30 July 2009

The Trouble with Spanish...


...is that it's not French.  Which is to say, I keep unconsciously mixing the two, and thus making mistakes.  Today in class when I wanted to know the meaning of "espantosa" (we're doing movies), I said to the teacher, "Que significa 'espantosa'..." and when I couldn't remember for a second how to say "please" (it's one of the words I have trouble with, because I always want to say "per favore," as in Italian), I automatically said, "s'il vous plait?"  I do this quite a bit in Spanish class, although I usually stop myself before the French comes out of my mouth.  Funnily enough, I have this experience when I speak French, too, only then when I can't remember or don't know the word I substitute in the German word.  Clearly, because Spanish is closer to French than to German, when I have a blank in Spanish my go-to language is French.  This does create some odd cross-pollenates, though, so that today when I was tired and out of Spanish practice (having not done my flashcards for four days),  I told the teacher that my conference was "bueno, mais aburrido."  And I know "pero"!

On the other hand, the good thing about Spanish is that it's quite like Latin.  So if you leave aside the irritation of "nunca" (which doesn't mean what it ought to) and "usted" (which ought to mean "yesterday," because it sounds like it), it's a surprisingly easy language for me to learn. I am, indeed, the star of my class.  Although this may also be because I'm the only one who ever speaks.

And now here is today's photo.  I saw this in a bookstore in the Denver airport.  The connection between the two made me laugh:


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29 July 2009

In Which Little Occurs, But Much Happens


I have just returned from a conference in the U.K. - just outside London, to be precise. This conference was weird for a lot of reasons, most of which I won't go into, but perhaps the most important one was that I encountered Mr. Fallen.

I knew I would. I knew that even before I went. I knew he would be there, and I knew we would have to run into each other. And I wasn't looking forward to it one bit.

Normally, I'd couch the encounter in some kind of arch rhetoric on this blog, but I'm not going to do that this time, because this time I don't want to pretend that I'm better than the situation, or that I've got a handle it.

So. We ran into each other in the big front hall of the building where the conference was taking place. I suppose you could say that, strictly speaking, we ran into each other before that, because I arrived during a session and got to talking with my publisher, and while I was doing that Mr. Fallen entered the room as part of the post-session crowd. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and I know he saw me, but I simply pretended I hadn't seen him. Then I went outside, because I just couldn't face dealing with him, and after a couple of out and ins I entered the front hall and there he was standing, all alone. And we encountered one another.

I said, "Hello, David." He moved in such a way that it was clear he wanted to hug me, but I did not move (and was standing about three feet away), so he truncated his motion. He said, "Hello. How are you?" I said, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" He said, "I'm fine. How's the book?" I said, "The book is finished. It's handed in." He said, "Handed in! So next time you'll be on those publishers' tables." I didn't say anything, both because I had zero wish to engage in feeble banter with him and because I had decided beforehand, to the extent that I'd decided anything, that I'd keep my interactions with him to the absolute minimum. He said, "I just had my session. It had a small audience." I said, "Most panels do." He said, "I think I managed to keep people from seeing how little I know about the text I was presenting on." I said, "I'm sure no one noticed." He looked a bit surprised at that, and I was a bit surprised myself, as I hadn't meant to insult him. He said, "You're going tomorrow." I said, "Yes, tomorrow morning." Then we stood there for a second, and then I said, "Well, good-bye." He said, "Good-bye."

It was AWFUL. It was just as awful as you either imagine or don't believe it was. It was so awful that it defies simile - and, for me, that's saying something. It was awful because I wanted to scream, "You destroyed my life, you cunt! You ruined me!", because I wanted to take the heels of both my hands and push him backward (and preferably over) with all the violence in my body, and because simultaneously I knew that I still loved him and wanted him to say he was single and wanted to start again. But none of those things happened. Instead, I went outside and called my best friend. And then I went back to my room and cried. And after I'd had dinner (at which he stood directly behind me in the queue), I went back to my room and cried again. And then I cried myself to sleep, while simultaneously imagining doing enormous physical harm to him.

The rest of the conference was pretty dreadful in that regard, too. Not in that I cried, because I didn't (except at the plenary in between the crying in my room and the standing in line at dinner, when I sat in my row and just let two tears run down my cheeks, on the grounds that I was alone in the row, so no one would notice), but in that the whole time if we were in the same room I could feel him being aware of me, and I knew that I was aware of him, and I also knew that, of the two of us, I was the only one that was aware with any sense of sorrow. Oh, I'm sure he would have liked to have a lovely long catch-up chat with me, so I suppose he was sorry he couldn't have that, but sorry is not the same thing as sorrow.

In Music & Lyrics, an otherwise almost utterly irrelevant film starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, there occurs a scene in which Drew Barrymore, having just failed to confront the horrible man who has made a very negative novel out of her, says to Hugh Grant, "You know what the worst part of it is? I still care what he thinks of me." And he says, "How can that be? He's a jerk....It's not a question. He is a jerk. He is a jerk!" That is how I felt at the moment of encountering him, and to some degree that's still how I feel now. I am better. There's no question. I wrote a book. I learned tango as a casual hobby. I'm taking Spanish lessons because three of my friends speak Spanish, and I want to be able to talk to them in their native tongue. I rebuilt my life after someone hurt me so much that I cried every day for three months.

He BROKE. MY HEART. He broke it the way Sasha broke that bowl at my nanny's when he swept it onto the floor with his shirttail. Except that Sasha tried to make amends, and wanted to replace the bowl. Mr. Fallen didn't know that he was breaking my heart when he did it, but when he knew it didn't change anything. I am better; I am superior; I suffered agony - that is not an exaggeration - and I have to suffer all the pain when I see him, or when I think about him, too. My mother would say, "He's unhappy," and I don't doubt it. That remark about fooling people into believing he knew something is a classic demonstration of lack of convictions of self-worth; his continual references to my publishing a book are equally classic demonstrations of his own sense of inadequacy at not having done so. But he is not unhappy to have lost me. I am better, and partially as a result of my betterness - my willingness to take chances, my conviction that he was worth holding onto, my decision to open my heart - I am unhappy to have lost him. And as a result of his inferiority - his unwillingness to take chances, his conviction that I was not worth holding onto - he gets off scot-free. I was not important enough to him, and by that demonstration of inferiority, he also gets not to suffer. I'm sure he was sad that he didn't get to talk with me: after six months of e-mails from me, he's plenty aware of what kind of mind and conversation he's missing. But he's sorry in the way you're sorry you don't get to have a longer conversation with some vague friend who's come into town. He's not sorry to be denied my love; he doesn't even wish for my love. And if does, he doesn't say so, and that's the equivalent of not wishing for it as far as anyone observing (like me) is concerned.

And he would say I've got a successful career, and that's something to envy. But it's not. I would give up my job, and my publications, if it meant being in a happy relationship.

So then it was off to Otherhome, where I semi-surprised people, in that three of them knew I was coming in advance, but the rest did not. My friend M. was thrilled, but of the two men, only one actually seemed to care, or did anything special - and not the one you'd think. Now, in my experience surprises generally are a risk. I once had a chef friend who said to me that he hated making angel food cake, because if it worked no one appreciated how amazing that was, and if it didn't work it was just a sponge cake. Surprises, it seems to me, are similar: the surprised are never as pleased as the surpriser. Still, to have come out of my way after a month of absence to see people I believed thought I was important, and then to get approximately 15 minutes of time, with two exceptions... Well, first of all it made me decidenot to surprise people anymore, and second of all it made it fairly clear to me exactly how important I actually was to those people.

Indeed, it occurred to me, as I was coming into WhereI'llreturn, that in the time that I've been gone, only two people, and only one male, have actually said to me, "I want you to come back. I miss you." I'm not being totally churlish: people have made it plain they miss me in different ways, either by saying that (without the "I want you to come back") in e-mails (women), or by sending me an e-mail asking me how I am (a male) - I recognise these for what they are. But the only person who has actually said straight out that they want me to come back is, of all people, my VTTT - and he's a father, which I don't think is a coincidence.

Years ago, when I was still going out with Dr. Higher, I had long hair. It did, in fact, look quite like this:

















And I used to comb it out every morning, because if you have hair like that you need to comb it out every morning. And I remember one morning I was kneeling on the bed combing it out and talking to Dr. Higher, who was still in bed, and because I'd just woken up I of course wasn't wearing any clothes. And he said to me, "You look just like the Lorelei." Which I'd always wanted someone to say to me. And for all  
our time together after that, until I had my hair cut, I wished he'd say it to me again, but you can't ask someone to say that - it ruins the effect. 

The same is true of being told that you're missed: you can't ask people to say that they miss you, because then you can never believe that they aren't saying it just to please you. It seems to me, however, that you can draw some conclusions based on which people open their mouths to say they miss you, which people indirectly tell you they miss you, and which people never tell you that at all. And those conclusions are as follows: the first group are open, loving, and aware of others as valuable presences or absences; the second group are somewhat less open, but still aware of others as mattering, and of their absence as mattering; and the third are self-focussed and not worth much time.

All of which is to say, this past weekend has made numerous forms of scales fall from my eyes. First of all, I've finally been won over to the prevailing opinion I've been trying to work against all my life: you know what? Men are largely self-obsessed, thoughtless morons. Yep, some of them are decent and kind, but by and large they are self-centered, loathesome, and more likely to pass over a rare thing in favour of an easy thing than to pay attention to the valuable things in their purview. And since I do not choose to enter into any relationships where I'm accepting and patronising those who are sub-par, the second set of scales that's fallen from my eyes is that set which has made me forgive and act kindly toward those, particularly those men, who treat me as less than I'm worth. If you don't recognise my worth, you are no longer of interest to me. I am the queen of listening to people's boring problems, but from now on if you don't treat me well, you can find someone else to listen to your tedious yammering.

And, finally, I can't do anything about Mr. Fallen, but I can do something about future Mr. Fallens. I can, as Byron would say, throw away the scabbard. Which is to say, I choose from now on to be generally less understanding and concerned with others. I choose, instead, to declutter my life. It is not my job to get you to like me: it is your job to get me to like you. I assure you, you will gain more value from the latter than I would gain from the former. And if you can't contrive to treat me in ways that show me decency and deserve to garner decency from me, then get off my fucking dance floor, or I'll move you off it.

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23 July 2009

Wow, Do Wham! Suck


Why did I not recognise this when I was 15?  I own all their records:  you'd think it would have dawned on me at some point.

Although I could spend all night (really!) discussing the relative merits of 80's bands, I will save that for another post (I make you dread that I'll recite them, too).  Instead I will begin this post by saying, Sewing is addictive.  Tonight I decided that I'd sew in the placket on the other sleeve on the shirt I'm working on (I did the other last night), since I hate sewing plackets, and this way they'd both be out of the way (that's a placket on the right,
incidentally).  And indeed I did sew in the placket, but once I'd done that I figured I might as well attach the sleeve, and once I'd done that I thought I might as well tidy up the edge-stitching on the collar...and I had to forcibly stop myself before it went on all night.

Before there was the sewing, though, there was the tidying of
 the living room (which means that tonight's photo will be a view of my no-longer-shameful living room), and before that there was the teaching of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" to my survey class.  And the teaching of that poem got me to worrying about something I've worried about before - or it might be more accurate to say thinking about something I've thought about before.  I sometimes think I use my classes as substitute boyfriends.  When we did "Ozymandias" the day before yesterday, in order to get the students to think about the difference in importance between heads and feet I told them the story (which I have told to other classes) of how, when I was figuring out what I'd like to have happen to my body after I die, I was in something of a quandary, because I wanted both the ecological and memorial benefit of a grave, but also the drama of a scattering of ashes.  Also, I thought, what if there's bodily resurrection?  If you're cremated, there's no body to resurrect.  My solution to these issues was to decide that I would be cremated from the waist down, because if I came back I'd undoubtedly want my head, but I could manage without my legs.

I never mind telling this story, and the students never seem to mind hearing it - they find it funny, and I consider it to be an eminently sensible thing to think about and resolve - but sometimes it strikes me that this is the sort of revelation that, really, you share with your partner.  As are a number of the daft personal stories I tell or explanations I give to my students (The Kettle Story; The Human Soul Looks Like a Tissue Story; The Chin Up in Ballet Story; The Stories About My Dad).  Only once have I ever crossed the line and told a story for self-indulgent reasons, but still there's a part of me that thinks I'm sharing with the wrong people.

This is a curious one.  There are many things I don't share with friends because I believe that they're things I should only share with a partner, so I just leave them unshared.  And I have been trained by - or had my best experiences as a student with - teachers who told deeply personal stories as ways of making points.  But sometimes I worry that, as a result of those two things perhaps, the most intimate relationships I have in my life are with groups of people I'm paid to educate.  

Of course, I'm most truly myself when I'm teaching.  So the intimacy perhaps already exists, before I even tell these stories.

And here is the photo of my living room:


I picked out that colour for the walls.  They're pale butter yellow, because the room gets almost no outdoor light, and this makes it seem both bright and cozy.  If you look to the left, you can see the sewing machine, forcibly at rest.  This is not the only possible view of my living room, which has assets as yet unrevealed.  Wait for the next photo!

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22 July 2009

I Am a Specialist


Although tonight I am a specialist without a photograph.  Also, earlier this evening I watched as a bug immolated itself in one of my lamps.  I'm sorry, and I felt bad, but it was a really big bug, and I just didn't want to interface with it.  There's no earthly reason for it, I know, but really big bugs freak me out.

Today in the advanced class we did Don Juan.  I had them read 1 to 4, but we never got round to 3 and 4, worse luck.  

I love Don Juan.  I know I've said it before, but I truly do.  It's not my favourite Byron poem - if "favourite" means the one that gets your blood up most - but I do love it, with a kind of rich pleasure that's closer to delight, and that can best be compared to pleasure of meeting an old friend:  you are happy because you know the person will act in certain ways, but you also know that they will surprise you, because they always do.  I confess that I mostly love Don Juan for the sheer brilliance of its humour - well, its wit.  Sometimes I try to figure out to myself what my second-favourite lines are (my favourite lines I know beyond dispute:  "I spend my evenings in long galleries solely, / And that's the reason I'm so melancholy." The forced rhyme there makes me laugh every time, not just because the rhyme itself is silly and unexpected, but because it renders "melancholy" silly.  But I understand that not everyone finds that as enjoyable as I).  I can spend a lot of time doing this, because there are a lot of contenders, but usually I narrow it down to two, the narrator's description of Juan's father, Jòse, "A better cavalier ne'er mounted horse; / Or, being mounted, e'er got down again," and his meditation on the unfortunateness of the word fifty, "When people say, 'I've told you fifty times,' / They mean to scold, and very often do; / When poets say, 'I've written fifty rhymes,' / They make you dread that they'll recite them, too."  The second of these I love because it's absolutely true, and because Byron says exactly what you were thinking.  It's so honest, and so unexpected, and then the rhythm of the second line conveys its own dread perfectly, by coming down hard on "recite," which is of course what you fear.  The first I love because it is the sublime of jokes: it's funny, and you know it's funny, but you don't know why it's funny.  Fortunately, I am here to tell you why.  It's because the second line deflates the first.  "A better xx never yyyed" is a common expression, and here Byron unmasks it as the clichè   it is:  once Jòse is up on that horse, he's got to get down again, but the clichè never deals with that side of things:  "A better dancer never took to the floor.  Or, um, stepped off it."  By dealing precisely with that side of things, Byron shows you the emptiness of the expression.  

So, it's a delight (really, it is.  How could a poem in which a man dresses a girl to be smuggled into a harem not be a delight?).  But someone in the class was not delighted!!  Someone in the class found it difficult to like the narrator, because the narrator is snotty about everything.  But that's one of the pleasures of the poem!  (and anyway, he isn't.  He's quite lovely about some things.)  And this led us, by a not very circuitous route, to a discussion of what makes a poem a valid subject of study.

Well, what does?  This is a very difficult question to answer.  My honest answer would be, as I think I might have said before, the duende.  If it has duende for you, it's worth studying.  Today in the other class my smalls and I did Keats's "When I have fears":

When I have fears that I may cease to be,
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charac'try, 
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold upon the night's starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never lived to trace
Their features with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I may never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love, then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

As S.A. and my FTT might say, chingaaaaa.  Now, that's some poetry.  And the thing of it is, you don't even need to understand it to feel with your soul that it's wondrous.  It hits your blood, like mainlining heroin.  For me, that's what makes a poem worth deep study:  that it speaks in a way that surpasses words.

But of course that's not the only kind of poetry I study, and the kids did bring up some excellent other qualifications for making a work of literature a valid subject of study:  because a piece of literature tells you about its time period - it's a cultural artifact; because a piece of literature surpasses its time period; because a piece of literature gives voice to the previously voiceless. And I do think all these are valid reasons, although perhaps valid reasons for different kinds of study.  All literary criticism, after all, as I said to the students, is a subjective declaration of interest: you just have to be able to present enough evidence to convince people that your subjective declaration is valid - as a character in Arcadia says, "It can't be proved right; it can only not be proved wrong yet."

What does important art do? Oh, it gives voice to the voiceless, definitely.  It evokes, adumbrates, illuminates, and surpasses its time, yes.  But I confess, lover of magic that I am, that I believe that most of all important art makes the blood rush to your frontal lobe, makes you marvel that someone should have produced THIS, this piece of (in my case) literature where not one word is wasted, where each iota matters, but where, simultaneously, the meaning always slips from your grasp.  Where your knowing outstrips your knowledge.

 

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21 July 2009

The Fabric of My Life


I am extremely tired, and, no doubt at least partially as a result of that, depressed, so it seems wise to skip blogging for tonight.  But I have a photo! so I thought I'd load it up.  I keep talking about sewing, or going to the fabric store, and here is a photo of that fabric store:



There now, don't you have a "you are there" feeling?  It's not in the best of shape on the outside, the fabric store, but I'll say this for it:  it has a collection of wine-coloured shirt cottons second to none.

And on Sunday I took my Walmart bingo card to Walmart and giggled quietly to myself as I passed down the aisles.  Muy bien.

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19 July 2009

Hustle without Bustle


The difficulty with summer school, as I forgot, is that it keeps you busy all the time.  You teach every day, and that means that you must prepare every night.  It also means that, even if you teach one course a day (as I do on M/W/F), you lose pretty much whichever half of the day you teach in, because after you cover what's essentially two days' worth of material in one day (since a 14-week semester is jammed into six weeks), you have to sit down and decompress, and the next thing you know the rest of the morning or afternoon is gone.  Plus, I have to be in by 9 am, which means I have to be up by 7:30 at the latest, which means I have to be in bed by 11:30pm.  And that seriously cuts down on the amount of time I have available.

When I first came here, and thus was teaching all my own courses for the very first time, I was busier than I ever have been before or since.  I had to devise the courses, and then I had to implement them, prepare for them (which meant reading texts I'd never read before), grade for them, and, basically, execute them.  I remember saying to Dr. Higher, "I don't have time to take a shower." Which was true:  I would get to the evening (which is when I take my showers, since I have to sleep on my hair if there's any hope at all of my looking sane), and there simply would not be the time left for me to take a shower and dry my hair.  Things never got disgusting (although Dr. Higher, of course, was horrified, and begged me not to tell him such things), but that was how full my life was:  I had to schedule in time to shower.

To a certain extent, I now feel like that again (although I have time to take showers).  What the combined preparation, execution, and exhaustion of summer school mean is that anything I want to do that takes longer than half an hour, I have to do on the weekend.  So here is what I did today:  graded papers; did my shopping; bought fabric; washed it and the rest of my washing; cut a shirt from that same fabric (while watching a film); tidied my house to some degree; washed my dishes; read a student M.A. thesis (the defence is on Monday); exercised; read part of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (I'm reading it for the same thesis defence. Here's a tip:  don't read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy); did a little work on an article I'm preparing to send out.  Fortunately, tomorrow is my day off:  I try to have one day a week when I don't do anything academic, and I picked Sunday because it seemed wiser to get the academic work out of the way on Saturday rather than to leave it until Sunday and thus risk not having enough time to finish it.  Unfortunately, the day can't be entirely without academic work, since I have to prepare for Monday and grade some more papers.  Still, I intend to finish the shirt I cut (from the fabric I washed), because that will leave me with only two more to make.

And here is today's photo.  It's of my study, which is not tidy at all, because I'm using it as the room in which I pack all the stuff I need to clear out of the flat before I leave.


The window on the right looks out into the back garden, and the one behind the chair has a windowsill on which the cat likes to lie while I'm in there working.  There on the back wall is a collection of cigarette cards and 19th-century postcards with pictures of Byron on them, an 1822 newspaper with a front-page article about him that my mother got for me, and - cut off - a copy of an etching by a wonderful engraver named Peter Milton (I hope to be able to afford a real engraving of his someday).

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17 July 2009

An Addendum


Just about when I first started becoming interested in music, there was a song called "In a Big Country" by a group called Big Country.  It was a huge hit in the States, and it's chiefly known for the lead singer's guitar, which he could make sound like bagpipes.  The song had a pretty cheesy video (even by early '80s standards), as part of which all the members of the band drive ATV's across the landscape. Years after it had come and gone, and years ago now, my friend Jennifer revealed to me that in the chorus, when the singer says, "In a big country, dreams stay with you / Like a lover's voice across the mountainside: / 'Stay alive,'" she had thought he was saying, "Stay in line," because in the video they drove their ATV's in a line.  

Her thinking that, and her telling me about it, is still one of the most charming memories I have. 
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When the Bullet Hits the Bone


What is this mania WhereIlive has for "Twilight Zone," by Golden Earring?  I forgot about this until the day before yesterday, when I switched on the radio and there it was.  Then I suddenly remembered:  they play it about three times a day on various radio stations.  It wasn't that interesting or good a song to start with, and age has not improved it.  They were Dutch, for God's sake!  But apparently radio listeners in WhereIlive embrace it with zeal.  Go figure.

Yesterday I had a migraine headache, the first I've had for nearly a year.  I didn't get it all the way, because I took two ibuprofen, had a cup of tea (my father's cure for headaches, and it actually does work), and turned off all sound sources (no chance of hearing "Twilight Zone" for me).  I thus avoided the worst of the headache, but I did not avoid the very strange accompaniment. Many migraine sufferers get an aura, which is why people ask "do you see flashing lights?" - this is the aura, although they can also be somal (numbness) or verbal (language issues).  I don't get these.  What I do get, though, is a strange kind of...well, withdrawal from the world.  My migraines come with a strange sense that I am observing the world at one remove, not as if I were outside it but rather as if I were within it, but behind a thick layer of cotton wool or muffling insulation.  I am keenly sensorily aware of myself, and I can feel myself moving through my flat, lying on my bed, etc. , but it is as if the air I'm moving through is a thick material object rather than air or space, and as if I am slightly numbed to it. Thinking about it, I suspect that this is because if I have a migraine I am intensely focused on myself, because I'm intensely focused on being functional despite enormous pain (if you've never had a migraine, and you're wondering what one feels like, imagine someone shoving a red hot wire up one of your nostrils [in my case, usually the left], while simultaneously placing another red hot wire against the pain sensors in your brain).  

This morning I woke up without a headache (although the nagging hint of it was there all day, which I suspect means I'll have a full-blown one in the next few days.  My migraines often do this:  they don't like to be thwarted, so they lurk around until they can become full-blown).  I also, however, woke up exhausted.  I was exhausted anyway - I'm just not meant to get up at 7 in the morning - but the added exhaustion that migraine always brings means I feel as if I'm a towel that someone has literally wrung out.

Before the migraine, there was the eye doctor.  Oooooo, I hate the eye doctor.  It's never good news.  I have terrible eyesight and a family history of glaucoma: you can't see (ho ho) that heading anywhere positive.  This time, though, it wasn't too bad.  I requested not to be dilated, so I didn't have to drive home in fear of my life.  Also, I found, and bought, an incredibly cute pair of glasses frames.  I have reading glasses I don't really need yet - I got them years ago to make print big, because reading small print close up was destroying my distance vision - and chronically forget to wear, and I decided to get new glasses lenses placed in those frames.  This left me, of course, without a pair of reading glasses even to ignore, so I got the ICF (incredibly cute frames) as my reading glasses.  Perhaps I will thus remember to wear them more often. Whether it does or no, I can honestly say, for only the second time in my life (the first being when I was ten and first got glasses), that I'm looking forward to picking up my pairs of glasses next week.

Today was Byron day in both my classes, which means I got to teach "Darkness" (my favourite of Byron's short poems) twice.  That, my friends, is hard to beat. God, I love that poem. 

And here is today's photo:  


This is a house I pass on my way home.  I only noticed the gate yesterday, and it made me laugh.  First of all, because the stone portion so closely resembles a painting by John Atksinson Grimshaw that I almost believe the builder made it so on purpose:



But it also makes me laugh because, although it didn't really come out in the photo (I need to stop taking these pictures with my phone), the actual gate looks like a reduced version of one of those huge creaky old gates that always lead to ominous gothic houses.  I love big things made small, but my pleasure here was because when you look at the gate in front of the house it looks as if someone built a gothic portal for a miniature house, then got it to this house, realised their mistake, but put it up anyway.  The disjunction is very amusing.

Someone is on the home shopping network on my TV even as I write squashing hamburgers to demonstrate how juicy they are, and also to draw viewers' attention to the fact that they have "built-in cheese."  Neither of these, trust me, is appetising.

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15 July 2009

He's Dejected!

Today was Coleridge day in my classes: in both of them we worked through a Coleridge poem, although in one case it was twinned with a Wordsworth poem. Here's all you need to know about Coleridge: he's dejected! You know this is so because he tells you so, in a poem entitled Dejection: An Ode, and if you keep this in mind you will also have a surefire rubric for analysing every poem Coleridge wrote. Trust me, this is true.

You may remember Dejection as the poem that quotes my all-time favourite line of poetry, or strictly speaking, line and a half of poetry: "...I saw the new moon / With the old moon in her arm" (taken from The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, itself a wonderful poem). Today, however, I was teaching it in Advanced Romanticism in conjunction with Wordsworth's Intimations Ode, a poem with its own difficulties and delights. One aspect of the poem that is simultaneously both of these is Wordsworth's assertion that despite the fact that he has lost his "visionary gleam," his ability to intimate and grasp at (although not grasp) the ideal Platonic experiences that we can access in childhood (those "High instincts before which our mortal Nature / Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised" - a great couplet), he has gained something equally valuable: the ability to empathise with his fellow men, and the life experience that shows him the beauty and emotional richness of everything.

I really like my Advanced Romanticism class. They remember that we all agreed that "I have God in my pocket" is an excellent pick-up line, and today they both let me assert, after explaining to them that Wordsworth's problem was that he had "been dumped by the Muse," that Dumped by the Muse would make an excellent title for a scholarly work on Wordsworth, and allowed me to explain how this might feel by using the analogy of Adam Ant. In other words, they're quite at home with my tangents and tilt. But in the course of trying to explain how human understanding might be abundant recompense for the loss of your poetic mojo (quite difficult to justify, to one way of thinking), I told them about how, this morning while I was getting dressed, I suddenly thought to myself how much pleasure I get from Romantic poetry, and then thought to myself that five years from now everything else in my life will have changed, but I will still be teaching and loving Romantic poetry. Which is not to say, as I said to them, that what I now see that I didn't see before is how important Romantic poetry is, but rather that what I didn't see was that, when placed in the context of life, the problems of a certain period of life are utterly trivial. And, frankly, if I had lost my poetic mojo, I would think that discovery was abundant recompense. So I offer it to you for what it's worth.

As I said to them, I sit there sometimes while I'm teaching, and I think to myself, These people think I'm deranged. But these insights and the examples in which they are couched are what I have to offer, so there you go. And I did somewhat balance this one out by telling them that Wordsworth's experience of this loss was like those moments each of us has had, where something terrible happens to you, and after the dust of first emotion clears and you are, at least for a brief period, back to performing your everyday activities, you think to yourself, "What happened? Last week I was a totally different person - in the space of one instant I was made a person utterly different from the person I was then. How did that happen?" So I retain some tatters of teaching dignity.

Something weird is happening to my right leg when I do rond de jambe a terre with the left as my gesture leg. My foot is straining - it actually hurts. I need to sort that out.

And here is today's picture. It's a bench I pass on campus as I walk home:


It just looks like a regular bench, and I suppose it is, but what strikes me about it is, that it's not at all weatherbeaten, as are most versions that you see of such a bench. The wood of the arms is still pale and unmarred, and so clean that it looks somehow pure, and because of that purity striking beautiful. When I reached out my hand and stroked one of the arms today in the hot afternoon air it was like touching warm satin, a sensual experience rendered intense by the curious sensation that I always have when I touch the smoothest surfaces: that I am feeling something that feels like nothing; that the essential quality of true and ultimate smoothness is the absence of feeling, and the result a kind of fascinated exultation, because it is as if the air has become material and you are grasping it - holding a presence that is really absence made present.

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13 July 2009

A All the Way


Getting re-intergrated to a place is an oddly ongoing experience.  Yesterday as I was trying to avoid the heat by leaving my feebly air-conditioned flat and doing errands and various industrially-treated stores, I remembered that absolutely the best thing I've ever found to wear when it's hot are men's A-shirts.  Dr. Higher HATED my wearing these:  I think he thought they were obscene (in some vague way that I never got a handle on).  As far as I'm concerned, they're an answer to the hot person's prayers:  you can wear one when you're in the house, then two (one on top of the other) when you go out, since one on its own does tend to be a bit see-through.  They provide coverage, but they breathe, so they're comfortable in the hottest weather.  Hanes are better than Fruit of the Loom - they tend to be softer.  Anyway, I picked a three-pack up at Target when I was there yesterday trying to escape from my feebly air-conditioned flat by doing errands at industrially air-conditioned stores, and when I got home I was delighted to discover that they were so long I could practically wear them as teeny mini-dresses.  Today I washed them (to soften them), and they shrunk up a bit.  I'll just have to cut off the bottom three inches to make them regular-sized shirts, which is what I used to do. 

All of which is to say, I salute you, A-shirt!  (or wifebeater, depending on how you feel)

I've had a good, although busy, weekend.  I graded my students' papers (only seven papers, so it didn't take that long), and I read not one but two student theses.  One is an undergraduate thesis I've been drafted in to supervise at the last minute (literally:  the defence is on the 29th), and one is MCLSJB's M.A. thesis.  The latter is terrific, of course.  You know how sometimes you read something, and it's so well written that you just want shove the author, to show them how great you think they are?  Well, it's like that.  

Actually, MCLSJB and his wife and baby son came round on Friday for a cupcake and a cup of tea, and that went amazingly well, too.  I'd never met his wife before, and he and I had never interacted outside the department, so I was worried that it would be awkward and strange. But not at all!  We all had things to say to each other right from the start, and we meshed just fine. It was only the second time since I've been back here that I considered staying (the first was when I hung out, just like old times, with SM and RC, in SM's office).  But of course MCLSJB and his wife will move on, and in any case the occasional Friday night with cupcakes doesn't make a life, and in any any case neither the cupcakes, nor the office conversation, nor the two combined, can outweigh the suffocating suffocating heat.

Also this weekend, I cut a shirt.  I promised O, S.A., and my FTT that I would make them shirts while I was home, and cutting the shirt out of the fabric is (obviously) the first step.  Cutting simply involves laying the pattern pieces on the fabric in a prescribed order, pinning them, then cutting them out.  Pretty simple.  But, as I crouched there on the floor tonight smoothing the fabric and putting in the pins, I reflected that this is, I believe, the most enjoyable part of the sewing process for me.  Now, I should say at this stage that I love to sew; I've done it for years, and I love pretty much all aspects of it.  But none of it is as purely enjoyable as the cutting out part.  There's something so soothing about laying out those pieces so they all fit on the fabric, and the definitive bite of the shears through the cloth, the slightly heavy resistance and the final "snick," is a soothing pleasure that I don't think can be bested, for me.  Lovely.

And here, to close, is tonight's photo.  This is my bathroom.  Did I mention that I painted every room in this flat but one myself?  (and the "one" is wood-panelled, and so couldn't be painted)  The bathroom is very narrow, so I painted it the palest blue available (called "Club Soda"), which doesn't really show up as blue on this photo.  The fish shower curtain is not because it's a bathroom, but rather because when I was in college I painted fish all over the walls and ceiling of the bathroom in the flat I had in my last year.  God, that took hours, but the result was terrific.  And ever since then I've had something fish-themed in my bathroom.  And when I own my own house, I'll paint the bathroom with fish again.


Now I must go do my ballet barre, because if I don't do it every night I lose all the stretch- and strength-building value.

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11 July 2009

Saudi Arabia, Here I Don't Come


Temperature at 6pm:  feels like 40c/104f

I am posting just to tell you that:  at 6 o'clock tonight it was, to all intents and purposes, one hundred and four degrees (or forty degrees).  The heat plus the humidity equalled that temperature.  Knowing that, can you imagine how hot it was at noon?  I can't.  And the reason I can't is because I don't want to imagine how hot it was at noon, or look it up, because then I would know that I today I walked around in an environment that was over one hundred and four degrees, and how much over one hundred and four degrees it was.  And if I knew that I would die.  I would just melt into a little puddle on the ground.

Just in case you don't get it:  I was not made for extreme heat.  

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10 July 2009

The Complexities of Living


Temperature at noon:  34c/93f

I am so tired que ne veas, as S.A. taught me one can say. Except I can, um, veo (I don't know what the correct form is), because I'm writing this.

I was thinking as I walked home today that these days I really do live in two places.  When I moved to England the first time I hoped to stay there forever, but I had no one waiting there for me, I had no home, and I wasn't going toward anything (except the hope of love, which isn't really anything - it's a reason, but not a thing).  But now, even as I live here, I do have all those things there:  I have a home (okay, it's a college, but it's home), and people whose narratives I will have to catch up with (some of whom are looking forward to my return!); I have a job to come back to; I have an SBF (situational BF); most of my money is over there; my main hobby is there.  But here in WhereIlive I have a home (and quite a nice one, too); I have a job; I have narratives to catch up on and that I fell back into; I have an SBF; I even would have a main hobby, if the ballet teacher weren't on holiday.  Now, I did experience this situation after I'd been in England for the first six months, and it was strange.  But then one life was slipping away (the one in the US), and the other was predominating.  This time the two lives are, of necessity, equal, though not identical (so, for example, I have a present here but only a quasi-future, and I have a future there but only a quasi-present).  Which is much, much stranger.  So I try not to think about it, because it makes my perception hurt.

All of which leads me, in a roundabout way, to language.  There are very few ways in which America is superior to other countries, in my opinion.  One of these is the presence of the delicious-smelling Scotch tape.  Another is that it is the home of Reese's-based products.  And yet another is that its denizens use the expression "That sucks," alternative versions, "It sucks" and "It sucked."  This expression is a masterpiece of definition by inflection and nuance, and no other language seems to have an equivalent.  In German, you say, "That's shit," but although "sucks" has precisely the connotation you think it does, it does not really mean the same as "that's shit."  It doesn't exactly mean, "That's the worst."  If a movie was horrible, you would indeed say, "It sucked," so suckitude (yes, it's a legitimate word.  So is suckiness, which means the same) does mean the depths of badness.  But the expression also has, I think (and I've been thinking about this a good deal, because I've been trying to parse this expression for foreign speakers), an undertone of personal offence.  That is, when you say a film sucked, you are saying that it was so bad that you can't believe you wasted your time on it (thus, it offended you).  "He sucks," means not just, "He's horrible," but also "He's worthless" (that is, his very existence is an offence).  But it also contains an undertone of mystery:  the most common repeated use of the phrase is, "Life sucks," and there it means, "Life is awful for inexplicable reasons."  I would say, though, that this is a second meaning. That is, something - as far as I know - can't suck both because it's wounded your amour propre and because it's unfathomably bad: it can only suck for one reason or the other (I'm willing to be corrected on this).  And then sometimes it's employed as a deliberately inadequate phrase, ironically, to express sympathy that realises there is no comfort to be had in a given situation:  "Aw, sweetie, I'm sorry she dumped you.  What can I say?  She sucks."  Then both people will laugh, recognising the simultaneous inadequacy and necessity (because any expression is inadequate) of this statement.

I feel like Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco, when he tries to explain to the non-undercover cops what "fuggedaboutit" means.

And here is today's photo.  It's the creek (although, in fact, it is a "crick," a pronunciation used specifically when the creek is very small) I walk over every day on my way to and from school. I walked over it today, in fact, thinking about how to explain "That sucks."


Isn't the light beautiful?  That's one of the best things about WhereIlive:  the way everything turns crystalline in the early morning and late afternoon light.

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08 July 2009

The Poetical Character


I never intended to be a Romanticist, and I certainly never trained to be one.  You will say, "But you must have expected to get a job as a Romanticist!"  This is true.  But I never intended to be a Romanticist:  I intended to be a Byronist.  Which is to say, I never spent much time studying the other Romantics.  In fact, to be honest with you, I never spent much time at the beginning studying Byron's works, either.  What I originally wanted to do was look at fandom and Byron, at those who became Byron's fans and why.  You can see how this might not involve reading much of Byron's work, particularly since Byron's popularity was to a huge extent dependent on his looks. It came as a rather nasty shock to me to discover, around the middle of my Ph.D. work, that I was actually going to have to read the poetry.  Fortunately, it turned out to be great.  It would be impossible for me not to love a man who could write, "He comes at last, in sudden loneliness" (look at the way that "sudden" changes the whole tenor of "loneliness," rendering it sorrowful and sympathetic, imposed rather than taken up), or one who could write, "he...became / A renegado of indifferent fame" (look at that "indifferent"!  Ooo, ouch.  "He was an okay pirate, not terribly well-known."  This denies him even the definitiveness of being a renegado of negative fame:  he can't even manage to be spoken of with contempt).  But a man who could write both those lines?  I was always going to love him.

So imagine my delight as I discover (again) that I love the rest of the Romantics, too!  Last Thursday we did William Blake.  Well, I already knew I loved him, but I forgot how much.  It's not "The Lamb" and "The Tyger," although those are good, too.  It's the ones like "The Chimney Sweeper":

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry, 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his  head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, and that very night
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

You think - or maybe just hope - it will go differently.  You think the angel will come and bring him enlightenment, or soothe him.  And of course that's what Blake wants you to think, and/or to hope.  Or you think it'll all be at the level of that obvious and coercive "'weep, 'weep."  But it isn't.  Instead, there's the terrible poignancy of that little boy seeing as an advantage a shearing that's in fact purely in the service of furthering misery (this, the author of "The Lamb" tells you, is what really happens to lambs); there's the awful moment at the end when you see that they've all been suckered in, that they've been indoctrinated to their life that's like a living death, locked up in those chimneys, by the belief that capitulating willingly to that life will bring them some reward.  And who would have thought one man to have so much irony in him? As I said to the kids, Blake just makes you want to go out and punch a factory owner.  His stuff is so wonderful.  Even when he's crazy as a bedbug, he's still wonderful ("looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones throw from us appear'd and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent; at last to the east, distant about three degrees appear'd a fiery crest above the waves; slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks till we discover'd two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke, and now we saw, it was the head of Leviathan"). 

And then today we did Coleridge.  No Blake, but still...mmm, yum.  Of course we did The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  That whole poem could fall off the earth, and as long as the lines "a thousand, thousand slimy things/ Lived on; and so did I" remained, it would be a worthwhile addition to English literature.  Look at how its form tells you how awful the speaker is:  that heavy spondee at the end to show you what his life is like, and what he's like.  Then that repetition of "thousand": the sense that the horrible things are endless, that they crowd the vision and the sea (not to mention the excellent choice of "slimy").   And maybe best of all - or at least best after the metre - the structure of the sentence:  the way that tiny pause at the semi-colon makes you wait ("Yes? Yes?"); the way the choice to put "and so did I" last tells you precisely what he's like, the link backward showing you how contemptible he is (no renegado of indifferent fame here).  That in a poem that also contains the line, "Hold off!  Unhand me, grey-beard loon!" and shows you the arbitrariness of life (I shot the albatross motivelessly; I am the least deserving to live on that boat, and yet I am the only survivor).  And that's only the earliest of the poems we studied.  To paraphrase Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones ("Fuck me, I love Keats"), fuck me, I love Coleridge.

And I do, you know.  I love the way he clutches his misery to him, turning it slowly, peeling back its many layers with minute attention and fascination, revelling in it even as he expounds upon its miserable effects, anatomising it even as that anatomisation increases it.  I don't know why I love that; I don't.  But I do.

And we haven't even got to Keats yet.

Today's photo is from my friendly neighborhood superstore:


That's right, they're right there amidst the vacuum cleaners (which you can just see in the back on the left) and the house paint (which was behind me as I took the photo - not to say took the shot).  It actually took me a little while to find the, and while I was wandering in search I entertained a brief (and to me amusing) fantasy of going up to a salesperson and saying, "Excuse me, could you direct me to your Murdering Things aisle?"  Didn't do it, though.  Although I did disturb the man behind the counter:  I wondered if he thought I was some kind of very very low-expectation terrorist.  A terrorist of indifferent fame, if you will.

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06 July 2009

Many and Various

At last it is cool. It won't last, but I'm enjoying it while it exists.


I had a friend over for a cuppa today, and partly as a result of our discussion I've been thinking about anger (we didn't get angry at each other, but we discussed how people deal with anger). I've always thought the best way to deal with anger was to control it and deal with it rationally; that seems to me both more dignified and more effective. At the same time, I'm usually able to understand why people might have behaved in the ways they have, and that really undermines anger, no matter how much one might wish to get angry. There's something unfair, it seems to me, about getting angry at someone for behaving in a way that you can make sense of: that behaviour becomes an understandable mistake, and I, at least, have been taught that what you can understand you can, and should, forgive.


The problem is, though, that understanding doesn't make the anger dissipate. I can understand perfectly well why someone did something, and because of that in some way be robbed of the righteousness of my anger, but not of my anger itself. And I've been wondering lately if, in light of that, there isn't something to be said for letting out one's anger. Comprehension doesn't seem to reduce certain angers; nor does talking to oneself about the anger, or its causes. I know we're supposed to work through anger, or accept it and move on, but what if part of moving on is effected by screaming at the person who made us angry? Obviously I'm not talking about going ballistic for every anger, but what if, say, someone lied to you in a particularly hurtful way? Or was thoughtless in an important way? Or did something that made you feel you didn't matter at all to them? (yes, all these have happened to me in my time.) These are things one can rationally discuss with that other person - "It hurt me when you xxx..." - but that talking is often not as effective at assuaging your rage as screaming at them for a few seconds would be. So perhaps in certain situations one could scream. And should.


I think maybe anger is a response that represents the self crying out for its rights, and for its right to be respected and to have some significance. I have a good deal of will, and I'm very determined, but I'm also incredibly timid when it comes to my interactions with others, and very obliging and abnegating ("too decent," my friend M` would say). As it happens, there are a lot of angers I never express, and I sometimes worry that when I don't express them I'm allowing myself to matter a little bit less, every time. I already feel that I don't matter very much (which is why I don't get angry in interpersonal relationships very much - one angry outburst and the other person will just walk away to that other, better person), and I worry that when I sit there and decide an anger doesn't matter, or a certain kind of treatment is forgivable, what I'm doing is withdrawing my rights, and my value, a little more. And maybe this is true of all significant anger: that the answer is not to let it go, in the Buddhist or Catholic or just timid way, but to find the source of that anger, scream at him or her, and then let it go (optimal, I suppose, would be to have the sensible talk, then inform the person that you were going to scream at them, then scream). Because I think in a funny way anger is not a negative emotion all the time: sometimes it's a positive emotion because it's yelling, "Pay attention to how you treat me! I am better than this treatment."


Also, my father (of all people! King of Suppressed Rage) once told me that I had a lot of suppressed rage. I have a lot less than I had then, largely because I learned to get angry about fewer things, but maybe I would have less if I let some out - the ones that are worth getting angry about. Alas, the last thing I had to be truly enraged about occurred months ago, and it's a bit too late to get enraged about it now. What are you supposed to say? "A long time ago you treated me really really badly, and now I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore"? It doesn't quite work, does it? Well, I'll have to get enraged next time a rage-worthy thing comes along. Something to look forward to, eh?


I'm writing this looking out my window, and flying beetles keep thumping against the glass then falling to rest on the outside window ledge. They look like June bugs (although I don't think they can be, because I believe June bugs don't have wings), and that makes me remember years and years ago, when my mother read me a German book called Peterchens Mondfahrt (Peter's Moon Journey). I was getting too old to be read to, I think, and in any case she had to translate it from the German, so we never made it all the way through, but I remember that one of the main characters was a June bug - with one leg, I believe. I still have the book.


There, now, isn't that much nicer to end on than suppressed or unsuppressed rage?


And here is today's photo:




This is one of the "clothes for fat women" stores in WhereIlive. Obviously, they don't call them clothes for fat women: normally they are called something like "Women's Sizes," or "Clothes for Real Women" (to give kudos to WhereIlive, this store employs no such patronising euphemism; it's called "Plus Sizes"). There are a lot of these stores in or near WhereIlive, which is entirely fair since there are a lot of Real Women (and Real Men, too. I remember when I first moved here my friend JW mentioning in conversation that when he was 12 "and I went shopping at the big and tall men's shop, they had to take the cuffs of my pants up." I nearly fell off my chair with surprised laughter, because JW is extremely, and handsomely, not someone you would ever imagine to have been "big" [another euphemism]. But he was, and tons of men here are. It's the deep frying and the salt, I believe). I like to stop and look at them whenever I pass one, just to remind myself of what I must be very careful not to be again.


As I was walking toward Target after photographing this shop window, an elderly gentleman with less than the full complement of teeth passed me and said congenially, "You sure look pretty today." Is it my dream to get compliments from elderly somewhat toothless gentlemen? No. But on the theories that beggars can't be choosers and that no compliment should be disdained, I took it with the kind neighborliness he intended and said, "Thank you."


Incidentally, I got a pay as you go phone for the time I'm here, and I got the cheapest phone possible ($9.99). Because of this the phone comes with very few bells and whistles. When I press my "Games and Apps" icon, up comes a little folder that says, "Application." I love it that it doesn't attempt to hide its own limited capabilities. You go, girl!
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05 July 2009

¿Donde Esta La Casa Del Corazon?


In the year that I've been gone from WhereIlive, the radio stations have altered, and now almost all of them seem to be Christian radio.  Because of this, my choices are fairly limited, and in the week since I've got my car back I've been listening to a lot of the Hispanic radio station:  the music is okay, and they have relatively few commercials.  Listening to the station is a bit of a bizarre experience, though.  For one thing, I obviously don't understand most of what the announcer or the singers are saying, but every now and again they'll say a word I do recognise, so it sounds like this: "blahblahblahblahperoblahblahblahsiempreblahblahcorazon." The structure, as makes sense, is such that these words occur completely at random, and as a result I get unfeasibly excited when one of them crops up:  Oh, my God, I KNOW THAT WORD. This is only reasonable, it seems to me, since the announcers themselves seem to get unfeasibly excited at the drop of a hat: "blahblah SÁBADO!!!!! blahblahblah ESTA NOCHE!!!  blahblahBLAHBLAHBLAH!"  Yowza!  I love watching football on Telemundo, because whenever there's a goal the commentator gets so excited he practically froths at the mouth, but it now seems that all Hispanic life (or at least public life) is a series of apoplectic excitements. Golly.

Anyway, that's not what tonight's post is about.  Tonight's post is about hearts, which have been on my mind for a little while now.  Things that happened before I left and things that have happened since I arrived here have prompted me to spend some of my time contemplating unrequited love, and I've been struck by something that's struck me before.  And that is, in a situation where one person loves and another person does not, almost without fail well-wishers will tell the one who loves, in various ways, to unstick his or her heart.  The most common version of this is that they tell the lover to look around for someone else (often making suggestions).  But almost never, as far as I know, do well-wishers suggest to the one who does not love that perhaps he or she might try a little harder to do so.  

I know this tendency is natural, but I still find it striking.  As everybody knows, the heart that loves cannot be forced to unlove - indeed, in many cases it continues to love despite the desires and best efforts of the one who owns it.  And it doesn't switch allegiance like a puppy at a bacon festival.  Indeed, one could say with some justification that it's much easier to fall in love than it is to fall out of love - after all, one is attracted to people every day, however passingly.  And everyone, without fail, wants someone to love them, and to really love them: fully, givingly, forgivingly, understandingly, interestedly.  Yet rare indeed is the person who says to the recipient of the unrequited love, "Dude [dude being an ungendered form of address here], you should reconsider.  This person loves you, and that's a valuable thing:  you should give him/her a try.  You never know."  But you know what?  Having seen what I have seen lately, I'm going to say that, just once and generally.  If someone loves you, and you don't love them back, consider giving them a try.  You never know.  At worst, you'll make them very happy, and it's good to put a little more happiness in the world.  Plus, frankly, there are not that many suitable fish in the sea, and you shouldn't let a chance at your own happiness slip by.  Obviously, this does not apply if you actively don't want to be with the person: if you don't like them, or if you are interested in someone else, or several someone elses.  But otherwise...

And now here is tonight's photo.  It's of my dress form.


I realise it may seem odd to post a picture of your dress form on your blog, but I really like mine.  I bought her as a Ph.D. graduation present to myself, and I named her Catherine because that's what I think my name ought to have been.  Alas, the year after I bought her I lost a lot of weight, and now she's too big to be any good to me.  So I'm going to sell her on ebay.  But I will always remember her with fondness, because while she lasted she was incredibly useful to me. Ave atque vale, Catherine!  (That's the shell of the blouse I'm making for O that she's wearing, by the way.)

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04 July 2009

Public Enemy Number 567

Temperature:  26c/79f

This afternoon I went to see Public Enemies, the new Johnny Depp movie.  Since I love Johnny Depp and this gave me an opportunity to eat American cinema popcorn, I was very much looking forward to it.

I arrived right before the previews, but fortunately I was able to find a seat in the third row back on the second level.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten the hugeness of this cinema's screens, a hugeness that meant that even in this row the faces of the actors were massive in close up, and thus rather hard to focus on.  This was no doubt not assisted by the fact that I was wearing my glasses, which have very scratched lenses, and by the fact that the director (Michael Mann) was partial to hand-held cameras.  The jittery joltingness of handheld always disturbs me.

Despite all this, I would say the movie was quite good.  Really, it was two movies, one of which was quite good, and one of which was only marginally interesting.  The marginally interesting one was about John Dillinger and his girlfriend Billie Frechette.  I'm sorry, but the two-lost-souls-meet/hard-man-finds-soulmate-he-is-destined-to-love-always storyline is now firmly entrenched in the realm of cliche.  It just doesn't have much to offer, no matter how well acted.

The other movie was the story of the bank-robbing career of John Dillinger.  This one was pretty good.  In addition to liking hand-helds, in this film Mann also seemed to like shooting in low light or washed out tones, and either because of this or in keeping with it the version of Dillinger the movie offered was as always slightly guarded, certainly isolated, contained and therefore in command (I'd like to say he was a Byronic Hero, but he didn't quite make it). Ultimately, this other movie was also pretty pointless, but it was a biopic, and biopics, like life, tend not to have a point.  You're just in them for the watching.  Plus, that Johnny Depp knows how to wear a well-cut overcoat.  (When I'm queen of the world, all men will be required to own and wear an elegant winter overcoat.)

In addition to Johnny Depp, the movie starred Christian Bale.  Shortly before I returned here I saw the most recent Terminator movie, and last year I saw the most recent Batman movie, so I've seen a lot of Christian Bale over the past year.  Watching him this time, I was moved to ask myself again, how it can be that he's so utterly uninteresting?  It's not precisely that he lacks charisma, although that's also true:  many actors without charisma are still interesting (I think of Rowan Atkinson, or Paul Giamatti, or a host of other wonderful character actors).  Christian Bale certainly lacks charisma, as far as I'm concerned, but also he's simply utterly uninteresting in a scene.  My eyes are forever wandering around the background of his scenes to see if there's anyone else on screen that I could pay attention to, or if there are any details I could focus my attention on.  I'd love to say he's understated, and in a weird way I'd love to say he's boring, because the first would be positive and the second would at least have the benefit of firmness.  But he's not - he's just banal.  I even found his little rant to the technician banal - pompous, but banal.  The reason why this puzzles me is that I saw him in American Psycho, and he was great; he was just right in that part, and he controlled the screen. But then, the conceit of that book and film is that the American Psycho is banal when he's not displaying his psychopathology.  So perhaps that was why he fit the part so perfectly.

Of course, his situation in this film was not helped by the fact that he was acting opposite Johnny Depp.  You couldn't call him uninteresting, or uncharismatic, and in this film he particularly exercised a weird kind of dark absorption.  For a long time I thought Johnny Depp must have made a pact with the devil so he'd never look as if he'd aged past 30, and this is the first film I've seen him where he looks his age - 45 at that time, I believe (and if you think this is the wrong way to look when you're playing a 31-year-old, have a look at the two men next to each other:



Anyway, watching Depp, for the first I really had  it brought home to me what "middle-aged" means, because although he looked like a grown man, and a man who was getting older, you could see just hidden by that maturing skin and face the pretty young man of five or ten years ago.  He would turn his head at a certain angle, or his face would be hit by the light at a certain angle, and you would see the wide-eyed beautiful young man that pops into my head whenever I think of him.  At other angles, he would be a proper grown-up man, thinner-faced, slightly troubled, showing his interesting past and his present interesting-ness in that face.  Very interesting.

And in addition to all that, he was good!  He wasn't great, and he wasn't even the best I've seen him, but he was good.  He managed to give a sense of Dillinger as a real person, which is often difficult with people who've passed into myth, and to give him a sense of thoughtfulness.  

So all in all a good film.  And then I came home and watched Frost/Nixon, making it two films in one day.  Although as I settled down into my seat for Public Enemies I thought once again how great it is to watch films in the cinema, and how, for me, home or even large-screen in a room viewing can never really measure up.  And I got to have popcorn with butter! (or, to be honest, butter-flavoured grease)  That's one aspect of America that's better than Britain:  in Britain there is no butter on cinema popcorn.

Now I must go.  I went swimming this afternoon, and it exhausted me.  First, though, here is a picture of my alcove.  This in no way captures its fabulousness, but I offer it as a pale imitation that merely stands in for the charm of the alcove itself:



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03 July 2009

Por Una Practica


Temperature:  a balmy 19c/66f

I have many things to write about - so many that I will have to spread them over several days. Fortunately, this is the July 4th weekend, so I have the day off tomorrow, and then a whole weekend.  So I have several days over which to spread these posts.

First, my cat is back!  And, oh my goodness, is she cute!  I have already snuggled her and petted her and kissed her so much that I think she may avoid me the next time she sees me. Interestingly, for her there were perhaps 10 minutes in which she sniffed the floor of the flat, had a wander around its rooms, and then she flopped on the floor as if she'd never been gone, before falling asleep in her old spot, next to my head.  It's nice to know that I wasn't, as I feared, forgotten.


Contemplative cat















Noble cat












Cat in impossibly cute position on bed







But enough kitty porn!  On to tonight's other news (or should I say, other mews.  Hahahahaha): I went to a practica.  Indeed, I went to the practica, which is also the milonga, because it's all WhereIlive has in the summer.  It took place in a large room at the back of a restaurant, and on the threshold of this large room someone had spilled something like jam (I know this because I stepped in it.  In my dancing shoes).  Attendees at the practica included me, a young couple practising for their wedding tango, a girl in town for a month or so, an older gay gentleman, and the teacher. And...that's it.  Hum.  Well, first I danced with the older gay gentleman, then I danced with the teacher (a fantastic leader), then I danced with the girl (another fantastic leader).  The teacher evaluated me, and would you like to know what she said?  I bet you can guess... She said, "Slow down.  And you keep your right arm too tense."  Argh!  Four months of lessons, 6,000 miles of travel, only two weeks off, and I still retain both my problems.  Indeed, one of them I got back again, because I had conquered my tendency to go quickly.  Great.

Be that as it may, dancing with the man and the girl was an interesting experience for me.  Both of them had been taught by the teacher, and both of them did exactly the same thing:  they kept their right arms loose, and used it to steer me  into various positions.  Now, in the tao of tango that I've been taught, the right arm stays essentially still, at least as far as I can see:  you lead with the chest, although there is some movement with the left arm, and holding the right arm still gives a sense of stability for the follower.  In fact, I've noticed before that when the leader uses the right arm it gives a very unpleasant feeling that you are being jerked back and forth - I suppose because you are.  And when you add to that the fact that the man, at least, was a very emphatic dancer - quick, slightly jerky, what I would call "determined" in his guiding - dancing with him (although the best in terms of level, since he was most advanced) was not comfortable.  Dancing with the girl, in contrast, was comfortable, since she was slower.  She was also more experienced, even as a leader (she'd been leading for more than a year, and had been dancing for three years), which I'm sure made a difference.  With her I even did a couple of what I would call backward ganchos.  Very fancy these:  she did a sanguchito, then removed the inside leg rather than the outside leg (as is usually done).  This left me stepping over her outside leg, then doing a gancho toward her body rather than away (as is usually done). A new step to me, and one I like very much.

The teacher, oddly enough, danced very much like my FTT.  We did close embrace, and I could feel her taking collections of small steps, which he also likes to do very much.  When I say "small steps," I don't mean she led me into small steps, although she did that, too.  I mean she herself performed small steps, usually as she was guiding me into a simple or larger step, or as she was keeping me still.  My FTT does this, too:  when we dance I can often feel him fitting his own quick footwork into a beat or phrase.  I like this, because I like people who play with the beat in this way, making it hold more than you think it can.  This ability of his is one 
of the reasons why I think of my FTT as a nimble dancer (a description he loved - he liked the word "nimble"), but also why I think of him as a tidy dancer (when not applied to houses or rooms, "tidy" is one of my adjectives of highest praise, as it means precise, clean, done swiftly and with little to no unnecessary excess): he fits those steps in cleanly, quickly, and precisely. Plus, like the tapping that both my VTTT and now sometimes S.A. do, it delights by its unexpectedness.

You will notice that the description of the practica in WhereIlive has led me to a description of a dancer at home, and this is not coincidental.  I enjoyed this practica, and I enjoyed dancing with the teacher, and I'll go again next week, but the fact is that it made me miss my home practicas.  Not because I know the dancers there - that's not necessarily a good thing - but at least in part because there's a broader array of better dancers.  Which is, well, better.

I'll tell you something else I noticed.  When I first moved here from the East, I couldn't get over how friendly and touchy people were:  they hug you, and they put their hands on you.  Tonight, I had the experience of being too touchy for the South.  When I was talking to the others, I noticed that they actually backed away when I leaned in:  only a tiny bit, but enough to be instinctively noticeable.  Since I had brushed my teeth and had a shower beforehand, th
at wasn't it.  And I realised that all that going to Cambridge milongas, where we sit squashed in a row or in huddled-together chairs, or stand in small spaces, and that being in Cambridge itself, where most of my friends are Southern European or from Asian backgrounds, and where EVERYbody I know kisses hello (and usually good-bye), had made me stand too close for Americans - even for Southerners!  My body language has changed.  Who would have thought that going to England would promote intimacy in your habits?

I have arranged to have a private lesson, but I think I'll wait until just before I go back.  It will be a warm-up lesson.

And, because I realise not everyone is as riveted by my cat as I am, tonight's real photo is a photo of the outside of my house.  Somewhat obscured by a new tree, but what can you do.


That's my car on the right.

You may say, With a flat that the house size suggests must be big, a cat, and a car, why on earth would she want to leave?  And I would say, Because the practica only had four other attendees; because the weather is eternally hot as blazes, and because I like being squashed in a row on a stage and kissing people hello.  Especially those people.

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01 July 2009

Home at Last


Temperature at 10:30pm:  24c/75f

I am home!  In my lovely flat!  And you know what?  It actually is lovely.  I had forgotten how spacious and peaceful it is.  Strangely, even the tiny bathroom - which is indisputably tiny - seems spacious to me; I suspect this is because the pedestal sink has a lot of ledge space on which to put things, which I certainly did not have in my room in England.

I intended to put a photo of my alcove on here, but instead I've decided to put a couple of my  kitchen, because when I looked at my kitchen from my living room (where I'm sitting typing), it just looked so inviting.  So here is a photo of the stove and sink area:


Note the poster of cow breeds:  I love cows.  And that plate?  It has the first lines of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" on it.  How literary geeky am I?  If you look over at the etagere in the corner (ooo, how cosmopolitan!) you can just make out the novelty teapot I bought myself as a Ph.D. gift (that's right, a novelty teapot.  Of an Aga with a cat asleep on it.  I know someone who bought himself a motorcycle as a Ph.D. gift, but I guess some of us just have humbler ambitions), and the Pillsbury Dough Boy figurine.  As you may remember, I love the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

And here is a photo of my eating nook.  Okay, it would be more accurate to call it a notch, since it's really just a corner of the kitchen where I've put the table, but it's still nice and homely:


See the poster of French pastries?  That's how you know it's an eating nook.

I painted those walls myself.  The colour is actually a kind of warm orange, which makes the room look simultaneously cheery and cosy.

In fact, coming back here was, like the book-dividing, an interesting experience.  I had forgotten just how much stuff I own.  Look!  There's my Struwwelpeter mug!  Look!  There's my soup tureen!  Look!  There's my poster of cows!  And a goodly portion of this stuff filled me with warm feelings of familiarity and belonging (well, not the soup tureen).  Which meant that I suddenly thought, Wait.  How can I up sticks and move to a whole new life?  This stuff is my past and my self.   And I do feel that a little bit.  I never thought I was defined by my stuff, or that it was in any way integral to me, but it seems I was not precisely correct in this area.  It doesn't really define me, and it isn't really integral to me, but - again like the books - it does give me a kind of narrative:  I remember when I bought that poster...I remember how I started to like the Pillsbury Dough Boy...I am a person who loves the fact that she has a poster of french pastries in her eating notch...My stuff is the materialisation of my past.

Of course, wherever I move I'll create a new past, and I'll to some degree be able to recreate certain of these items.  Or bring them with me.

Now I'm exhausted, and tomorrow I have to teach William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience (and it turns out I didn't bring the right book home, so I may have to teach them without preparing), so I will end by saying that my sublettor seems to have been a rather quirky individual.  The DVD player remote stopped working, so she unplugged the DVD player.  ?  She also unplugged and disconnected all the stereo components.  She also put the kettle up on a high shelf.  Clearly, this person was nothing like me.

Tomorrow:  the return of the cat.

Incidentally, I anticipate that you will have seen every room of my flat by the time I leave WhereIlive.

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