Chimera Song Mosaic
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Timing is Everything

I really feel like summer has officially begun, even though it has been in the high 90s and some 100s every day for the past month here, because well, it officially has, but especially today because I dyed my hair blonde yesterday for the summer Solstice. Also, today is my dog, Lars's, birthday--he's 13! Yay, Lars!

More congratulations are in order:

Congratulations to Marisa, who did not celebrate her birthday in any discernible fashion on June 4th, but who is continually celebrating life every day! (Little does she know it, but we are celebrating this week with star lunches and a majorly indulgent fondue party this Thursday!)

Congratulations to Colleen, whose 30th birthday I witnessed on May 21st, 2005, in Boise Idaho. It was a surprise, and boy was she surprised! Also on the old buddy surprise crew were Audrey, Truman, Simon and Zelia, and Jane, her friend from high school. Colleen is beginning her 30s by launching a new career!

Congratulations to Ryan "Froddo" William, who came into this world on Cinco de Mayo, 2005, and to his parents, Jen and Marty! May the force always be with him, and may he shun the dark side.

Congratulations to Chris, who is now Dr. Murray! Congratulations on accomplishing this monumental feat, and on doing so with such grace, humor, warmth, and aplomb that we know to be inherent to her.

Congratulations to Lars, again, on reaching 13 and still retaining that frisky hop-step and twinkly black nose, all while sporting an increasingly gray belly (rub it!).

Now, with all this put forth, I must also come clean and reveal my future plans; I am moving to Qatar. Lance is already there working, which is the reason why I am doing so much yard work (every week a new challenge!) and otherwise work in general. He has been there three weeks, will be there five more, then will return for August. Then he'll repeat a similar cycle until we move there at the beginning of next year or in the spring. He is doing fine over there and reports they have the biggest and best shopping malls in Doha that he has ever seen, and that he made friends with another expat the same age and build as he who is also named Lance! So we call this guy DoppelLance.

So, I plan to work hard this summer (obviously), write as much as possible, sacrifice myself on the fall semester, which is only what is asked of me, and then write fulltime when we move to Qatar. Maybe also hang out in some Souks and gawk at the Arabian horses. If I must get a job, I shall teach English, perhaps (big surprise!), in which supposedly I can make tons of money. But that's not what I'm looking forward to (well, making money is nice, but the working, not so much). Lance and I both are looking forward to many vacations in fabulous and suddenly more reachable places! You know, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Yemen, Malta, Eastern Europe, Turkey, southeast Asia (not that close, but we have been wanting to go for some time). Learning a new language, meeting new people, experiencing another culture, etc.

That's all I should write for now since I lost my train of thought, which means I'm not really paying attention and am distracted by another project. I want to get my online grading done this morning, and I think I mentioned the fabulous lunches. Also, I've noticed my writing here has been a little dry lately (not in terms of quantity but in flavor), and that's because I have been simply transcribing things from my head I had earlier intended to post, and that's just not fresh. I think I have got that mostly out of the way, so that frees me to be, well, free.

Thursday, June 16, 2005
I've just read a recent edition of a literary journal (small.spiral.notebook I.II) from cover to cover, a luxury, really, that I cannot afford during the school year (I know I've said this before, but some things bear repeating, and although this isn't one of them, I guess I'm just a repetitive type). I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the fiction, which was delightful and horrifying. Many of them centered on life's ugliness, but presented it in a commonplace, unremarkable way, which is itself remarkable; although the way I'm describing it here it hardly seems so. For example, one story "Immersion," by Judy Budnitz, surprised me so much, after disgusting me (it's about a town's white kids who refuse to swim in the public pool with the black kids; also there's some nameless and awful disease that may or may not have caused some kids to die) that I read the contributor's notes, found that she had another story published in an earlier edition of Fence, which I had, and paused to read the other story. I liked that one, too, totally different. I ended up reading some of Best American Non-Required Reading, 2003.

No; that's not how it happened. I was directed to BANRR 2003 first, then to Fence 2002, but for another author. Do you see how much fun this was? What a joy? What a treat?

In general, the stories in this issue of small.sprial.notebook started out in one voice and midway through surprised me with the narrator being younger, richer, more damaged, and different then I had expected. And this shocked me and seemed to be an editorial consistency. Also, they were very short, which I tend to like. Two other stories that stood out were "Gideon" by Laura Grodstein and "What Milton Heard" by Lisa Glatt.

Also, there were three interviews, each relatively short but somehow more revealing than usual. I found myself thinking the interviewers were somehow leading the interviewees a little too strongly, but the interviewees sidestepped this expertly. I was most pleased by "A Conversation with Tara Bray Smith," by Felicia C. Sullivan, and I found within it three books I want to read (The Group, by Mary McCarthy and Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera), including the one the author was discussing (her own, West of Then), which I suppose is part of the purpose of the interview, that and making people want to write, which it did.

The poetry I didn't love as much. I wonder why this is. I wonder if the fiction and interviews (there were also a couple of essays, but these seemed too abbreviated, though intriguing) were so much better than the poetry or if I just have such ridiculously high expectations of poetry or something else even. Maybe I don't read enough contemporary fiction, and when I do, it strikes me as lovely. But I don't think so; there was an intangible perfection about this group of stories.

The poems I did like were by Kira Henehan, Besty Bonner, and Ruth Levine.

I finished the books by Julianna Baggott. Let me explain why I was drawn to them. For one thing, I needed a break from the nutrient-dense facts and reality of Mother Nature. I had been reading it, I think, a little too avidly. I was impatient with the author's reluctance to draw hard conclusions (she is a scientist in the world of anthropology, and, I suspect, such rigidity is dangerous and often wrongheaded). I wanted her to spell some things out for me, particularly what I should do in my reproductive future, which is likely to be soon and not likely to last long. But of course, these things wouldn't be answered. I was/am thrilled by her use of the word mother to refer to other animals, even insects, in a way that shows some kind of universality even though her primary theories break through our expectations of a universal mother (primate or otherwise).

Also, I knew about female Spotted Hyenas and their high levels of testosterone and their peniform clitorises. What I didn't know what that they actually give birth through their clitorises--there is an actual canal through their clitorises, which I suppose is homologous to a male's urethra, but with a different function of course.

The female Spotted Hyena has uterus in the place of any dogs, and her birth canal reaches toward her anus, as usual, but then makes a sharp turn and heads the other direction to enter her peniform clitoris. (There is a drawing of this in the book.) During birth, an average of two kits pass through this narrow opening, and about 60% of primiparous (first time mothers) give birth to dead babies because this takes so long. The second pregnancy goes better I guess because the clitoral canal is stretched out.

I'm learning all kinds of new vocabulary as well as new ways to think about motherhood. But I turned away from this because I was curious about Julianna Baggott's books. One of them, Girl Talk, has been on my shelf for about four years, ever since I read about it in an older Poets & Writers. I was fascinated by Julianna's story of how it was published for a couple of reasons. One because I admired her ballsiness; a publisher called her up after seeing one of her stories in a prominent magazine and asked her if she had a novel, and she said, "Yes," although the actual answer would have been no. So these are words (and an attitude) to live by. The second intriguing thing is that she is or was primarily a poet, and I remembered some of her poems that she submitted to a journal I was reading for when I was in graduate school. I remember one poem in particular, a retelling of Peter Pumpkin Eater's wife. We didn't take it, but it made enough of an impression on me that I remembered her name and her poem.

So I saw another of her books, The Miss America Family, and picked it up, and read that one first, then Girl Talk. Now I find that she has a website, several children’s books, and a nonfiction book just out about her grandmother growing up in a brothel. She teaches creative writing at the University of Florida. This sounds like success to me. I like looking at and reading about models of success.

The Miss America Family has an inside cover blurb that makes it seem like it will be too tragic, too zany with characters, too ambitious, and too messy, but it actually plays out in a quiet and authentic way. One of the co-narrators, a young teenage boy, is compelling. I liked Girl Talk more--it too is filled with zaniness of an authentic variety, but it is centered in a present that is chaotic, yet attractive. The fact that the present problem never gets the attention you expect (instead it dives into the past over and over, coming up with intriguing back story) is strangely satisfying. You don't know what’s going to happen, but you have a sense that since so much already has, that no matter what, everything will be okay.

So I liked both books, but I'm puzzled as to why they are marketed as Chick Lit when they so obviously aren't. I guess that's a selling niche and publishers and promoters know what they are doing, but I don't think that everything written by a thirtysomething professional woman should be labeled as such. Aren't coming of age stories legitimate (though much traveled) literary constructs? Such coming of age novels from a male writer might still get attention as could-be literature (I know I've said this before--insert yawn). Or maybe it's the happy ending that disqualifies some of these women’s writing.

There's a formula for "real" ChickLit. It involves a woman who is creatively gifted but is laboring away at some job where she is not recognized for her true talents. The job is fringe-chic--just enough to keep the reader in a smallish city elsewhere interested and envious, so of course the book is set in LA or NYC or DC. All of the woman's friends (a loose collection of gay men, successful psuedofriends, and rampantly promiscuous women) are very clearly aware of how talented this woman is, although strangely, she is not (this doesn't really happen in real life; if you are talented, you tend to know it, and if you have a sprig of talent, you tend to exploit it).

She is after a man who is wrong for her, and she has a brief thing with this man, but then ends up with someone who was there all along and is totally right for her. Oh, and she lands the dream job where she both expresses herself and gains credibility in a man's world.

I just saw this very formula being evoked in the move Catwoman, with Halle Berry. Except then it gets into the whole supernatural thing. So this makes me think that ChickLit can truly come into its own by doing some major cross-genre, nonliterary fiction action. Like we could have this same setup as above, but then throw in some perfect new job being akin to selling your soul to the devil, as in John Grisham's The Firm. Then what about the threat of a psycho killer, like a Dean R. Koontz novel. What about mixing this up with some Michael Critchton (a Pleistocene moment or she gets some bad genes spliced into her mammaries during her boob job). See? It could be really good!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I've made some changes, as you can see, and hopefully I will be able to will myself back to posting on a regular basis.

I've lost the urge to archive. This is somewhat problematic because without such urge I am unlikely to post. But there it is. Oh, I have been posting, but in my head. Pretty much every other day I think to myself of what to say, I compose the post in my head, and that seems to be sufficient. Should I worry about this?

I would say no, perhaps say, well, I'll just stop blogging. But I know I'm going to need it soon, and I'd rather not say with any finality exactly what I'm going to do. "Oh, bother," as Pooh would say.

One of the changes is the addition of a list of things I'm reading. Of course, it is already out of date. The Woman Destroyed, for example, was finished almost before I created the list, and I guess I put it there because I wanted to quote from it. But don't get me started; I would be quoting on and on! And well, just read the damn book yourself. If I had sucumbed to the archiving urge while reading the book, I would have spent pages and pages (but how can one count this on a computer?). Perhaps it's best to distill it to the most essential quotation: "I am afraid" (254). Or perhaps,

When the silence stifles me I turn on the radio and from a remote planet there come voices that I can hardly undertake: that world has a time, set hours, laws, speech, anxieties and amusements that are essentially foreign to me. How far one can let oneself go, when one is entirely alone and shut in! The bedroom smells of stale tobacco and spirits; there is ash everywhere; I am filthy; the sheets are filthy; the sky is filthy behind the filthy windows: this filth is a shell that protects me; I shall never leave it again. (223)

But I don't feel like this right now, but I have before, but I could do. I think the essentials of my life right now preempt it. For example, I have to mow the lawn and such twice a week. I've taken up a regular exercise program. Just going outside here during daylight hours prompts so much sweat that a daily shower is necessary. I suppose I should be grateful to be prevented from depression.
But the point is that I have also lost my urge to annotate my reading and compile my ideas. It happened while I was reading The Woman Destroyed, or perhaps, more accurately, that's where it began. Previously (I think I have commented on this before), I would painstakingly annotated every single book I read, mostly with lines down the side of paragraph, less often by underlining actual words and sentences, and sometimes writing in the scant margins of texts. It was if I was preparing every text for a critical response, or even more thoroughly, for the day that I might teach it. But then, midway through The Woman Destroyed, I stopped. This was mostly because my pen ran out of ink, but in normal situations I would go and get another.

The interesting thing (to me) is that I was able to keep this up until the last story of the book, basically the end of the whole thing, when I wanted to underline everything. So now as I look back at it, there are deep scratches against the margins of text.

Then, I lost the urge completely when I began The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. More specifically, I was determined not to pick up the habit again. When I ask my literary-minded friends if they compulsively highlight and annotate, they say no. I realize that I am pouring over texts at a much reduced speed because of this, and I envy the lists of reading they complete, while I struggle with meaningful highlighting. I also sometimes find, when I reread a text I have previously highlighted, that my marks have little meaning for me. Whatever interest I had in them has passed. I go on to highlight other portions of the text. So for this, I said no.

But when I got a bit into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I started highlighting and annotating when I found the Golem. The Golem is something of a personal obsession of mine. I have written a series of poems about Golem, and I look for Golem allusions everywhere (I found them in Frankenstein and Tanith Lee's gorgeous fantasy/scifi novella, The Silver Metal Lover). When I relied that Golem wasn't just a mild reference but an essential theme in the novel, I stopped highlighting. I'm still reading TAAoKaC, probably because at first I was only reading it on airplanes (to and from Mexico City and Boise, Idaho), but now I need to finish it because it's part of our reading group. But I want to savor it, too. Everyone loves it. You should seriously read the book if you haven't; it's lovely, lovely, lovely!

I actually drew a picture in the column next to one sentence: "They don't go down straight: they are like little creatures that for mysterious reasons of their own slant off to the right or to the left, slipping between of the motionless drops, stopping and then starting against though they were in the quest of something" (de Beauvoir 211).

It is a picture of five raindrops.

Also, I just noticed a typo in my book when I typed that paragraph. It's amazing how many errors are in books that have been combed over by various prestigious editors. Sometimes I feel a little anger when I find them; sometimes I just feel superior. This time I felt nothing. But we rarely notice them when we read, at leads not the first time.

I love this description also. The woman (whose husband was having an affair) said, "I had loved our car: it was a faithful animal belonging to the house, a warm and comforting presence; and suddenly, there it was [at the other woman's house], being used for betraying me" (175).

Underneath this page I had written, "Women avoid stereotype; men embrace it," which I suppose is true, as far as any generalization goes. It seems that a woman whose lover cheats on her is determined not to react in a way that other women have reacted. They might feel the urge to confront the other woman, call her up on the phone or perhaps beat her up, but they don't do it. It seems like a perfectly natural thing to do! Even the way women dress--they always want to be distinctive. Men, on the other hand, when confronted with a cheating lover are praised when they behave in a stereotypical way, that is, confronting the other man. I think a man who ignored his wife's or girlfriend's lover would be criticized. But I supposed in general men are encouraged to repsond violently whereas women aren't.

I suppose I'm supporting this from another quote in the book: "All women think they are different; they all think there are some things that will never happen to them; and they are all wrong" (136). In the column, I wrote, "And all men think they are the same?" Of course not, but still; it does seem like many men are hoping that they get to have an affair; they don't shy away from the predictability of it.

And here is the best line from the whole book: "I have taken to my pen again not to go back over the same ground but because the emptiness winthin me, around me, is so vast that this movement of my hand is necessary to tell myself that I am still alive" (224).

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