26 February 2008


Still no news on Cambridge.  Only one more day to go before I can call and harass someone.
Tonight I went to my first ballet class in nearly two months.  Not surprisingly, I was stiff and out of shape.  More surprisingly, I just couldn't concentrate.  I waited a long time to go back because I didn't want to be too sad to get anything out of it, but it turns out I am still too sad to get anything out of it.  I kept thinking about the thing that's been upsetting me, and that would make me forget the combinations, which is both deadly and the reverse of what's supposed to happen. Ideally, class should force you to focus on class -- if you want to do it well, you need to concentrate on what you're doing -- and that pushes everything else from your mind.  For me, everything else was pushing class from my mind.

In order to try to clear my passageways, I decided to come home and do a little writing.  And because I wanted to write about something that would move me away from everything I've been thinking about, I decided to write about a really random topic that just popped into my head:  skin.

I was watching the Oscars last night, and I admired Anne 
Hathaway's skin when she was on the red carpet (that was a beautiful dress, too, by the way).  Then this afternoon my Divine Comedy DVD arrived and, watching it, I noticed that Neil Hannon has very thin skin under his eyes:  as thin as the skin one usually sees on old men. Given this background, I guess skin isn't that random. And, oddly enough, I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about it.  

At some point, something seems to happen to skin.  I'm not sure when, but some time in the late twenties the pores on some facial skins get bigger.  This certainly happened on my skin. But apparently it doesn't happen to everyone.  When I was watching the DVD today I was struck by how very much Neil Hannon's skin seemed to have had just the opposite happen:  it's as if his skin turned to paper.  I've heard people described as having "parchment skin" before, but I didn't really know what that meant until  I saw him on the DVD.  Not that his skin looks ugly, or old.  It simply looked smooth -- and under the eyes it looked fragile, tender.  Curious.   His pores, it would seem, did not get bigger, since this smooth look would seem only to be possible with small pores.  And men have thicker skin than women (this is a physical fact, not just a figure of speech), but Neil Hannon's skin looked very thin indeed.

Then, too, the aging of skin is a mystery.  Smoking ruins it for sure, and so does going in the sun, but aside from those things it just seems to be the luck of the draw.  My family has all had great skin -- we've all managed to look about ten years younger than we really are (well, I'd say I look about eight years younger than I am).  And nothing seems to have caused problems with that.  My father was a heavy smoker until he was 30; my mother certainly spent a great deal of time in the sun as a child; I never go in the sun, don't smoke, and push fluids, but I wouldn't say I look any younger than they looked at my age.  Curious.

Then I think about the kind of skin I like.  I've always preferred pale skin, and in part I've stayed out of the sun just because I think I look better pale.  Last summer my friend Leslie said to me, "Whenever I read about women in novels who have milky-white skin, I think of you."  I would say that ranks in the top five of things people have said to me (right up there with the time I went out to a concert with my friend Stephen, all dressed up, and as we were walking home at the end of the evening he said, "Every other woman there had something wrong with her:  her shoes were wrong, or her lipstick didn't quite work.  But you, you looked perfect."  Beat THAT!  And he didn't even want to sleep with me).  But I've always preferred it for other people, too.  As my list of Things I Like, below, makes plain, pale men are for me.  Maybe I'm instinctively attracted to good health, and pale skin is a sign of that?  Funnily enough, my former husband tended toward the olive, and I left him.  And my last boyfriend was also darker-skinned -- and what's more, preferred me with a tan (although it came from a bottle) -- and I broke up with him, too.  So perhaps I do have some kind of tendency to become less attached to the less pale.

And on that nonsensical note, I exit.

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24 February 2008

Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet.

...or so says Rousseau.  

As of 16 minutes from now, there will only be three more days before I can call up and ask about the fellowship.  On the one hand, I'm looking forward to that:  I'm justifiably irritated that my department wants my course descriptions for next fall, my bookstore wants my book order for next fall, but I have no idea whether or not I'm going to be here next fall. Plus, knowing that I had the fellowship would make it easier to live here in the near future -- I could move more easily through my days if I knew they were numbered.  On the other hand, lately I've been realizing that I just believe I'm going to get this fellowship, but I could in fact not be selected.  It has happened that the first-ranked person has been passed over.  So maybe waiting to hear is not so bad.  Of course, I won't know that until I hear.

Anyway, I decided to while away some of the remaining time by writing a post about New Order.  I've been listening to some of their old stuff lately, and it reminded me how affecting music can be.  I once tried to explain to my best friend an epiphany I'd had while listening to a Cure song, and she said, "You just get so much more out of music than I do."  I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly true that I get an enormous amount out of it. Truth be told, I think it has a greater effect on me even than literature, which I've made my career.  And this effect is most clearly displayed by New Order.

I didn't know who New Order were until I lived with my friend Jennifer for a year. 
I scarcely knew Jennifer before I moved in with her, so I didn't know that she had what was, for America in 1986, very unusual taste in music.  Jennifer's very favorite band was Joy Division.  She's the only person I've ever met who actually had a crush on Ian Curtis (that's him on the right.  I myself have always thought that Ian Curtis is one of the most nondescript people I've ever seen.  He's not unattractive, but he's not attractive, and to me he just looks like thousands of other ordinary English boys).  Of 
course, by this time Ian Curtis was dead, and Joy Division had become New Order...and Jennifer had all their albums (I think at the time that meant four).  The first thing she ever played me was "Temptation," off the Temptation ep.  

Now, I had already heard "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on my own, and I thought of it then what I think of it now:  that it was a fine song, but nothing to drool over.  Since I'd moved in with Jennifer she'd played me other Joy Division, and I certainly thought "She's Lost Control" was very good (although not as fantastic as I now think it is).  But Joy Division did not prepare me for New Order.  Ian Curtis has a very unusual voice for a singer of popular music, I know.  But "unusual" does not mean "plangent," and I found and find his monotone a little dull after the first couple of lines.  But Bernard Sumner!  I once read an interview with Peter Hook in which he described talking to 
his mother after Ian Curtis hanged himself and the band decided to continue on under a new name.  She said to him, "What will you do?"  And he said, "Bernard Dicken will be the singer."  To which she apparently replied, "But Bernard Dicken can't sing!"  If you listen to "Temptation," there's no arguing with that, and if you listen to later stuff you can see that, although he got a lot better, he never became what you'd call a singer.  Not that Ian Curtis was what you'd call a singer, either - but the two are totally different.  At least up until Technique Sumner sounded to me as if he was pitching his voice riskily high:  he always seemed to be singing slightly above his natural range, and cracking could be a mere hairsbreadth away.  The result of this, for some reason, was an undertone of anguish for me so emotionally raw that it grabbed on to my own raw emotion.  And Peter Hook's bass imitates and enhances that sense of anguish.  He plays so high up on the neck that it's actually slightly slightly painful to hear.  The combination of the two creates a tightly suppressed pressure in my stomach - which is where I feel music.

But "Temptation" has neither Sumner singing like that nor Hook playing like that, so that can't be the reason why I was entranced by the band from the first.  In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I think I paid attention to the song because the opening line is, "Oh, you've got green eyes," and I have green eyes.  But I suspect that what hooked me was that four-on-the-floor beat.  There's no mistaking "Temptation" for anything other than dance music, and the best kind of dance music:  the kind that forces your body to move whether or not your mind wants it to.  And if you listen to the lyrics of "Temptation" your mind will not want to dance.  This is a song in which a man seems to be mourning the human lot -- "Bolts from above hit the people down below;/People in this world really have nowhere to go./Oh, it's the last time, oh, it's the last time."  Even if this isn't an expression of sorrow, it's an utterance puzzling enough that you want to stop and think about it for a bit (the last time for or of what?).  But that utterance is set to a driving back beat that just, literally, moves you.  This construction is repeated in numberless New Order songs:  "Face-up" (in which Sumner screams, "Your  hair was long; your eyes was blue:/Guess what I'm gonna do to you?/Oh, how I cannot bear the thought of you!" over a poundingly complex drum line), "Perfect Kiss" (with its strange lyric about, apparently, suicide and guilt), "Love Vigilantes" (which Jennifer and I loved one summer, and played in the car whenever we drove anywhere)....  In fact, I would say it's their trademark (well, that and Hook's bass).

I think, honestly, that it's this combination that makes New Order affect me so strongly.  My body dances with happiness while my mind listens to those terrible sorrowful lyrics sung in that anguished voice, and my emotions are made miserable.  The result is a strange kind of catharsis -- I might even say a perfect catharsis, because my body performs a catharsis of happiness while my emotions are worked up to a pitch of intensely felt sorrow that is also released through the dancing.  "Temptation" was the first example of this, and it still remains the best and fullest.  There's a point close to the end of the song where Sumner sings:

Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.
Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.

And then, with his voice rising as if what he had to say was now intensely urgent,

Bolts from above hurt the people down below;
People in this world we have no place to go.
Oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time; 
Oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time; oh, it's the last time...

This point in the song is the closest to a Sufi transcendental experience I've ever had.  The lyric, combined with its music, becomes incantatory:  it sucks you into its moment as fully as possible.  Moreover, if you're dancing (and at that point I always am), you can release your head from you neck and snap it back and forth.  I'm quite sure this does or will do some damage to the brain stem, but the effect is to release me from my mind in some way, so that I am erased and become, for that moment, part of the song itself.  There's nothing outside the body moving to the music, and there's nothing moving inside the body but the music.  It's ecstacy, in both senses of the word.

How could poetry ever have anything on that?

(This doesn't work on the 7", by the way.  They've edited out one of the "bolts from above..." sections, so the cumulative lead-up is destroyed.)

Funnily, Jennifer and I have had some sort of strange cessation in/of our friendship, an unexplained trailing off.  But I'll never stop being thankful to her for this introduction.

Incidentally, my parents were shocked at the band's name.  They kept asking me if I knew what it meant, and they simply couldn't get over that a band would ever choose that name, or be successful once they had it.
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20 February 2008

Today is not going to be a good day.  I just feel it.

On the other hand, I should remember that there's just as much chance it WILL be a good day. It's only 8:53am; I have no idea what the day holds.  Somewhere else things could be going some way that I can't even imagine, and that could affect my day.  Or it could just be that wonderful things are to happen, and since I haven't even left my house they just haven't happened yet.
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17 February 2008

Small Saturday Thoughts

As of today there are only 11 more days until I'm in a position to demand some news about the Cambridge Fellowship I applied for.  I was originally told there'd be news around the end of January, but of course bureaucracy moves more slowly than promises promise, so now the new date is February 27.  Since the fellowship is for the academic year 2008/09, I think it's reasonable to want to know by the end of February.  Also, it would give me something to look forward to, and a point around which to organize my life.

The picture above is of the St. John's College library.  I won't be going to St. John's if I get the fellowship, but I liked the picture because it makes the library look long, and empty, and most of all quiet, quiet in that funny way where the silence makes you imagine what the place would be like if it were noisy:  a silence so silent that it produces its opposite in your mind, and that production makes you feel the silence more deeply.  In Canto V of Don Juan Byron says, "Perhaps there's nothing.../...saddens more by night as well as day,/Than an enormous room without a soul/To break the lifeless splendour of the whole. // [I]n a mighty hall or gallery, both in/More modern buildings and those built of yore,/A kind of death comes o'er us all alone,/ Seeing what's meant for many with but one."  But my experience is just the opposite.  I find it enormously pleasurable to stand in places that are often full but are empty at the time I'm standing in them, or to stand in huge places that could hold many but are currently empty and silent.  There's something about the lack of crowd where I know there could be (or know there was) a crowd that makes the silence, and the peace, fuller, and makes me experience it more fully.  I don't know what that shows, except perhaps that Byron truly didn't like being solitary, and I truly do - solitariness being made more emphatically solitary when it occurs in somewhere designed to be crowded.  Um (as Byron would say).
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16 February 2008

The Sad Second Post

In my real life, where I am a person with a name and where revelations have consequences, I could never say how unhappy I am.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, I've been unhappy for quite a while, and I have told people, and I feel it's got to the stage where continued announcements about that are just boring.  Second, there's nothing anyone - including me - can do about it. Announcing unhappiness doesn't make it go away.  Third, the events that have made me unhappy are ongoing and un-fixable, and also, I think, trivial.  So if I were to announce my unhappiness to those I know, I would either be searching for a solution that isn't available or hoping for a resolution, an easing, that isn't possible - and I would feel embarrassed.

But I am, indeed, deeply unhappy.  Part of this unhappiness stems from my situation.  Part of it, however, stems from my unhappiness that I can't make myself stop being unhappy.  I know that this inability to stop is situational.  My life -- job, place of residence, social existence - are very unsatisfying at the moment, so my initial unhappiness has nothing to offset it, and the source of my happiness, when I had it, was very very important.  So both positive feelings and negative feelings take on a vastly magnified importance.  But I hate the fact that I would like to feel good but can't.

I am also deeply unhappy because a thing happened to make me unhappy, and even if this thing is resolved in a positive way in the end, it still will have happened.  Whatever moving on I do will be moving on in spite of caused unhappiness, rather than moving on from happiness to a more settled kind of happiness or to further, greater happiness.  A Bad Thing will have to be got over.  I thought (I really did think) that I was going to get to be happy, and now it seems that I will only, at best, have gotten to be happy, then unhappy, then happy again.

I'm also unhappy because, if this bad thing isn't got over (and there's a huge part of me - most of me - that believes it won't be), I will have had to suffer a very painful loss.  This is the part that's trivial.  Everybody suffers painful losses, and many of those losses are far worse than what happened to me.  I wish I could just put this quotidian and relatively small occurrence behind me, accept it, and move on.  But I can't.  And that inability makes me feel inadequate, or inferior.  I am suffering A LOT over something that many other people seem not to suffer over at all, and that upsets me.  

And finally I think I'm unhappy because I understand.  If I were in a situation where I could be angry, simply angry, I think I would be happier.  But in this situation I understand all motivations; I can't blame anyone.  So I don't even have the pleasure of feeling wrongly, purely - what I have of that feeling is alloyed with understanding.

And finally, yes, I am unhappy because I imagine - and all evidence suggests - that I am unhappy while someone else is happy.  I am a valuable person, and I have to suffer while someone less valuable just gets to be happy.  And, again, if there's resolution, how do I not let it stick in my craw that someone made me unhappy and got to be happy while I was still suffering?  And since I don't believe in karma, or that people suffer as a result of unconscious unhappiness, I don't even have the pleasure of saying, "Oh, well, that person is probably actually unhappy and dissatisfied, or will be."

I've waited a lot of life to be happy, and it seems to me terribly cruel that I should not have been so for longer than five months by now.
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14 February 2008

The First Post

I've decided to get this blog off on the right foot by making the first post a list of things I love. Now, I'm not talking about things I like: this is a list of things I genuinely, truly LOVE. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

1. Neil Hannon
and The Divine Comedy
I have to start with this one because lately I've been thinking
a lot about how much I love Neil Hannon. Oh, my God, I love him so much! Even my mind boggles at it. Not romantic love (although he does have the distinction of being the only person I'm not attracted to whom I'd marry - he just seems like he would be enormous fun), but more like...musician love. First of all, how can you not love a man who writes lines like, "I fled from the capital's bourgeois malaise," and then manages to fit them into a song? And then, he has so many songs in waltz time, and waltz time is my favourite signature of all. Plus, he just seems so smart...and so funny...and he wears beautiful frock coats. I love people who recognize clothing themselves as a form of costuming! All of Neil Hannon's lovely, happy songs just make me think of kissing someone: sticky kisses. So I love him and the band he rode in on (plus, I think he'd be great to hang out with. He seems like a pun-maker). I don't even mind that he's blond!

2. Smart cars
and electric cars. Not because they're environmentally friendly, although I
like that, too, but because they're so small. They're tidy. I'm not very big, and I imagine if I got in a Smart or an electric car
I'd fit perfectly, with no space for clutter. Also, to me they don't have a thing out of place or unnecessary. They're miracles of design, in that they seem to make maximum use of the smallest amount of space. So I say Yes! to Smart cars and their electric brethren. You can tootle around town in them, happy in your tiny, tidy car.

3. Cheese
What more is there to say? I love toast, too, but if the food police put me up against the wall,
I'd give up toast before I'd give up cheese. At least I think I would.

4. Celtic Men
Or, more specifically, men who adhere to Celtic type #1: Pale skin, dark hair (or prematurely grey hair), blue eyes,
and large, long noses. I love 'em. Yep. In fact, I'd have to take a stand here and say I just don't like brown-eyed men. But this post is the Things I Love post, so let's not get into that. (yes, I know that's Dermot Morgan, and while we're at it I DO love Father Ted. But here Dermot Morgan is just an example of The Type of Celtic Man I Quite Fancy.)

5. Krispy Kreme Donuts
But only the creme-filled kind. And even then, I don't really love the kind with chocolate glaze, but rather the kind with regular glaze.
Ooo, they're so yummy! You can nibble all the cakey part off and then just have the creme filling left, or you can bite off part of the cakey part, then scoop the creme out with your tongue, or you can eat the cake and creme together (but that's the least satisfying). It's the filling that's so delicious, really.

6. The Poetry of Lord Byron
I pretty much like all poetry, but Byron is an amazement. You could write him off (no pun intended) as a lazy lothario who doesn't do much in the poetry department, really, but you'd be wrong. "A little still she strove and much repented, / And, whispering, 'I will ne'er consent' -- consented": look at the work "little" and "much" do there. They make not just the joke but the whole, canny, commentary on what humans are like, the ways they lie and rationalize...Quite a remarkable feat (again no pun) to manage with two words. I've read many poets, and many prose writers, and it seems to me that Byron knows more about the reality of being human, with all its sorrows and complexities and mysteries, than anyone else I've read.

7. England
Yes, the whole country. Actually, I'm pretty partial to all of Britain. But I love England the most. England, I know what love I bear to thee!

8. Northern English Accents
I love these so much I actually belong to a Facebook group that expresses its love for them. Beat that. Not the thick "Eh Oop, Lass!"-y ones, but everything from the ones where the accent is just around the edges, so the o's turn gently into u's, and the person comes down hard on the g's but you're not sure why, to the ones where the accent is heavy enough for you to know they're Northern, but not so heavy that you feel you're trapped in a remake of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, being menaced by a bitter Albert Finney.

9. Clothes
Yes, I love them. In my own defense, I'd like to say that what I think I really love is fabric, and clothes are just the things that happen to be made out of interesting versions of fabric. Or, to be even more accurate, I love clothes as objects, not as pieces of clothing. I love the way a really good piece of clothing is put together, and all the things it's possible to do with a piece of fabric, so it ceases to be a long stream of stuff lying on the floor and becomes an elegant, constructed garment. I never can figure out if I learned to sew because I was fascinated by the spatial act of cutting and producing a piece of clothing, or if I fell in love with that act because I knew how to sew. Either way, I love touching, examining, and breathing-in well-made clothing.

10. David Hume
I find him the most plausible of philosophers. He dined, he played backgammon, but he also thought carefully, thoroughly, and completely about those topics that interested him. I can't
argue with his reasoning on cause and effect, and when it comes to miracles he creates an inarguable case: "...no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falshood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish....When any one tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates, should really have happened....If the falshood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not until then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion." Sound reasoning, lucidly laid out, leading to a tight conclusion. It seems to me that there are three kinds of Scots: ordinary Scots, crazy Scots, and sensible Scots. David Hume is definitely one of the latter (so is Robert Louis Stevenson, but he deserves a post all to himself). Mr. Hume, you rock, sir!

11. Robert Smith
He's cuddly, and I like cuddles. He has a sweet smile, and I like sweet smiles. He's been
gloomy and bitter, and, trust me, I know from gloomy and bitter. He doesn't mind being just plain silly (what is it with the English, that they're so much more at home with that than any other culture?), and I love just plain silly. And he is a lover of cats and a safe harbor: no matter what your emotion is at any given moment, he's got a song for you. And he isn't fat, by the way. He's plump - perhaps even rotund.

Well, you can't have more than eleven, can you? That would be excessive.

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