Guess who’s apparently coming out of hibernation!

It’s ridiculous how cyclical my moods are.  Every summer, I don’t write; I’m out enjoying the world, and can’t be bothered to think about it too much.  In the fall, I’m so tied up with school that I don’t think about ANYTHING all that much.  Then I get seasonal affective disorder or some variation thereof in the winter, and stop writing because I’m too busy feeling dead inside.  Then SPRING COMES AND ONE CANNOT SHUT ME UP.

It’s all renaissance and rosebuds over here, milady.  Is what I’m saying.

The next few years are going to be ones of a lot of transition in my life, I think, and I wonder how I’m going to deal with that.  It actually started this past year, what with the new responsibilities at the job, and the death of someone who was a pretty important figure in my life, and some decision-making on a personal level wherein I finally become an adult somehow. Anyway, a person’s gotta grow, yeah, and Bob Dylan says, “He not busy being born is busy dying,” and so I reckon it’s all positive.

I’m outta time — reading time is over for my freshman, and I must teach now.  Welcome to it.  Enjoy this nub of a post.


I always take a little more liberty with the “Relevance” category on these than I suppose I’m supposed to.  However.  I’ve got something I want to write about.  It’s this passage, about the meeting of two future lovers, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:

Our day-to-day life is bombarded with fortuities or, to be more precise, with the accidental meetings of people and events we call coincidences.  “Co-incidence” means that two events unexpectedly happen at the same time, they meet: Tomas appears in the hotel restaurant at the same time the radio is playing Beethoven.  We do not even notice the great majority of such coincidences.  If the seat Tomas occupied had been occupied instead by the local butcher, Tereza never would have noticed that the radio was playing Beethoven (though the meeting of Beethoven and the butcher would also have been an interesting coincidence).  But her nascent love inflamed her sense of beauty, and she would never forget that music.  Whenever she heard it, she would be touched.  Everything going on around her at that moment would be haloed by the music and take on its beauty.

Early in the novel[1] that Tereza clutched under her arm when she went to visit Tomas, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train.  This symmetrical composition—the same motif appears at the beginning and at the end—may seem quite “novelistic” to you, and I am willing to agree, but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as “fictive,” “fabricated,” and “untrue to life” into the word “novelistic.”  Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.

They are composed like music.  Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven’s music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. Anna could have chosen another way to take her life.  But the motif of death and the railway station, unforgettably bound to the birth of love, enticed her in her hour of despair with its dark beauty.  Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences (like the meeting of Anna, Veronsky, the railway station, and death or the meeting of Beethoven, Tomas, Tereza, and the cognac), but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life.  For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty. (51-52)

I’ve added emphases that weren’t originally in the book.  I know that’s a long excerpt.  Sorry. But I think what I want to think about in this Think Piece is how we compose reality.  That’s a pretty postmodern thought, I guess: that we look at our lives and reconstruct them into a pattern that’s pleasing to us.  Or—this is the image that keeps coming to mind—that we cruise the aisles of our experience, shopping for ingredients to make a killer soufflé.  And then we make it, and eat it.  Nom nom nom.

So I might have a million things happen to me in a given day, but only the co-incidences that I decide to give meaning to will stick with me, because I’ve incorporated them into a pattern that I label “my life.”  Do you buy that vision?  Because I really, really do.  I guess it’s a more sophisticated way of saying “life is what you make it,” but this rings truer and more representative to me, because it’s less… propagandistic, I guess?  More honest-feeling.

Kundera thinks we do it “according to the laws of beauty,” and while I’m not so sure that The Laws of Beauty exist on any sort of a universal scale, I think there’s a lot of truth there too.  We rearrange our lives to make ourselves protagonists.  We may be tragic heroes or eventual champions of our lives, but we’re always the important ones, and our lives have a symmetry that’s partly provided for us by our culture and partly nuanced by our own visions of reality.  And, as Kundera might say, our own sense of beauty.

One of the best things I’ve taken away from reading a lot of postmodern literature is that there really isn’t all that much difference between storytelling and living our lives.  We tell ourselves stories every day—about what’s important, about how to carry on in the world, about what the best course of action is, about who we are, about who others are, about what the world is like.  These stories are no less fictional than Fiction, but I don’t mean to say that they’re not true.  Our lives take the shape we assign to them.  It’s like the old saying that a person builds their own prison and then is forced to live in it…but people fail to remember that, as the authors of their own personal stories, they can break right out as well, whenever they wish.  Who’s holding the pen here, anyway?

Oh, postmodernism.  There you go, fouling up my metaphor.

My point is…well, my point is generally personal, as any time I’m looking at the world I’m also looking right back at myself; after all, what’s the world if not a big fat mirror?  I wonder what kinds of stories I’ve written for myself.  I hope they’re not terribly clichéd.  I know there are some parts of my life that I’ve worked hard to cement as canon in the library of my experience—ones where I notice, and thus call into being, coincidences: they abound in these places, and are rife with emotion and energy.  In other areas, I rely on timeworn archetypes: the harried public servant with holey socks and a big heart; the small-town girl with big plans who ends up back in the small town in the end; even more embarrassing ones I’ll not share here.  And I wonder, at the end of this think piece, whether the real gift of postmodernism is to point out to us that we can rewrite these stories at will.  Could it be that the whole point of postmodernism is to get us to write better stories about our lives—to embrace our role as writers of our own reality, and to shoulder the responsibility of making those realities more beautiful?

I’m gonna go ahead and say I think so.


[1] Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, in case you’re curious.


I’m posting my Think Piece from the end of January because I want to post my Think Piece from today but feel I should put them both up, even though I think this one is pandering and not that great.  Here it is!

What We Don’t See

 

It’s my fourth time writing a Think Piece over this book.  Currently, I’m thinking about other things.  I’m wondering if there’s a way to tie it all in.  I’m-a try!

This year is the first year of me being department chair.  I wasn’t looking for the position, and I’m not sure about it now, but I’ve been learning a lot through the process—largely about the other side of a lot of issues I didn’t know there was another side to.  There are things we, as teachers in a particular department, want, and feel are important; these things simply don’t translate to other areas of the school sometimes, though.  And when the school needs to work together as one coherent organism, basically, that’s a problem.  A person’s got to figure out how something looks from a few different sides, at least, in order to try to make this coherent functioning work.

Wait for it.  I’m getting there.

I had a friend—well, I’ve had several friends, if I’m going to be serious—whose perspectives of a particular event were radically different than mine.  I found out, generally in a shocking, revelatory way, that they were right.  I mean, maybe I was right too, but in the end, their perspective made sense to me in a way that my original stance no longer did.  Did our friendship get stronger because of this?  Not often, if I’m gonna be honest.  Sometimes revelation isn’t enough.  But I learned from it, and I tried to be a better person because of what I gained from learning to see the world—even if only fleetingly, and even then perhaps not totally accurately—from the other person’s perspective.  I’m not sure if I actually AM a better person or not, but I tried to let the experience teach me, and I didn’t forget.  I try not to forget.

No, I’m still not talking about the book yet.  OR AM I.  God, this is a terrible Think Piece.

And here’s the biggest thing of late: I’ve been teaching this one book, whose title shall not be named here, for four years.  And I finally figured out recently that this big, beautiful book might do more harm than good to some of my students.  I don’t want to get into it much here, but some of the things I’ve been realizing about it have made me feel like a big dumb idiot, basically.  How could I not see that before? I wonder.  What a tremendous blind spot I had no idea I had.  I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with the issue, or how I’m going to use what I’ve realized to change my approach, but I know I’m going to be turning it over in my head for a while.  How could I not?

And now I’m going to try to rope this all back into the book.  Perspectivism was something Modernists were interested in because they felt it was more true to human experience; it felt more real.  And they’re right.  If we get frustrated with the narrator of Invisible Man for wearing blinders his whole life, well, are we any different?  I’m still discovering—DAILY, and that’s not an exaggeration—my blind spots.  There are many.  Many, many more blind spots than there are areas of clear vision.  I mean, there’s SO MUCH (yes, it needs caps) I don’t know about people, about their experiences, about their perspectives, about their history.  So much.  I am limited by my own perspective, and yeah, I’m sure I buy into a lot of lies that I ought to know better than to believe, though that’s not really my point here (maybe it should be, as acknowledging this might make us a lot more sympathetic to the narrator).

I used to think this book was about invisibility.  It’s a reasonable conclusion!  But I think, today, it might be more about blindness—about what we don’t see about each other, about what we CAN’T see, at least not right away.  And invisibility is important, it’s maybe the most important thing, but it’s clearly a result of the blindness.  When we don’t see people, we make them feel invisible, and we’ve seen, via this narrator, what that does to a person.  When we don’t see problems in all their profound multifacetedness (know it’s not a word; don’t care), we don’t come up with workable solutions to them.  When we don’t TRY to see beyond our own perspective, we lose friends, we alienate others, we are big dumb idiots.  I can’t decide whether our blind spots make us more or less human (didn’t the narrator also struggle with this?), but I think, if anything, Invisible Man is trying to call attention to them.


Effingham!

03Mar11

It has been a long time since I’ve written on here, no?  Yes.  It has.  And because it’s spring-ish now, and because I’ve started listening to music in the car again and singing nonstop, and since it appears that my luck, and my life, are changing right now (they weren’t all that bad before; just a little midwinter blues), well, here I am!

I’ve been enjoying, like, the last two days.  We read a poem in College Lit called “Poppies,” by Mary Oliver — it’s here — and that alone was good.  Then my students, who are very mature and not at all like five-year-olds ever, changed the title to “Poopies,” and giggled, giggled, giggled their way through the poem, interpreting it with a decidedly scatalogical bent.  I shamed them and told them they’d ruined my day and this beautiful poem, then proceeded to giggle with them.  I was not able to read the poem aloud to them, what with all the giggling.  I have to try again today with the third class, and I hope they have not heard the “Poopies” story, but it’s lodged in my mind, so there’ s little I can do to avert certain crisis there.  “Certain crisis” apparently equals me giggling through the reading of a poem.

CRISIS!

I’m doing the world’s worst job of teaching Science Fiction right now, so we’ll not discuss it.

In general, I’m learning what is and is not appropriate to say in class, after four years.  Things that are not appropriate include:

  • “This poem says, ‘Sadness?  UP YOURS!'”
  • “Oh yeah?  Well, I was the president of the band AND on the homecoming court, so suck it!”
  • “Yeah, he spends the entire movie walking around in this dirty white t-shirt…and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”
  • Any “your face” jokes are really not appropriate, even if they don’t make any sense.
  • Also, substituting “I am not going to make a ‘your face’ joke right now” for a “your face” joke is really not any better than actually making the “your face” joke.


Update: The third College Lit class had, indeed, heard about “Poopies,” but were kind enough not to let me know until I’d successfully read the poem aloud to the class.  Whew.

That’s it for today, friends.

 



Oh geez.

25Sep10

I’ve been in the habit of posting all of the writing I do—all of it, no matter where it starts, or what the focus of it is, or what my intentions were in writing it—publicly.  Well, semi-publicly, I guess; I think there are only about two-ish people who read my blog relatively regularly.  Anyway, I think maybe I’d been doing it just to milk the fact that I’d actually been writing a bit.  I stopped nearly completely around the middle of last semester, though—both stopped writing and stopped posting it.  Honestly, I was feeling really happy with myself and my life, and I didn’t want to spend time writing about it; I just wanted to do things.  So I’m a little bit out of love with writing at the moment, largely because when I write I tend to introspect and all that goddamned navel-gazing is just irritating and self-absorbed as fuck.  Icky.

But I’m supposed to be writing now as part of this book study I’m doing for Penny Kittle’s book Write Beside Them, and so here goes again.  I think I’ll probably post this, because why not, I guess, though I think maybe my writing bone done got broked this summer.

This year, for the first time, I’ve been actually reading during the school year!  I’ve finished three books since school started: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner; Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelssohn.  They were all good.  I loved the hell out of As I Lay Dying, but then I love the hell out of Faulkner.  I love those sad southern gothic characters with their awful, wry way of looking at the world who are just totally fraught with the weight of the world and of their own loneliness, and I love it when everything goes terribly for them in the end.  This makes me supremely not okay, I think!  But it feels so much more powerful and honest than a lot of other things I read.

I did NOT like Tess, though.  I guess I like it when my tragic figures see it coming.  I could see myself liking the idea of Tess after I get a chance to establish some emotional distance from the book, but good Christ, stop destroying Tess’s life please, Thomas Hardy.  Some lovely scenery in that book, but it’s almost a mockery since the plot’s so goddamned unfair.

I dislike the idea of I Was Amelia Earhart totally superficially.  I don’t like that there’s this excellent heroine who needs to get away from society so she can find that what she’s been after for all those years isn’t flight, it’s A MAN!  But that’s unfair criticism.  I really liked the book.  The plot just troubles me a bit.  Beautiful, dreamy writing there, though.

I guess I’m reading some Ursula K. LeGuin now.  I also guess I’m making this freewrite a giant book report!  And I am completely fine with that.  I like thinking through books.  I like feeling through books.  I like thinking and feeling through life as well, but, to paraphrase some quote I heard somewhere, who WOULDN’T want to have access to a few different lived experiences at once?  BORING PEOPLE, that’s who.

Peaces .


Just one thing, I guess, today.

“Harry” stopped by to pick up the SF mags he lent me.  I could only give him one back, as I didn’t get a chance to read the other two; his brother’s picking them up tomorrow.  I’m hoping to snag a copy of A Fisherman of the Inland Sea to give/lend him before then–maybe I’ll find it used or something, I don’t know.  It’s got “The Rock that Changed Things” in it, which I love.

Today I read “Dreamseed” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, who, as I’ve discovered through totally half-assed online research, appears to identify as a feminist SF writer.  Huh.  The description of the busty love interest made me repeatedly check to see if the writer was a lonely dude doing some wish fulfillment, but no, so…that’s unexpected, I guess.  That was actually the only thing that annoyed me about the story: Why does the protagonist need to fall in love with the busty scientisty lady?  Why does she need to kiss him at the beginning to wake him up?  Oh, as I’m typing, I’m seeing that it’s a reversal of sorts…I don’t know, I guess there’s a lot of Sleeping Beauty shit going on in the story.  Maybe that myth is being deconstructed in it, actually.  I feel like I feel when I try to do a feminist analysis of any of Lady Gaga’s stuff — possibly right, but utterly tentative and controvertible.  Trying to brand some popular media (yeah, including short stories appearing in SF magazines, you know, the height of popularity) as feminist in nature is something I find exceedingly difficult.

Anyway.  The story is about this mad scientist dude (not mad? it’s ambiguous) who determines that human beings would be a lot better off if their dreams were networked — if they could interact with other humans spontaneously in the realm of pure imagination.  He infects the whole of humanity (with one exception, of course!) with a bacterium that has a microchip in it or summat that allows them to hook into the network.  People become enraptured with it (it being the dreamworld that is created by plugging everyone into each other’s brains) and want to do nothing but sleep.  Then some Evil (?) foundation tried to limit their access to sleepytime and they get all angry and try to lead a rebellion to get rid of or circumvent the restrictions.  Jalisca, a particularly “pillowy” member of the rebellion, is very sad that she can’t just sleep all day.  She sheds tears.  They maybe plop plumply down her well-formed cheek; I don’t remember.

The protagonist is the mad scientist dude’s son, and is named, irritatingly, Aspen (I don’t know why it bothers me.  Probably I should think about the significance of the name, but it’s just annoying and precious-sounding to me.).  Aspen has been in a dream coma for the past 15 years.  His dad put him in it, and did NOT infect him with the brain chip thingy.  He likes dreaming and sleeping.  Jalisca et al think his dad wanted to prove that people would be just fine dreaming their way through life.  They also think Aspen holds some key to making it possible for them to sleep all the time instead of being ruled by the Evil (?) foundation, so they try to get him waking consistently enough to remember what that key might be.  Aspen loves Jalisca and wants to join her in Dreamlandia, so he cuts his way out of his bubble-womb (described basically as such) and finds Jalisca to be a dumb, sleeping body and not much else, though this isn’t exactly how he articulates it.

He gets the virus-chip dealy and has his first dream with people, but the thing is (I don’t know if this is the author’s thing or my thing), it’s not really any different than dreams you or I might experience.  How is he to know that the people in his dream are real people, and what difference does it make if they are?  None, it seems.  Perhaps the dreams are more vibrant or more outrageously imaginative; I guess probably that’s where they were headed.  But it seems as though the mythos created by mad scientist dude was maybe just an excuse for people to sleep and dream all day, which…relatively easy judgment call there, right?

At any rate.  The story raises some interesting questions about our brains forcing things into familiar patterns — particularly into chronological/linear patterns — and how much knowledge/information may exist that we simply don’t have reception for.  It also asks, rather directly, what experience consists of, what life consists of (or should consist of) and whether there’s something inherently better about physical, sensory experience as opposed to purely imaginative/mental experience.  There’s some decent irony as relates to humans sacrificing waking, conscious connections with each other to have this profound communion with each other on a subconscious level while their bodies lay unresponsive in their beds.  I thought it was a good one.


The 750 words site tells me what I’m thinking and what kind of a person I’m being while I’m writing each entry. Check it out:

Rating

PG

Violence

Feeling mostly…

Affectionate

Concerned mostly about…

Work

Mindset while writing…

Introvert
Negative
Uncertain
Feeling

Time orientation

The Future

Primary sense

Touch

Us and them

I