Monthly Archives: September 2012

Snuff

Wasn’t super impressed by this one. I like the idea of Vimes investigating drug smuggling. I also liked the social commentary that Pratchett had going on, with the goblins being compared to slaves, undocumented immigrants, and so on. However, the climatic scene on the boat felt confusing to me; I was never exactly sure what was going on (maybe I was just reading it too quickly, to be fair). The biggest issue in this book for me was that I never felt like anything was at stake. Vimes, his family and his henchman Wilikins (a character I really liked) seemed too invincible to me; I never had to really “worry” that they would fail or that something bad would happen to any of them. One theme I did like in the book was that of how Vimes can connect so personally with killers and murderers. I wish the book had explored this “dark” side of Vimes a little more, as opposed to just letting him, well, always coming out on top. I mean, one of the reasons I liked “Going Postal” and “Making Money” so much was because the main character was unsympathetic to a certain degree; he wasn’t this totally clear cut, good character. I wish that Vimes’ flaws or potential for darkness had been explored a little more–the theme was definitely there; I just wanted it to be taken to the next level, just to shake the books up a little bit so that the Vimes books aren’t always in this trap of “oh Vimes saves the day and everything turns out hunky dory in the end.”

I REALLY would be interested in reading a Discworld book in which the Patrician is killed or offed. Like, what would happen?! Whatever happened to that whole storyline of Carrot being the rightful king? I’m really sad how Carrot has disappeared into this totally non-existent character (at least in this book). Maybe I’ve been watching too much of Games of Thrones but I think Discworld is in time for a major shake up. This makes me really sad to say, but considering that Pratchett’s writing time might be limited (thanks Alzheimer’s–God, so depressing, I don’t want to even think of it), it’s like, what has he got to lose at this point? I vote for something totally crazy and unexpected happening. I’d be interested in seeing where it goes…

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welcome to england–fight fight fight!

I am in England. OMG!!!

I am obviously really excited and happy to be here in the good old UK. It’s a good feeling. I love my flat and its convenient location close to the university (I still wanna get a bike, though: 5 minute bike ride vs. 15 minute walk? BIKE FTW). So far I am digging my housemates, both guys in law school, one from China and the other from Taiwan. One of them just came in and gave me a present–a Beijing Olympics key chain!! AWWW! They’re both leaving in the next two days to go traveling for the next week, which doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes it boggles my mind to think about how I almost prefer being by myself these days–I’m just so used to it. That being said, I know that I’m a very social person and that it’s fairly easy for me to make friends, which is why I’m not freaking out about having so much time by myself before the rest of the peeps in my program get here.

Ahhh!!! England!!!! Of course the very first thing I unpacked were my books (I packed too many, as per usual). I just had the best time this morning, walking around campus (I didn’t even mind being lost!), wandering into the bookstore and fingering all the titles, lovingly fondling all the second-hand books on sale on the tables outside (the man in charge said he comes by Monday and Thursday, reminding me of that old dude I bought Howl from in front of the Paradox coffee shop back at Reed). I came thisclose to buying the new Ali Smith novel, The Tin Drum, Underworld and Wise Children (all books I’ve been meaning to read for aaaaages), but I stopped myself because I felt guilty about spending the money. To be honest it probably would have only ended up being ten pounds, which is likely less than what my movie ticket will be tomorrow if I decide to go see Anna Karenina. Whatever, he’ll be back on Monday.

I also did some work today. It is SO HARD when I edit my fiction to not be aware of its flaws, how juvenile and developing my voice still sounds to me. I still don’t sound like a “polished” writer to myself, like Jonathan Franzen or even Bolaño or whatever, in which every word in the story is filled with purpose and drive and meaning and everything is just tauntly woven together and seemingly fits perfectly together. BUT WHATEVER!! I am just trying to remember the words that Goenka kept repeating over and over again at the meditation retreat, in his old man Indian accent: paaaatiently but persistently, patiently but persistently. You are bound to be successful, bound to be successful.

So this is just to say that I DON’T GIVE A FLYING **** IF MY STORIES KIND OF SUCK!!!!!! Because a) they are actually probably not as bad as I think they are (HELLO PERFECTIONIST VIRGO BRAIN), and b) I CAN ONLY GET “BETTER” (whatever THAT means) THROUGH TIME AND PRACTICE. Which is what I want to get out of this year. A lot of time and a lot of practice. Which is why I furiously wrote + edited all evening like a demon, like my life depended on it, because in a way, it kind of does. It made me feel like that character in the last paragraph of the “Out of Body” chapter in A Visit From the Goon Squad, the paragraph that made me want to read the rest of the book when I first read it in Tin House:

“You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha’s sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I’m sorry and I believe in you and I’ll always be near you, protecting you, and I will never leave you, I’ll be curled around your heart the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I also want to remember the advice that the University of Texas-San Marcos creative writing professor gave me, one of my co-workers at Berkeley this summer: “Submit things that you think kind of suck.” Truer words never spoken.

So I believe in myself. WATCH OUT ENGLAND, I’M GONNA KICK SOME ASS. I think maybe that’s why I’ve been so obsessed with Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne lately. I told my sister earlier today that when I hear their songs, I like to pretend that it’s my self-esteem talking, giving me a much-needed boost and FIGHT-FIGHT-FIGHT mentality:

Select best quotes for self-esteem boosting include the following:
– I GUESS I GOT MY SWAGGER BACK!
– Photo shoot fresh, looking like wealth, I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself!
– Everything’s for sale, I got 5 passports I’m never going to jail!!!
– Lord, please let them accept the things they can’t change, and pray that all of their pain be champagne.

That’s enough for now. I’ll end with a quote from Onetti:

Escribirá porque sí, porque no tendrá más remedio que hacerlo, porque es su vicio, su pasión y su desgracia. / A writer will write just because; because he or she has no other option; because it’s their vice, their passion and their misfortune.

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Seven Poems for Twenty-Seven

(Philip Larkin has a poem about being twenty-six, but big surprise, it is super mega depressing! I’m sure if Phil had ever had a night out on the town in Medellin with some guaro during the Feria de las Flores, he would have had a much more optimistic perspective…)

May these 7 poems influence me with strength, wisdom, perspective and insight over the next year, my Amy Winehouse-Jimi Hendrix-Kurt Cobain-Janis Joplin-Mayan Calendar year. Ready or not, here we go.

#1

At Twenty-Eight (Amy Fleury)

It seems I get by on more luck than sense,
not the kind brought on by knuckle to wood,
breath on dice, or pennies found in the mud.
I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.
At turns charmed and cursed, a girl knows romance
as coffee, red wine, and books; solitude
she counts as daylight virtue and muted
evenings, the inventory of absence.
But this is no sorry spinster story,
just the way days string together a life.
Sometimes I eat soup right out of the pan.
Sometimes I don’t care if I will marry.
I dance in my kitchen on Friday nights,
singing like only a lucky girl can.

#2

The Loneliest Job in the World (Tony Hoagland)

As soon as you begin to ask the question, Who loves me?
you are completely screwed, because
the next question is How Much?

and then it is hundreds of hours later,
and you are still hunched over
your flowcharts and abacus,

trying to decide if you have gotten enough.
This is the loneliest job in the world:
to be an accountant of the heart.

It is late at night. You are by yourself,
and all around you, you can hear
the sounds of people moving

in and out of love,
pushing the turnstiles, putting
their coins in the slots,

paying the price which is asked,
which constantly changes.
No one knows why.

#3

The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog (Robert Bly)

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can’t explain.

It’s good if you can accept your life—you’ll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can’t believe how much you’ve changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you’ve ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can’t quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He’s been hungry for miles,
Doesn’t particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

#4

Air and Light and Time and Space (Bukowski)

“—you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and
the time to
create.”
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquakes, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

#5

We Were Emergencies (Buddy Wakenfield) [excerpt]

Move forward
and repeat after me with your heart:

“I no longer need you to **** me as hard as I hated myself.”

Make love to me
like you know I am better
than the worst thing I ever did.
Go slow.
I’m new to this.
But I have seen nearly every city from a rooftop
without jumping.

I have realized
that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it,
that we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it,
that if my heart
really broke
every time I fell from love
I’d be able to offer you confetti by now.

But hearts don’t break,
y’all,
they bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies.
We were emergencies.

You call 9 – 1 – 1.
Tell them I’m having a fantastic time.

#6

Annunciation (Marie Howe)

Even if I don’t see it again — nor ever feel it
I know it is — and that if once it hailed me
it ever does –

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t — I was blinded like that — and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

#7

If God Invited You To A Party (Hafiz)

If God
Invited you to a party
And said,
 
‘Everyone
In the ballroom tonight
Will be my special
Guest…’
 
How would you then treat them
When you
Arrived?
 
Indeed, indeed!
 
And I know
There is no one in this world
 
Who
Is not upon
His Jeweled Dance
Floor

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I enjoyed reading this book, even though it got a bit repetitive and depressing at times. I’ve never read “Guns Germs & Steel,” despite receiving it as a present (TWICE). Do I get points for that? Anyway, this book is very readable, quite well written and extremely well organized. I felt like I was reading a power point presentation at times, but in a good way. I never felt lost or disoriented. Kudos to Diamond; his outlines must be sharp as tacks.

My favorite chapters were the ones about Easter Island and Greenland, which coincidentally were the two societies in which the author himself seemed to find the most intriguing. I also really liked the chapters about the modern day collapse of societies like Rwanda and Haiti. (In Haiti’s case, I still don’t really get how they “chose” to fail–uh, like, how is it a “choice” to be colonized and deforested by the French?). I liked how when things were getting monotonous with yet another analysis of the region’s soil, the author would throw in the occasional unexpected and fascinating random fact, like how archaeologists use petrified cave rat poo to learn lessons about past extinct cultures. I also liked the random personal life interjections Mr. Diamond would occasionally include, like how he supports to Boston Red Sox’s Dominican Republic pitcher.

Overall, I don’t know yet if I share Mr. Diamond’s “cautious optimism” about human population explosion, deforestation, rapidly decreasing natural resources, etc. I feel like the dad character from Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” would be super into this book. To be honest, this was the kind of book that I had to keep putting down and walking away from because there were just some tough truths to read in there. I didn’t finish the big businesses chapter because I couldn’t take it, but I did manage t make it through the chapter that was about WHY people decide to do things that are basically biologically suicidal . Or as one of Mr. Diamond’s undergraduate students apparently put it, what did the inhabitants of Easter Island think as they were cutting down the very last tree? Anyway, this book made me really, really glad that I’m selling my car.

The other thing that was interesting about this book to me was the tension between environment vs. individual decisions. At what point is it kind of like oh, this society is doomed to fail because the soil really sucks, and at what point is it about the individual’s choices? Like, did the Viking colonies in Greenland collapse because the Vikings stubbornly insisted on keeping cows and not eating fish (?! pretty unbelievable right?!). Diamond seems to insist that it’s a combination of the two factors (individual decisions and environment), but in the Vikings’ defense, I can’t imagine a worst place in the world with a more inhospitable environment to live in other than Greenland.

This individual-versus-environment question was a big reason for why the Greenland chapter was so interesting to me. I haven’t read GG&S, but that book to me seems to be more about emphasizing how the ENVIRONMENT determines your situation, whereas this book had more of an emphasis on individual choices. What is this implying about postmodernism, I wonder? That we’re all caught up in this crazy messed up system we didn’t choose, but on a tiny individual scale our actions still matter? Is that really true, or is that just a comforting illusion, to pretend like our teeny tiny individual choices can really make a difference? I wonder…

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