Chimera Song Mosaic
Saturday, July 30, 2005
One of the things I have got to do before Lance gets here (next Thursday!) is pick up the house, especially the wreck I have made of the library and bathroom. Those are just places I like to scatter things.
So in going through the stacks in the library and some in various places around the house, I thought I'd make some lists of where these books and magazines came from before sticking them onto the shelves, where they will remain grouped together until I read them and they move into another part of the shelves. I'm not as organized as I might sound. For example, I often read books of poetry that I have already read because for some reason, associatively, I group them with other poets rather than moving them into the read shelf. So there really isn't a read shelf. This particular happens with books that I wanted to read for a look time, bought, looked at longingly but pushed aside, and then finally read in a quick fit, only to find that they weren't what I expected (this is not to be read as disappointment but difference), so that when I looked at them later it was as if I had never read them.
It seems that my expectations were so habitual and so entrenched that I did not replace them with reality.
I worked for two or more hours, and I located some sets of books I purchased in various places this past year:
Austin, March 2005 (during the Austin International Poetry Festival, I read at Book Woman, an offshoot of Book People www.bookpeople.com):
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho / Anne Carson (great title, and I’m keen on any of Carson’s fragments, whether she created them or not)
Poems of Akhmatova / trans. Stanley Kunitz & Max Hayward (do I also need a little Akhmatova book? yes, and less intimidating)
Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza / Gloria Anzaldua
You Be Me: Friendship in the Lives of Teenage Girls / ed. Susan Musgrave (of the raucous AWP Vancouver caucus!)
Paul Verlaine: Women/Men / trans. Alistair Elliot (I’d love to know what Verlaine thinks about them!)
Public Power in the Age of Empire / Arundhati Roy
The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology / ed. Nathalie Handal (preparation for my move to Qatar)
Women’s Work: New Poems / Maggie Jochild (she was another one of the readers at Book Woman)
Waiting for Birth: Poems / Cindy Childress (a creative writing Ph.D. candidate at the University of Louisiana and the host of the evening; she looks like a Barbie doll and has a very heavy Southern accent, but her poems were sensuously corporeal and mythically scientific)
Truth & Beauty: A Friendship / Ann Patchett (though I hadn’t yet read Bel Canto, which I didn’t love, I had heard raves about it, so I picked this up; also I liked the grasshopper on the cover, and I’ll probably be more into the memoir—at least it will be more intimate, I think)
Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge / Eleanor Herman (I was mad for the sumptuous and leisurely exhibit of Madame de Pompadour’s portraits, paintings, and possessions in Munich the summer of 2001, and besides, the author has done herself up as a queen for her publicity photo—this is going to be fun!)
Trip to Houston, 2005, Various
3rd Bed 10 Spring/Summer ’04 (a very groovy mag!)
Court Green 1 2004
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review 22 Spring/Summer 2004
The Real McCoy: A Novel / Darin Strauss (this guy wrote Chang and Eng and is a very nice guy; I met him the summer I went to Saratoga Springs)
Texas Poetry Journal Spring 2005
Columbia Poetry Review 18 Spring 2005
Third Coast Spring 2005
3 issues of CROWD vol. 4, issue 2; vol. 3, issue 1; vol. 5, issue 1-2 (not sure how they handle the numbering, but I’m obsessed with CROWD right now, and 5 features a poem by Ms. Catherine Meng!)
The Canary 4
small.spiral.notebook vol. I, issue II (this is the only thing from this list that I’ve examined completely, and I loved the fiction)
Vancouver, AWP, March 2005
shankpainter 44 spring 2004
13th Moon: A Feminist Literary Magazine vol. XVI, 1 & 2
Pool: A Journal of Poetry vol. 2 2003
The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, expanded edition / trans. Judith Hemschemeyer (this is a big and scary lavender colored book with an intelligent photograph of Akhmatova on the cover)
Robert Frost in Russia / F.D. Reeve (what the!?)
Matter / Bin Ramke
Iraqi Poetry Today / ed. Saadi Simawe
The Opening Question / Prageeta Sharma (I was introduced to her there; very lively with a sweet face)
try / Cole Swenson (I loved her reading—what a mama! I want to grow up to be Cole Swenson)
Guess Can Gallop / Heidi Lynn Staples
The Commandrine and Other Poems / Joyelle McSweeney
God Save My Queen: A Tribute / Daniel Nester
. . . there might have been more, but it’s been a while, and some have wandered off.
Also I received a beautiful packet in the mail from Ugly Duckling Presse. These were wrapped in larger than legal sized off-white paper on which poems were printed. I won’t repeat the poems here because I can’t credit them and they are too long, but I certainly will read them. This contained several beautiful crafted chapbooks, including:
The Blue Notebook / Daniil Kharms (trans. Matvei Yankelevich)
Fifty Drops of Blood / Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov (trans. Christopher Mattison)
Sea Shanties of Old Vermont / Aaron Teiger
and I preordered Iterature / Eugene Ostashevsky, so I can’t forget to wait for that.
Also, I found some old attempts to keep my writing in one place, which I am wry of sine I’ve had somewhat disastrous results. One spiral notebook I almost completed, finally writing some good stuff in the later pages, but leaving one final leaf cryptically blank. I stopped and started several times in the notebook, even attempting to journal keep on one occasion, and I also found this list that was prompted by a reading of The Picture of Dorian Grey. I remember having to put the book down so glorious and antique were the precious stones mentioned in it. I can’t vouch for all of the stones (and sensuous musical approximations) on this list, but some of them do come from the book (the rest probably comes from The Importance of Being Ernest or something else I was reading at the time):
chausable (priest robe)
anneal (to strengthen, mix together)
champak (Indian yellow Magnolia tree)
chysolites (yellow green olivines or beryls)
chrysoberyl (see crysolites)
andromais (ascend rivers to breed)
colmitored (opal beryl)
apostasy (reject faith)
agate = eloquence
carnelian (red chalcedony)
bezoar (gut residue of ungulates, magical guard against poison; also Arabian deer stone)
balas, or balasses (spinel Afghan orange jewel)
moieties (one of equal halves, tribal)
caryatides (Greek woman column)
cochineal (red female insect used in dyes)
It becomes obvious that this is not a list of stones, but includes some other stuff, plus cryptic definitions. I’m not sure what I was doing here, but I was probably trying to force my way into a poem by way of incantation. Some of these probably occurred when I looked up other words, so there are links and references and random sightings in my dictionary. I have only used two of these words in actual poems, ambergris (which is obvious) and vitriol.
There is another spiral, a smaller, brand new one, that I attempted to write all my poems in more recently (the other one is dated 2001-2003). This small one is fall 2003, and I apparently gave up after three or four pages of unsatisfying poems. Most of the poems in both of these journal are bad, so I think I abandoned the second one from superstition.
Then I tried writing all my poems on index cards, usually colored ones. This worked ok, but somehow seemed to diminish them. I kept them in small index card boxes. I found these two snippets of poems that I actually enjoyed:
How she might walk miles in the heat and depression
of pavement to invite the cool interiors of
a movie theater of changes and gender inventions
how the drama of her innards spread across
into the measurements of pain yet to be
unmarveled and endured in all her
loveliness; how nighttime too might be a mask
to cool beside her loveliness.
I am unfamiliar with this and am startled by the lovingness of it.
Another one in the card catalog:
On the shores of a lagoon of neverness
scree piles in the woodshed bound for a coast most bountiful.
The overtures of terns wallow in their throats,
ply the woodshed,
brook their sustenance for spring,
and wither in their endlessness.
Windhovers rush the summit
leery of the very ideas that made them famous.
Mark these words enthroned by limestone and silt,
burned bark into the summer forage.
Sand dunes permit the grasses to adorn* their spines,
sea foam paspalum and other unpronounceable causalities of conviction.
A ghost crab skitters across the sand trap,
aware of the bone-thin tracks she makes in the sand’s crust.
Balancing. Holding her dream of sleep between 2 pincers
[because [she is] aware that] sleep disrupts her agenda,
her pecking for silvery minnows in a lagoon most
accidental and transient,
forming a language to catalog regret,
The minnow rests inside her egg; her whole life is
dreaming: glittering saltwater, pale illusions of children’s
faces, pale nemesis (assassin, breakfast).
*this is the only word I changed in the poem while typing it, substituting the mellifluous “adorn” for the original “decorate.” I’d like to get to know this poem better, maybe revise it and work on it.
Biographical note: I know the idea of writing on note cards came from a series of poems Catherine and I wrote to each other that year, and this poem possibly has something to do with Catherine because I wrote her address on the bottom of the card in red marker. The rest of the poem is black felt tip.
My schedule that summer, allegedly, was:
7:30 a.m. exercise (30 min.)
8:00 a.m. breakfast, shower (1 hour)
9:00 a.m. write & blog (3 hours)
12:00 p.m. lunch & read (3 hours)
3:00 p.m. projects (2 hours)
5:00 p.m. clean home & errands (30 min. minimum)
5:30 p.m. make dinner
I think that is the summer I started my blog.
This summer, my schedule is more flexible:
Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays: exercise at gym
Tuesdays-Thursdays: mow and edge lawn
Saturdays-Sundays: walk dogs
But really it’s been a bit more like the previous one, if you add three hours a day for my computer game. I shirk the lawn as much as possible, and I haven’t been walking the dogs much at all (I forgot to go at night, and that’s the only time it’s cool enough; my mornings are at the gym or on the lawn). I tried a rule where I wrote for three hours a day on the weekdays—it could include poems, fiction, or blogging—but I only could do it three days in a row. Still, I am writing in a leftover legal pad, and I have been picking it up off the counter regularly to write poems in it. Obviously, I am also blogging. I wrote a 28 page erotic story, too. So that’s progress.
I also found an old National Geographic map of the Artic Circle, and someone has circled the following cities in red ink:
I've only been to two of these places. It’s funny to look at the countries sideways. For example, from the way the names are printed, Poland is above Denmark.
I'm done with the library now. Now I want to read all these things! But for now I have to halt my reading list for some emergency magazine reading. I have some stuff from last summer that I never got arund to reading, and I have to get at some of those stories and articles.
Friday, July 29, 2005
I can't seem to fix this white space problem. I don't know why my posts are way down here.
Well, I have three things to say: A Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague was very good, if not for the disorienting ending; The Lovely Bones was so good I read it in a day (and night)--it's unlike anything I have read before, naive, I guess, but not inauthentically so, and without sappiness or unearned sentimentality it had me crying through the whole thing (crying!), or it could have been just me since reading lots of novels tends to depress me; The Buddah of Suburbia is a prurient HOOT!
But mostly I haven't been able to tear myself away from an old computer game that I play on my old computer (both about five years of age) called Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. It's one of those where your character talks to people, walks around, and investigates things and solves puzzles. It also has vampires, or it will, when I get to them. It's set in Rennes le Chateau, France, and it deals with the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail; it's some kind of actual mystery. The thing I love about the Gabriel Knight series is that they are set in actual locations, so when Lance and I played the second one way back in college, we got to see some parts of Munich that we were later pleased to discover in person actually existed. I don't know how to explain the thrill of having laid down memories of a place one hasn't yet traveled to, to have intimate, first-person visual experiences in such a place and then to make good on them with a real-life visit. It's sort of like the experience of seeing something like the Statue of Liberty only to recognize it from stored pictures. There's a bit of disappointment in the nothingnewness of it. On the other hand, what comfort in familiarity. I knew the exterior. Now, if I had only gone inside I would have laid down more perspectives of it.
last night in the game I snuck into all the other characters' hotel rooms, which was such a voyeuristic pleasure. I had been looking at the outside of the doors for hours of game play, and now to go inside them was delightful! They each had different toiletries by their bathroom sinks, for example.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
I just woke up recently from a long, late nap, in which my dream was set on an island “in Venezuela,” a popular setting for my dreams. The island is looped by a long road that begins in the city by the ocean (crowded, dusty, cosmopolitan) and passes narrowly by several stands by the side of the road, some open air bars, some liquid fruit kiosks, a large museum housed in former fortress turned palace, and finally into the barren part of the island, high above the ocean, which alternatively crashes against rocks below or else stretches out silent and still and diseased.
The road here turns dirt and very high and treacherous, the kind of road that frightens me in my life, and at the end of the road (though the island clearly continues), there is a quiet and infrequently visited open air bazaar under some tents, where one can find very old things that one remembers from a former life, things like a broken bicycle or part of a rocking horse. Lots of tools and rusty metal implements.
I knew the island’s road imitately but in that superficial way of one who spends a lot of time but not a lot of interest in a place.
In this particular dream, I had separated from my family and wandered into the shopping mall streets at the heart of the town (although in other dreams the heart of the town is a defunct bullring where concert raves are held and sometimes reality TV show contests are staged, especially circus-like ones). Sometimes this place is set in “Cuba” or simply “Spain.” As I entered the posh shops, I thought about how people often praise the egalitarianism of Cuba, but how some beach resorts are open to non-Cubans only, which was a parallel to these shops since only the rich—visitors or inhabitants—were permitted to visit them. While criticizing them in my mind I also acknowledged the luxurious privilege of visiting them without being hassled by beggars or windshield washers or urchins or pimps (not that this is what the real Cuba or Spain or Venezuela is actually like—this is a dream—keep up!).
While I was wandering through one shop, I paused at a counter displaying many earrings for the would-be buyer to handle and examine. These earrings were stunning, some all black, some brightly contrasting aqua and magenta. They were all extremely large, mostly geometric shapes, and very hefty. It wouldn’t be possible for the average person to wear them in his or her pierced ears, but they had a very special design: they dangled from a leather or something strap that ended in a kind of decorative roach clip that could attached to any part of your ear, or your hair, for that matter. To wear them, you hung them off your ear, not from your ear lobe, so the strap went around the front of the ear and clipped somewhere on the back (or the other way around). It was more like hanging a Christmas tree ornament. I thought about buying a pair. They were exquisite and well priced. I had an impulse to just pull out my credit card without thinking, but I did not. I was instead distracted by two Japanese girls scooping out gummy lumps of some frosting-like candy.
I went over to the girls and asked them about the candy. We were speaking English. They got very excited and wanted to share, and they offered me a little scoop from one of their plastic spoons. It looked like very dense German chocolate cake frosting. I at first declined, but they insisted, and not wanting to offend them, or more specifically, wanting their good favor since they looked nice and were the only Japanese people I had ever seen on the island, I accepted. It was as sweet and gummy as it looked. I was a bit guilty because I was on a diet that prohibited refined sugar. However, I thought about how people say it’s okay if you only take a bite.
The girls seemed surprised that I took it off the spoon with my mouth rather than my fingers. I walked with them out of the store. At first, I had judged them to be my age, and they had the same dark hair dyed blonde, like me. But then when I asked them what they were doing in Venezuela, and they said they were teaching English, I wondered if they might be older or younger. I asked them, “For how long?” They replied, “Ten years,” so then I thought they might be a little older. What I really wanted to know is how long they had been in Venezuela, so I pushed the issue and found out they had been only there for six months, and for the nine and a half years before, they had taught English in --------.
We walked for some time, away from the shops, outside, across tan boulders with jagged edges, on the narrows of a wall that separated a busy trades street and an empty dirt lot. As we walked, I asked them what they had been translating, and they produced a book I had read before. I flipped to the first chapter and read aloud from a short, but densely and elegantly constructed paragraph. I thought maybe they might like the way I read, but they showed neither approval nor disapproval. We walked single file with the taller girl in front, then the other, then me. I said I could see why they had chosen to translate this book because it was such a great one, and they agreed with enthusiasm. Then I asked the taller girl in front to translate it for me. I had wanted her to read in Japanese, but she read the same paragraph in English, just as I had. Her English was not as fluid, perhaps, as mine, but both girls had American accents.
On the wall walk, the girls began talking to themselves about something, and they wanted the English word for collar. “What word are you looking for?” I asked. They turned as they walked and said cintura and made a motion round their necks (one of them did this, not both; they did not respond in unison). I said collar, even though I had not known the Spanish word for it, and I suspect it is not cintura, although it made sense logically at the time to me since it is similar to the word for belt. Sometimes when I dream in another language, I think of the right word, which I realize when I recall my speech later, but sometimes I realize I was probably just speaking garble. I say probably because at the time of the dream it feels like I am perfectly fluent and literate. I make up so many words in my dreams—good approximations!—but sometimes I do struggle for them, which resembles my real experiences.
We then passed through another store, also out in the open air, but this one more like a bazaar but small and crowded. I asked the girls for the Japanese word for collar, and one said what sounded like mein-lo or cru-lo, but I cannot grasp words unless I know the letter they start with. I tried to repeat the word back to them, and they corrected me and then started laughing. “What is it? Tell me, is it something bad,” I said, thinking that I had said an actual word in Japanese but one that is inappropriate. But no, they thought I had said culo in Spanish, so I told them everything I knew about culo. The Japanese word for collar was lost.
I wondered where they taught—at the museum’s college, at the school at the midpoint on the road, or at the school at the base in the city. I found out when we emerged from the museum’s parking lot and continued out into the roadway, where we had to share the narrow road with high-speed traffic going both ways. I thought then about how my summer wouldn’t be boring, as it always had been in the past, because I found these new friends, these Japanese girls to learn from. I had no illusions about learning the whole of Japanese that summer, but I could maybe pick up a little.
I was about to try my only Japanese sentence on them: Watashi-wa Deborah-des. But then we were separate when they crossed a road perpendicular to the main road, ducking between two cars. I was anxious to follow them, but wary of the man in the long, old car, painted various colors, who was looking at me and deciding how much he needed to stop his car at the stop sign. He determined that he had room to go in front of me, which he did, but he ran into the legs of a girl crossing opposite me (he hadn’t seen her since he had been focused on me). This girl was wearing a pink bridesmaid like dress with a long skirt, and she was walking with some other girls dressed the same way and a few other people who seemed unrelated. The girl seemed to be in pain, but not terribly hurt, since the man stopped his car when he hit her. Her friends milled about, gave the man some cards, and I crossed the street to follow my new friends.
But I hesitated. I thought they might want me to be the witness. Sure enough, one of the girl’s companions brought me many small yellow cards and pressed them into my hands. I agreed that I would be the testigo, and she and her friends walked away. I continued down towards the city, but there was no sign of my new friends.
Then I woke up. The dream I had before this one was scary and hectic. I was trying to convince Freddy Kruger not to kill me or my friends, and I had lots of ways of diverting him, like taking his ax and hiding it, threatening him, and taking him to eat burgers at White Castle. But it was getting really difficult to think of distractions, and the strain and responsibly of it all was really getting to me.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I spent all yesterday morning tidying up the backyard, storing all the movable stuff, hanging baskets, lawn furniture, shovels and such, into the garage. Around 1:00 a.m. I made ready the small laundry room in the center of the house (which I had already idenified as perfect for tornados, no windows, attached to a bathroom) by removing a pasta maker, my very heavy standing mixer, hundreds of hangers that I reasoned might fly around the room, and fit one enormous dog bed into the room. I would have crammed a futon mattress in there, but one edge had two spider egg sacs (which burst nastily into a Kleenex when I brushed them away).
I know I have been far too lenient with the spiders. The one on the edge of my bathtub has amassed yet another pile of hollow kills, and she's much bigger than a few months ago. I do nothing but blow on her gently when I bathe, just to let her know that I am back.
I got back on Monday night around 8:00 p.m. I was probably one of the few people traveling down to South Texas, towards the hurricane, but I really needed to get back and deal with the lawn and bills. The lawn continues to be a trial. I got most of the back mowed (some of it was way too lush for the mower) before deciding instead to obsess over the things that could fly around in the wind.
I realize now that this would have been much more interesting to read about before the hurriance landed. There would have been more suspense in the telling of the preparations. I did throw up several times yesterday, not because of the storm, but because of allergies. I sort of made it into the bathroom in time. I really can't handle more than lying around and waiting right now. That and frantic spells of moving things around.
But mostly I wanted to write about more movies I have seen recently. A few days ago, I rented a documentary called Tarnation, which is about a boy's troubled youth (in Houston) and how he grew up to be filmmaker; this is one of his films. Several things were interesting about this. One was the complete transparency of the documentary making process, and not in that trite "behind the scenes" way. Early in his life, of course, there were few actual film footatges, so this was handled with montages of still photographs linked together by written narratives. The narratives were wholly engrossing as they render the events so flatly that they almost seem to contradict them. You find yourself challenging the approved explanation of the event with what you can "prove" from what is being offered visually. I was first hooked on the story of his mother and her doomed young life, which was all the more compelling because she was labeled a "beauty," and nothing really quite grabs our attention like a beauty. I think it seems that early success, in the case of a young girl, beauty, often is epxected to predict later success, and the fact that this is not always so had come to be handled as cliche, but this story does that is a way that is completely authentic. For one thing, this young beauty's life is shifted abruptly by a specific defining moment that comes to be part of the family's mythology, a way of explaining every thing that happens afterward, especially every bad thing. The young would be filmmaker's life is also narrowed by a defining moment (I won't tell you what these two moments are in case you get to see the film), and the documentary as a whole seems to speak to the danger of any moment being labeled as defining. In the cases of this mother and son, these two moments take on an overblown significance in their lives. It makes me wonder about family mythologies and how they are created and how the members of the family feed into them and off of them in sometimes very unhealthy ways.
Primer (filmed in Dallas) is another interesting under the radar film, but one that approaches sci-fi in an original way. It spends the first half of its very short length (about 85 minutes) immersed in some math and physics stuff and disorienting conversations that might make your head spin, but this sets up the premise for what these guys have been inventing on the side: a time machine. Thinky and exciting, I liked this a lot, but it could have been longer, especially in the last third or so of the film, which is where much of the action really happens. This film makes you figure everything out for yourself, but I can't help but wonder if they went over budget and had to wrap it up really quickly because there's almost too much left to the imagination. I should probably watch it several more times.
I finished reading Bel Canto, and I was overall disappointed in it. There's probably no way it could have satisfied my after several people telling me how wonderful it is, but my main problem with it is that it did not develop the characters in a meaningful way. Over and over, the author (who annoyingly felt present throughout, disrupting the very private world of the story) tells the readers that all of these people (captives and captors) are falling in love with each other, but we never see this happen. There are too many stories told that have no effect on the narrative. For instance, five pages or so are devoted to a Russian captive telling an American captive (a famous opera singer) that he loves her, tracing through parts of his childhood in doing so, through the voice of a Japanese translator (the main chratcer). However, the Russian guy's declaration has no effect on the American singer and has no effect on the Japanese guy (he keeps talking about how these words move through him and out of him in an altered form, another language, which is an interesting idea but again serves the narrative in no way). Overall, nothing seems to affect the main characters, and by the end of the novel (it gets much better in the end but not enough, in my opinion, to justify the slowness of the rest of it), no one has changed, at least no one a reader would care about. The one character I did care about, the Vice President, who is the only one who makes a charitable effort to ease the pain of other people, is treated badly by almost everyone, captives and captors alike. The stereoptyical treatment of Russians, Japanese, and "host-country" South Americans is also annoying.
I don't want to give the impression that I'm looking for action. Not that, but development. Meaning and meaningfulness. For example, I saw two movies a couple of days ago that were both romantic and meaningful. One was full of action, and one was not. The action one was a fast paced and constantly knotting and unraveling mystery called A Very Long Engagement (French, with Audrey Tautou). Unexpectedly, Jodie Foster shows up and does a convincing (in my opinion) Polish-French widow. The one without much action is called The Snow Walker, and without giving too much away, it is about a Canadian guy who crashes his airplane somewhere in the Northwest territories and is helped by an Inuit girl. It is not romantic in the traditional sense---well, see it for yourself and decide--but it remarkably well demonstrates the closeness achieved between two people in extreme circumstances, which is what, I think, Bel Canto was going for, but didn't accomplish. Well, there are things that are easier to do through film.
It seems someone has beat me to the mixed genre ChickLit gimmick! Marisa recently read Undead and Unwed and attended a "reading" by the author in Minnesota (the reading was a dud, she reports). This book is about a typical, just turned 30, heroine who becomes a vampire, and apparently this is going to be made into a miniseries or something, and the author is comisssioned to write more of these books. One day I will hit my gravy train. I feel it.
This has only taken 20 minutes, so I am not quite into the evening yet. I'm thinking of toasting some s'mores. Inexplicably, I have all the ingredients: graham crackers, giant marshmallows, and high-quality choclate. Now I just need a safe source of flame.
Monday, July 11, 2005
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
-- Omar Khayyam
On Saturday I saw three movies! It was such an indulgent movie-glut. My mom, my sister and I started with The Fantastic 4 (pretty good for Hollywood pap, and to get an idea of what my blonde hair looks like, there is Jessica Alba’s), then my mom dropped off quickly, and my sister an I headed over to the Angelica for Mysterious Skin and The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam. Mysterious Skin stretches one’s tolerance for cinematographically depicting sex with children (I have a fairly high tolerance and loved the quease-inducing Happiness; this makes me sound like such a freak) and was disturbing in many other ways, but overall was quite a wonderful film. In praise of it I can say that it had many surprises beyond the discomforting child abuse vein: it inserted a supernatural scene without apology or explanation, and this didn’t come off as trite or silly or even very awe-inspiring, and I found myself wanting to know more about each and every character in the film, they were so compellingly presented and executed. We saw The Keeper right afterwards, and it was lovely and full of splendor (filmed in Uzbekistan) and sensitive actors, but the pace dragged a bit towards the end, probably because the story of Omar Khayyam does not end with a cinematographically favorable sensationalistic bang, which is actually in keeping with a theme from the Rubaiyat and from the film’s parallel, modern-day story line of a Persian family living in Houston, who are faced with the upcoming death of one of their sons, a teenage boy who is entrusted with keeping the story of the family’s heritage alive (thus the film’s title). I’m not sure where else this film is playing yet because it is the product of Houstonian filmmakers, but it is beautiful and well worth seeing.
Let me see: what else. Oh, I have been training myself by watching a least a couple of DVDs a day. It turns out that American Psycho is not my kind of movie, and in fact I had already seen it before and didn’t realize it! This almost never happens to me, but I guess it did with this movie because I had such a different sense of it. It is really funny, but mostly frustrating. I think it would have been appreciated more if it were released in this decade of 80s-obession because the soundtrack, in that respect, is quite representative. Dude, Where’s the Party? (formerly Where’s the Party, Yaar?) was quite fun to watch, especially because it was set in Houston and had many scenes from U of H’s campus, which I have never been on but have always been curious about. The Dolce e Freddo in the film could be the one that used to be on Kirby near Rice Village (which is now a Ben & Jerry’s—the ice cream place, not Rice Village), or it could be another one somewhere else, maybe nearer to the downtown campus. Either way, as far as I can tell Dolce e Freddo is no more. The same lead actor, Kal Penn, plays Kumar in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, which I loved. It was actually a funny comedy. The whole time I was watching it, I kept trying to examine it from a philosophical angle since UT Pan-American’s philosophy club hosted a viewing and discussion of it in the spring semester, which I did not attend, but I didn’t come up with much but pretty superficial observations and a jones for White Castle cheeseburgers. Something like the greatest desire is subverted by superficial and oftentimes prurient distractions (or even opportunities for heroism), but the ultimate satisfaction cannot be reached without obtaining saturation of and in the goal itself (in this case, eating like 30 White Castle burgers). I’m not sure what this is an argument for, supreme focus and sticktoitness or hedonism? This film also interested some supernatural improbilities, like Dougie Howser and a cheetah, but it did so in a silly way, not like Mysterious Skin.
I had to read Oh very quickly because I found it under a rug my dog had peed on, and even though this had long dried, the book is unattractively crusty and smelly. I wiped it off as much as possible and have been keeping it on the kitchen counter (why?) and can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. I know I can’t sell it, can’t really keep it with the other books, and don’t think any one would like to take it off my hands, so it remains alone on the kitchen counter, bare space all around it. It was a quick read, and more or less right after that, I read Miniatures and Other Poems, which was also a quick read, so I’m not sure that I’m not combing the two in my head. These are tiny, gorgeous little poems that seem to illuminate a space in my brain while I am reading, but they disappear in a puff once I am done. I would like something that would linger longer. Perhaps they are meant to be read over and over, or perhaps this is just the result of my discrimination against very tiny and fragile poems. They don’t quite seem long enough, or to put it better, substantial, terrestrial enough.
Then I read Tortilla Curtain, which is a parallel story of two couples living in the desert areas outside of Los Angeles, one couple is a have, one a have-not. There is dramatic difference between them, of course, but few of the characters are actually fully developed to the degree to be likeable, even the couple you feel so sorry for, the have-nots squatting in a gully and often going without food. There is an authorial presence that seems to hold all four characters at arms’ (or more) length, a bit of contempt for the clueless and entitled yuppies and contempt for the situation of the immigrant couple, which often reads as a mean-spirited contempt for them. The book made me angry a few times and sad throughout, and I think rather than being dismayed by the couple living in a ditch and eating virtually nothing and getting injured and sick, I was most upset by the tenuous nature of their lives, the way they could depend on nothing, not the next meal nor safety from the elements, nor kindness from strangers, the utter unpredictability of it is something readers of the world have padded themselves from to the point of little awareness of it. But maybe people are always instinctively aware of the possibility of loss and upheaval, or else why would they be so territorial and ungenerous?
I also (finally!) finished Mother Nature, although I have not quite finished all of the footnotes (as I mentioned before, it is extensively and impressively researched), and I found a bit of the overall argument cleanly handed to me at the end in the last chapter, though by that time I have gotten over my denseness and figured it all out. It is certainly a worthwhile read. In the last of the three sections, the one about babies from babies perspectives (not literally, of course), Hrdy presents the most original and tenuous theories about why babies behave the way they do, always asking for perhaps more than they actually need, fully convincing themselves and us that they do need it, and even a bit of why they look the way they do, plumper and cuter than necessary. There are many more surprises, such as intriguing explanations of the possible origins of baptisms (icy water dips to discern the potential hardiness of infants) and the legends of changelings (excuses not to invest in sickly babies).
“In peasant communities, ancient superstitions seeped into ‘Christian’ practices. Among the best known example is the twelfth-century French cult of the Holy Greyhound that grew up around Saint Guinefort, the healer of children, who was worshiped till quite recent times. Shrines to Saint Guinefort were forested locations where babies suspected of being changelings could be left overnight. The cult of the Holy Greyhound grew up around the legend of a loyal family dog unjustly slain by its master. In one version, the master misconstrues evens when he finds blood on the dog’s muzzle. But the dog was no predator. He had been bloodied while protecting the man’s baby son from a snake. The father killed the dog, only to find the baby unharmed. Afterward, mothers brought children who failed to thrive to special locations in the forest associated with the burial site of this martyred dog. They left the infant overnight in hopes that the sick baby would either die without further suffering or recover fully. ‘A Saint Guinefort, pour la vie ou por la mort,’ went one French incantation to the saint—if not a healthy life, than death. Such cults persisted into the early twentieth century despite efforts by Church authorities to suppress them” (Hrdy 466).
The story of the changeling is interesting to me for its mystical qualities, the potential devilishness of it, I suppose. Its one of those creepy things I remembered hearing about from childhood. The idea of a dog being a martyr is also intriguing, especially since I don’t think much worth (in terms of spiritual or intrinsic value) is placed on animals in the modern United States (I think this is stemming from Christianity). Also, I was shocked to read this story of the martyred dog here since I was already familiar with it by way of one of the poems (I don’t have the book with me right now, so I can’t produce the name) in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Miracle Fruit. I read the poem over and over, it so intrigued me. Since the speaker of the poem’s mother is Filipino, I assumed it was a Filipino legend, so I was very surprised to discover it had additional origins. The story could be even older than that, maybe from the early domestication of dogs. So where did it first come from, and where did it go from there? Where else do they tell the story of such a fatal misunderstanding?
What I am doing right now is writing, supposedly. If you can count the typing of someone else’s words to be writing. I have given myself the task of writing three hours a day every weekday for three weeks, and this is day one. I have not managed more than a stab at a poem and a ghost of that poem and then this posting. I am trying to shock myself back into a writing rhythm and hopefully to produce something beyond exercise. I even don’t want to count this blog because the content of it is simply review of what I have read and viewed (and not very substantial review at that). I want to get back into original content and original ideas, not simply reactionary or reductive ones. There can be such a thing, perhaps, as too much research.
For example, word turned to in Esperanto dictionary: Mohametano, Islam-ano, -a (Mohammedan) (but this is an obvious choice because it appears in the top left-hand corner of the page)
Word appears directly underneath first word and also appears to have immediate significance: duono (moiety)
Thursday, July 07, 2005
I remember when Leonardo DiCaprio was disappointed since he wasn't even considered for the lead role, which he desperately wanted, which was given to a then somewhat unknown Christian Bale (who is since quite known for his lead role in the recent Batman Begins, of which I have little to say other than Katie Holmes's nipples are erect throughout the entire film). (Of War of the Worlds I have little to say other than I felt a reprisal of an aching attraction to Tom Cruise, much like that of my preteen years after seeing Topgun and adorning my walls with pages from a teen magazine featuring Tom Cruise. This comment is meaningless other to point out that I am seeing a ton of movies this summer, many of them Hollywood blockbusters that I will have little to say about, but will possibly quip and shred here and there. Another observation is that Katie Holmes is possibly the catalyst.) When American Psycho first came out, I heard some things about it that seemed disappointing, like it was "funny" or not very good, and the lead actor did not fit my concept of the character (he did not seem blonde enough or cruel enough), not that I had read the book anyway or had anything to go off of.
So instead of posting, I'm updating my present readings list to the right (I'm also reading a lot this summer) and watching the seven movies I just rented, which are American Psycho; Dude, Where's the Party? (filmed in Houston); Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle; Hero; Bride & Prejudice; Tarnation; Acts of Worship. I'm not sure what the common denominator here is (no Katie, no Cruise), but I do want to see these.
I'm also going to see a few more blockbusters this weekend, reluctantly, yes, and also an independent one called Mysterious Skin. I'll scoop on that afterwards. I just saw My Summer of Love, which at first was disappointing, not prurient enough or not thriller enough, but then I realized that I should not admit wanting to watch a prurient film featuring two teenage girls in love or have an urge to see them killed (is young lady death the common denominator?), so maybe it was because I was a little bored watching it, and the previews did lead me to believe it would be a smutty thriller, so that's what I was expecting. Instead, it was quietly memorable, I think. Not "delightful," as I head one theatre goer say to another on the way out, but something else like subtle surprising, a little mysterious, and overall, a little feelgood.