Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Je pense que

November 19, 2009

Aren’t mornings off loverly?  (Said in an Eliza Doolittle accent of course).  I have exactly 6 hours of personal time to use before the end of the year so I get to spend the morning drinking coffee and, in theory, working on my applications.  Cause you know, they’re due ON DECEMBER FIRST!  Well, three of them are.  No big.

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Ce que je veux

November 19, 2009

I want a kitteh.  And an apartment that allows kittehs.  And a dishwasher.  Kthxbai.

Applications are Hard

November 16, 2009

Why can’t I write a personal statement?  Why is this so hard?  I know exactly why I want to go back to school, I just can’t put it into a coherent no-more-than-2-pages-single-spaced comprehensive argument.  Should it even be an argument?  It was so much easier when all I had to do was prove I could write.  Now I have to prove that I know something, and that I want to know more.

I spent most of the afternoon reading literary theory and loving it.  I picked up the Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature.  I wish I’d had it years ago, it probably would have helped with my thesis.  I was most intrigued by Franco Moretti’s analysis of literature in terms of evolution and economic theory.  He writes:

“While studying the international market for eighteen–nineteenth century novels, I reached very similar conclusions to Even-Zohar’s.  Here, the crucial mechanism by which the market operated was that of diffusion: books from the core were incessantly exported into the semi-periphery and the periphery, where they were read, admired, imitated, turned into models–thus drawing those literatures into the orbit of core ones, and indeed ‘interfering’ with their autonomous development.”  I want to sit down with Moretti and ask him about the shift of the “core.”

I absolutely agree that trends seem to move outward from the dominant global players, but what happens when Chinua Achebe becomes part of the literary canon?  David Damrosch talks about this in his chapter of Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization, how our canon now includes Achebe and Toni Morrison but now neglects some of the old players, the WordsworthBlakeKeatsColeridgeShelley that used to dominate.  If anything our canon is now even more narrow, as only a handful of authors reach preeminence, the “you must read this to be educated” status.  As a lover of literature with a special interest in the postcolonial and (related) the collision of cultures in this now overstated age of globalization, it gives me great pride that many of my favorites are now in this elevated and tauted category.  Still, where would Neruda be without Verlaine, Marquez without Cervantes?  And going back to my original point, what happens when “the core” of Moretti or “the canon” of Damrosch shifts?  In 50 years will we have forgotten Proust altogether in favor of Rushdie?  What will happen to the so-called original core?  Will American and British writers be drawing on the Indian or Chinese literary traditions?  I hope so.

If globalization brings a democratization of the literary canon, so much the better.  Long before I had even been out of the United States I read about far off places and was transported.  I first read House of Spirits in sixth grade, I purloined a tattered old copy that had belonged to my mom.  I was in the Chilean hacienda, the creaky old house with spectral inhabitants.  I knew Paris, and its gutters all too well, from Les Miserables.  I have been to India, Nepal, ancient China, 19th century Japan, and more centuries of British history through slightly trashy fiction than I care to admit.  More is more.  If there were an Antarctic literature I would read it.  I want to see a world where the core works both ways.  Why shouldn’t South American magical realism seep into modern American fiction?

I think this has helped.  Merci mille fois.

My 18-year-old wisdom

October 25, 2009

I was valedictorian of my high school.  In the words of Heather Armstrong, of Dooce, “The reason I am telling you about the valedictorian part is because being able to say, “I was the valedictorian” is the only privilege I ever got in life from achieving that goal. No one ever hired me because I was valedictorian. The lesson to be learned from this is: AIM LOW. Save yourself the time.”  Couldn’t agree more.

This is the speech I gave at my high school graduation.  I still agree with most of it, although I no longer want to be an actress.  I will explain why at some point.

graduation speech

“The Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea.  In between the rocks around her house grow blue and purple and rose-colored flowers.  The Lupine Lady is little and old.  But she has not always been that way.  I know.  She is my great-aunt, and she told me so.  Once upon a time she was a little girl named Alice, who lived in a city by the sea…Many years ago her grandfather had come to America on a large sailing ship.  In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather’s knee and listened to his stories of faraway places.  When he had finished, Alice would say, ‘When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.’  ‘That is all very well, little Alice,’ said her grandfather, ‘but there is a third thing you must do.’  ‘What is that?’ asked Alice.  ‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful,’ said her grandfather.”

Many of you probably recognize this as the children’s story Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Yet in the youthful statement “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea,” I can see myself as a child.  Personally, I’ve wanted to be an actress since I could talk.  But I remember in fifth grade Emily and I were sure we would live together in a little house by the ocean in Owl’s Head with seven cats and five dogs.  I would be a writer, and she would illustrate my books.  One of my best friends wanted to be a “singer ballerina actress cowgirl.”

I have come to realize that some of the most important life lessons I have learned over the last eighteen years have not come from a text book or even a kind word of advice, but through my experiences with children.  On the weekends in the winter for the last two years, I have given three- to six-year-olds ski lessons, which is really more like babysitting on skis.  If you have ever asked a child what he or she wants to be when she grows up, the responses are diverse, but often ludicrous and impractical at least from an adult’s viewpoint.  Ballerina, cowgirl, movie star, rock singer, princess, and baseball player are all common answers when I pose the question to the kids in my ski groups.  Kids seem to have an endless supply of dreams.  They don’t think “I can’t” immediately, because no one has ever told them that they can’t do something.

Adults are generally much more realistic and practical about their goals.  Still, there are plenty of people who immediately think “I can’t” before their dream even has a chance to develop.  It’s often more comfortable to make excuses rather than pulling yourself out of your comfort zone and risking failure.  If you never try, it’s easy to say “well, I could have done this, but something prevented me.”  If every adult kept a bit of that childhood optimism inside him or her, I am sure many more dreams would be realized.

Another thing I have learned in working with children is the importance of experiencing life as though everything is happening for the first time.  Children explore their world with eyes of wonder, and never become blasé.  To a child, everything is new and exciting.  My five- and six-year-olds, for example, are fascinated by the way light reflects off the snow as you ride over it in a chairlift.  I’ve seen this phenomenon so many times that I think “hmm, pretty,” and then forget about it.  But the children are mesmerized by the glistening white.  Children can also play with blocks for hours, and then are surprised every single time when the tower they have constructed falls down.  They find wonder in the smallest things, such as the shape of a flower or the way a bird soars through the sky.  As adults, it becomes all too easy to let these small things of beauty pass by.  The world becomes gray and dull, because we’ve seen everything before.  Yet if we stop every once in a while, and smell the proverbial roses, we will be amazed at what we encounter.

I urge you, the Class of 2002, retain a bit of your childhood self.  Remember how even the smallest things in life can be infinitely beautiful, and never give up on your dreams.  Never become jaded or pessimistic.  We’re lucky.  We’re young, and we have the rest of our lives to correct the mistakes we may (and probably will) make along the way.  So take a few risks, see the world, do something you’d never imagine yourself doing. And travel the world, and then do something to make the world more beautiful.

arroz con frijoles

October 15, 2009

I was vegetarian for seven years.  This is how it happened:

When I was in seventh grade my sister had a stroke.  Specifically, she had an arterio-venal malformation, which is when a big vein and a little vein go together and the little vein can’t take the pressure over time so it explodes.  Or something.  My sister collapsed after tug of war at Field Day, was rushed to the hospital and underwent an incredibly risky brain surgery to remove the bleeding.

That week, in 1997, the Dalai Lama happened to be in Los Angeles.  Thanks to this twist of fate and a couple of degrees of separation, on the day of my sister’s second (less risky but still terrifying) surgery, the Dalai Lama was carrying around a picture of my sister and praying for her recovery.  I thought that was cool.  I still think it’s cool.  At the time I thought that as a token of gratitude I should probably become Buddhist.  Now, in 1997 there weren’t a lot of Buddhists in Maine.  That has probably changed due to the hippiefication of Portland, but even so there weren’t terribly many resources for a 12-year-old who wanted to be Buddhist.  In fact, about the only thing I knew about Buddhism was they were vegetarian.

Ergo, I stopped eating meat, lobster, the delectable tiny Maine shrimp that are mind blowing with butter and garlic, all of it.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I was incredibly picky to begin with, subsisting primarily on spaghetti with butter and the occasional chicken nugget, so it just added a few more things to the long list of things I would not eat.

Fast forward seven years, when I was nineteen and running like hell to escape the insanity that is New York City.  I was running 30 miles a week or so and started getting an uncontrollable craving for chicken that I just could not fight.  I dragged my friend Vicki to this place in Midtown that supposedly had the best grilled chicken in the city and ordered a gigantic salad with a full chicken breast on it.  Not the half one but the double kind.  It was the best thing I had ever tasted.  I promptly got sick for three days but damn was it worth it.

These days I eat most things.  Except green peppers, those I cannot stand.  But I just read In Defense of Food and have jumped on the eat less meat bandwagon, although somewhat half heartedly.

Last night for the first time in awhile I made rice and beans.  I had a bunch of onions and garlic, so I browned those up and then added 2 cans of black beans.  I had a couple of ears of corn in the fridge so de-eared them and threw in the kernels.  I also put in some salsa, the pico kind with the big chunks of tomatoes, a little Marie Sharps hot sauce, crushed red pepper, black pepper and salt.  I served the beans over rice pilaf, sprinkled a little cheese on top and nuked a few corn tortillas.  The end result was delicious.

It almost made me think about going full on veg again.

Amazon wish list

October 15, 2009

Today I ate lunch at my desk, which is always a bad idea because it means I go completely stir crazy by about 2pm.

While I was eating lunch at my desk however I went to Amazon and started adding books I want to read to my cart.  I didn’t even get into cookbooks or hardcover and when lunch was over I had $314 worth of words in my cart.

That’s a lot of words.

Hello world!

October 15, 2009

The other day I had this conversation with my friend Becca (of Hello Beezy)

me: is it weird that I’ve been daydreaming about courses I want to teach?

Rebecca: no
i’ve done tat
me: awesome
12:19 PM I think the intersection of literature and culture is really interesting
like, I would totally teach a class on bloggers
and internet celebrity
and how they are shaping the cultural discourse
or the globalization of literature
Rebecca: that sounds awesome
12:20 PM or neruda? 🙂
me: ahhh neruda
le amo
so the film il postino is a perfect example of the globalization of literature
Rebecca: yes
12:21 PM me: or the classic production of midsummer night’s dream performed in communist prague
or hell, 7th graders in mississippi reading chinua achebe
maybe not 7th graders
12:22 PM certainly 10th graders
12:23 PM I’m sure that kid in mississippi who likes the book has a completely different experience than a Nigerian immigrant kid in paris
THIS IS WHY I CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT
also, this is why I should probably start a blog
Rebecca: totally
12:24 PM me: hang on have to go pee and heat up my lunch
So there you go.
Way to end on a classy note, me.