Tuesday, December 29, 2009
If you know me well at all, you know I do have a certain predilection for being a know-it-all. In recent years, I've curbed back my tendencies because--believe it or not--I've realized that I don't know it all. I've accepted that I don't know it all. And I have never claimed, in recent days, that I know everything. (Because really, who knows everything? And to be honest, who on earth would be crazy enough to want to know everything?)
On a random and only semi-related note, after I introduced my Dad to the Harry Potter books, he spent three months or so teasingly calling me Hermione. Except he pronounced it Her-me-own, despite my insistence on its pronunciation of Her-my-oh-knee. Looking back, I realize that teenage me did not realize for far too long that I was reinforcing his teasing.
I'll admit I'm a wealth of useless information. I can still sing the entire theme song to Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers. I can quote pretty much the entirety of How the Grinch Stole Christmas verbatim. If I've seen it or read it, I can recall particular lines or particular parts of text that impressed me when I first read or saw it.
But recently, I've decided that my apparent know-it-all-ness tends, in my case, to lead to providing information for other people. To clarify: I don't mind. But knowing a lot of information leads to requests to either a) be provided information or b) be led to information. (And I'll be honest. I only provide information to a certain point before setting people free with a road map to the info. Teach a man to fish and all that.)
So I'm resolving, this year, to be stupid. Or to appear stupid. Or, at the very least, not to give the impression of having more knowledge than I actually have. We'll see how well it works out.
Monday, December 7, 2009
My ballerina bunny bag is small. It's pink. And it has a lace-fringed heart stitched onto it. A cross-stitched ballerina bunny, more or less en-pointe, occupies the center of the heart. She's wearing a blue tutu, blue toe shoes, and she has a blue bow in her hair.
I have had this bag for almost twenty years. My mom made it for me when I started ballet lessons. (I believe I was five. Maybe six.) I used to carry my own shoes in it. And my, how I loved this ballerina bunny bag. Really, I still love this ballerina bunny bag.
Like my printer, it has served many functions. I didn't last very long in ballet, so the ballerina bunny bag became a book-carrying ballerina bunny bag I used to take down to the Bookmobile. As I recall, my voracious reading habits threatened to split the seams more than once. But my mom always mended the bag, and I kept finding inventive ways of packing ten or more books into it.
I've carried notebooks in it. I've moved it to every new place with me. Much to my dismay, if I couldn't find a different bag, it sometimes came with me to my first job. ("Really," she would say, "Isn't it time to get rid of that?") I've come to agree that it's probably not something to carry around anymore, but I will never get rid of it. And this is why: my mother made it for me.
She's a skilled seamstress and adept with a needle, so I'm sure that neither the cross-stitching nor the sewing took her long. But it was, nevertheless, an hour or two (if even that) that she took to make something for me. An hour or two when she had five little children, each of us with five different sets of activities.
This bag has a tendency to pop up, sometimes seemingly from nowhere, when I feel as though I've been ignored or as though I'm inadequate or as though nobody really knows me personally in quite the way I wish they would or could. It pops up when I feel disliked or un-loved. And every time, it serves as a visible reminder of one earthly person who has always loved me and who knows me and accepts me.
Any time I mention it, Mom begs me to get rid of it. But I can't. It's a visible reminder of a parent's love and I just can't let that go. I rather imagine that once I have a child, they will hear the story of a magically appearing ballerina bunny bag. And then they will see the proof. It's an odd thing to keep as a keepsake, I'm sure.
But how many tangible reminders do we get? And how easily can we let them go?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
No, I mourn the loss of a near and dear piece of technology: my printer.
In a last brave attempt to provide me with the reading for tomorrow (yes, I procrastinated my homework for my tomorrow afternoon class, but hello! Thanksgiving break!), my dear HP Deskjet 920c choked on one last piece of paper. It sputtered a final farewell. And then, it worked no more.
I'll miss it.
You may think me strange, but this printer has followed me since the summer of 2002. The summer I headed straight down to BYU for a summer semester instead of reveling in my last days of being an irresponsible teenager. My parents gave it to me as a graduation present. This printer never left me. It moved down to Provo, it moved back home with me to Centerville. It moved to my friend's condo with me (in another part of Centerville) and then back home once more.
If I was a boomerang child who constantly bounced back home, my printer boomeranged right along with me. It endured the entirety of my undergraduate education and almost three-fourths of my master's work. My first real-life, full-time job in the corporate world.
It moved with me to my first apartment in Salt Lake City. And it's moved twice more, to different SLC locations, as I've moved on with my life. It printed faithfully (albeit slowly...seriously, I could sometimes straighten my hair, apply make-up, and change my outfit a couple of times before it printed my longer seminar papers) until this fateful evening.
This printer stayed with me through several classes, several boyfriends, and several roommates. It endured crowded space on the floor when I didn't clean; it suffered (unintentional) kicks as I moved back and forth across my messy room in the dark. It printed the poetry and essays of others, but showed fairness and equality in printing all of my poetry and all of my essays just as easily. As tidily.
Rest in peace, my fair printer.
Also, for the record, you chose a heckuva time to die. (Seriously? This close to the end of the semester?)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
On Saturday, while I did some laundry, I bemoaned how long it was taking. And then I told my roommate that I wished I had Superman's powers because it probably wouldn't take Superman long to wash his clothes. My philosophy was (and I guess, still is) this: he could a) hand wash his clothes super fast and shake them around to dry them super fast or b) if he can fly around the world fast enough to go back in time, couldn't he fly forward in time...and just throw his clothes in the wash, make time speed by...and then throw his clothes in the dryer and make time speed by...and then voila, have his laundry be done?
I'm sure there's some sort of theoretical error to that, and I'm not even sure why it came to mind that if I were Superman, I could do my laundry faster... Anyway, my roommate put an end to the conversation when, as I continued to think out loud, I asked: "Do you think Superman has to do laundry less often because he wears his underwear outside his clothing?"
I don't know. What do you think?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Muggie Maggie: It was the first book I ever owned, and the first chapter book I read. This clever little book by Beverly Cleary detailed the struggles of a girl trying desperately hard to learn to write cursive. I identified with the protagonist. She was the first character in a book who seemed real to me.
The Babysitters Club: Some of us may be ashamed to admit it now, but all of my friends and I were attached to these books in elementary school. It took me two years of reading to realize how formulaic and generic they were--and yet how successful. They gave me hope. (To clarify: I thought, "If stuff like this gets published, surely I can successfully publish something I write.")
The Chronicles of Narnia: Since the last two selections are series, I apologize if I am going beyond my limit. But I have read many books. These fantasy stories inspired me to write things that were pure imagination. I didn't know then that the Narnia books had deeper elements, but I still love them for just that reason.
Number the Stars: This Newbery award winner by Lois Lowry introduced me to historical fiction and led me to discover just how fascinating historical fiction can be. It started me on an almost yearlong stint of reading books about World War II and the Holocaust.
Bridge to Terabithia: I did not fully comprehend it the first time I read it. But the second time, the tears would not stop pouring. It was the first book (one of a select few) that elicited an intense, visible emotional reaction from me. 1984 was one of the other select few books that created such a response. It actually motivated me to act. Granted, my action was throwing the book across the room in a fit of anger. But it was an action nonetheless.
Harry Potter riveted me to my seat in a time when books were starting to bore me. I thought I had read them all, had seen them all, and that there was nothing new out there. And then this series fell into my hands. I hated eating, going to the bathroom, blowing my nose, and doing all sorts of necessary things because they pulled me away from my book.
I used to think that no book had it all. No book had managed to encompass all of the elements I liked: adventure, romance, good characters. It seemed to be a one-or-the-other type of choice--until I read The Princess Bride. What a lovely surprise! (Besides, I could not resist reading it after seeing the words "son of a bitch" on the back of the cover--words my mother gasped at when she saw it. Shortly thereafter, the library began taping over the blurb on the back cover.)
Wicked completely blew my mind. I have never read anything quite so inventive in my life (which may mean I need to read more*...not that I truly need any incentive.) Gregory Maguire took a well-known story and turned it on its head, making an already-used idea completely fresh, new, and his own. It is a book infused with commentary--while still being entertaining.
Finally, the one work of non-fiction to make the list: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, a memoir about a mother who provided for her family by entering writing contests. It was a well-presented memoir that led me to realize how interesting real life can be. I forget sometimes.
*Three years later, I can definitely say that I've read things as inventive--or more inventive--than Wicked. Thank you, graduate school.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I often find myself called upon to play the "organ" in Sacrament meeting. (The "organ" is actually a digital piano--a finicky, finicky digital piano that will make organesque sounds when you push the proper button.) And so I often find myself playing preludes and postludes. I don't plan which hymns I'll be playing; instead I prefer a far more intuitive method of randomly flipping the hymn book open and playing whichever hymn my eye falls on first.
A bit of backstory here: I recently (well, recently ish) received a call to serve as my ward's family history co-chair. I teach a class, act as a consultant, and supervise a committee (which, right now, has one member aside from myself). With recent changes in temple policy, my bishopric members also hope for me to encourage the acquisition of names so we can perform baptisms for the dead at any given time of day. More specifically, they've requested I figure out how to have 75 family names prepared for a November temple excursion.
My male counterpart has essentially been a no-show, and the one remaining committee member has been a person I struggle not only to understand, but not to be annoyed with. I know that in accepting my calling, I essentially agreed to become a part of her life. And she's willing to accept responsibilities. She's enthused about family history work. And yet I've still struggled to figure out how to work with her. In fact, I've sort of avoided meeting with her lest I fall prey to hours and hours of story about her life troubles.
And then yesterday morning, I flipped to this hymn and felt roundly chastised: between my school load, my work load, and my calling load, I've felt more than a little stressed. Some of that burden lifted last week after Ward Council meeting when the temple committee co-chair pulled me aside to ask what he and his committee members could do to help; he (rightly, in my opinion) figures that the goals of our committees are intertwined.
But as I started reading through the second verse while I played, I mentally cringed more than a little. Part of the stress I feel has been directly correlated to attempting to be a one-woman committee, and I don't have to be. And it occurred to me that in making an effort to work with this sister, I have an opportunity to learn how to understand someone. Perhaps even how to love someone.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Anyway, upon further investigation, I discovered that the downstairs toilet was continually making the noise a toilet makes post-flush while the tank refills. The noise was not stopping. I'd had a semi-similar experience with my toilet a couple of weeks ago, wherein I learned what the inside of our upstairs toilet tank looks like. Much to my chagrin, the toilet tank downstairs doesn't look the same...although, as I came to discover, it does operate on the same principles. Anyway, after looking at it a brief moment and subsequently deciding I was too tired to take action, I came upstairs and went to bed.
Didn't sleep very well. I could hear the stupid toilet from up here. So today, after I exercised and ate and showered, I went downstairs to investigate. And still found myself unsure of what I was looking at. So I texted a friend I felt sure would know about toilets and plumbing. No response. I called another friend--not because I had confidence in his ability to fix it, but because I hoped to high heaven he had a handyman friend who knew everything about toilets. No go. But he did, at least, know enough about the anatomy of a tank to provide a couple of things to check.
Those things were fine.
I called home to my parents to see if my dad were available; he wasn't. My mom suggested I jiggle the handle. A highly useful toilet tool, or so I've learned, because apparently jiggling the handle can help put things back into place...if they're out of place. And they weren't.
So I finally called my dad's cell. He told me what to look for. And I figured out--with his help--not only how to make the noise stop, but how to fix the entire problem. Not before, though, I called Friend #2 (the one I hadn't thought handy enough to fix the problem, but who proved not to be as informationally challenged on the topic of toilets as I thought he'd be) to whine that I couldn't see what I was looking at very well and could he please please please come be my second pair of eyes.
A few minutes later, I realized I had all but fixed the problem and I simply needed to tighten a screw. After completely finishing the job (and with nobody physically there with me, nonetheless!), I called him back to say nevermind, sorry, there was simply a screw loose. To which he replied, with a snort, "Obviously more than one!"
Nevertheless, I'd just like to take this opportunity to announce that I fixed a toilet! Also, that it's entirely plausible that I wouldn't ever be able to fix anything "on my own" without a roster of incredibly awesome people programmed into my cell phone.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Anyway, when I find myself down at the mall with an hour and forty-five minutes before my shift begins (I almost eliminated the "f" in shift...accidentally, I swear!), I go to get lunch. Because I have this horrifically bad habit of not eating real food during the semester. Instead, I eat breakfast. And then munch periodically until I arrive home (late in the evening, I might add) and have dinner. Today I wanted Chinese food. And my fortune cookie--with that generic wisdom only fortune cookies and horoscopes have--told me that I "would take a chance on something--and win."
This has occasioned a question I'd like to address to all of you: if I should--on a whim, not because I really believe that the slip of paper inside my fortune cookie has a remotely good chance of predicting my future--act on the advice of the fortune cookie, what would you recommend I take a chance on?
Consider carefully. Then let me know!
Also, on a completely unrelated note, arriving too early proves dangerous because I too often wander around the bookstore and then talk myself into buying things. The guy at the cash register actually recognizes me! (Sad, I know. Of course, as he pointed out today when I purchased an anthology--the book type I fall prey to during the course of the semester because I can read short works, individually, as I commute--there are far worse places to be recognized: a crack house, a meth lab, the police station...)
Monday, September 14, 2009
Most puddles, as I'm sure you know, are perfectly benign. Some of them are shallow, some of them are deep; some are wide, some narrow; all of them are great fun to splash around in if the circumstances are right.
But this was no benign puddle that rested in my way as I ventured to the Trax station after my American Lit class this afternoon: this puddle was not only wide, but indeterminately deep. After a careful survey, I decided that perhaps this puddle might be deceiving me. I optimistically predicted the puddle did not have much depth to it at all.
I was sort of right. The puddle did deceive me.
But it was deeper than I had predicted, not shallower.
The wedge (it's a type of shoe, people! don't raise your eyebrows at me!) on my left foot went one way, and my foot went another. My right shoe and foot magically managed to maintain a connection. But I still managed to wrench my foot somehow, even while it was in the shoe. (I know; I'm talented.)
And down went a Katie. I half expected for someone walking behind me to yell "Timber!" I admit, if they had, I would have laughed. At this stage, I'm mostly finding the experience amusing. Except when I stop to think about the pain in my left knee and my right foot.
Also, when I remember that I met a highly attractive man who asked if I was all right and I remember that all I could think to (defensively) say was: "I'm fine. Just a klutz."
Monday, August 17, 2009
And then it happened: I acquired an iPod. But I'll have to admit to a small sense of superiority still, because I didn't pay for it. My dad passed his old iPod to me when he invested in his iPhone. (He's an IT director. He loves his toys. And really, after watching him watch my older brother play with his iPhone...well, we all knew it was only a matter of time.)
When my dad offered his, I accepted it in the spirit it was intended: both my dad and my younger brother, after all, felt that it was high time for me to join the digital age and listen to my music the same way everyone else does. I'll admit it comes in handy when I want to listen to my music but I don't want to disturb the others in my household.
But I'm scared, and this is why. I have a good friend who wears his iPod around campus-any time he's not in class and not at work, and he becomes completely oblivious to the world around him. He gets so absorbed in his music that he doesn't notice anything else going on. Short of a bomb threat (and I'm not so sure about that), I can't think of anything that would divert his attention away from his music once he's put his headphones in.
I'd like to be aware, personally.
And also, to be quite honest, I don't want to become so attached to my iPod that I'm like the guy I walked home behind (for part of the walk, anyway) the other day: jamming out tunelessly (although, to be honest, I can carry a tune) to my music so loudly that other passersby can't help but notice, stare, and a chuckle a little.
In short, I guess we'll see how this goes.
Also, I'll still probably ignore any prompt that tells me to set my iPod to random and then answer the questions based on the songs that crop up. I just might (might, mind you--I'm not making any promises here) feel a little bit guiltier about ignoring them.
Friday, August 7, 2009
As we listened to Cinderella's "On the Steps of the Palace," I said something aloud about how I wished it were true that I could "decide not to decide." Unfortunately, I quickly pointed out, I didn't think that was allowed.
Without going into any specific details, I have found myself in quite a quandary lately. A conundrum, if you will, where I felt that I was being faced with a couple of different choices (between two situations and between two people, and no, you're not getting any more information than that) and where I continually felt as though I were constantly being torn between the two sides of each choice. At various times, all of the choices have seemed right: that, in itself, has made attempting to choose extremely difficult. To say the least.
And then, as I walked home from work yesterday, that phrase popped into my head again as the answer to my current quandary/conundrum: the very instability inherent in the choices themselves clearly demonstrates (to me, anyway) that now is not a good time to decide. Instead, I have a very strong feeling that I should live my life, keep myself busy, and do what I need to do. The choices, one way or another, will sort themselves out to a point where I can make them.
But that can't happen while I obsess about those choices. So I've stopped obsessing about them. I'm throwing myself into other things and keeping myself busy. And so far, I haven't had much time to think about them.
Hopefully, by the time I do, clarity will have entered the equation.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
It's not a statement I would dispute.
But interestingly enough, that's not what I was hearing--or rather, what I was feeling--every time someone said that. Any time someone mentioned God's awareness of our difficulties, I kept feeling that I need to work on my awareness; after all, it is through other people that He usually blesses us. And I haven't noticed as much as I should have.
For someone who writes and reads as often as I do, I go through long periods of time where I'm oblivious to everything around me: there are times I barely notice the seasons changing, where I (unintentionally, usually) disregard the stress of those around me, and times where I become so focused on what I'm doing that I lose track of everything else I don't a passionate and intense interest in.
But I realized something today: I'm supposed to have a passionate and intense interest in helping those around me. I'm supposed to apply myself to the pursuit of awareness instead of oblivion. I'm supposed to become one of the instruments in the hands of God that helps other people come to realize His awareness of them.
As I grow older and as I serve in more capacities, I come to realize more and more that we are not a gospel of talking. I'm good at the talking. Far too comfortable, I think, with the talking. It's the walking that I have trouble motivating myself to do. But as Westley states in The Princess Bride when the six-fingered man pretends he will be taking him back to his ship, "We are men of action. Lies do not become us."
And when we talk as though we're walking, and we're not walking at all--well, we're liars. And hypocrites. And lies and hypocrisy do not become us, either. I'm afraid that I've been a liar and a hypocrite.
I'm going to try to stop that. I have roommates; I have visiting teachees; I have a calling; I have friends. I may not change the whole world by changing the way I look at things, but I hope that I can have the guts to work on improving my own little corner of the world.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Anyway, said funny book has a sequel I recently read. Even funnier than the first. So if you haven't read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, do me a favor and read it first before you read its sequel, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones--because, as you'll learn in the sequel (after you've read things in a proper order, of coourse), one of the worst crimes a reader can commit is reading a series out of order.
Well, one of my co-workers at my new job (not quite so new now, as I've been there five weeks or so) asked me what I read when I job shadowed him. And he asked if I'd ever heard of Brandon Sanderson. Which started a quite animated discussion about our attachment to Alcatraz Smedry, my mention that I owned Elantris but had not yet read it... and the next thing I knew, I'd started reading it.
Elantris was slow, but I'd also promised to read Mistborn.
And let me tell you something: I read. I read quite a lot. And generally speaking, I greatly enjoy what I read. But I haven't gotten this immersed in a book since...well...probably Harry Potter. You must understand: I read my guts out during the semester, and I usually find my assigned readings interesting, but I never find myself so immersed in those books that I resent returning to reality.
Pulling myself out of Mistborn and back into reality inevitably made me mad. I hated going to work. I hated doing housework. I hated watching TV. In short, anything that drew me away from reading Mistborn seriously made me angry. I wanted to go back to Luthadel. Back to Vin, Kelsier, Dockson, Sazed, and Elend. Back to an insanely funny band of thieves who voluntarily admit they're crazy. A band of thieves who doesn't like to admit that they are, in fact, a band of revolutionaries who want to drastically change the government.
With both plot and humor in spades--not to mention a few twists I hadn't fully expected (Kelsier, the leader of the band of thieves/revolutionaries, is fond of saying that there's always another secret)--this book kept me riveted. I was almost sorry to end it. But it has two sequels, and the second is currently next to my bed, just begging me to open it.
I think I'll oblige.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
At least this time, he allowed us to wander around the Gateway and do a little browsing before going back to the movie theater. To be fair, he changed his excuse this time: this time, he wanted to be sure he bought our tickets in plenty of time. I showed him how to check how full a theater was online, but advised him not to buy the tickets online unless he really felt it necessary. Fees, you know. So when we left early that afternoon, my dad mentioned he wanted to be completely sure we had tickets.
When we saw the ticket display at the theater, we laughed. And laughed. There were oodles of tickets available. Dad later admitted he'd checked before we ever left the house, as well.
In all seriousness, my dad is always around. He's passing on some of his old tools to me, so neither my roommate nor I have to buy a tool set. (And so he can buy himself some new tools.) He took me out to lunch in my first couple of weeks of work. He set up the wireless Internet network at our house.
He often drives me home from family gatherings, and he always has something interesting on his mind. (The latest question he posed to me, based on something he had been reading, was this: "Is there anything that is truly a neutral choice? Anything we do that doesn't affect us one way or another, for the better or the worse?" I told him that I thought trivialities--what clothes we wear, what food we eat--they probably are neutral. But it's an intriguing question. Thoughts, anyone?)
And yet, my dad thinks he is boring. I cannot for the life of me figure out why he thinks such a thing. He reads widely--not just books, but the newspaper. And not just the Deseret News, but the Wall Street Journal, and often the online New York Times as well. He studies topically: and whenever he gets interested in something, he gets really interested and he dives right in.
Best of all, he knows when to be silly and when to be serious. And the silly moments usually outnumber those of complete somberness. He loves to make people laugh, and the older I get, the more I realize that his sense of humor (and my mom's, too) helped make our home happy. And never more serious than it needed to be.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I would rather be in Stars Hollow.
I have never been as attached to a fictional setting as I've been to Stars Hollow. The city, home to the WB's Gilmore Girls--mother Lorelai and daughter Rory--has a small-town charm unlike anything I've ever experienced. I don't doubt that charm exists (according to pervasive rumors, series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino actually based it, to an extent, on a small Connecticut town), but a weekly dose of the Gilmores immersed me in that charm.
While the series followed the relationship between mother and daughter (and their respective romances), their tenuous relationship with Lorelai's parents, and the friends they all had...the story lines did not, as some have thought, stray toward the soapy. And this is why: all of these people are smart. Witty. Interesting. Quirky in the best possible ways.
Any given episode contains pop culture references below, indiscriminately disregarding divides between high and low culture: the episode, for example, where Rory receives her application references both "The Brady Bunch Variety Show" and Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls--in the span of less than a minute. They delight in wordplay; they read voraciously; they listen to a wide variety of music.
In short, I love this show because these are the types of people I would love to always associate with in real life. If you don't believe me, try visiting Stars Hollow someday. You may find that you, too, would rather be there.
Monday, July 13, 2009
So without further ado, I am the sort of person who:
a. only dances around when nobody can see me
b. feels there is a very specific way to sing along to David Cook's "Light On"--it involves yelling very specific phrases at the top of my lungs
c. often hums whatever is stuck in my head...without realizing I'm humming till someone looks at me funny
d. immediately Googles the words "family history" when I get called to be the family history co-chair in my ward
e. knows my obligations, but sometimes willfully forgets them
f. cannot stand to have excess amounts of lint on my black pants
g. gets a drastic haircut at least once a year
h. doesn't feel ashamed in the slightest at laughing aloud when I'm reading something funny--even if I'm sitting in a public place or I'm riding public transportation
i. gets a sunburn every year, because I forget how easily I burn
And really, the first one I thought of, and the one I'll end with: I'm the sort of person who can't always remember what I ate for breakfast, but who can recite her library card number by heart.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Unfortunately, I'm also poor. I don't have the funds to even attempt a beginning at curing my wanderlust by actually going somewhere. At least, I can't sate my wanderlust by physical travels.
So I take mental travels instead. By reading, I allow my mind to take me to other places: sometimes to existing worlds, sometimes to worlds that only exist--ultimately--in my imagination. (In mine, you see, because even though the author's imagination created it, I'm the one who visualizes it...And I doubt I visualize anything exactly as the authors I read did.)
Reading allows me to forget, for a while, where I'm at. What I'm doing with my life. And allows me to wend my way through a different plot line, a more interesting time. I suppose this is why I find fiction indispensable. Fiction creates an infinite number of places for my mind to go when it wants to be anywhere but here.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
We wandered around the booths, per usual. And the city festivities followed what seems to be one of those seminal unwritten (yet cardinal) rules of such events: the entertainment must be a cover band of some sort.
Since my younger brother has drifted to California to install security systems for the summer, I found myself once again in that lovely position of being the only single person in the midst of couples and children. And felt, for the umpty billionth time, as though my life is in limbo.
I wonder if I'll every actually feel free on a July 4th...
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Yesterday the weather looked delightful, so I took a pair of brown flats (that had never before caused me grief or pain) out of my closet and slipped them on. They were perfect, because they coordinated with the brown accent stripe of my red dress.
Then I proceeded to walk. And walk. And walk some more. The longer I walked, the more often I noticed people looking twice at me. Periodically, I would feel something cold and wet hit the back of my right leg, but I just assumed I'd walked by sprinklers then.
I kept walking. People kept looking.
As I rambled down South Temple, several people honked. And because I am the narcissist I am, I thought, "Man, I hate it when people do that. But I do look good in this dress." Then, as I stopped to wait for a signal so I could cross the street, I happened to glance down at my right foot.
And was dismayed to realize I'd rubbed a good deal of the back of my heel raw. Not only that, but that periodic cold wetness I felt? Most definitely not sprinklers. Nope. It was my own blood. After realizing the situation with my right foot, I looked down at my left foot to find that it was having the opposite issue: the blood had run downward into the back of my shoe until it had started to run over. (Yes, my shoe ranneth o'er)
Once I arrived at work, I calmly requested a couple of Band-Aids and nicely asked that they call my manager so he'd know I'd arrived on time, but I'd been held up by the teeny tiny detail that the back of my feet were bleeding like crazy and I needed to please take care of it, thank you. And then I washed, cleaned, and bandaged.
They have stayed safely covered since then, and I have learned my lesson: next time someone honks at me, I will check myself for injuries before congratulating myself on how good I look.
One of these stories, and today's topical show: BBC's Robin Hood.
I watched this show, from its beginning, back in the day when I lived at home and I had access to cable. (Specifically, to BBC America.) Its reviews were glowing; although it contains echoes of the original story, this Robin Hood isn't (to use a cliche) your father's Robin Hood. He's not much like the Kevin Costner incarnation from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, nor is he much like the Cary Elwes incarnation from Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
This Robin, originally a landed noble, has come back from the Crusades to an England much different than the one he remembers. And this Robin makes a choice to become an outlaw. While he could reclaim his title and lands, he also has a fine-tuned sense of justice and cannot stand to live in wealth while people around him suffer. Ergo, he becomes an outlaw and forms his "gang" of men.
His right-hand man, Much, fought with him in the Holy Land. And both of them have come back different men: the show recognizes the effects of PTSD anyone who has fought in a war may have suffered. And this Robin Hood, with his fine-tuned sense of justice, has come back wondering whether the Crusades themselves are justified: he wanted to understand his enemy, so he's read the Qur'an.
Maid Marian is delightfully anachronistic as a feminist character who has become independent; while her almost-betrothed fought abroad, she has been fighting (in secret, of course--she's not stupid) for the people at home. When he returns, she is far from ready to fall swooning into his arms and madly declare her love. (Instead, she tells him when he first starts fighting the sheriff, that he's being stupid. And she's right.)
But enough background. This is why I like this show. The Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne are just the sort of deliciously campy villains that you love to hate. (And, in the sheriff's instance, that you will often find yourself laughing at.) It plays out much like a traditional serial, with the exception of the anachronisms. (Which the show doesn't try to hide, something I find incredibly charming. The show isn't out to stay true to nitpicky details.)
The bad guys wear black. The good guys wear earth colors. The bad guys tend to use swords; the good guys rely first on bows and arrows, staffs, and axes. Nary an episode passes by without Robin delivering several cheeky one-liners and a few wonderfully bad puns. And Guy of Gisborne is delightfully complex: while he looks black and greasy (and I do mean black and greasy...the Sheriff frequently jokes that Guy should bathe himself and change his clothes periodically; Guy always sports greasy dark locks and a suit made entirely of black leather), he occasionally shows surprising spurts of humanity.
Very few episodes end in a surprising fashion, but I've found that the older I get, the far more I'm interested in how a show reaches its resolution. Not whether a show reaches resolution. And this show twists just enough in surprising ways that I can't help smiling.
And it's not just Robin, Marian, Much, Guy, and the Sheriff who are worthwhile characters. The other members of the gang: Little John (who wields a staff), Will (a handy carpenter who wields and ax), Djaq (a Saracen woman who joins them partway through the first season), and Allan (a cheeky thief who starts most of his sentences with the phrase "I'm not bein' funny, but...") each have their fair share of comedic moments (a personal favorite of mine is an exchange between Allan and the always-so-serious Will when Allan asks Will if he--Will--is thinking what Allan is thinking and Will doesn't hesitate at all before saying, "No. I don't think like you.") and of dramatic moments (a woman in camp, especially one as enterprising as Djaq, leads to problematic love triangles).
I readily acknowledge it's campy. But it's campy in the best way possible. Trust me. You'll see.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
To begin, I'll mostly be discussing TV you can find on DVD. (So, you know, after reading what makes me happy, you can add it to your Netflix queue. Or if you don't have Netflix, you can rent it. Or if you don't want to rent it--and you live near me and are reliable and trustworthy and won't keep my DVDs for twenty million years--so you can borrow it from me.) Because I'll be discussing TV that makes me happy no matter how many times I view the episodes.
Today's show: Psych.
The basic premise, once you've heard it, sounds completely ridiculous. In the pilot, Shawn Spencer (James Roday), who has called in one too many police tips, uses his hyperobservance to convince the police department he is a psychic so they won't arrest him. (Ergo, the first season tag line: fake psychic. real detectives.) Spencer has a track record: though incredibly intelligent, he has the attention span of a gnat (which, honestly, may be unfair to gnats) and has worked several jobs "for the experience." Or, in certain instances, "for the free hot dogs."
But as ridiculous as the premise may sound, it translate into a funny, funny television show that--deep down--is part cop show, part parody, part buddy comedy at its very best. In the pilot episode, Shawn Spencer ropes his buddy Gus (Dule Hill) into becoming his crime-solving partner, citing their desire--ever since they were eight!--of opening a private detective agency.
Each week introduces a new police case that Shawn and Gus manage to sneak into; in the end, they inevitably end up getting paid. Shawn and Gus, together, piece together details of the crime: as they reveal information, Shawn inevitably finds a "psychic" way of expressing their findings to the police. All of his comic "psychic" shenanigans are usually hilarious physical comedy (a particular first-season favorite involves him dancing a ridiculous "Dazzle and Stretch" routine around the police chief's office as he supposedly channels a cat telling them that a supposed murder victim wouldn't have killed herself, since she was due to open in a play entitled--you got it--Dazzle and Stretch).
But the rest of the cast--Maggie Lawson as Juliet, Lassiter's more trusting and believing partner, Kirsten Nelson as the sometimes skeptical but usually won-over Chief Vicks, and Corbin Bernsen as Henry Spencer, Shawn's retired-cop father who shares the love-hate-sometimes-vague-amusement-and-surprise relationship with his son--all play their characters with flair and surprisingly straight faces. (I'd be a rubbish actor; this show is so well-scripted, I'd be laughing every other line I attempted to deliver.)
And as I mentioned, the relationships are believable and they provide some of the best moments: flashbacks assist in the establishment of the long-time nature of the relationship between Shawn and Gus, and between Shawn and his father...and they also illustrate why the main character in this show inevitably proves so funny: while he has grown more intelligent, he steadfastly refuses to completely grow up. (Although by the end of the third season, he has made strides toward growing up--not so many strides that the show isn't funny, but enough strides to make his character that much more human.)
I don't promise that you'll learn any life lessons by watching this show; but if you find any of the following funny--clever cultural references, a willingness to mock anything and everything (including, periodically, it's own premise), sarcasm, wit, two grown men jumping up and down like little girls when they solve a case, comedic pratfalls, spastic movements of the best variety--then this show will make you laugh.
This show airs on the cable TV channel USA (when it's airing; since it's a cable show, it has an airing schedule that generally starts mid-summer, breaks off for a few week in January, and then runs roughly February-ish through April-ish...if I'm remembering correctly). Anyway, the channel (which also airs Monk) prides itself on being a channel with "Characters welcome."
And I, for one, think these particular characters should be welcome in everyone's home.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
A few minutes later and a few decibels louder, my niece repeated the question: "Mommy, can I have a princess Band-Aid?" Again, my sister told her daughter that they'd see about it when they got back home.
A few more minutes and a few more decibels louder, we heard the question a third time. Megan repeated her answer again. To be honest, I have no idea whether or not my niece received the much-requested Band-Aid by the time she got home.
Someone mentioned prayer today in church, and it suddenly dawned on me: sometimes when my prayers go unanswered, I do to Heavenly Father the same thing my niece was attempting to do with my sister last night. I think if I pray longer, louder, harder, or more earnestly, that I somehow might speed the process of getting an answer to prayers.
Whether or not my niece received her Band-Aid didn't matter much until she got home; it's not as though my sister keeps Band-Aids in the car. Heck, it's not as though my sister even knew which types of Band-Aids she had left at home. The answer needed to be postponed to fit my sister's timing.
In the same way, prayers go unanswered until the answers fit into Heavenly Father's timing. And I just need to remember: sometimes I don't need that Band-Aid as badly as I think I do. Sometimes the blister, the scrape, or the perceived injury is not in need of the quick fix I want. Sometimes I have to wait to see if I even need the Band-Aid as much as I think I do.
And I need to remember that He always gives me a Band-Aid exactly at the time I need it.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
(So, incidentally, did her family. Switching out of the third person now: I remember my dad intensely worrying about understanding A Comedy of Errors the first time we traveled southward. But as I explained to him, Shakespeare done well doesn't sound like archaic language at all--the actors speak it so well and so naturally--and also include all sorts of appropriate comic shenanigans to match the dialogue--that the audience members forget they're watching Shakespeare. They come out of the play, and realize--voila!--they understood pretty much everything. I doubt the same goes for Shakespeare done poorly, but I've never seen a bad Shakespearean production with bad actors. I'm sure they exist somewhere. Maybe one day I'll try to see a really bad Shakespearean company just so I can compare and contrast.)
Anyway, my class--unfortunately--may have temporarily turned me against Sir William. I didn't want it to! Suffice it to say: that class may well rank among my least favorite classes of all time. After I established that I wouldn't be speaking much in that class, I started a list to pass the time. So here you have it.
All of the Different Ways for a Woman to Catch a Man: Shakespeare-Style
1. Cross dress
1a. Pretend to be your brother...which obviously involves cross-dressing
1b. Pretend to be a manservant
2. Mouth off
3. Argue (which could, I suppose, be a subset of "mouth off"...but not always)
4. Arranged marriage
4a. If you're clever, you can influence the arrangement
4a1. The cleverest always manage to get a king's say-so
4b. If you're clever, you can persuade an unfaithful arranged spouse to stick around
4c. If you're not clever, you'll probably opt for dying instead
5. Ironically enough, be clever
6. Doesn't hurt to be witty, either
7. Act as a crucial part of a treaty/alliance
8. Enter a drug-like trance
And there the list stops. Perhaps, someday, I'll add on.
Or better yet, you can!
P.S. I'm pretty sure I have another list about guaranteed ways for the men of Shakespearean plays not to impress the women they woo. I'm relatively certain number one on the list, in all caps, is BAD POETRY. . . Funny how some things never change . . .
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Or, you know, once you get a job and you start working again. Even though my training only happens for four hours in the afternoons, I forget how quickly time can pass. I've been good about keeping a routine since Monday. I wake up. I exercise. I eat a lovely breakfast.
Then I shower and get ready. After that, I do what needs doing. What needs doing varies on a day-to-day basis: invariably, I clean something. I edit something. And then, I find that it's time for work. After working for four hours, I come home to discover that I'm just as tired as I might be from working a full day.
On the bright side, my morning hours are occupied: I don't bum around the house. I don't feel as though I'm killing time until I leave. On the slightly more dark side, I'm all out of energy by the time I get home. Unless, like last night, I hit a second wind around ten and I start doing oblique crunches while I'm talking to my roommate. And then, once I tire of that, I decide to do some silly kicks.
Yes, yes, yes: I'm weird. And this schedule will become even more interesting once school starts again. But I just wanted to announce: I'm using my time wisely. And I'm proud of it.
Let's see how long it lasts.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Anyway, we discussed my master's program at least twice. One of the conversations was rather short, i.e. my dad asking "What happens when you're done?" and me shrugging rather noncommittally. I've decided I don't have to make any decisions in that regard just yet. I aim to make it at least halfway through this coming fall semester before I even acknowledge a future beyond my master's degree.
The other discussion was more a reminder. My mom, it seems, felt a hint of disappointment when I didn't walk for my undergraduate degree. (But seriously: December. 600-ish people. Or more. I hadn't the patience. Besides, they mail you the diploma, anyway. My mom would shudder if I told her I never framed mine, and I'm relatively certain it's occupying a very minute amount of space in one of my desk drawers.) Anyway, when I was accepted to my program, I promised her (I italicize, because I felt compelled to promise rather vehemently) that I would allow her the delight of seeing me walk then.
So she reminded me that, come next spring, I would be walking for her. And my dad said they'd be sure to cry.
I replied: "Sure. Mom will cry because she's proud. You'll turn to whoever you're sitting next to and cry that you wished I'd gotten an MBA instead of an M.A. in English."
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
But I'm wondering where, exactly, my June is. Where is my sunshine? Where is my late spring and my sprouting sunflowers and my happy, happy brightness? Where is it?
It's been raining here. Rather a lot. And while, with the best of 'em, I dearly love a good rainstorm...well, you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
I want my Utah back!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Every year, slightly after Memorial Day, my mail multiplies and replenishes. It's not bills; I don't annually feel obligated to receive myriads of catalogs; and it certainly isn't personal letters. (Does anyone actually write personal letters anymore? I write notes, but I usually write them to people I can just slip them to. Of course, I've always thought of postage as a hassle, and the range of communication options that are available to me only reinforce this particular idea.)
No, I'll tell you why my mail multiples and replenishes: it's the cost (well, to the senders, really... but I do have to look at the mail) of living as a young, single woman in Utah. I tend to have young, single friends. And they do not stay single (or young, for that matter) forever.
As I observed last week, Utah has five seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter, and wedding.
To be fair, I'm unsure whether wedding season should count as one entity or two: the shower invitations, announcements, and solicitations for gifts peak during all of the summer months. But they also peak in December, when people decide they'd like a Happy Wedding! to go with their Merry Christmas!es. Also, to be fair, people get married then because most of them--the sane ones, anyway--are not usually attending summer classes.
Some people enjoy this extra season Utah has gifted its residents with: they purposefully take long walks by Temple Square, they study various brides to see what their dresses look like, note what sorts of poses the photographers of wedding parties encourage... Don't get me wrong. I am not one of the people who does such things. But I know those who have. Those who do. Those who live vicariously.
Meanwhile, I sort through my mail. I put the important announcements on the fridge. To help me not to forget that I actually care about attending the festivities. I find that keeping reminders near food is a wise, wise idea.
And then I carry on my single life, wondering how much paper I recycle every time I put another announcement I don't care about into the recycling.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Anyway, she told me yesterday that I most definitely not allowed to choose her future eternal companion.
Of course, yesterday I called her back into the living room so she could hear the bluegrass group from across the street. (They're good!) And I told her about them: how I was unsure if the whole group lived in that particular place, but how I was sure that the banjo player lived there because I often seem him out on his porch. And then, because I'm me, I told her that the banjo player doesn't look too shabby.
Please, let it be duly noted, this is not a lie. The banjo player doesn't look too shabby. A little fashion-challenged, perhaps, since I swear all of his shirts are plaids. Plaids that all basically have the same cut. Anyway, I told her that maybe I would sometime approach him to say how much his mad banjo skills impress me. And then to tell him he and my roommate should totally go out, because she would be able to appreciate his mad banjo skills even better than I would!
And then she had to go and interrupt my little fantasy by telling me that I am not allowed to choose the men she dates. Considering that my previous track record includes bald-headed motorcycle men, an older hippie man selling tie-dye, and innumerable tattooed and mohawked people... I'd think a banjo player would look good in comparison.
Better yet, I think he has a friend who plays the ukelele... :)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
But it's a beautiful thing to open my window and hear twangy (but not too twangy) strings drift into my living room. It's a wonderful accompaniment for whatever I'm reading. So far, I've discovered it complements all of the following: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion, Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart.
I also have a sneaking suspicion it will bring an added level of enjoyment to poetry reading as well, but I haven't tested that particular theory yet...
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I wasn't being patronizing, and I wasn't lying. But before they moved, a couple of the girls looked at each other with expressions that--to me--clearly said: "Couldn't she think of a better reason for moving us?"
A couple of sisters didn't move. I decided not to push my luck, and to do my best to look around the entire room after I asked questions.
And then I plunged forward with my lesson.
It took a couple of unexpected turns; that's how I knew it went well. But not such unexpected turns that we went off track. Good unexpected turns. The type of unexpected turns inspired participators have.
Anyway, I'm still convinced my approach for the lesson was as necessary for me as for anyone else: in a lesson about responding to persecution with faith and courage, I found myself emphasizing happiness. Happiness amidst trials. And I found myself exploring links between happiness, faith, and trials.
Faith and trials, for example, were easy to link. The gospel is full of cycles, and faith and trials form their own tidy little cycle: faith sustains us during our trials, while trials handled properly are ways of strengthening our faith. And happiness, it seems, is an almost-required attitude. No matter our circumstances. But happiness seems especially required during trials.
Happiness in the midst of difficulty proves we have the right perspective: not because we're absolutely delighted to be metaphorically whipped, stomped on, thrown into the fire, or otherwise (metaphorically) abused... but because we're absolutely delighted to experience something that will help us become more perfect beings.
To be frank, I have always been the type of congregation member who rolls my eyes at a speaker who proudly proclaims that she (or he) is grateful for her (or his) trials. I've never been grateful for my trials themselves. But I am grateful for what I have become by experiencing my trials; I'm grateful for lessons learned, for character shaped, for perspective granted, for faith built, for relationships with Deity strengthened. I'm grateful for the end product. But I'm not--and to be honest, I don't know if I ever will be--grateful for the agonizing process that creates the end product.
But here's a thought, paraphrased from President Eyring's talk on adversity from last General Conference: our trials prove how much Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us. They love us so much that they tailor-make our individual trials to help us on our way to becoming the most perfect selves we can be. They love us so much they are willing to invest themselves in all of the details of our lives.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
And then, I promptly panicked. (Paniced? No matter how I spell that particular conjugation, it just looks wrong...) Not because teaching intimidates me. It doesn't, really. Like my dad, I inherited an actual liking for standing in front of people and talking. Alas, unlike my dad, I don't have the same innovative genius for object lessons. But maybe that comes with time.
Anyway, I promptly started to worry, because I'm teaching a lesson from the Joseph Smith manual. I've never taught from that particular manual before. In my former ward, I taught lessons from General Conference talks, and those were much more loosely structured. Or so it seemed.
And here we come to why my mom is awesome: she's totally willing to discuss these types of things with me. And she's very good at talking me down from irrational worries. (E.g. "The only way your lesson will be really bad is if you don't prepare at all and if you're the only one talking.") She spent a goodly amount of time talking to me, pointing out that I had been taught the same lesson last Sunday when I went to the home ward and that I now knew how not to teach it* (which is an absolutely true statement of fact), referring different Conference talks to me, mentioning a couple of thoughts she'd had when she first read the lesson... she did what any good tutor and helper would do. She didn't tell me how to present my lesson, but she provided me with a lot of places to look. A lot of things to think about. And the confidence in myself I needed to know that teaching from the manual didn't have to be terribly different from the way I taught Conference talks.
My mom is a pro at this: I've met few people in this world who are better than she is at building people. Particularly her children. And while I grant that she's biased about her children, and she sees many reasons and knows many ways to build us up because we're her children, I'm grateful for that particular talent of hers. So yeah, she's pretty much awesome.
*I felt very validated when she mentioned this. Last week, we both meant to ask each other if we understood what the teacher was doing with her lesson...what points she was making, etc...and we both forgot. But we remembered when we were talking yesterday. Yet another way, it would seem, we are a little bit alike. More than a little, depending on who you ask. But when people say I'm like her, I consider it one of the best compliments I can get.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Anyway, I've now re-immersed myself in a world full of applications and interviews and "skill sets." (I am, I've been told, "a good skill set"...more about that in some other post. If I feel like it.) And it's even more discouraging to immerse myself in this environment in an economically heinous time. The applicant pool, it seems, has grown several feet deeper since the last time I swam in it.
But nevertheless, I have decided to trudge on. To keep applying for positions. And to try to maintain as cheery an attitude as I can. (It was not easy to be cheery a couple of days ago. Slowly getting easier though...)
Thursday, May 7, 2009
But this past two semesters has nevertheless been a learning experience. So without further ado, lessons I learned about graduate school this year:
1. Your professors want to help you. They don't want to sit back and laugh diabolically as you fail. At least, most of them don't.
2. Everyone suffers from feelings of inadequacy. None of you are stupid; the school would not have accepted you if you were stupid.
3. Because everyone suffers from feelings of inadequacy, it is highly advisable to befriend other students. Almost everyone feels as though they're drowning. And almost everyone feels better about that feeling when they realize almost everyone else feels the same.
4. Investing yourself in a paper results in a better end product with a better grade and better comments.
5. Investing yourself in a paper also means starting said paper in advance. Even if you only start thinking about it in advance.
6. If you want to fly under the radar--even for a day--sit as far away as possible from the argumentative attention-getters. If you don't want to fly under the radar, assert yourself.
7. Conferences are wonderful, wonderful things; they introduce you to people every bit as nerdy as you are whose eyes don't glaze over when you talk about your pet projects and your favorite areas of study.
8. Sometimes, you just need to step away from the homework. Don't even back away slowly. Just run, run, run. As fast you can.
9. Retaining the ability to talk with people outside your program keeps you well-rounded. More or less.
10. Just give up on your sanity. Provided you had any to begin with. You did, after all, apply to grad school...
Monday, April 27, 2009
Inevitably, of course, my professors return the "children" I write for their classes--sometimes covered with pen in a good way (positive commentary, pleasant surprise) and sometimes covered with pen in a bad way (commentary about their utter confusion about what, exactly, I may be arguing, unpleasant surprise). And I am discovering that a part of graduate school involves revisiting some of these "children." In rereading them, I discover some of them didn't fare so badly when they were sent into the world. And others fared badly indeed.
The ones that do not fare badly have one characteristic in common: I enjoyed creating them. And it showed. The others? Well, the opposite. Obviously. Despite being a week shy of successful completion of a whole year of my grad program, I have not yet discovered how to invest myself in topics I don't care about. Perhaps the coming two semesters will teach me something in that regard.
Because apparently, when I care, I don't abandon my unfinished works too soon.
This post is part of the Blue-Beta Blog Coordination, a continuing series of content coordinated by theme or motif with posts from Confuzzled of I Keep Wondering, Gromit of The Dancing Newt, Redoubt of Redoubt Redux, Third Mango of Funkadelic Freestylings of Another Sort, Yarjka of Sour Mayonnaise, and Xanthippe of Let’s Save Our Hallmark Moment. This week's theme: 'Finished'.
Monday, April 13, 2009
One day I got plucky, and I asked, "It's not becoming what?"
She replied, "It's not becoming for a lady."
"But what if I don't want to be a lady?"
Desire had nothing to do with it. Proper was proper, improper was improper. Or rather, improper was unbecoming. Eventually, I settled on a compromise that often seems not uncommon to other members of my family as well. I try to be as proper as possible in public: it's proper to be quiet in a library, it's proper to be kind and polite to the people serving you in any capacity (including, but not limited to, cashiers, clerks, waitresses, and salespeople). It's proper to speak when spoken to.
It's improper, in public, to act too terribly undignified--although being charming and quirky is allowed. It's a tough tightrope to cross, but it's manageable. It's improper to talk too loudly, carry on a terribly long (non-emergency-related) cell phone call when in the presence of other people. It's improper to ignore people once they've said your name.
My compromise is this: I will be as proper and polite as I have been taught when I'm dead center in the public eye, when I'm out and about, and when I really don't know who might be watching.
But I will be improper as I please once I get home. Propriety, after all, becomes more fun when I treat it as I would clothes: when I try it on for auspicious occasions. And then, when I unceremoniously dump it on the floor of my bedroom as soon as I can pull it off.
This post is part of the Blue-Beta Blog Coordination, a continuing series of content coordinated by theme or motif with posts from Confuzzled of I Keep Wondering, Gromit of The Dancing Newt, Redoubt of Redoubt Redux, Third Mango of Funkadelic Freestylings of Another Sort, Yarjka of Sour Mayonnaise, and Xanthippe of Let’s Save Our Hallmark Moment. This week's theme: 'Improper'.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Funny how songs always seem to speak to me at times like this. But it has been a particularly trying week, and I felt a random urge to listen to the Spamalot soundtrack last night as I tidied my room up a bit. Mostly, I just wanted something to laugh at. But "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" reminded me of a recent resolution I made about being optimistic.
Needless to say, I haven't been the best about it lately. One of the lines in the song states that "Life's a piece of shit when you look at it," and while I don't think the line always applies, there are definitely times I feel that it's true. But not as true as the lines that actually struck me most: "If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten--and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing."
As I hurled things with a vengeance in my garbage can while dancing around to the songs, I realized it had been a while since I had done that: since I had taken time, on my own, to smile and dance and sing for no audience but myself. To act like an idiot for my own benefit instead of for the benefit of others.
It made me feel better. Less mad. Less liable to let the things in my life make me swear and curse.
Monday, April 6, 2009
I wish that someone (and I should probably qualify: someone who doesn't weird me out, someone I know well, someone who knows me well) would recognize how completely overwhelmed I feel without needing to be told.
And sometimes, sometimes, sometimes . . .
I wish that recognition would result in a hug.
This post is part of the Blue-Beta Blog Coordination, a continuing series of content coordinated by theme or motif with posts from Confuzzled of I Keep Wondering, Gromit of The Dancing Newt, Redoubt of Redoubt Redux, Third Mango of Funkadelic Freestylings of Another Sort, Yarjka of Sour Mayonnaise, and Xanthippe of Let’s Save Our Hallmark Moment. This week's theme: 'Touch'.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I want to do it again. Right now. Mostly because it's just a great new way of learning interesting things and speaking with new people. Stepping outside of my comfort zone in the best possible way. I'm not going to lie: it's nice to have people ask me to talk more about a novel that is quickly threatening to become a pet project of mine. Without further ado, here's what I presented. (And if you ever decide to read the novel, beware: profanity abounds and there are mentions of sex.) It's titled "House of Leaves: How the Fictional Can Become Its Own Reality." I'll even italicize it for you.
In a notable and often quoted passage from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Thoreau discusses a moment when he was hoeing beans—how, at a certain point, he became unsure whether he was hoeing the beans or the beans were hoeing him. Readers of Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel, House of Leaves, may feel much the same. By the time they finish, many readers will likely wonder whether they read the book or the book read them.
House of Leaves ironically comments on its own genre-slipping nature when it describes the genre-slipping nature of The Navidson Record, a fictional documentary central to its plot. “If finally catalogued as a gothic tale, contemporary urban folkmyth, or merely a ghost story, as some have called it, the documentary will, sooner or later, slip the limits of any one of those genres. Too many important things in The Navidson Record jut out past the borders” (3). As a hypertext of a novel, House of Leaves continually expands and informs its plot through various interactions with its readers. Notably, readers are required to become physically involved in the process of reading the text; in doing so, readers occupy a position both inside and outside the narrative. This novel demands that readers become both intellectually and physically engaged. It also requires readers to make choices—choices that ultimately determine not whether the plot will bleed from fiction into reality, but that determine the degree that fiction will bleed into reality.
Five different narratives are simultaneously at play in this novel: The Navidson Record, a fictional documentary about the spooky house inhabited by Will and Karen Navidson and their children; Zampano’s text, which recounts and amends details about the making of The Navidson Record; Johnny Truant’s footnoted text, which both amends the Zampano record and tells Johnny’s story of how Zampano’s text begins infecting his thoughts; and notes from the editors which translate foreign-language passages and periodically comment on their interactions with Johnny Truant (interactions which significantly happen by mail—not in person or by telephone). The fifth narrative, of course, is the narrative constructed by readers themselves.
Readers must first choose which narrator (aside from themselves, of course) they believe and the extent to which they believe them. This choice is illustrated early in the text when Johnny admits that he has altered parts of Zampano’s manuscript in order to better correlate with his own narrative. Karen and Will Navidson conclude a brief conversation when Karen mentions the water heater has been acting up. In the footnote Johnny Truant amends to the conversation, he recounts a story about water heater problems of his own. “Now I’m sure you’re wondering something. Is it just coincidence that this cold water predicament of mine also appears in this chapter? Not at all. Zampano only wrote ‘heater.’ The word ‘water’ back there—I added that” (16). This admission forces readers to become hyper-aware of choices they make in believing or disbelieving the narrator, because Johnny could be manipulating any part of the text. Furthermore, if Johnny may be manipulating the text, a nagging suspicion arises: that any or all of the narrators may be manipulating the text.
Johnny Truant, as a narrator, seems the most suspect and he is certainly the most vulgar, but ironically Johnny also has the most personal narrative. He is the only narrator recounting his own story, and he is the only narrator who frequently uses second-person address. The repetition of the pronoun “you” leads readers to feel Johnny addresses them directly, assuming their involvement in the story. In this sense, readers become involved in the text because they are implicitly told to be involved. Other narrators are more subtle in their means of causing readers to inject themselves into the plot; Zampano, for example, provides blanks that are ready to be filled in whenever information from his gathered documents are missing. This applies equally to footnotes and to the text itself: sets of inviting lines beckon the reader to write in their own information. Not entirely unlike the game MadLibs, the words surrounding the blanks give readers enough context to have a general idea about the category of word (noun, verb, adjective) that should occupy any given blank. Adventurous readers may try to impose their own narrative, while other readers will simply skim the existing words, skip over the blanks, and move onto the next paragraph. In some ways, it seems like a strange sort of litmus test that defines how much of themselves readers are willing to invest in the novel.
The blanks, at least, give readers a choice about their participation with the text. Other interesting innovations require the reader to become more physically involved as the text progresses. Readers who want to follow the story have no choice but to start rotating the book when the main text becomes framed by two outside columns of texts that face in two separate directions. When the text begins to mimic the action of the plot, readers have no choice but to play follower to the text’s lead. As words become spaced out on the page, the book begins to dictate the rate at which readers’ eyes track the text and at which they turn the pages. After managing the tempo of the reading, the text becomes discontented with simple turns between two directions. Those who would like to follow the narrative are required to turn the book at every imaginable angle—upside down, sideways, and even at diagonals—in order to continue following the story. This constant twisting, turning, and reader-required manipulation disorients readers and serves to remind them they cannot always control their movement in relation to the narrative.
When boxed windows of backward text appear, readers who want to be able to read within the windows are required to hold the novel up to a mirror. The passages of the novel which require the reader to hold the book up to a mirror show not just a reflection of the writing, but also of the reader. As Will Slocombe notes in his interpretation of House of Leaves, “Within the text, mirrors force the reader to face the text and realize that they are seeing what they themselves place within it. The idea of the mirror is simultaneously a reflection of the reader and an image—an opposite image—in its own right” (99). The act of holding the book up to the mirror shows readers how connected they have become with the book: although they see a reflection of the book and themselves as separate entities, they are also watching themselves in the act of reading the book.
Readers, at this stage, have become simultaneously characters and observers. In a further complication, Navidson becomes trapped in the ever expanding “house” behind a doorway within his house and needs something to provide light. He discovers he has brought a book and a lighter with him when he set out to explore the five-and-a-half-minute hallway. By reading a page and then lighting it on fire, he provides himself with light. The book he is reading is entitled House of Leaves. His copy matches the exact specifications of the print copy, and reality and fiction blend even further as readers realize they are reading a character who is reading a novel they are reading. If, as Zampano mentions some critics believe, “the house’s mutations reflection the psychology of anyone who enters it” (165), such a scene certainly indicates the house’s mutations could reflect the psychology of readers. Such a perspective places readers in the same character position of Navidson, who seems to make few to no choices about the overall narrative structure.
Readers, however, still have other choices in regard to reading the text. House of Leaves also contains several appendices that extend the story—the appendices include letters Johnny’s mother wrote him from an insane asylum, a collection of photos and collage, information about the non-existent The Navidson Record DVD, a collection of quotes Zampano collected in the course of compiling his manuscript, and the Pelican poems—poetry presumably written by Johnny Truant. The first two-thirds of House of Leaves is the narrative text; the last third is the material in the appendices.
Throughout the narrative, readers have a choice about when they will refer to the information in the appendices: several of the editors’ footnotes in the text indicate times readers may want to refer to particular material in the appendices. These notes present two different ways of reading the text—by reading the referred-to appendices at that moment or by reading all of the appendices together at the end of the novel. Reading the appendices and then returning to the novel creates a different perspective than simply reading straight through the novel and then reading the appendices. Either way, it is possible to make connections between the narrative itself and the appendices that follow; however, whether or not the appendices become a part of the narrative—and to what extent—is a choice left entirely to readers’ discretion.
Likewise, the appendix full of quotes invites readers to create their own meaning for the novel they have read. (Or may, in fact, still be in the process of reading . . . depending on when, in the course of their plot, they choose to visit Zampano’s quote collection.) While reading this appendix, a variety of themes begin to emerge. Perhaps all of the quotes are meant to thematically tie to the novel and to indicate that any of the themes perpetuated by any of the quotes are valid. Perhaps some of the quotes are included as red herrings in the great mystery of what, exactly, the relationship between the narrators and characters of the book may be. These pages allow readers to choose their own epigraph for the novel. Instead of assigning any particular quote, this appendix leaves readers to ponder any number of themes that may or may not apply to the novel. This quote collection stands in stark contrast to what actually acts as the epigraph of the novel: “This is not for you.”
The distribution and continued discussion about this novel suggests otherwise. At the very least, it modifies what acts as the epigraph: this novel may not be for us as readers; it may become part of us as readers as we simultaneously become part of it. It was originally distributed online and via word of mouth. Its popularity in that forum led to its eventual publication as a book, but the Internet-influenced qualities of the book are inescapable. The printing of house in blue echoes a hypertext quality: the book taps into readers’ ideas about the house even as readers’ ideas about the house are adapting according to descriptions of the five-and-a-half minute hallway that is part of the expanding “house” within the Navidson’s house.
And just as the “house” within the house keeps expanding, an online Internet forum located at www.houseofleaves.com acts as home to 10, 218 readers who continually discuss several mysteries propagated by the text. Popular discussions include whether Zampano and Johnny may be related, whether Zampano and Johnny may be the same person, or whether this may all be one grand master narrative written by a mentally unstable person. Another popular discussion thread features nightmares, dreams, and reactions readers have experienced while reading the text (it seems laughable, to some degree, but readers become aware of their heightened experiences as parts of the text and often find themselves doing otherwise unjustifiable things; in one particular scene, the interior and exterior measurements of the Navidson house do not correlate—the interior measurement is larger than the exterior. I, an otherwise fairly rational human being, had recently moved into an older house prior to my first reading of the novel and had to fight from grabbing a measuring tape and making sure the measurements to my house were normal).
Some of these discussions have continued (some of them to great success; others, to not so much success) for seven to eight years. And they show few signs of stopping. House of Leaves creates a dimension of such fictive reality—or realistic fiction—that many readers find it difficult to stop discussing its vast potential and its many mysteries. Johnny Truant said it best in another statement about the documentary that applies equally to the entirety of House of Leaves: “the irony is it makes no difference that the documentary at the heart of this book is fiction. Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t real doesn’t matter here. The consequences are the same” (xx)
So there you have it. Actual academic work of mine. Part of the reason I finally feel that grad school, though not as easy as I first imagined, is the right place for me to be after all.