Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I had never heard of forsythia, that I remember, until I moved to New England. In fact, I had never experienced a spring, either, because I grew up in a place of perpetual summer, of hot and hotter. New England's autumns garnered all of the publicity, so I fully anticipated the blaze of October. Dreary winters shocked me with their length and almost killed me. Spring, however, came as a surprise, softly dusting the trees with green, punctuated by explosions of pink and yellow.
The forsythia came first. Like fireworks, their branches fanned up and out, finally arcing down toward whatever dismal patch of ground they sat on. Vibrant yellow that demanded your attention.
That first spring, and the second, followed a soul-crushing winter of growing discontent. The weather weighed upon even happy people. For an unmedicated, poverty-stricken depressive, winter was hell. In fact, I remembered that, in Dante's Inferno (which resonated that second winter), he had made his Hell icy cold. Now, I knew why.
Spring had always meant dread in the land of unrelenting summer. Spring covered the world in a thick layer of green pollen that left me curled up on the sofa in the dark for days on end as I tried to outlive one migraine after another. Spring also meant the advance of the neverending heat.
In New England, spring suddenly seemed feminine and maternal in a way that I had never experienced, even from my own mother (definitly not from my own mother, whose method of maternal more resembled a tornado). Spring promised releif, warmth, and a possible break from the humiliations of my winter. Spring promised color.
The fosythia came first. Driving north from New Bedford to Boston, reciting my lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream, I passed explosions of yellow in the neutral spaces. Life forces of joy leaping up from the ground; and I felt, for a moment, the same joy.
I focus on the forsythia in my memory of that time to make it large enough to blot out its context. When I imagine that time, I now see a giant bloom of forsythia against endless empty black.
*This post has nothing to do with February or Nabakov, but I do love that line.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Peeps thing, of course, distracted me. Then, making up for lost work due to the Peeps thing occupied me. Now, on a Sunday afternoon, when I can't face creating lessons for online classes or grading more papers, and feel a deep need to create something -- ANYTHING -- I return to this meme.
So, here goes. Twenty-five authors who have influenced me:
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- James Joyce
- David Sedaris
- Joan Didion
- Charles Dickens
- Ernest Hemingway
- Dorothy Parker
- A.S. Byatt
- Walt Whitman
- Margaret Atwood
- Jack Kerouac
- Woody Allen
- Frederick Douglass
- Flannery O'Connor
- William Faulkner
- Anne Rice
- Paul Simon
- Maurice Sendak
- Carolyn Keene (or the women behind the name)
- Harper Lee
- Shirley Jackson
- John Demos (for Unredeemed Captive)
- Annette Gordon-Reed (for Hemings of Monticello)
- Carolyn Heilbrun
- Toni Morrison
- Valerie Martin (for Property)
- Valerie Solanas (what can I say? I was younger and furious when I encountered her -- I no longer want to cut up men, but the radicalism and rage altered my psyche).
- Babu (this one is more direct than the others, since I actually know him and would not have finished my first book without his help).
- Professor Zero (since I mostly write in blog form, and she is a blogger, her blog forces me to think about identity and joy and, well, some of the stuff I'm going to bore you with below)
Clearly this is the list of a former undergraduate English major. As is true of most aspects of my personality, I veer between one extreme and another. I love both lush and intricate prose and stories as much as the spare and terse. I love comedy as much as tragedy.
Oddly, although there are a number of men on the list, I no longer read them, nor do I find myself gravitating toward books by men, with the exceptions of Sedaris and Babu (so write one, Babu!). This wasn't really a choice. I didn't say, "I will no longer read male writers." I just found that my choice of books tends toward women, as it did when I was a girl.
You will notice that two of the three children's writers are women. Wilder made me want to write; and Keene (all of them) made me love mysteries and investigation. I cannot separate the fact that they were women writing about women from my interest in them and my subsequent desire to read and write. Heilbrun brought me back to that on two occasions, and I loved her more when I discovered that she was also a mystery writer under a pseudonym. Her explanation for taking a pseudonym in Writing a Woman's Life is mine for Clio Bluestocking, and any other pseudonym that I might assume at a future date.
Although I am a historian, there really aren't many historians on the list. I don't read history for the art of writing; and I am more attracted to a particular book by a historian rather than their body of work. History is work, and I dive in for the information, for the meaning, for the research. The prose should just stay the hell out of the way.
The history books that I listed affected the way that I thought about crafting a story from bare and spare facts. Gordon-Reed, most recently, fascinated me with the way that she handled the spaces of perpetual unknowing in history that most interest me. I always considered those places the realm of the historical novelist, but she handled them as a historian, always returning to what we can know based on the evidence.
This returns me to the Peeps, believe it or not. The project may have been silly, but it produced so much unexpected joy. Making it was joyful to me; and, although this was never actually a goal, seeing it gave joy to you, which may me joyful again. That joy shook something loose in me that I cannot see or name, but still aggravates, frustrates and distracts me.
Then, I returned to this list. What writers have inspired me? As I thought hard -- this was not an easy list to make after the first entry --that thing kept fluttering just within my peripheral imagination. Why did they inspire me? Why are historians -- my work, my love -- not on the list in greater numbers? What is this list telling me and why does it unsettle me?
So, the Peeps and this list give me anxiety about the next creative commitment in my life. I don't feel like a legitimate, serious historian. I know my limits of intellect and energy in that direction, and always have. That has not been liberating. I also have a lot of PTSD connected to my training as a historian, which I must work to separate from my love of the subject itself, and from the way that it has affected my vision of all else. The knowledge of those limitations and the trauma become this dark muck that I must claw through to create anything having to do with history. Sometimes, that muck is too thick and I don't have the spirit to face it; but I must if I am going to work toward --- toward what? The next serious history book, which will meet with hostility or, worse, be damned with faint praise. Worse than that: be a creation for which I make excuses and about which I am not proud.
Which brings me to the question: why do I do it? I do it for the love of research and the need to write. Why am I not becoming obsessed with that; or, at least, why am I not allowing that to guide my life with a stronger force?
My whole adult life has been dedicated to history. My identity has merged with it, but not entirely. A last bit --perhaps more significant that I realize -- remains separate and wants to wander. That separate part wants more, and it spends much of its time trying to distract the historian identity. That separate part should want to merge with the historian identity, but fears that it will be sacrificed instead because it creates so many distractions. That separate part, along with the awareness of limitations and the PTSD, are my greatest obstacles.
So, I imagine myself, part stone statue, focused and formed, and part formless flesh, writhing and twisting. I have always been like this, and it disturbs me.
Now, I see that I am making some sort of chimera out of my own laziness and distraction. That, too, is a form of procrastination; and I am procrastinating by spending more time than necessary on this post.
Friday, March 13, 2009
No, I don't actually have this sort of time on my hands. Yes, I am mildly insane.
Because I often do things that make absolutely no sense, accomplish absolutely nothing of value or use, and distract me from doing things that I should do, I thought it might be fun to enter the local newspaper's Peeps diorama contest. What was supposed to be a weekend craft project for the hell of it gradually became a week long obsession of marshmallow, sugar, chocolate, construction paper and glue. I became possessed, adding details, buying more candy, staying up way past my bedtime. Every waking moment was consumed by thoughts of making this thing bigger, better, more sugary. I had to make the best Peeps diorama ever! A work of art! A masterpiece!
Finally, this evening, covered in paint, blistered from drops of hot glue, sick of candy (yes! me! sick of candy!), and reeking with the stench of an unbathed maniac, I completed my diorama.
Behold, The National MVSEVM of the American Peep:
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I really shouldn't read the news in the morning. I'm too grumpy and uncaffeinnated to deal with some of these guys.
1) David Brooks for his "Moderate's Manifesto." I think he has been drinking bad bong water. He writes, "The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment." Where the hell has he been for his whole life? He then goes on to argue that we must pity the wealthiest 5% who will "bear the burden" of tax reform. Moderates have to "block the excesses of unchecked liberalism." (Again, I ask, why is domestic spending a horror that will throw us into a condition not unlike a Stalinist satellite nation, while war spending that benefits only the wealthy who invest in it seen as a necessity, never a drain?) Brooks references Hamilton -- Hamilton! -- a vision of government that is over 2 centuries old! -- and a nation full of Hamiltonian moderates, all of whom must stop this incessant fighting between the extremes, stop the crazy liberal spending, and save the nation. What world is he living in?
2) These companies who call up the bereaved and talk them into paying the dearly departed's debts, even when they have no legal obligation to do so -- and often don't know that they have no legal obligation. The article describes a company that manipulates the stages of grief in order to exact payments from the surviving relatives. Worse, they get the survivors, who are often quite poor, to pay willingly and to thank the company for their "help." Vultures.
3) Rush Limbaugh, for general purposes, but also because he now considers himself relevant again. Worst than that, he is not an elected person, but even the elected officials are treating him as if he has actual power -- and maybe he does of a sort, but it would disappear in an instant if he ran for political office. His brand of journalism is dangerous and irresponsible. He reminds me of the radio broadcaster in that movie Hotel Rwanda, the one who kept calling for the extermination of "cockroaches."
4) Anyone who has the power to let Limbaugh think he has real decision making power. Apologize to him for calling him an entertainer? Please! That should be the starting point for further criticism, not the point from which to backtrack.
5) Whoever thought they were being clever, controversial, cute, or simply indulging in juvenile antics about "political correctness," for popping a book about monkeys into a display of books about Obama. Do they really really NOT get the racist implications? Do they really really NOT understand the whole pseudo-scientific history behind those implications? Or are they just being assholes? Do they really not get that black people don't just see such actions as insults against only Obama but also as insults against a whole race of people? (Via Literary Obama)
Monday, March 09, 2009
My aunt says "yes" because it makes the husband feel unwelcome in his own family. My uncle says "yes" because, when the same thing happened to him, it ended his relationship with his parents. My analyst says "yes" because it alienates the husband from his family, and perhaps might be a little bit of a "fuck you" from the wife. The husband has moved to another city and avoids the parents. I think the parents have an agenda that has nothing to do with the happiness of the couple.
I am also very happy that I don't live in Texas and so am not sucked into this any further than this post.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Why, you can hire a million dollar consultant to meet with your largest group of employees -- vice presidents -- to discover "conversations" that "we" should be having to "serve more efficiently." That's what you can do! Because money spent to pay consultants to identify conversations that should be going on is the best investment of resources. Right?
To survive this depression, I recommend more people go into the consulting business, as consultants to business (whatever business that may be), because that seems to be where the jobs are.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Meanwhile, Snow Day! Fortunately, I don't have any classes today, so I don't have that annoyance of having to figure out how I'm going to cram two days' lessons into the next meeting. I also don't have to go into the office.
I do, however, have a dentist appointment later. This will be the first time I've seen a dentist in about 20 years. Blame it on the Jamestown "Written in Bones" exhibit at the science museum. That exhibit is also responsible for my increased intake in calcium. Here are the reasons: Tuberculosis caused that spine to curve, but I'm not taking any chances! In the top picture, the enamel on the teeth was scrubbed away, the product of too much attention to the teeth with too abrasive a cleaner. In the middle picture, the nearest set of teeth came from the skeleton of a person my age, and the far one came from a person half my age.
Yes, I know, the people who inhabited these bones lived in a much more brutal time and place, but my teeth and back ached just looking at them. I took it as a warning, bought some calcium, and made a dentist appointment. Better a world of hurt for a little while later today than all day, every day, when I'm in my 70s.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
1) David Horowitz, for his new attack on women's studies, One Party Classroom. From what the report in Inside Higher Education indicates, Horowitz rejects gender as a tool of analysis, and argues that women's studies classes are tools of indoctrination into Marxism (and one can presume "the she-woman boy-haters club" where we all learn cunnilingus and burn our bras -- at least that's the straw man I make out of the straw woman created by similar opponents of the whole field of women's studies).
How does he know the last? Well, he read 150 course descriptions, syllabi, and reading lists. He doesn't read the books, he doesn't sit in a sampling of the classes, not even the one that is taught by the "villain" of his book, Bettina Aptheker, that she has made available to the public. He does not enquire into the contexts of the readings and syllabi. So, he's a lazy researcher, too.
Why didn't he sit in on classes? Seems he didn't have the time or money. Welcome to the world of actual academic research, in which you have limited resources and still have to produce intellectually viable work.
Women's studies has been around for -- what? -- thirty years now, and it continues to develop. It has altered every field that it touches and public policy by addressing the fact that women, because they have two X chromosomes, are treated differently and have different experiences of the world. Those differences exist within different and intersecting hierarchies of power. To reject that is to reject the experience of half of the population and to be, at a very profound level, sexist.
2) Wow! I was never a big fan of Jerry Lewis. Something always seemed off about his appeals every Labor Day. Now I am seeing critique from disabled people who protested his Academy Award. He would have garnered some sympathy from me if he had responded to the critique with something to the effect of, "oh, really? I hadn't considered my approach from that point of view. Maybe I should rethink it." After all, he is of a certain generation that hid its disabilities and disabled people. Instead, he chastises the disabled for refusing pity. He, in essence, said that their lived experience was not the proper experience. Now, that is the behavior of an asshole.
3) Whoever is in charge of the music volume at the gym. Good god, whoever you are! We are not in a nightclub. The volume doesn't have to shake the walls.
4) While we are at it, whoever is in charge of allowing storefront plastic surgeons to place advertising fliers in prominent places in the gym. You guys should be promoting health, not slicing and dicing to meet some pre-approved notion of beauty.
5) All of the Republicans who are charging Obama and the Democrats -- oh, who are we kidding, anyone who supports any sort of government stimulus plan -- of "socialism." (We on the left only wish it were so!) Like Andre the Giant said in Princess Bride, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." Socialism and Stalinism are not the same thing. I also am constantly, naively amazed that, according to the right wing, "government spending" means "socialism" when it involves domestic issues, but "patriotism" when it means foreign intervention and wars.
6) The Morpheus of my subconscious, for giving me disturbing dreams. Yeah, I know, Morpheus of the subconscious, I'll thank you later in therapy. Right now, you are messing with my day.