28 October 2009


Today in my PracCrit supervisions we prac-critted the following poem:

The Shout

We went out
into the school yard together, me and the boy
whose name and face

I don't remember. We were testing the range
of the human voice:
he had to shout for all he was worth,

I had to raise an arm
from across the divide to signal back
that the sound had carried.

He called from over the park -- I lifted an arm.
Out of bounds,
he yelled from the end of the road,

from the foot of the hill,
from beyond the look-out post of Fretwell's Farm --
I lifted an arm.

He left town, went on to be twenty years dead
with a gunshot hole
in the roof of his mouth, in Western Australia.

Boy with the name and face I don't remember,
you can stop shouting now; I can still hear you.

I really like this poem (you can hear it read by Simon Armitage, its author, here). Nonetheless, I wasn't sure the students would like it, or be able to do anything with it; its commonplace language and seemingly normality until the last two stanzas make it a hard poem to penetrate, I thought: it's a poem you come to the end of, and you say, "Jesus," but you don't know why (in fact, when I described it and quoted the end of it at the dinner table tonight, all the listeners said various forms of "Jesus").

Boy, was I wrong about my students! First of all, they loved it (my favourite of them said very quietly, "I really like this poem"); second of all, they had tons to say about it. We discussed the way in which the two boys move further and further away from each other, so that death becomes just another form of moving away. We discussed the way in which the "gunshot" picks up on "shout": both are harsh, explosive noises. We discussed how the poem treats memory. We discussed the strange way in which this boy is memorable only in that he is unmemorable (Armitage specifically remembers him as "the boy whose name and face I don't remember"). We discussed the fact that he has no face both in the imagination and in reality (having shot it off). My favourite student observation was the way in which in the last two stanzas Armitage changes distance from spatial distance to temporal distance - different geographical locations change to "twenty years" (of course, he then changes them back, or at least blends them).

We also discussed, extensively, what "the shout" is. Is it the memory? Is it the boy's selfhood? (which somehow echoes in Armitage even now) Is it a cry for help? We couldn't decide -- I halfway think that the last two lines are a blend of Armitage's embarrassment (shame?) that he didn't and doesn't maintain more connection with this boy, and his acknowledgement that he does: as if he's seeking expiation of the former by demonstrating the latter. What I didn't notice in supervision but notice now is the remark that "I had to raise an arm/from across the divide to signal back/that the sound had carried." Then there's the repeated, "I lifted an arm." The last two lines, then, are a kind of final arm lift: I am acknowledging that the sound still carries; I am letting you know the range of the human voice, so you can stop shouting.

But even if that's the case, it doesn't really explain the profound effect of that appellation, "Boy with the name and face I don't remember." Is it arresting because it's an unusual way to refer to someone? Because it's somehow an admission of failure?

This is the thing about poetry; this is why I love it so much. Poetry is the salamander of the world; no matter how hard or carefully you try to grasp it, it still wriggles away.

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24 October 2009

Up and Hopkin

It's autumn, and while there is as yet no goldengrove unleaving, it is still a Gerard Manley Hopkins time of year. I haven't written for a while, and I don't have the time to write now, but I thought I'd let Gerard sub in for me. So here is possibly my favourite Hopkins poem:now there was a man who understood what it was to be eaten away by a sense of unfair debarment.

I wake and feel the fell of dark not day,
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night, what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went,
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean days, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away
I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be,
As I am mine, their sweating selves -- but worse.

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15 October 2009

Hello, My Name is X, and I'm in Therapy

I decided to go with the female therapist, largely because she seems to be helping me, if not to have breakthroughs, at least to regain some kind of equilibrium. I think articulating my fears and worries is helping to remind me of how to deal with those fears and worries, whether or not she offers feedback. That being said, when we were talking today she did say essentially what I said here Tuesday night, so she clearly has some kind of insight.

Anyway, I normally don't talk about what happens in therapy, but in this case I will, because we discussed something that's been puzzling me. I don't know if this has always been true, but for quite a while now I've been uninterested in support if that support doesn't come with a solution. As I said to the therapist today, If someone says they sympathise or they're sorry, that's nice, but if it's not a solution, who cares? I don't want sympathy; I want a better life. And this gradually leaches over into my articulate life, too. If I say, "I'm very angry that you left me," or, "I'm very angry that you're apparently attracted to any other woman, but not to me," the person addressed is not likely to respond with, "Oh, well then, I'll come back!" or, "Gosh, then I'll be attracted to you!" The best you're likely to get in those situations is a "sorry." So why bother? All that's gained is, in case one, impotent articulation+loss (infinitely worse than just loss), and, in case two, two people who feel awkward around each other.

This is a problem I cannot solve. There are situations in which articulating your anger is useful ("I'm upset that you were rude to me in front of other people"= the person will try harder not to be rude to you in front of other people), and there are situations in which articulating your anger is not useful ("I'm angry that you don't want to have sex with me"≠ the person will want to have sex with you).

The great difficulty here is that the unarticulated feelings do not vanish. There's no point in articulating them, but knowing that doesn't make them go away. Not that they'd go away if you articulated them, of course.

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13 October 2009

Despues de la Milonga

You see, what it is is, I have no moor. I have no one to tell the truth to, because I have no one who cares that they're getting the truth, or who is invested in me enough to think about how to deal with that truth. I have no one to worry to effectively, because I have no one who knows me enough, or cares enough about me, to want to help me find a solution just because they want to help me. I have people who hear me, and people who perhaps sympathise even, but I don't have anyone who listens. That requires a commitment beyond friendship, or at least it does for me.

In this way that male therapist was right. It's not that I haven't put down roots, or that I don't have roots; it's that I've done all that rooting myself: no one is ever in it together with me - any it. And perhaps that's why I miss the VTTT so much: because when I had him, there was one area in my life where someone else was putting themselves out to find the solution, was invested, and even was in charge.

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12 October 2009

Obscurity Ends

So years and years ago when I was taking my junior year at Westfield College, in West Hampstead, I discovered a new young band called the Trashcan Sinatras. I have no idea what made me buy their album (as it then was), but I do know that when I played it I loved the music, and the lyrics, and that when, that year, I saw the video for the song I liked best, called "Obscurity Knocks," it was so unusual that it stayed with me (in fact, it stayed with me for so long that when youtube came into existence, the video was one of the first things I looked up).

That song title will give you some indication of why I liked the band, and their lyrics will just confirm it. Given that they had lines like, "So typical: a battle of wits, and I've come half prepared," and, "I know she doesn't play the field, / But she likes to know the strength of the team," we were destined to be. But although I loved them for a long while, as is sometimes the way I lost track of the Trashcan Sinatras. They became progressivel
y more and more obscure (they answered the door, apparently) - although they never broke up - and although the internet brought them quite a large cult following and some measure of success, that success never seemed to bring them a touring schedule that included a stop near me. So gradually I just lost them.

Until, that is, I was cruising round youtube yesterday and thought I'd type them in, and I found this wondrous song. Jangly guitar music, plaintive voice, "Come and make a meal of me /....And I must say, miss, this dish is delicious": what's not to love? And that lead singer! Oh, my. There's a particular variety of attractiveness - not good looks (although it can come with good looks, there's no reason why not), but a kind of floppy-haired angularity - that simply reduces me to delighted, but embarrassed because I'm afraid my delight is written on my face, smirking. ¡Joder!, as one of LC would say. And this guy has it. Frank Reader, you devil! And you just know he'd be a good kisser. I don't know how, but you just kno
w it. Of course, the song is a kissing song - one of those songs that is itself so pleasurable, so unmitigatedly delightful, that it makes the listener (well, this listener) want to kiss someone, and the obvious choice is the man whose face takes up most of the video. But still, just look at that mouth, and those witty eyes. And he has a lovely neck (I've always had a weird thing for certain necks).

After I'd got over the initial giggliness, I realised that, rather distressingly, the man in the video bears an eerie resemblance to Jarvis Cocker:

Now, I never fancied Jarvis Cocker, but I did like him. Of course I did! Northern man, smart as all get out, "She said, "I wanna sleep with common people, I wanna sleep with common people like you ... -- I said, "Ah, I'll see what I can do": what's not to love? Still, even
with all of that on his side, Jarvis Cocker is no looker, and certainly no sex symbol. So it's rather odd to discover how thin and mysterious the line between "Eh" and "Oh, MY" is.

See now, that guy (Reader) - You can keep your muscles and your traditionally sexy looks and your...whatever. That guy's gonna last forever.
High cheekbones, skinniness, and a wit sharp enough to open a tin can with: age cannot wither those, nor custom stale.

Plus, you have to love a guy to whom this happened:

When I was little, my sisters liked to blindfold me and make me stand on a board that two of them would lift up slowly. They would only raise the board a few centimetres, but the trick was that they themselves would slowly bend down as they did so, and I would hear their voices falling further away, telling me I was getting closer and closer to the ceiling. Then, another sister would bop me on the head with a book, making me think I'd hit the ceiling, and the lifters would pretend to panic that they had gone too far and wobble the board until I fell off. I'd be convinced I was falling from a great height, rather than the few centimetres between me and the floor.

And who thinks like this:

My barber is called Innes, and he had a heart attack while cutting someone's hair last year (he's only 30) and since then, I've always had him cut my hair a little shorter than normal, in case he's not around next time.

But enough of these entirely self-indulgent not-even-rising-to-the-level-of-erotic musings. On to the finale!

Now, you knew how this post would end, didn't you? The Trashcan Sinatras are going on tour, and I got a ticket!!!! On 19 November, I'll finally get to see them. Tee hee. Oh my. YES!

I should perhaps mention at this stage that apparently Frank Reader is married.

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11 October 2009

It's All a Tango

So far I have been right about two out of three things I recently thought I knew, and I'm wondering if I'll be right about the third, too. In the States I'm not normally so accurate in my guesses and analyses, but here I do have a good track record (in a couple of cases, actually, creepily good - so good I was surprised). Still...I think three out of three would be a bit much.

A terrible tango class today, terrible in every way. First of all, I was still filled with hangover anger, which for me is that aimless anger where you just feel mad at the world - rock-kicking anger, I call it when I'm able to be mature about it. Then I was angry and sulky because I felt that if I were able to have private lessons I would learn all this so much faster, and the lack of private lessons was turning me into a rotten dancer. Then I was miffed because somehow I ended up spending a good portion of the lesson dancing with a German I dislike. The first time I danced with him, at a milonga, I told him he was quite good, and his response was to tell me repeatedly that I was lying; when assured that I was not, he still insisted I was. The end result of this was that eventually I wished to say, "Yes, I am lying. You actually suck." Today when he said, "How are you?" and I said, "I'm fine; how are you?" He said, "Ah, you do the British thing of answering a question with a question." Let's begin the conversation with some vague antagonism, shall we? Dr. Higher used to do that a lot, too: it's banter gone bad - the person intends to be witty, but it comes out wrong. It wasn't charming on him, and on this guy it was doubly not charming, because it was not charming and it reminded me of Dr. Higher.

Then I just kept screwing everything up. Except the weight changes. And my VTTT kept coming around and either suggesting other ways I could do things or, in one case, taking me away from my partner to explain something. Of course, this could be read as "singling me out for special treatment," but in my grumpy state I read it as "singling me out as especially bad." Then I lost my temper with one of my partners, and I kind of enjoyed it, which is the worst sort of temper-losing: enjoyed because you get to make someone else feel crappy too for a second.

So, standing sulkily in the circle of students, I asked myself at one point, Given all the complexity and trouble tango has involved me in, would I give it up? It's involved me in a good deal of complexity and trouble, one way or another: interpersonally, physically (having to learn to do new and often difficult things with my body), psychologically (trying to figure it out, rather than just do it), and temporally. Without it, I'd have much more time and a smoother life, and perhaps a smoother heart.

But no, of course I wouldn't. And not just because it gives me so much pleasure, both on those relatively rare occasions when it all goes right and when I'm trying to learn it in a relaxed environment. Also because, like it or not, complexity is the current of life. I remember thinking to myself last year, and perhaps even writing here, that one of the sad things about friendships was that there was only a relatively short period where you just liked your friends and enjoyed them: after that, when you got to know them better, there were moments of wrong-footed-ness, or disillusion, or just disagreement, and it was never quite so simply pleasurable again. But revisiting that now I see that that's how all of life is, and one might say that that's really what friendship and life are. Knowing people is a complex business, and a long process, and moving through things simply perhaps suggests only surface engagement rather then real understanding. So, fine, tango has led me into complication, and even some unhappiness I might well have missed out on otherwise, but if I were being only slightly dramatic I could say that that just means it's led me into life.

But, boy, I'm going to try not to dance with that German guy again. And I'm going to be firmer about going to the gym, because it really helps with presence.

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Ay, Mi Morena!

I just should not be allowed to drink. Of course it's great while I'm doing it, but the aftermath isn't worth it. I end up gloomy every time, a state even less wise and welcome at times when I'm already inclined that way. Plus I end up with a hangover, which not only is unpleasant in itself but also increases the gloominess, since I'm gloomy about the hangover. In this state, the discovery that I don't have an ironed skirt can seem earth-shattering, and it's best not to imagine the devastation that could arise from, say, missing a train.

Oh, alcohol! You're like that really hot guy who's dumped you once but calls you up when he's in town.

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10 October 2009

I'll Make a Good Gordon, Gordon

...as runs one of my favourite movie lines, spoken by a man who has so fallen in love with the Scottish village he's moved to that he offers to swap places with the man who owns the hotel and pub, Gordon.

And speaking of favourites, yesterday morning I awakened to a Desert Island Discs that featured one of my favourite songs, which itself features what may perhaps be my favourite rock song line of all time - at the very least one in my top five. The song is Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer," and the line comes quite near the end. In fact, I'm far from alone in my admiration of it; it seems to be the song's most famous line: "Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac." Man I love that line! It appears that it's the song's most famous line because of what it symbolises, but I have zero interest in its meaning, symbolic or otherwise. For me, there's just something about the sound of it. It's the double alliterations, of course, and probably also the assonance: "I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac." There's also something about the fact that all the alliterative sounds are plosives, and in particular that they alternate two of my favourite plosives, t and c/k, with the d's. But there's also just something about the rhythm of the line. Henley sings it as "I saw a Deadhead stickerona CAdillac," and that hurrying of the middle syllables, especially given their t/k vowels, the slight rush ending on the slightly elongated "Ca," makes the line so tight, and so pleasant and tidy on the ear. Oooo, I just love it.

Incidentally, if you want a demonstration of how a cover can destroy a song, go here.

So, in other news, I'm shopping for a therapist. I don't feel I need to enter into long-term therapy again (to be honest, I think I've had enough of that, and it's time for me to stand on my own feet), but I would like to get some help shoring up some areas that have always been problematic for me: rage and despair. I always have had a lot of rage - most essentially passive and shy people do, I suppose - but for perhaps the last six or so months I've been aware of the extent to which it's moved closer to the surface, just as I've been aware of the way in my sense of being a rat alone in a narrow box, and being doomed always to be such, has increased. So I picked two therapists, one after an internet search and one on the recommendation of a friend, and I saw them both last week.

One of the therapists is female, and one male. I saw the female first. The truth is, I'm prejudiced against female therapists, because I had one for a while who was of essentially no use to me, and whose approach was a kind of snuggly empathetic support that I didn't care for. So I went to this woman with some trepidation. I found her...empathetic and vaguely Rogerian! For the first half of the session she kept repeating back everything I said, with slight variations in language, which grated. That being said, I did have a breakthrough, perhaps even two, right there in the first session. Hmm...

Two days later I went to the male. His office is on top of an antique shop, so points for loveliness. I didn't much like him, but in a way I felt this might be an advantage, because I expend a good deal of energy, even in therapy, in trying to get my therapist to like me, so it struck me that a relationship in which I didn't care whether or not he liked me could save some time. In his session, I came close to crying - I told him the whole Mr. Fallen story, and as I always do in telling it came near to tears. This seemed to me to bode well, as it suggested that I would be emotionally open with him. Plus, he came out swinging with a schedule, suggesting that we work with each other until Christmas. Hmm...

So now I'm torn...Slightly touchy-feely woman with whom I had a breakthrough, or slightly off-putting man in whose office I was emotionally open? (Actually, to be fair, I might have had a breakthrough there, too. He wanted to know my background, and when I was finished telling him all the places I'd lived, he said, "You've moved around a lot...it seems you've never really put down roots." I said, "Well, I'm my root." And he said, "Yes, but it means you don't have deep connections, or deep relationships." But I'm not sure that's true, because I form close relationships very quickly. But I'm not sure it's not true, because I do and have for many years felt essentially alone. So was it a breakthrough or not? Damn you, psyche, with your sneaky ways!) Woman or man? Schedule or no schedule? I'm leaning toward the woman, largely because in our meeting I discussed the actual problem I was there for, rather than my general background, so I feel we're more focussed. But I've decided to have one more session with her before deciding for sure.

I've never had to choose between therapists before. Of course, there's a certain irony it, given that my character ensures I'll be mortified when I have to say "no" to one, and will be unable to admit that I was deciding between two, lest the unchosen one be wounded. See, now, that's something I could discuss in therapy.

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09 October 2009

Week's End

Today I had my last set of supervisions for the week, two very different pairs. Walking back to my bike from the supervision, I felt pretty pleased with myself, and since this is a feeling I don't often have I took a moment to try to figure out why. The answer was: because I had taught. I didn't feel I'd done a particularly good job of it, but just the act of having had to do something, having had to produce and guide a conversation, however unsuccessfully I may have done so (I have no idea how the students felt), made me feel stronger and better about myself. Boy, those people who say jobs give a sense of worth have got it right! But additionally, I had never realised before the extent to which my job contributes to my happiness. Whether simply because I get to talk about literature, or because I have to think on my feet to figure out how to nudge people into realisations, or because I have to make sure certain realisations are got across, I just plain feel happier when teaching is a regular part of my life.

Now, for my afternoon supervisions on Thursday and Friday I go to a creaky old room in one of the older colleges, where the floor is carpeted and there's a nice smooshy chair for me, and a smooshy couch and another smooshy chair for the students. Sometimes the students have sat side by side on the couch, and sometimes they've sat one on the couch and one in the chair. I sit in my chair, and I say things like, "And what do you make of that?" and "What could we deduce from that?" and "Mmm-hmm, interesting. And what would you say is the significance of that?" Watching myself do that both today and yesterday, I realised that this supervision construct reminds me of nothing so much as therapy. Of course, if I'd done supervision first and therapy afterward, no doubt therapy would remind me of supervision, but still... Okay, I never ask, "And how did that make you feel?", but in every other way - the chair, the questions designed to open up thought, the approach that's designed to make the students feel they're discovering but is really pointing things out to them (with varying degrees of success in subtlety)...it's all therapy. I'm a literary therapist!

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07 October 2009

First Days

Today was my first day of supervisions. I had three Practical Criticism supervisions and one individual Study Skills session.

I'd forgotten about first days and the way they exhaust you. It isn't the labour of them, I think (this one was not particularly laborious), it's the mental adjustment: you're assessing, and sorting things out, and ordering your life, and that's tiring. Plus, I dressed to teach, as I usually do, and that meant wearing heels. It's been almost a year since I wore heels to work, or really at all off the dance floor, and I forgot how that feels: again not laborious, but not particularly pleasant. (you will ask me why I wear them, if it's not pleasant, and the answer is that I wear them to look powerful. It's not that I believe added height makes me powerful [although it doesn't hurt], but in a situation where most people are dressed casually and one person is wearing heels, the person in heels looks more powerful.)

I loved dressing up, of course.

My last two sessions of the day took place at the college where I'm SSC, also the college where I supervised my slacker boy last year. He was in his last year, so imagine my surprise when I looked up upon first arriving at the college today, and there he was. We were equally delighted to see each other. Being (a) desperate, and (b) no longer his supervisor, I thought to myself, Hmm...perhaps I could be in with a shot here. But no! He was visiting his girlfriend, to whom he introduced me. A delightful girl.

For all the prac crit supervisions I did today, I used the same two texts, an extract from David Copperfield and a very brief poem by Keats (a fragment, really), "This Living Hand." I found the sessions very interesting, not so much because of the analysis as because of the behaviour of the participants. The first group was all girls, all earnest, focussed, talkative, and insightful. The second group was three girls and one boy, all equally as insightful and focussed, largely talkative, and rather more lively than group one (which may have had as much to do with the fact that it was 11am rather than 10am as with any personality attributes). The third group was three boys, and dragging insights out of them was if not precisely like then deeply reminiscent of getting blood from a stone. Eee...eee...eee (that's the sound of an unoiled handle turning). They had terrible trouble coming up with observations, and many of those they did come up with were weak. One of them is rather cleverer than the rest, but I still found myself thinking during the supervision that I might have to do a lot of work with them. In any case, I was gender surprised: I'd expected the boys to be bumptious and talkative, but quite the reverse.

Undoubtedly the most disconcerting moment of the day was when one of the last boys responded to "This Living Hand":

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
That in my veins red life might stream again
And thou be conscience-calmed -- see here it is --
I hold it towards you.

"Well," he said, "It's very tender, the way he describes to her what his hand will be like and contrasts it with what it is now, then offers it to her so she can take it while it's still warm." Oh, dear. Um... Fortunately, one of the others said, in the perfect structure, "But isn't it just the opposite? He's making it repulsive, then offering it to her." Still, it's a bit of a worry for his future interpretations.

I love "This Living Hand," and I find it a fascinating piece of work. No one wants to take that hand, but the way he achieves that repulsion is very hard to explain - there's no neat way either to say or to parse how he takes something alive, makes it dead, then revivifies it and presents it to you. And it's clear (yes, I will use that word) that he wants to repulse the addressee, but why? What's he trying to prove? Curiouser and curiouser.

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Oh, the Byrony!

I never cease to be amazed by the way that people, when I tell them I'm a Byronist, think it's okay to then bash Byron. When I told my father I was going to work on Byron, he paused thoughtfully and then said in a musing tone, "It's curious: I've always thought Byron was the least interesting of the Romantics." Well, my family know that tact isn't my father's strong suit, so, okay. But when I was writing my job letter the jobs officer for my department told me I should be prepared "not to do well in the market, because you've written a single-author dissertation, and on an author who's, well, not really top tier." And tonight at a cocktail party some man who sought me out to meet me because he works on Greek Byzantine art and knew I worked on Byron, said to me, "Well, Byron's poetry is good - if you read it aloud."

Really? Really? Do I say to you, "Well, Byzantine art: it's Byzantine; it's art; what more can you say, honestly?" Do I say, "Ah, lovely to meet you. You work on physics? Oh, right, the science of falling stuff"? Do I?

I have spent my life, both interest and principle,
And deem not what I deemed: my soul invincible.

No more - no more - Oh! never more on me
The freshness of the heart can fall like dew,
Which out of all the lovely things we see
Extracts emotions beautiful and new;
Hived in our bosoms like the bag o' the bee.
Think'st thou the honey with those objects grew?
Alas! 'twas not in them, but in thy power
To double e'en the sweetness of a flower.

How does that sound when you just read it aloud, buddy? Something you could just whip up off the top of your head, is it?

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue waves roll nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brown and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

There's some "not really top tier poetry" for you. What is it you do with Byzantine art, again?

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05 October 2009

Let the Games Begin

Primero, necesito decir que mi amiga O.M. es la mejor: una professora de espanol muy (pero es "very" no "a lot") pacienta, y una persona muy divertida. Sencillamente, la mejor.

So, the term is about to commence! And I haven't really written in a very long time! There's a reason for the latter: I moved rooms. You wouldn't think this would eat up (comer) very much time, but in fact organising the room once you've moved into it and realised everything it's missing takes quite a bit of time. Plus, I had to do a good deal of preparation for my teaching.

Most of that preparation had to do with scheduling, because...I got the job! Yes, I am Study Skills Coordinator (I made them give me a title - I made up the title, too). I do have to give lectures, but fortunately not very many. It's the snuggle work that will take up most of the time, and when I say that what I mean is, It could take up most of my time. Term (as you may have guessed from the first sentence of this paragraph) hasn't even started, and already I've had e-mails from Directors of Studies in several subjects at the college, asking me to see a total of five students - which doesn't sound like many, but given the alacrity with which the e-mails arrived, I get the sense that there are many more round the back. This will be a useful test for me. All my teaching life until now (which is 11 years, if you count postgraduate teaching), I've let the students eat up all my time; I've been a snuggler, in fact. When I got this job, I absolutely swore to myself that I would have supervisions for four or five hours a week. Absolutely no more. I mean to stick to this vow, but I can already feel myself wanting to please them all, fix them all, and thus giving up more hours. I must stand firm.

I did buy a really nice dress, though. Very professional, very good for tromping about heel-clickingly and looking as if I'm on the ball. And, you will not be surprised to learn, I know exactly what I'm going to wear for my first day of teaching, too. And my second. Not my third, though (I have to leave myself something to look forward to).

All told, I now have 18 students, plus this position. This is a lot, but I've arranged my week so that I'll have Monday and Tuesday free. On the negative side, I calculated my remuneration (as we don't say in the trade, but ought to, because it sounds grand), and I'll only be pulling down £2500 for the whole term. That's outrageous exploitation, and I'd be appalled if only I could stop being relieved that I got the work.

Pues, tango. You didn't think you were going to get away without a tedious analysis
of some vital tango topic, did you? When some terms begin, other terms begin, too, so yesterday I had the first day of my intensive intermediate tango class. And it was most interesting. First of all, I got to see my VTTT, and I realised how much I missed him. In fact, given that I can make an intense analytical experience out of anything, I discovered that I missed him in a most curious way. I wouldn't say I had a crush on my VTTT in any way
(although I do admire his hair, which is the kind of hair I sincerely hope my future partner will have; the kind of hair of which Nick Lowe is my original exemplar: premature grey, then white, and lots of it. Look at that hair over there, and in the video*), but I was intensely glad to see him - vastly more glad than I would have been to see, say, someone else I knew from tango. And I think this is because he was a kind of constant in my life for nearly four months, and I'm feeling (as you know) a bit unmoored without that constant: so to see him again, and in a teaching capacity, was to be reunited with a familiar constant. But also, and much more simply, I just plain like him a good deal. He gave me a lot (A LOT), and he's also one of those people who turns out to be vastly more interesting as you get to know him. Such people are actually relatively rare, and hence more valuable. So, well, I missed him. And I was glad to see him.

But that wasn't the interesting part. The interesting part was what he did with his body. Yes, yes, I know how that sounds, but bear with me. In ballet, one of the things that's drummed into you is, "use the floor." At first this makes no sense, since the goal in ballet is to be light. But in fact you very quickly come to see that it makes perfect sense, both for reasons of basic physics (for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction, thank you Mr. Newton, so the more you press down the higher up you'll go) and because it gives you a strong base. If you tendu, exerting pressure against the floor gives you much more control, and hence a much cleaner, more secure, and better placed leg and foot (as the woman in this video beautifully shows). And watching my VTTT demo-dance (demonstrate the dance steps), I realised that he uses the floor very much: he's always going down, and that frees him to be loose in the hips (which he is, very - he's perhaps the only person I could describe as "a groovy tanguero"), and also straight and immobile above the waist (not unmoving, but firm enough to use his chest solely to lead). By using the floor, pressing against it (please note: not down into it, but against it), he frees everything above his knees to operate securely and separately.

In fact, I had just a few days earlier been viewing some video of my FTT, and I had noticed that, almost without fail, he moves his foot at the very last second. Now, this is, partially, a little tricksier (not trickier, tricksier), but that's not surprising, because he's a tricksier dancer. Beats (forgive me if I'm telling you what you already know) have at least three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. This is true of all beats, although depending on the speed of the music the parts can come quickly or slowly. Because a beat is, well, a beat, it pushes us to move as quickly as possible. People who don't know a song, or beginners in dance, almost always move at the beginning of a beat - they're just glad they caught it, and they want to act on it before it gets away. Most people move on the middle of a beat - they're more relaxed. But moving on the end of a beat - that's for the real smooth talkers of dance. If they do it on purpose, they're almost certainly doing it as a way of raising the pulse of their partners or onlookers, because waiting until the end of the beat raises the possibility that you're not going to move at all, or that you can't possibly move well in the time allotted, and that gets the blood going. If they don't do it on purpose - or, I guess, if they do it on purpose a different way - they're doing it for the pleasure that playing with the beat brings them, for the pleasure they get from elongating the moment and from controlling their own instincts (because moving on the end of the beat usually takes great control - we want to move on the middle). Like, I said, the smooth talkers. I don't think my FTT does this solely out of tricksiness, though, because moving on the last beat or not he also often moves as if his foot is nailed to the floor. And this is another way of gaining base and control (indeed, in ballet they also say this, too: "In tendu, lift your foot up only at the last possible second: it's as if it's nailed to the floor"). So, interesting: he's much lighter in his working with the floor, but he works with it nonetheless.

And finally, I noticed something else when my VTTT danced. He taught us a step for leaders, in which the leader, until then stepping at the regular pace and length, suddenly steps much longer, and holds it for longer. No big deal, right? It looks cool, and it's fun to do, but, you know....EXCEPT that the second and third times he did it, I noticed he only did it on the third of the four beats - that is, the second downbeat (tango is, duh, danced in 4/4 time - he steps and waits on the 3 of 1 2 3 4) . And this makes perfect sense. The third beat is the longest beat of 4/4 time: 1 lets you in; 2 settles you down; 4 is your exit. I'm not sure if he knows he does this, and since I've only seen him do it on one occasion (a una vez?) I can't be sure he always does it, but if he does it displays really impressive musicality.

Of course, when I asked him to dance with me at the end he told me my steps were too small and he needed more presence. Argh!

I wish I could be a music critic. I don't think I'd be a good dance critic, because too much of what happens in, say, a ballet performance, enters me non-rationally and non-linguistically (the way a language you know enters your mind). But I don't know music well enough to be instinctive about it, so I think I'd be quite a good critic. And it interests me.

*True fact: thirteen years ago, IFB [Irish former boyfriend] and I went to see Nick Lowe give a free concert, after which he signed cds. IFB, knowing of my adoration for Lowe, urged me to go and get a cd signed. I yearned to go, but refused: I couldn't bring myself to because I was afraid I would be so awed at being in the presence of his excellent hair that I would blurt out something horribly embarrassing.

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04 October 2009

Meetin' and Greetin'

So here it is Fresher's Week, which means that there are all sorts of meet and greet events for the new students. I am prompted by all this to ponder the making of new friends. Of course, generally speaking meeting new people is an activity I approach with the largest amount of trepidation possible, involving as it does so many opportunities for being spurned (not that this has happened to me for about eight years; still, old convictions die hard). But I have been forced to realise something new this year, as well, and that is that if there's isn't a chance that I'm going to end up long-term romantically involved with you, I'm not interested in getting to know you. Yup, there it is. I really actually do have enough friends - and anytime the group at college gets claustrophobic, I have friends outside, too.

Obviously, there's no way to know who you're going to end up romantically involved with. But you do know who you don't want to get romantically involved with (in my case, anyone under 30), and who you're unlikely to get romantically involved with (people you don't find physically or mentally attractive at all. And in my case I'd also say the very good-looking, because without fail that beauty has hidden someone I actually wouldn't want to be with). So I can pretty safely say I don't want to meet any of those people. I'm not much interested in listening to the jejune thoughts or - worse - romantic adventures of someone much younger than I, and I already have many interesting friends in whom I'm not interested. So, you know.

Is it shallow? I'm not sure, but probably. I'm inclined to see it rather as a sign of weary, despairing desperation. But at least I'm honest enough to admit the truth.

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