Happy New Year!

19 December 2003

I'm done, i'm done, I'M DONE! Being done and successfully eluding the Cornell parking police all in the same day, does it get any better than this? I'm going to start packing my things, still not sure where I'm moving them. Never more alive than times like these!

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of stories that shows the trials of life, everyday life, for characters whose lives are immersed in Indian culture, slightly in some cases, completely in others. Lahiri’s refreshing style is characterized by an objective narrative style, austere descriptions, simple, unencumbered dialogue, and painfully open resolutions.

Lahiri uses third person narration in all but two of her short stories. This narration style allows Lahiri to easily present slices from her characters lives, unimpeded by the complicated task of delving into personal psyche. She deftly uses objective description in the third person to successfully reveal the motivations and personalities of her characters. Even in the two stories where she uses first person narration, the facts are presented with objectivity and she spends relatively little time dwelling in the narrating character’s head.

Lahiri’s style is clean, austere, and at times, cold. Her simplicity of language may lead one to question the merits of this collection or her talents as an author. Ultimately, though, her clean style makes for easy reading and is much of the appeal of this collection.

The style of her writing made getting into each of the stories very easy. In the first two or three pages of each there is a subtle “catch” that draws the reader into the story, even without the reader’s full awareness. These catches are so slight that it is a stretch to call them by their more formal term, conflict. She presents such stunning slices of life that it takes reading through the story again to recognize that all the traditional elements of a short story are indeed present.

The climax in each story falls approximately two pages from the end. Lahiri does a marvelous job of not resolving much with the resolutions, but instead leaving things, almost painfully, open: showing how real life continues on for the characters. Some of her resolutions show more finality than others. The resolution in “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar” showed the most closure of any resolution in the collection. This resolution gave the story a fable-like quality. The resolution reads, “But there was no point in carrying out an investigation. She was, to the best of our knowledge, cured” (172). This mythic quality may be partly attributed to the non-mainstream cultural and historical context in which it is set. For the most part, though, it is this strong resolution that leaves a “happily ever after” taste in the readers mouth. The resolutions in the other stories seem more like big gulps of air in brief moments of understanding before the struggles continue.

Another element I found fascinating in this collections was the use of dialogue. It seemed overly common, at times forced, and sometimes left me wondering why Lahiri had presented such a mundane interaction. Adverbs and descriptions of any other kind that would tell about the tone of the conversations are essentially absent. As a result I was left feeling that the conversations were dry and forced. However, this is yet another element of Lahiri’s austere, “show, don’t tell” style. The conversations are left open to interpretation, and the contextual clues give most everything necessary to interpret the dialogue.
The dry tone of the dialogue also comes closer to realistically portraying actual human verbal interaction. Sanjeev and Twinkle are very believable characters in “This Blessed House” when they have the following interaction discussing the stew Twinkle has made:

“How did you make it?”
“I made it up.”
“What did you do?”
“I just put some things into the pot and added the malt vinegar at the end.”
“How much vinegar?” (144)

Instead of adding distracting interjections like “he asked expectantly” or “she replied dully” the conversation stands on its own and comes alive based on the readers own conversational experience.

In this collection Lahiri has developed a clean, unencumbered style that poignantly and vividly depicts everyday life that is subtly, and at times overpoweringly, infused with Indian culture. Her stories are unabashed and unavoidable. Lahiri’s clean narrative style contributes to the ease with which these stories are received and, perhaps the point being, interpreted.

18 December 2003

Max abandoned me hours ago. I have a mind for nothing and a slow wit for all the world.

Just one more thing and then I'll get down to business. . . There is a girl in the fishbowl, I have a great view of her from my computer in the sweatbox. Her notes and textbooks and red takenote printoust are spilling over into the two carrels on either side of her. Her eyes scan the text in front of her, back and forth back and forth, machine like. Her headphones hang over her ears and behind her neck (the music must be loud, because the boy sitting two chairs over keeps giving her annoyed looks, which she is oblivious to.) She's shoves a bagel in her face, and sips something hot, and pauses periodically to smear a pink tube of chapstick on her lips and rub a purple lotion from Bath and Body Works on her hands, all the while her eyes don't stop their methodical back and forth movement over the text. Her legs are pumping rythmically, frantically. I think she's going to explode.

Max and I are here at the library finishing our portfolios. It's 9:30pm and they won't kick me out of here until 2:00am. Covered in cookie crumbs and a chai mustache and the night is yet young . . .

17 December 2003

The few undergrads still clinging to the safe confines of Uris library are a haggard looking group indeed. One more Lourie for the road. Incidentally this is the last in his book that began with the "Thinking of You" posted previously.


and what about just those few hours each day
you said you would keep clear for writing poems
here it is sunset in upstate New York
all day good things : visits letters music
food but nothing at all in your notebook
no dreams no politics no loving
why didn't you sit down right away fresh
early morning coffee at the desk limber
and start to write now it's too late again

and in your bed tonight what will you say
to the legion of dead poets who walk
into your sleep like brothers and sisters
coming home and insist that tomorrow
might be your last day alive they say "hurry
soon enough you will have to be silent-
before that : speak and speak we are listening"

Incidentally, Anima was published by Hanging Loose Press, and Lourie was a founding editor of the poetry magazine HANGING LOOSE. I think something in our meeting, or rather in my meeting him, was preordained. But Christmas will do that to a seriously lapsed Catholic.

From Dick Louries' Anima (1977)

"Thinking of You"

about one month before my thirty-third
birthday I finally decided I
have to write poems more often than every
six weeks that goes for you too you know you'll
have to decide sometime do it now it
may be too late at the edge of thirty-three
for me it's almost winter before I
make up my mind the sun setting at half-past
four by now and to go out even in the
day I need a coat please listen do it
even if it's ony rain as you cross
the mountain or being scared by the sight
of the president's face at a news conference
or quarrels with your lover do it poems
more often even if it's only that you
come around a turn onto the plain and see
New Paltz in the distance like phony Camelot
and the pumkins dead in the roadside fields

Some english teacher or another of mine in high school told me that the poem "This is just to say," you know, the one about the plums, was the greatest love poem ever written. I didn't get it then, I though she was cracked (and this is not to say I've changed my opinion about that) but I started thinking about it sometime towards the end of the semester last spring. I thought it was written by cummings, so I checked out a few collections of his poems, and read them over the summer, looking for inspiration, and maybe even few snippets to plagiarize, for a love letter i'd been promising about a love that I felt had long since lost its poem inspiring qualities. Any fool could have told me that the poem is actually by William Carlos Williams (I don't know why I didn't just google it straight off anyway).

I've since lost one of the e.e. cummings books and I still don't get the big deal about the damn, cold plums.

Do I fess up and pay the lost book fine? Or renew it online, every six weeks . . . for the rest of my life?

16 December 2003

Power steering is one of those things so ubiquitously taken for granted.

I drove an '84 subaru wagon, without power steering, all through high school. For the longest time I didn't know that steering a car could even happen without two hands and a significant amount of body weight thrown in the desired direction.

Anyway, I was on my way to the Ithaca Montessori School to pick up the little boy I babysit for, when the power steering in my '95 mercury tracer goes out. Luckily I was close to the Triphammer Mobile station, so I pulled in and decided to check the power steering fluid. It wasn't the fluid, but I did have a terrifically frayed and snapped belt of somesort. "Yup, that 'serpentine' belt has been wanting to go for while," Bill, or Will, or Bob, or Joe told me. "So could that have caused my power steering to go out?" I naively asked. For this I got a "Duh, HELL-o!" look from the Bob's and Joe's and Bill's in the shop. "Aint nothin gonna work, honey, without a serpentine belt."

"Oh." Sometimes my indelible bastion of ignorance doesn't serve me so well.

I think it was Joe's wife that was there, and while Joe was calling for an estimate, we chatted and she filled me in on serpentine belts. A woman who knows her way around cars, that's what I like to see! "I only know because it's happened to me too."


This is actually related to one of my more recent schemes that's been simmering since sometime last summer. I've grown more than tired of being in jobs where anytime there is a dirty, mechanical, or mildly physical "man's job" to do my male coworkers crowd around it to the exclusion of the females. Especially true when it comes to fixing cars. And admittedly, I don't often have the technical skills for these jobs. Why? Who knows. I probally rolled my eyes in boredom when my Dad tried to teach me how to change oil, and opted for riding horse when my brothers were busy tinkering over the mopeds that where forever breaking. But that's no excuse. I feel like there is a need for women in general to become more educated when it comes to performing technical work like car maintenance, basic plumbing, electric work, wood shop, and other general house maintenance tasks.

There also needs to be a safe environment for women to learn these skills. I took shop in high school and was intimidated, and sometimes down right scared, of the boys in my classes who would run around with welding torches and throw chunks of wood at the spinning table saws. My all-male shop teachers had a "boys will be boys" attitude about this sort of behaviour that made me mad, even then.

I want to start a travelling school of sorts that would go to towns and provide classes for women of all ages, hosted by local high schools and universities. I want a network of these schools across the country. Regional bases that will reach out to towns and cities in the local area. Different themed classes will be offered. Mother/daughter oil changing courses and so on. Quilting circles are things of the past; I want to see "build your own sawhorse circles." I also think these classes would be a great way for women to connect and build community.

I would ideally want instructors to be all female too. My friend Jessica B. told me a story about teaching woodshop to kids at a camp last summer. One little girl came up to her at the end of the day and asked if she were the real or the substitute teacher. When Jessica informed the girl that she was the real shop teacher the little girl gasped in surprise and said, "Ohhh. I thought you were going to be an old man!" This is what's wrong with America.

I'm sure there are already classes like this offered. But I want something institutionalized. Kind of like those "changing" classes in middle school and MMR shots. No girl will graduate high school without basic house and car mainenance skills. And no woman will have to rely on her husband to someday get around to fixing the leaking water facet; she'll do it herself.

And I don't mean to leave men out of this either. I realize that many boys and men have missed opportunities to learn skills like this as well. Co-ed courses would be a possibility, but courses for females would be the focus, with some unfortunate, but necessary, reverse discrimination in the process.

In the meantime I have to decide whether or not to switch my blog over to a cool spiderman template? Maybe if they had a template of spiderwoman . . .

11 December 2003

One down and two to go (both tomorrow!)
I have never spent so much time being jealous of my cats.

10 December 2003

I haven't had a love affair with a Julia, but I am going to work on the Dean campaign in January. Catch the bug.

09 December 2003

The most productive thing I've done today? Held doors for just a beat longer than normal for 8 non-expectant strangers. Not entirely displeased with my accomplishements, either.

the garbage disposal just ate my inertia.

07 December 2003

more google searching procrastination . . .

"There are few poems of the last ten years that have moved me as much as some of his."--Denise Levertov.

She said that around 1977 about Dick Lourie and his book, Anima. In a moment I'm going over to ruminate in the musty stacks of Olin with him. Love can't wait, organic chemistry can.

so much for flashbulb memories.

for the last week I've been pestering the poor man in bear necesseties, across from the bagel place in collegetown. I suppose it's not his fault he let that poem slip out my life forever, but how dare he claim it had never been there?

i ran out of eggs this afternoon and stopped by the grocery store in collegetown. there it was. not in a faded black, wooden frame, surrounded by knickknacks, as I remember it so vividly, but in a scratched, plastic sleeve, on the wall between the eggs and the produce. all is not lost.

it's titled "what it's like living in Ithaca New York" by dick lourie. it's printed with a photograph by a woman who's name I forgot. at least one other person has also found it. i invite you to as well. but there is the utter impossibility of giving it to you in a way that will affect you like it did me. maybe that's not the point. forget i ever said anything about it, then it will surprise you, too. expect is a dirty word.

time to slip out of, or into, the weekend fog that is yet thick and persistent.

05 December 2003

Response to Laura's Blog.

Laura had a statement in her blog that I found interesting: "Only lies can save man from the opressive power of certainty." Maybe certainty is an oppresive power. I must be thankful, then, that I have never been certain of anything in this life.

Perhaps a quote would be appropriate here. This quote is from an artist's reflection on her artwork "The Ark," which I saw in the Duke University Art Museum many years ago. I was looking at colleges and was supposed to be getting interviewed or going on a campus tour, or something like that. Instead I hid in the art museum and sunned myself in the gardens surrounding it, and decided I didn't want to go to school just yet. Anyway, the artist was a Russian Immigrant who built an ark and filled it with the scrapbook of her life. I'm sorry I don't remember her name.

"It is one of the most fascinating endeavors and states; to be living still and yet not living . . . and to see this entire life as though from the sidelines, as though from some sort of height . . . And possibly this is one of the lightest, most wonderful states; without all feelings, without pain, exhaustion and uncertainty ahead, to see everything, to float above everything, and what's most important - to be relieved of your uncertain and long life, in which you are never sure of anything."

Perhaps the level of certainty in life depends on one's outlook. We seek lives that are either more or less certain. And who is to say which is the better path?

04 December 2003

OK, I've been in Uris for two hours putzing around on the internet . . . I'm missing "The Simple Life" for this?

Down to business: Two poetry readings in GWS from a few weeks back.

Pilar Gomez-Ibanez read poetry and Seph Murtagh read a short story.

Gomez-Ibanez had two poems, "Fox on Lake Erie" and "That We Might Leave This Place." They were more phanopoetic than anything else. From "Fox," I liked the line 'That I might fall into your dizzying whiff of danger.' I am a collector of words, and hearing something that I don't have written before me makes for hard collecting. Maybe that's a good thing.

I thought it was unusual the way she prefaced each of her poems by saying where it was from, why she had written it, and what it was about. In some sense I thought it detracted from the poems: ones you've read the Cliff Notes, why bother with the book? On the other hand, maybe it's somewhat necessary to focus the listeners attention so they can better engage with the poem. I was left wondering if this was typical for poetry readings. I guess I'll just have to attend more and find out.

Gomez-Ibanez had another poem that she said was written about a Romeo and Juliet story that took place in Rwanda. The poem seemed to be more about fishing. There probally was much more to it than that, but I was daydreaming.

I absolutely loved Seph Murtagh's story, "Racing the Mexicans." A completely captivating, humorous, story with a marvelously sombre twist at the end. It reminded me very much of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" in it's conversational, free flowing style, its rhythm, and in its content/mood. But maybe that's just because Murtagh sounded like the man reading "On the Road" on my book on tape. Murtagh was a very dynamic speaker and his voice was very authentic for the narrator's character in the story. This made me wonder how much the way something is read influences how it is perceived by the audience. There is no way I could have read this story and made it sound as authentic or captured as much humor as Murtagh did. The characters he depicted really came alive for me, and he deftly wove dialogue in with the narration. A fantastic escape from the here and now.

6ix trillion, 9ine hundred and 2wenty-2wo billion, 2wo hundred and 8ighty-6ix million, 5ive hundred and 7eventy-8ight thousand, 4our hundred and 5ifty-3hree at 8ight:3hirty-9ine pm, December 4ourth 2wo thousand 3hree

why don't we have lower case numbers?

03 December 2003

I found this quote in my 8th grade journal:

"Art to an artist is simply Life, his life, of which he has an amplitude and intensity unknown to us. What his art does for us is thrill us awake to the amplitude and intensity of all life, our own included."

- From Wilderness: a Journal of Quiet Adventures in Alaska by Rockwell Kent

This passage encompasses what I was trying to say yesterday during our discussion about writers, the gift and ability of writers, and one of the reasons for writing/reading.